When the Coronavirus pandemic blindsided much of the world, the last thing on people’s minds was how it’d affect data. We were too busy trying to adjust to our new, and often non-ideal, routines with no foresight into when things would go back to normal.
As some semblance of normalcy gradually emerges, digital marketers will be faced with some tough questions concerning data fluctuations. It’s extremely likely your site was affected in one way or another from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Maybe you’ve seen a spike in traffic and sales because your market suddenly became more relevant. Or, more likely, the opposite happened when people lacked the mental bandwidth for your content.
If your business soared because of the pandemic (like it did for the at-home fitness market), the growth is unlikely to continue at the same rate into 2021. So even in the best case scenario, you’ll eventually have questions to answer.
If you haven’t started analyzing data fluctuations in 2020, now is the time. You undoubtedly have them.
Google Analytics annotations
The number of annotations you need depends on your industry, location, and other factors. If you work for a global company, you might have fluctuations to answer for starting in January 2020.
To add annotations in Google Analytics, go to Admin > View > Personal Tools & Assets > Annotations. For a comprehensive guide on using GA annotations, check out this great Loves Data post by Benjamin Mangold.
Key Covid-19 dates to annotate
Like I said, it depends on your market. Here are some key dates you may want to annotate (I got them from AJMC):
- January 23, 2020: Wuhan under quarantine
- January 31, 2020: WHO issues global health emergency
- February 2, 2020: Global air travel is restricted
- Feb 3, 2020: U.S. declares public health emergency
- March 11, 2020: WHO declares Covid-19 a pandemic
- March 13, 2020: Trump declares Covid-19 a national emergency
- March 19, 2020: California issues stay-at-home order
Moz pins March 11 as a “pivotal turning point” when “rankings were in high flux well into April and May.” That means your content may have been less likely to be seen in SERPs because Covid-19 coverage overshadowed it.
Depending on where you live, you can get a lot more granular. If you only serve customers in Wisconsin, you may not have felt an impact until stay-at-home orders came to your state.
Now that you have annotations, you can quickly diagnose fluctuations in your Google Analytics view.
Compare to previous data
Q1 2020 is a tricky one to compare. If you compare to the previous quarter, you may see an artificial increase if your market quiets down during the holidays. For most B2B companies, comparing Q4 to Q1 is misleading. Comparing to the same period in the previous year is usually more telling but, again, this largely depends on your business.
Compare sales activity
If you have access to the data, compare the YOY sales data with web traffic. If it correlates, that’s pretty conclusive. How relevant this is depends on your typical sales cycle. It may be that you rarely close deals in Q1.
If sales numbers isn’t the best metric, try matching activity within your CRM or marketing automation system if you have them:
- Sales calls
- Emails sent
- Social media post frequency
- Notes taken
- Account progression
Look for patterns and see if there are conclusions to draw.
Consider other possibilities
Don’t fixate on whether it’s coronavirus-related. There are other factors that could be causing traffic fluctuations that have nothing to do with the pandemic. If you made any major changes during the time period, those should also be annotated in Google Analytics.
Other reasons traffic drops
- Website architecture changes
- Incorrectly configured SEO settings (maybe pages were accidentally switched to noindex)
- Google algorithm updates (a featured snippet de-depuping update went into effect in February, and a core update happened in May)
- Redirect errors
- Manual penalties (check your Google Search Console)
If there are other factors at play, don’t let the fog of war blind you. Document, troubleshoot and fix whatever you can.
No matter your situation, you should already be planting seeds so stakeholders aren’t caught unawares when they see the numbers. If you send out regular updates about traffic, include them in the notes. Even if barely anyone reads them, you’ve at least documented it.
Be prepared to make the following points, assuming you can back them up with your data.
- A slight decrease in traffic is as good as a slight increase given the circumstances.
- Whether traffic has normalized and, if not, when that can be expected. If you don’t know, say that.
- How the your company’s data compares to what others are experiencing. This requires a lot of research. Reach out to LinkedIn groups, subreddits, or sites like Warrior Forum to get a feel for what others like you are seeing and how it compares. Be careful of sharing too much on LinkedIn, and keep yourself anonymous on other forums.
Don’t get consumed
The digital marketing landscape is continuing to change even while much of the world is paused. Don’t get so caught up in this that you forget to keep up on new technologies. Through it all, your digital marketing strategy should always be evolving.
And most importantly, take care of yourself.