Introduction

Our goal here is to analyze one specific phenomenon that we’ve seen over the years, namely that Google Shopping traffic levels tend to drop towards the end of quarters and then steadily rebound shortly after.

We’ve covered this idea in the past, and as promised we will attempt to figure out the validity of this idea as it relates to Quarter 1 2011.

The March 16, 2011 Effect

One unique aspect about this past quarter was that we noticed a more sudden and drastic drop during the middle of March than we had previously been used to.

After a quick analysis of our own clients’ data and doing research on Google’s own Merchant Center Forums, we noticed that specifically on March 16, 2011 there was a Titanic-like sink in traffic levels for a significant number of merchants–not March 15th, not March 17th, but it was March 16th that was cited repeatedly.

Our next step then was to dust off our abacus and calculate specifically what sort of impact to traffic levels our clients saw on this infamous date.

We figured the simplest way to do this was to take the daily average of the previous 15 days of March, and compare it specifically to how many visits were received on March 16th.

The average result of this turned out to be a -12.05% drop in traffic.


So why all the panic?

While a 12% decrease in traffic isn’t exactly desirable–it certainly isn’t reason enough to head to the bomb shelters–but after digging deeper we saw a more significant story here.

We found that while one subset our merchants saw steady traffic levels or even slight gains, another subset saw significant drops in traffic.


How Significant?

Going through some of the biggest losers, drop-offs of 40% – 70% were considered normal, which is certainly enough reason to wonder what was going on if you were in this group.

The chart below illustrates the drop experienced for merchants in that group on the 16th:

It should jump out immediately that on the 16th each of these retailers universally saw a dramatic drop in traffic.


What About Everyone Else?

Our next step was to divide the retailers into 4 groups of equal size based on performance, and observed how the traffic levels of each compared to each subset:

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
-68.79% -21.89% +10.54% +23.96%

We notice that the worst performing group lost an average of near 69% of traffic compared to the average of the previous 2 weeks, and the group above it fared better but still suffered nearly a 22% drop off.

The best performing groups did gain a bit but not to the extent that the bottom groups lost out.


What About the Rest of the Month?

Overall we saw the numbers drop during the last two weeks as the quarter was winding down.

The following chart measures the changes in traffic between March 1 – 15 and March 16 – 30.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
-51.16% -11.25% +3.57% +16.79%

Again, we see that the low performers dropped off at a much greater rate than the gainers did, continuing the trend initially set on March 16th.


A New Quarter Begins

One final data set we took a look at was the period immediately after the quarter ended, and analyzed the traffic levels from a week after.

Below are the changes observed on an average daily basis between March 16 – 30, compared to April 1 – April 7.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
-16.59% -1.35% +7.29% +25.12%

The trend has been reversed here, with our biggest gainers seeing a greater increase in traffic levels than did our traffic losers.


Conclusion

The analysis above provides evidence that toward the end of this past quarter that a drop in Google Shopping traffic for many merchants did occur, and for some it was quite substantial.

It’s a pattern that we’ve seen repeated in the past but not quite to the extent that we just recently saw, and explains the outcry in the Google Merchant Center forums.

Eventually though we saw that it was (almost) much ado about nothing, as while merchants may have seen a both a traffic and corresponding sales/revenue drop over the time period, we’ve found at this point in time most merchants have rebounded and returned to “normal” levels dependent upon seasonality.

The important thing to take away from all of this if you’re a merchant is simply to keep your Google Shopping feeds as up-to-date and optimized as possible, so that you can rise through the slower times and reap the most benefits during the good times.



More Information

2010 was an eventful year for Google Shopping. We’ve compiled all merchant-relevant updates into one comprehensive white paper that you can download for free.

Click here to receive your copy of CPC Strategy’s eBook, Staying on Top of Google Shopping – April 2011 Edition.

About the AuthorTien Nguyen is a co-founder of CPC Strategy and deals with data feeds in his waking hours and often in his sleep. He spends his free time with Rubik's cubes while rooting for the underachieving Raiders and UCLA sports teams where he graduated with a mathematics/economics degree. See all posts by this author here.

  • http://www.jordonmeyer.com Jordon Meyer

    Great data! Love seeing multiple accounts lined up together. Are these all your accounts? (built and managed the same way?)

    Amongst my accounts I saw a flatline on 2, a small increase on 3 others, and a 70% drop on only 1 account on the 16th. Mostly industrial and b2b sites.

    This was 2 days after Google’s announcement of their requirement updated – maybe they rolled out a test on Saturday hoping no one would notice… http://googlemerchantblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/changes-for-google-product-search.html