Let’s start be defining what exactly is ad seasonality? Ad seasonality refers to the impact on advertiser spend and ad revenue by consumer events and the seasonal trends in the ad industry.
We’ve discussed some of the more obvious RPM seasonal trends in the past, like how Q4 is the peak money-making time for publishers and why January is a bit slower, but let’s look at the trends of a full year. If you need an RPM refresher, read our previous post on What is RPM and How is it Calculated.
Advertising seasonality is driven by two main factors: RPMs and traffic. These are interlinked factors that are tied to seasonal periods of time throughout the year. These periods can be related to cultural holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan), commercial holidays (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day) or ad hoc events, like the Olympics or election years.
Advertisers typically forecast their spend based on monthly and quarterly goals. As a result, we typically see spend lower at the beginning of a month or quarter, and higher at the end of a month or quarter. Advertiser spend also increases significantly for money spending events like Amazon Prime Day, Back to School, Black Friday, Christmas, graduations and Valentine’s Day. For each of these events, publishers (depending on content niche) will see a corresponding increase in RPM.
Advertisers have annual budgets for media spends. Media buyers typically break that budget up into quarters, with the highest amount of spend allocated for months with high spending events. Q1 generally is given the least amount of budget, with Q4 given the most. It’s also typical to see each quarter (and month) start out slowly and build up as the weeks pass. This is so they can monitor the success of the campaigns and re-adjust budgets as needed. And as the year passes on, advertisers are eager to use the remaining budgets so spend increases and therefore RPMs increase.
other common seasonal trends
1. January and July are often the slowest months for publisher revenue earnings. For some ad agencies, the end of their fiscal year is June and for others it is December. This would explain the increase in spend in June, as they try to use their budgets. The increase in December spend would be not only because of the end of the fiscal year, but because it’s the largest shopping related month of the year. Because of this, January and July tend to be the two slowest revenue months for publishes. Coming out of the holidays, people tend to give their wallets a rest which is another reason advertisers tend to spend less in January.
2. Q1: January revenue may be the lowest you see all year, due to traffic decrease as well as consumer spend decrease. At the end of January, you may see a bit of a lift for Super Bowl. Valentine’s Day is in February, St. Patrick’s Day, spring break and sometimes, Easter happen in March, so you can expect to see a bit of an RPM lift during these months.
3. Q2: April through June can vary from month to month. June is typically one of the higher months for RPMs, as the fiscal year is ending for many ad agencies. But, the summer slump is real, so finding content opportunities to address summer content, such as vacations, activities for kids, DIY projects, swimwear trends, etc., this can offset some of the slow traffic.
4. Q3: The summer slump continues through July, but steadily gains traction as we move into August and September. Back to School hits in August and advertiser spend begins to pick up. September picks up even more, as advertisers are preparing for Q4 holidays.
5. Q4: October to December you can expect to see a significant jump in RPMs, as ad spend is at its highest due to all the shopping related events.
proactive ways you can respond to these trends
In slower months, like January, it’s a great time to make any technical changes to your site that you held off on in Q4. It’s typically not recommended to make big adjustments to your site (ie redesign, migration, massive layout changes) during your heaviest traffic months.
A lot of what was mentioned before, with the different holidays and events, is assuming that your blog even covers these topics. Depending your niche, you may have to get more creative on how to include relevant seasonal content into editorial flow. But we would encourage you to try, as the online interest around those topics skyrockets around each event. And to go a step further, get creative with it. There will be one million ‘gifts for your husbands’ out there, find a way to make it more specific and unique, like ‘gifts for the men and women who love to camp’ or ‘gifts for your video gaming husband’. Long-tail angles can pay off in a big way!
Make sure you’re looking at your traffic to see what performed well last year during these time periods. If you can refresh a piece of content from the year before, it’ll give you more time to create new content and get more value out of content written in the past.
It’s important for all publishers to understand the seasonality trends of ad spend across each month. This way, you won’t be taken off guard when your January or July numbers are low and you’ll also know how to prepare to capitalize on time periods of high advertiser spend.