Reports from the first weekend of the big holiday season in the U.S. are in, and they are quite mixed.
Businesses both large and small tried to get a jump on the Black Friday specials this year by advertising "Black Friday" discounts throughout the four weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Early in November, a blog post on C|Net speculated that Black Friday wouldn't matter anymore while the Wall Street Journal insists that it still matters for retailers and deal-crazed consumers. Black Friday is usually a slow day for retail jewelers unless they are in a mall or actively participating in the great deals and big giveaways.
Over the past 10 years, consumers have learned that Cyber Monday --the Monday after Thanksgiving-- is the day for the best online deals. But according to comScore, consumers didn't wait until Cyber Monday this year and started their cyber shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday both achieved more than $1 billion in sales for the second year in a row as you can see here:
You can see comScore's press release about this here.
There's no doubt that consumers take action when they find a good deal, but as I said, most fine retail jewelers don't offer those doorbuster deals. In general, the customers who search for those good deals are usually not the type of customer with buying habits that a fine retail jeweler is trying to attract anyway.
In fact, as I look over my compiled website data from the period of last Wednesday through Sunday I see a massive 24.24% drop in organic traffic across my entire network of monitored retail jewelry stores. That's quite considerable for a single weekend and I had to dig in very deep to figure out why.
What I found surprised me. A lot.
Google is the current king of search and they've made several changes to their algorithm over the last year. Perhaps the biggest announcement was at the beginning of the year with Mobilgeddon and how they would differently rank websites if they didn't work well on mobile devices.
More recently, they accounted their use of artificial intelligence, called RankBrain, and how it was improving search results.
Measuring the affects of individual Google algorithm changes are quite difficult to see. Within the website optimization industry, it's generally understood that a website needs to be updated often with new information that customers will like, but at the same time, it needs to be updated with programming changes that Google recommends.
While dissecting that massive 24.24% drop, I realized I had two individual, discrete data groups:
Group 1 - Websites that were upgraded within the last 12 months
Group 2 - Websites that were upgraded more than 12 months ago
The Group 1 websites upgraded within the last 12 months are all following Google's latest website and mobile-friendly guidelines, and they are on a routine schedule for new blog posts, and continual updates throughout the website. Essentially, these websites are doing what is generally accepted as the correct procedure to remain relevant on the internet. I was a bit relieved to see a 7.29% increase in traffic for this group of retail jewelers over the Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend.
The Group 2 websites upgraded more than 12 months ago do not follow Google's latest website and mobile-friendly guidelines. Some of these websites do have frequent blog posts and other updates, but the programming code and techniques that make the site run are out of date. It's these websites that contributed to the 24.24% organic traffic drop and were affected the most during the past weekend.
Can We Fix This?
The massive e-commerce sales reported by comScore were, no doubt, influenced greatly by organic traffic. But the internet is much more diverse now than just gaining website visitors through organic means. Paid advertising through banner ads, Facebook, and AdWords are a huge source of traffic for many businesses. Social media traffic is another huge source.
If you happen to fall into Group 2 as I explained above, then you may have to rely heavily on more online paid ads during the next 4 weeks and quickly start your preparations for a new website redesign in early 2016.