The holiday shopping season is my favorite time of year. Snow on the ground, laughter in the air, carnage in my bank account…whenever holiday time rolls around, I still get that same giddy excitement I did as a boy.

However, once upon a time, early in my search marketing career, that the thought of the holiday season filled me with dread. Midnight copy changes, last minute inventory issues, missed opportunities and those holiday-focused keywords that never quite perform. As an SEM, holiday can be as nerve-shredding as it can be jolly.

So what can we as retail search marketers do to ensure a pain-free, highly profitable holiday?

Luckily for you we’ve been making a list — one that you should definitely check twice. Do that, and you’ll be in a great place to capitalize on this bountiful time of year for retail, while avoiding some of the torment that has ruined the holiday celebrations for many retail search marketers.

Without further ado, here’s what should be top of your wish list this year:

1.  Budget Plan

Holiday, for most retailers, is the highest demand period of the year. It’s when sales (and searches) are at their peak. To take advantage of that, we need to ensure we have enough budget set aside to meet that demand.

Running out of budget, or having to limit traffic on high performing keywords during peak periods, is a fast track onto your company’s naughty list.

Properly set expectations with key stakeholders early, and make those budget requests well ahead of time. That way, you will set yourself up to fully capitalize on all the great traffic out there during the final quarter of the year.

As well as considering your overall budget, it’s important you look at your campaign flighting schedule.

Demand is far from even during the holiday period, so look at last year’s peak demand weeks/days and figure out how you’ll invest your funds, and adjust budget caps, bids and targets accordingly.

 

2.  Mobile Strategy

Mobile commerce hit record numbers last year, recording an annual growth of 143% and annual sales of $3.4 billion*.  Holiday was the undisputed star of the show, with a staggering 550%  increase in sales over the previous year**.

But what about mobile search? Well, the good news for us is that mobile search is also growing – and fast. Holiday 2010 recorded a 300% increase in shopping related searches on mobile devices year-over-year.

What do all these impressive stats mean? Simply put, people are using their phones to do more  searches, and are then making more purchases. If you don’t have a presence in the mobile search space, you will miss out on sales.

Ideally, you’ll be sending all this great traffic to a mobile optimized site (if you don’t have one, you’re kind of falling behind). The good news is, even if you don’t have a mobile-optimized site, lower CPC and competition levels mean you can probably still play profitably in that space.

At a minimum, you should look to have robust coverage on your brand terms, key category terms and top products to ensure you’re taking advantage of mobile demand during holiday.

Also, don’t forget to take advantage of mobile sitelinks. They provide an additional opportunity to promote your holiday offers, seasonal ranges and increase conversion rates by driving users to deeper level pages.

Tablets of course are a different proposition. The user experience on a tablet is far more akin to desktop than it is to a smartphone.  Conversion rates are, in our experience, at least equal to desktop and often higher; plus, tablets typically have higher AOVs.

We recommend funding separate tablet campaigns within your search accounts, and setting aside budget to ensure you can take advantage of this high performing device.

3.  A Promotion A Day

OK. So you don’t literally need a promotion a day. This isn’t an advent calendar. What I’m talking about here is having a promotion running for at least all the key shopping days during holiday – Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday and Free Shipping Day.

People expect offers on these days, and retailers that don’t serve offers up will lose sales to those that do. That’s a fact. Even if you’re not a promotional retailer – this is the one time you need to break that rule. You won’t tarnish your premium image by featuring promos on these dates, but you will thrill your customers.

If you are adverse to outright promotions– free shipping is still one of the most incentivizing offers around, particularly in the paid search space.

4.  Holistic Approach

Savvy retailers know shoppers often go online to research and price compare, with the intention of making their purchase offline. Therefore, work with all teams to drive shoppers online presence with the purpose of driving brick and mortar sales. If you fail to make the online-to-offline connection with your users, they will go and shop with a brand that does.

Desktop and mobile search are increasingly being used with local intent. We’ve talked about the growth of mCommerce sales online, but it’s important to  recognize (and have key stakeholders in your company recognize) that there’s significant offline value to being found in mobile search.

In addition to considering both the online and offline benefits of paid search, brands need to think holistically about the online consumer journey during holiday, and the need to be visible across multiple channels.

a)  Social

Increasingly, consumers are heading to social sites like Facebook and Twitter to look for deals (both online and offline) from their favorite retailers. A recent eMarketer survey found that more than half the visitors to brand pages/news feeds go there to keep up-to-date on sales and promotions.

So when you are having those Black Friday or Cyber Monday offers, be sure to message them in your social media profiles, too. Consider paid mediums like Facebook Marketplace Ads or Twitter Sponsored Tweets to further spread the word.

b)  Consumer Shopping Engines

With the recent economic woes, consumers are more cost conscious when going through the purchase process. During December 2010, the commerce site with the greatest YoY growth in visitors was Yahoo Shopping (beating out Amazon and a host of other major retailers). Take advantage of this trend and make sure your brand has a presence on major CSEs like Yahoo Shopping, Google Product Search and Nextag.

c)  Local Listings

Local search is another channel that retailers with a brick and mortar presence need to pay close attention to. If a user can’t find your physical store location, or the details around that location are wrong (address, phone number, etc), the odds they’ll go elsewhere are pretty high. Especially during holiday, when shopping time is of the essence and competition for consumer dollars is at its peak.

5.  Early Start…Late Finish

Consumers are increasingly falling into two distinct camps when it comes to the timing of holiday shopping – those who do it early, and those who wait until the very (very) last minute.

Those in the latter camp are increasing significantly YoY. In fact, by far the biggest growth in sales YoY last holiday was observed on December 17 – Free Shipping Day (+61% over 2009).

Consumers have come to expect stronger promotions late in the season, and even later “final shipping” dates from their favorite retailers. Both these features encourage this strong finish to the season. Retailers who don’t offer these things will undoubtedly lose these late season sales to competitors who do.

Google research tells us 71 percent of consumers start holiday researching/shopping on or before October 5th, with 49 percent having already made a purchase by that date***.

For retailers, that means you need to start that holiday ramp-up early – as early as today. Don’t wait until the start of November, or you’ll already have missed the boat. And trust me, you don’t need that extra stress this time of year.

* ABI Research
** Foresee Results
*** Google/OTX  Holiday shopping survey, comScore July 2011, State of economy


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Chris Sinclair is a Client Services Director for iProspect. He specializes in fully integrated digital campaigns, drawing from years of experience across multiple channels, including paid search, SEO, display media, mobile and social. Sinclair has developed highly successful performance marketing strategies for key brands including adidas, TaylorMade Golf, Cisco, Bass Pro Shops, Hilton International and Burberry. As well as delivering significant ecommerce growth for his brands, he has also implemented highly successful branding campaigns, and initiatives to drive online consumers into brick and mortar stores. For adidas, Sinclair has executed click-path optimization, location-based social marketing, mobile couponing and dynamic display creative to drive strong year-on-year sales growth for the brand. For Cisco and Burberry, Sinclair managed international paid search initiatives, with campaigns spanning five continents and twenty languages. In addition, he also has experience within the financial services, entertainment and B2B verticals.

Before joining iProspect in April 2009, Sinclair worked at bigmouthmedia in Europe. He graduated from University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

 

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