Dodge the Naughty List: Essential Holiday Paid Search and SEO Planning Guide

While summer is still in full swing, its that jolly time of year when digital marketers plan their approach for the holiday. Though the holiday shopping season is only a few weeks, that short window of time provides the lion’s share of revenue for online retailers. With so much excitement packed into a short time, I’ve outlined how you can get ready for the 2015 holiday season with an essential guide across Paid Search and SEO.

Don’t repeat history.

  • Before jumping into this year’s plans with zest, perform a careful, objective post mortem of 2014. Think about your internal Paid Search and SEO processes, strategies and tactical executions
  • What didn’t work as expected?
  • Were there delays in SEO keyword research, Paid Search sitelink approvals, holiday page sitemap inclusion, etc.?
  • Find previous campaigns for baseline evaluation and seek out mismatches in expectations or performance gaps. Evaluate your success metrics for relevancy to this holiday season.
  • After finding previous campaigns, take an inventory of your inventory! With turnover, it’s possible last year’s bestsellers are no longer available. Use analytics data and shopping campaign performance to find the key products contributing to 80% of your revenue.

Then, look outward to what your customer is telling you through the lens of last year’s sales data:

  • Were there common themes of customer complaints or issues? The answers to these questions could set the tone for a wildly successful holiday 2015 and early 2016.
  • What were the top-performing days and hours in your sales? Were channels consistent or disparate in this frame of reference?
  • Did certain offers convert better than others?
  • Update your logistics strategy for different sales events by using historical data, such as shipping methods.
  • Were you able to drive email list signups during sales? If so, what was the retention.
Prevention is key.

Even if you’ve already made intricate, well-informed holiday marketing plans, it’s still your game to lose. If overlooked, small technical details could spark a social firestorm of disgruntled holiday shoppers. Have you considered whether:

  • The division of labor between maintaining the website and server is clearly known between marketing, development firms and IT.
  • Allowances have been made for extra staffing and availability.
  • Issues with code freezes or DNS/hosting contract renewals have been worked out.
  • A plan is in place to coordinate Meta data, XML sitemap publishing updates with major availability and out of stock events.
  • There is a clear line of communication and plan in place if the unthinkable happens and the site goes down, so marketing dollars aren’t wasted driving searchers to a bad customer experience.

Again, look outward to your customers and:

  • Plan for site uptime monitoring.
  • Set up social media listening.
  • Create crisis communication plans in case of fulfillment, service or shipping interruptions.
  • Vet holiday shipping and return policies, lead times and coupons in advance.

Specifically, for your paid search campaigns:

  • Plan spend and revenue targets for each day.
  • Build consensus between your teams on padding for aggressive bidding strategies during peak hours and days. Complex bid modifiers may add up quickly, so consider at least a 20% pad on your overall budget.
  • Note that mobile may account for one third to one half of your revenue, so ensure impression share and revenue continuity by planning appropriately for mobile bidding strategies.

For both your Paid Search and SEO strategies, you should break out your keyword research by sales events and perhaps by recipients within each sale. For example, you might find an unexpected niche in “Black Friday Gifts for Dad” or another long-tail term. For paid search, be sure you’ve painstakingly carved out cascading negative keyword lists.

Set up for success.

To keep things running smoothly once the holidays arrive, build in time to organize things on the backend. 

  • Plan out the pages and URLs for your holiday content. These pages will be included in XML sitemaps, referenced in other brand content and optimized at least a month or two ahead of the rush.
  • Optimize Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc. pages to reinforce email, paid search and social messaging in the natural search results.
  • Pay special attention to details such as Meta data including free shipping expirations and shipping arrival deadlines.
  • Feature the specialized sale and gift pages prominently from the home pages. E.g., Gifts under $100—and test them as sitelinks in paid search.
  • Evaluate the mobile experience of your site with a brutally honest evaluation of a user journey under pressure.
  • Coordinate inventory management and mobile commerce to head off in-store out of stock challenges.
  • Map out targeted ad extensions and sitelinks in advance.
  • Outline ad testing hypotheses and rotations now, so you can spend more time analyzing than rushing to implement.
  • Upload and QA your campaigns well in advance of the live dates.
  • Run your reporting automation systems through a trial now, so you can spend maximum time reporting successes.
  • Arrange standing meetings now with partners/vendors who will be helping with these preparations leading up to holiday.
Play for the win.

While loss prevention and risk mitigation is important, it’s important to plan for success too.

  • Plan to keep your holiday sale URLs live year-round: capture and retain your link equity for next year and beyond.
  • Augment your sales with hashtags, aided by social behavior research, using tools such as Topsy.
  • Start early testing on the Google, Twitter firehose for real-time #BlackFriday indexation and organic visibility.
  • Clean and segment your emails lists to better match carefully crafted offers.
  • Prepare cart abandonment emails to combat distracted and multi-tasking shoppers.
  • Pay careful attention to sale-specific remarketing campaigns and lists to recapture would-be comparison shoppers and potential buyers.
  • Can you bring the holiday spirit to your brand creative? When performed thoughtfully, holiday-themed social avatars, banner, creative and logos might be the tipping point leading shoppers to you.
  • A final note: plan segues between normal Q4 2015, holiday and Q1 2016 initiatives. Smooth transitions between them will make your holiday season enjoyable too.

It’s not too late to start these preparations for the holidays. Careful planning and driven execution can lead your brand to unprecedented holiday success this year. Considering these questions now may allow enough time for a pivot in strategy or tactics to lift your revenue when it counts.