The Christmas shopping season may be a good half-year away, but search marketers should be getting into the holiday spirit right now. Experienced online retailers understand the traffic crush and increased conversion rates that come with the convergence of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. Most people who have worked at an internet retailer during this time also have first-hand experience with a level of activity that rivals a shopping mall on Black Friday. With a little preparation, you can not only manage the buying madness that is coming your way, but you can also siphon off much more of the traffic that would have gone to your less-prepared competitors.
Why should you start preparing for the Christmas Blitz now? Here are a few items to consider before the big day approaches.
- Have you created holiday themed pages for the search engines? You may want to do some keyword research that shows what terms were popular last year.
- Spidering and indexing can take several weeks, even with Google Caffeine. If you sell holiday products (like chocolates, cards, and fruitcakes) it often pays to keep the pages active year-round.
- Are you adding external links to new pages? These links need to get “age” for proper consideration, so they should be placed in advance. You should consider that links from other sites take time to be found, cached, and applied to search engine rankings.
- Links from interior pages need to be added in order to show that the holiday pages are relevant to the site as a whole. On page link popularity is often overlooked for seasonal products.
- Have you added fresh content, titles, and tags? An SEO audit should be done to ensure that any of your older pages aren’t utilizing yesterday’s optimization tactics.
Pay Per Click:
- Have you built out holiday-themed landing pages? Do you need any graphics or design work done in order to get them ready? Does the rest of your site (like the logo) use a different theme for the holidays?
- Do you have ad creatives at the ready? Google and Bing PPC have quality score requirements that factor in the “age” of the ad and whether a landing page is relevant enough to the keyword. Your cost per click and ad position are going to depend on quality score, so you may want to have your ads paused and ready for a quick activation.
- Have you budgeted for the season? Many ecommerce stores will triple their PPC budget for the month of December, and some sites have an open-ended budget as long as the daily sales justify it. If you start hitting credit limits on PPC, then you may watch your sales grind to a halt when the ads shut off!
- Are competitors listing lower prices for the same products? You may want to adjust your pricing to match or beat theirs.
Email and Customer Service:
- Have you emailed coupon codes to current and past customers? A 10% off coupon usually costs less than what you’d spend on PPC to make the same sale.
- Do you have enough people to handle phone calls and emails? Do you need to hire temporary employees and train them? Do you have enough phones and workstations ready?
- Have you made the site easy enough that the average person can make a purchase within a few clicks?
- Can most customer service questions be answered on the site? This frees up the phones for sales calls. You should also make sure that a toll-free number is prominent on every page.
- Can you automatically email tracking numbers to customers and save the cost of a follow-up call?
- Can the site and shopping cart handle the extra traffic? Online shoppers may start buying as early as September, but the pace picks up a bit more dramatically toward the start of November and ramps up from there. You want to make sure any site functionality issues are addressed ahead of time. If your site is slow right now, how will it react to a crush of customers?
- Are the programmers lined up? Almost every online initiative faces delays in implementation. If you are outsourcing your coding, you may end up with slow response times from programmers who are working feverishly for their “other” clients. It is better to experience issues before a busy season than after it.
- Do you have a reputable shipping company lined up? Have you negotiated any volume discounts? You want to make sure that you aren’t overpaying for shipping, but you definitely don’t want to experience a bunch of chargebacks because the shipping company failed to deliver Christmas gifts before December 25. (This last tip comes from personal experience with a major shipping provider who didn’t get some “next day air” gifts to their destinations until January.)
With many online retailers, the hectic pace doesn’t die down until the last day a product can be shipped. For the brief remainder of the year, most calls and emails usually involve tracking verification and sales from people who still want to make sure someone gets a gift, even if it is a few days late. As shipping confirmations are sent out (either from drop shippers or a warehouse) then credit card charges are batched for processing. This is the point where all of the preparation pays off, and your efforts can be quantified in real dollars. A good preemptive initiative for Christmas season (or any seasonal sales uptick) can fatten up your bottom line while it leaves your competition believing that the recession has turned into a depression. Even though you’re probably still weary from the last chaotic holiday rush, you may find that this season runs more smoothly and profitably thanks to the work you’re doing right now.