Tick Tock: Get Your Holiday Search Marketing Program Ready Now!


With the back-to-school vibe in the air and the BBQ season still going strong, it’s easy to forget that now is the best time to be thinking about your end-of-year search marketing strategies.

Since the last six weeks of the year are potentially the most lucrative for many online businesses, there’s little to no margin of acceptable error as we head into the busy holiday season.

To help you get a jumpstart on the season, here are five search marketing actions to put into place now so you’re able to maximize your Q4 results.

Analyze keywords. While this is a big part of your ongoing activities, here’s what you’ll want to more closely examine as you prepare for year-end.

  • Identify keywords used during last year’s holiday season with regard to those that yielded the strongest and weakest results. You’ll want to make sure to optimize your campaigns to allow well-performing terms to trigger ads as often as possible. You’ll also want to figure out why your poor performers did not do well and either avoid showing ads for them, or find a way to make them work.
  • Pay special attention to Search Query reports making sure you add high volume queries that have not converted as negative keywords. Look at last year’s Q4 searches as well as any high volume queries throughout 2012.
  • Build out your holiday-specific keyword list including gift versions of keywords and modifiers such as sale, coupon, free shipping, and Black Friday, for example.

Determine your bid strategy. You already know the bidding will be competitive in Q4 so you’ll want to:

  • Take a look at how CPCs fluctuate between keywords over previous years during the fourth quarter. Use year-over-year data trends as a reference as well as Google’s Keyword and Traffic Estimator tools.
  • Add any converting queries that came from your search query reports. Bidding on these queries as keywords in your account will allow you to specifically optimize for them as well as the keywords they were originally mapping to.
  • Check keyword bids by match type. The exact match version of a keyword should always have the highest max CPC, followed by its phrase, and then broad match counterparts. This helps force the search engine to prefer the keyword in your account closest to the actual query when triggering an ad.

Prepare for a series of testing and retesting. Make the most of the last weeks of Q3 to test and make sure you have your search marketing strategy firmly in place for the holiday season. What you’ll want to be on the lookout for is:

  • Your best converting ads and understand why they’re performing well. To do this, pause all but your best performing ads by ad group and rotate in two more versions that vary slightly from the original ad. After a couple weeks of testing, you’ll know which version of your ad is the strongest.
  • Which are your best converting landing pages. Look by ad group to make sure you are sending your traffic to the most relevant landing page for the keyword.  If there are a couple of pages that make sense, now is the time to test them to make sure you know which converts best by testing them.
  • How well you’re doing in new channels so you can determine which to focus on during the holiday season. If you have been meaning to test a new channel such as YouTube or Facebook PPC, do it before Q4 hits so you can gather knowledge and finalize a strategy before your busiest time of year.

Properly allocate budgets. If your budget is not set in stone for the remainder of the year, you’ll want to make sure you allow enough media spend to remain saturated on your best converting efforts throughout the holidays. To make the most of your budget, consider the following:

  • Evaluate your year-over-year changes during Q4 and then bump up the numbers by factoring in the continued, expected growth in search marketing. The rise in search marketing will make for an even more competitive season, therefore affecting your budget.
  • Spread out your spending according to online traffic patterns. Consumers are shopping earlier and longer for the holidays each year. You’ll want to allow budget for the beginning of the season in late October and then spikes during days such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Free Shipping Day, and throughout the remaining weeks of the year.
  • Allow budget for campaigns you did not have the previous year.  Now that Google Shopping will be managed through AdWords and has an associated cost, you will want to allow budget if you participate in this channel.  Are you planning on running mobile or tablet campaigns this year that you did not last year? If so, make sure you have also included them in your budget.

Communicate with your agency. The more information your agency has, the better they can manage the account. As soon as you are able, communicate:

  • Your promotional calendar.  Search account managers spend a great deal of time creating and changing ad copy for you during Q4.  The sooner you get them your holiday promotions, the more prepared they will be when the big days hit. Discuss ad copy with them and the time of day promotions go live on the site to maximize your chance at conversion and avoid any hiccups.
  • Q4 budget. Depending on how long you have been with your agency or the historical data you are able to provide them, they should be able to give you an idea of the budget they’ll need to meet your goals.
  • The overall marketing plan. If you explain to your agency your overall goals and message it will allow them to see how paid search fits into the bigger picture and construct a more customized holiday strategy.

Investing the time now to perfect your Q4 search marketing strategies will pay off significantly and enable you to see a successful close to the year.



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