Winning the Holiday Search Season

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By Patrick Reinhart, Sr. Director of Digital Strategies at Conductor, Inc.

The holidays are upon us, and that means it’s a make or break season for most brands as we hurtle towards the end of the year. Every year around this time, we hear one question again and again: “How do I win the holidays?” There’s no definitive answer to that question, but there are definitely some considerations you should take into account and tactics you can employ to make this holiday season successful, even if you didn’t plan ahead.

And that brings us to the key question: Did you plan ahead?

In this SEO-style Choose Your Own Adventure, there are two clear answers to this question that will define how you should approach the holiday search season. Let’s look at these two paths.

Option 1: So, I didn’t plan ahead… (also known as: The Naughty List)

It’s time for a bit of tough talk: if you are reading this article and looking for ways to win the 2018 holiday season without having done any preparation earlier in the year, you are 2-3 months too late to dominate the market and you should have started thinking about this a while ago.

Planning is key to a successful holiday season, especially when it comes to search, since organic performance cannot be turned on and off like a faucet. If you wanted to push out holiday content, you probably should have written it and started seeding it in August.

We’ve all been there. The best path forward is to take this year as a lesson and start planning earlier next year.

But is there anything I can do now?

A little more cold, hard truth: at this point in the season, you are going to have to open your wallet and rely on all of the mechanical search-related levers you can pull, like paid ads and paid social (which are two avenues you are probably already heading down). Here’s where you should focus your efforts:

The Super-Last-Minute SOS Guide to Holiday Search Strategy:
  1. Create a Holiday Area on Your Site: While you can’t control being late to the game, what you can control is where your ads send potential customers. Creating a great holiday experience on your site can go a long way to holiday search success, especially if you provide a great deal to go along with it. This is something you should be able to pull together fairly quickly if you have the right resources, and it can salvage your season.
  2. Run a Holiday Contest on Social: Running contests on social is a great way to build buzz and gain new followers without a huge investment. Promote your holiday contest with paid social ads to drive folks to your brand and give yourself a nice bump in visibility. Giving away one of your products or service offerings to the winner and coupons to all who participate is a great way to get folks to your site and engaging with your brand.
Option 2: I did plan ahead! (also known as: The Nice List)

Hallelujah! And also, way to go! You started planning in July/August and probably seeded some holiday content that is currently driving organic traffic since you gave it time to marinate and climb the rankings.

While you should continue to promote your content and follow your plan, don’t make the mistake of not following through with your customers. You would not be the first or the last to fumble your holiday search strategy at the last minute.

The Super-Prepared Expert-Level Guide to Holiday Search Strategy:
  1. Engage your customers throughout the entire holiday season, not just at the beginning. It’s great that you thought ahead and have a plan, but it’s easy to run out of energy, enthusiasm or steam when you get an early start. Remember that the holidays provide the unique opportunity of an accelerated sales cycle on both the B2B and B2C side, as businesses have unused budget left over at the end of the year and consumers are already in a buying mindset.
  2. Don’t just try to sell them something. You should take advantage of the season to kick your engagement into overdrive and really help your customers and prospective customers connect with your brand. This is a golden opportunity to convert them into lifetime customers and supporters. The key to all of this is to provide high-value, engaging experiences instead of something that makes them feel forced into a literal sales funnel (ouch).

People are bombarded with marketing and ads during the holidays (they’re bombarded all of the time, but the holidays up the ante by at least a power of ten), so don’t just throw some ads in their faces. It will all just register as white noise and you won’t get the return you hope for.

The holiday season is long enough that if you capture customers’ attention early, you have the opportunity to not just hold that attention, but also strengthen and deepen that relationship by continuing to provide helpful content. Creating a great experience can be as simple as answering a question they’re asking or helping them make a decision about what to get a loved one. That assistance will go a very long way and directly affect how they perceive your brand.

Instead of focusing on selling people a product or a service, zero in on opportunities to provide them with value and direction. Even if they don’t buy from you right away, they will remember that experience and come back to you well beyond the holiday season.

And that, as Tiny Tim so memorably said, is the greatest win of all.

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