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Search Strategies for the Holidays

Search Strategies for the Holidays Rob Wilk

The holiday season is just around the corner and Santa's elves are already hard at work fulfilling wish lists in preparation for Santa’s big night. If you are an online marketer these days, I bet your job feels a bit like one of Santa's elves or at least it should! The fourth quarter is by far the most important for a majority of advertisers. The question is: How can you make sure that you maximize your online sales this holiday season? One way to guarantee success is to make sure your paid search strategy is laser focused.

The beauty of paid search is that it provides an opportunity to level the playing field for any online retailer. Wal-Mart and JoesGolfMart.com must go head-to-head to bid on the same keyword. Want to show up first for a search query like "Buy Golf Clubs"? No problem -- bid high enough and the top spot is yours. Sounds pretty easy doesn't it? Famous last words.

Every year around this time, marketers are deluged with news about how ecommerce transactions will hit record highs. Well, folks, this year will be no different. In fact, early indications show that we will see an even higher year-over-year growth rate than ever before. According to Goldman Sachs, consumers spent $18.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2003 (excluding Travel). That was a 35 percent increase over 2002, which came in at a healthy $13.7 billion. In other words, online merchants should be ready for a fourth quarter like they have never seen before.

So, how do you prepare for this onslaught of online shoppers, wallets in hand, that will be heading to the likes of Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Shopping.com, and others searching for that perfect holiday gift at the best price? The answer is simple: Design and implement your strategy NOW! Here is a list of 10 tips that will get you through the holidays and ensure a successful season of happy marketers and, in turn, consumers.

1. Be prepared for huge increases in overall search volume. In particular, look for the retail and even pharmaceutical (e.g. depression, heartburn, etc.) categories to spike. What this means is that you could potentially hit daily caps on Google faster than usual and with Overture you may hit your monthly cap -- and now daily caps, a capability Overture just launched -- way ahead of time, so be on top of your budgets. This doesn't mean lowering your bids to avoid hitting caps. If your current bid is profitable for you, then find more money to spend. There is no sense in decreasing your sales volume if you are already profitable.

2. You will also see a significant increase in branded searches (and of COURSE you are bidding on your branded terms, aren't you?).  People who know what they want --  and who they want it from -- will still search for it and BUY. Which leads to my next point ...

3. Conversion rates will start to creep up and then explode in mid-to-late November, and stay high through the early part of the third full week in December (or whatever the last day is that most retailers can ship goods to arrive before Christmas). Last year, we saw conversion rates triple in some cases during the holidays. This makes perfect sense because all of those search "browsers" are now "buyers." Exploit this opportunity as best you can. It only comes but once a year!

4. Costs-per-click WILL increase. As search volume and conversion rates increase, advertisers (the smart ones) will get a lot more aggressive in their bidding to take advantage of this prime traffic. Keep an eye on your competition in terms of what keywords they are bidding on, what their copy says, what their bid strategy is and so on. But, don't get overly obsessed with them. What is most important to you, the marketer, is to bid so that you are maximizing sales volume and doing it in a profitable manner.

5. Advertisers will add keywords like "Christmas gift" or "Holiday gift", etc. Be very wary of these terms. These terms get a lot of volume, but do not convert all that well -- unless you are an eBay or Amazon.com type business. For the most part, people who type in these sorts of queries are people looking for gift ideas. They are not necessarily ready to buy. If you have strict direct-response metrics then stay away from these terms or bid VERY conservatively until you have enough data to justify a higher bid. If you are more of a brand marketer, these types of keywords can be effective in influencing consumers who are the top of the purchase funnel.

6. Be aggressive with your copy. This is not only applicable for the fourth quarter; this is a rule to always live by. Merchants should offer things like "free shipping" or special holiday discounts. Writing good copy takes time, so you should be working on this sooner rather than later. Do you have a distinct price advantage over your competitors? Then say it LOUD and CLEAR! You may even want to try copy that has specific price points (e.g. “Great Gifts Under $50”). Using holiday specific copy will be the way to get great click-through rates; and since conversion rates will go up, it will cause a volume increase and a potential Cost-Per-Sale decrease. That's a true win, win.

7. Be ready for fads. Can you say, "Tickle me Elmo"? If you have any holiday toy or gift that gets hot, make sure you have all of the right keywords, copy and budget to take advantage of fad type products. Watching search volume grow is the best indicator of consumer interest and can be done, for example, utilizing Google’s Zeitgeist (http://www.google.com/press/zeitgeist.html) or the Lycos 50 (http://50.lycos.com/).

8. Can you guarantee on-time delivery? Last minute shoppers will flock to the search engines looking for help. If you can guarantee that your product will ship in time to make little Timmy happy, then say it!

9. Test new, holiday specific landing pages. If a user searches for a specific item like "Golf Clubs" test out offering complementary items like a "Golf Travel Bag". This strategy always makes the original product seem more attractive to the shopper. Up sell at every opportunity. Don't be afraid to test new landing pages often. Sometimes you can learn just as much about your target audience from a landing page that doesn't convert well as you can from one that does. Mistakes = learnings.

10. Hire an expert! Gone are the days when you could start a paid search campaign and "set it and forget it." The market is way too complex and search is just too critical to be left in the hands of a novice. If you have the budget, get someone in-house or hire an outside search engine marketing firm that lives and breathes this stuff. The good search engine marketing firms save you so much time, effort and money that they end up paying for themselves!

Happy Holidays!

Rob Wilk is director of search engine marketing for Avenue A/Razorfish Search (http://www.ar-search.com). He oversees search engine marketing efforts on behalf of clients in the East Region of the largest independent interactive agency Avenue A/Razorfish, as well as establishes and maintains strong vendor relationships with all search providers.

Failure to communicate

What are you doing? How are projects coming along? Any stumbling blocks I should know about? How are we tracking against our KPIs? How is our key prospect coming along? When was the last time you talked with our biggest account?

Do these questions sound all too familiar? The likely problem is the most common and, fortunately, one of the easiest to change: You have a failure to communicate.

Communication problems tend to fall into two categories. The first category is a lack of communication. Whenever I've been guilty of not communicating, it's typically because I'm buried, or I'm completely immersed in the projects I'm doing to the point where I don't take the time to let my boss know what's going on. The result is typically more time that needs to be spent than if I would have communicated results and project status regularly.

If you're not getting regular communication from the people on your team, take a look at your communication process and make it as simple as possible. Personally, I like to receive a weekly update for the bigger projects and daily updates on the regular core business operations. The key is to remember that your team members are probably working hard, and they likely view taking time away to communicate status as wasted time that could have been spent advancing their projects to completion.

The second communication category where frustrations typically bubble up involves communication frequency, content, and style. For example, some managers prefer to receive communications in a set format, while others are content simply receiving an email with bullet points. Keep in mind the frequency and style of communication, and when in doubt, ask your boss how he or she likes to receive communications.

Finally, the content of the communications are key. If you have no idea what your boss wants to see, it's likely that your reports are lacking the substance your boss is looking for. When I'm not clear on what I'm looking for, I have to kick myself when I receive updates from my team that lack key bits of information. As a manager, be crystal clear on what, when, and how you get the information you want, and your team will keep you out of choking mode.

I'm not screwing off, really

How many times has this scenario happened to you? You've been analyzing reports for the past two hours, and your brain is total mush. You decide to take a quick five-minute brain break and hop on YouTube where you're watching the newest viral video sensation or a new social media application that is being heavily touted on iMedia Connection when your boss (or boss's boss) walks by. The next thing you know, you're in your boss's office hearing about how you seem to be screwing off, and maybe you really can handle a bigger workload. Sound familiar?

If you really are spending most of your day screwing off, then you probably have a long line of people who want to strangle you, including your boss and all of your coworkers who are picking up your slack. But I'm guessing that this isn't the case. More than likely, you're busting your butt, and instead you have a perception problem.

So what can you do to align perception with reality? The answer isn't to lock yourself to your computer. In the marketing business, we're always looking for new technologies, playing around with mobile, getting ideas from the latest big viral hit, and checking out great executions when it comes to social media. That said, it's very easy for everyone else in the organization to perceive this activity as screwing off while everyone else has "real work" to do.

The key is in how this is communicated to the rest of the organization and what you do with insights you come up with. Put together a white page or simply give a link and an application analysis to your boss. This is a great way to keep your boss in the loop regarding the things that we all may take for granted in our daily work lives.

In addition, it's vitally important that your boss understands all of the work you're doing and the results that are being created. Otherwise you run the risk of the Paradox of Excellence. For obvious reasons, you want your boss to know how well you're doing your job, as opposed to your boss thinking that you must be screwing off most of the time.

Make a mistake, rinse, and repeat

We all make mistakes. It's the best way that we learn and translate lessons learned into breakthrough results. The key is that you actually need to learn from those mistakes, not continue to repeat them. Nothing makes me want to strangle someone on my team more than when mistakes are continually repeated.

It's a two-way street when it comes to mistakes. It's important that you're allowed to make mistakes, but when you make one, you need to make sure you learned something and that it doesn't happen again. This is when your boss can be your greatest asset. If your boss isn't already pointing out mistakes and giving suggestions, be proactive and set up the meeting yourself. Point it out as a sticking point, and your boss will likely have some good suggestions for you.

The key to avoiding mistake repetition is realizing when you don't have the answer. I've had some of my greatest personal growth moments after making mistakes (sometimes really big ones) and seeking out answers so that I didn't repeat them.

As a manager, I'm lucky that my team understands that mistakes are good learning opportunities, and it's rare for a mistake to be repeated continually. I enjoy working through problems with people on my team and plugging up holes so that mistakes don't crop up over and over.

What were you thinking?

Do you have business decisions you've made in the past where you wonder what could possibly have been going through your head? A cornerstone of smart business is the ability to make decisions that are based on logic, experience, and a grounded process. When you throw all caution to the wind and toss a good decision-making process to the curb, your boss will want to strangle you. And you're definitely not setting yourself on a path to promotion.

Illogical decisions will make you a target for micromanaging. When I see someone make a decision that makes no sense and epitomizes a complete disregard for logic and process, it makes me cringe. Processes, logic, and experience should be documented for the purpose of avoiding pitfalls. Other people before you have made plenty of mistakes, and that's likely how many of your business processes were solidified.

If you get caught on the wrong side of making these types of decisions, you'll need to take a step back and analyze why you made that decision. Were you acting from emotion (probably the biggest reason) as opposed to logic? Were you blindly relying on a recommendation? Or did you simply have a judgment lapse? In any case, it's best to make a quick assessment and proactively approach your boss with a clearly defined set of lessons learned.

OPM -- other people's money

When you're doing business with vendors, entertaining clients, traveling, or making any one of a number of purchase decisions, are you treating the company dime with the same care you would if it were your own money? Or are you making irresponsible business purchase decisions? Maybe you view business travel as an opportunity to treat yourself to the most lavish meals and travel perks?

Having purchase power comes with a great deal of responsibility. If you prove that you're irresponsibly liberal with the company checkbook, your boss and your CFO will take turns strangling you.

As a manager, it's crucial that anyone on your team with purchase power understands and plays by the rules of the game. These rules are going to vary depending on your company, your position, and the situation. Regardless, these rules must be clearly spelled out, especially with people who have never had purchase power before. Hopefully you're lucky and you've hired fiscally conservative and highly responsible people.

In many companies, your boss will receive a bonus based on performance and adherence to budget. If this is the case, ask to see the budget and help your boss make their bonus numbers. Nothing will make your working relationship with your boss better (and increase your value) than working hard to help your boss hit bonus levels.

Hamster in the wheel

Do you feel like a hamster in a wheel? Are you spinning your wheels working really hard but not seeing the results? If you're in sales, being busy and not producing sales is going to get you a kick out the exit door quickly. In other positions, the lack of results may not be evident as quickly, but you still should have a good measuring stick regarding how you're tracking toward your goals.

At one time or another, we've all had the disconnect where we've been busting our butts, feeling overwhelmed with work, but still not getting the results we were expecting. It's one of the most frustrating positions to be in. It's just as frustrating for your boss, especially when they see you working extremely hard.

This is another situation where you need to take a step back and take a serious look at the activity you've been doing. Maybe you just need to tweak something in your process? Or maybe you need to move in a different direction altogether until you can break through?

When you find yourself in this sort of rut, continuing along the same path is going to result in you figuratively strangling yourself before your boss does it for you.

Time to stop screwing off, get off the hamster wheel, and communicate your sound decisions that produce results.

Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote.

On Twitter? Follow Cheyney at @scheyney. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

You share your tablet

Would you let a stranger use your smartphone? Most people wouldn't. In fact, mobile devices are so private that even families do not share them. What are families sharing? Tablets. Many families have multiple tablets that everyone uses. Older tablets go to the kids and newer ones go to the adults. Children and parents gather around tablets to share a content experience. This does not happen on mobile devices.

Your tablet does not travel with you

The definition of mobile is "able to move freely." Do you carry around your tablet with you everywhere? No, but everyone carries their smartphones. Tablets are as "mobile" as laptops. Many consumers look at tablets as simply smaller and more portable laptops, but they certainly don't carry them at all times.

In conclusion, the tablet came out so fast and got popular so quickly that the tech world did not know how to label it. They quickly threw it in with mobile devices and the association has simply stuck. It's time to put these devices in their own category.

Kelly Jones ends our conversation with some very important advice for marketers.

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Rob Wilk is an experienced sales professional with over 14 years of media experience. His current role is Vice President of Advertising Sales for ChaCha mobile. ChaCha is a free mobile answers service that allows users to call 1-800-2ChaCha™ or...

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Commenter: Laurens Wuyts

2017, June 27

Nice tips man!

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Commenter: Laurens Wuyts

2017, June 27

Those are actually some really great tips! Thanks for sharing!

PLesae check out my tips: