The crazy hazy days of summer are coming to end, and the 2006 holiday season extravaganza is right around the corner. Planning for your holiday search initiative doesn't have to be an impossible task with billions of dollars on the line, but it's a good idea to start getting ready now.
Last year's non-travel holiday spending topped out at just over 19.6 billion, an increase of 25 percent over the same period in 2004 according to comScore Networks. If last year's increase is any indication of the activity we'll see this year, it's going to quite the holly jolly retail season.
Holiday planning can be a boatload of joy or a disastrous last minute train wreck. Whatever might be in store for you this holiday season, here are 10 things to remember as you head into the great (insert joyful expression here) expanse of seasonal cashola.
1. Wealth by political correctness
Are you prepared for ChrismaRamaChanaKwanzivus? Last year, along with many others in business I officially changed the holiday name to reflect a more politically correct, Christmas-Ramadan-Chanukah-Kwanza-Festivus (for the rest of us).
You too can join the many millions of shoppers in a confusing array of keyword to content holiday search advertising by adding culturally sensitive holiday season content and keywords.
2. Follow the seasonal curve
Typical shopping behavior starts a week or two before black Friday and the subsequent Cyber Monday. You will start to see spikes in search behavior around this time period as well. Shopping activity begins to slow right before the week of December 25, so be ready for seasonal shopping habits.
The consuming public is sensitive to shipping information, so be specific about when you can deliver items. When activity begins to slow toward the end of the season, push gift cards and certificates and anything that can be bought and consumed online-- like software, movies and music.
3. Organic search humbug
Holiday content is always king in November and December. Most experts agree that natural search efforts are best represented with long-term and ongoing tactics. However, keeping the public abreast (with press releases and supporting content) of your latest announcements like shipping policies and special holiday achievements in shipping or delivery for example, will go a long way to making sure you are picking up critical natural traffic.
4. Budgets and traffic
Paying attention to historical data for keyword pricing will go a long way to helping you budget for the season. Increases in competitive bidding for the season are almost guaranteed, but how much your category will rise usually rests with historical data. Campaigns I have executed have seen increases into the high double digit percentages. Search marketing partners and planners on the publisher side can help you access this information, but it is always a safe bet to plan to pay more for the same terms during the holiday season-- so watch those return numbers carefully.
5. The unified theory of inventory and expectation
Nothing aggravates potential customers more than advertised items not in inventory. Check your keyword to content and product landing pages as often as you can. While you are at it, make sure that landing pages actual contain the items in your keyword lexicon. If you run out of an item, make sure you are recommending similar items.
6. Buzz watching
Google's Zeitgeist and Yahoo Buzz (Yahoo even has a toy search index) will help you determine what's hot and what's not for the season. Are there opportunities that can be exploited by knowing what people desperately think they need? A hot toy or gadget in the season may cause shortages across the board, but that doesn't mean you have to steer clear of the insanity. Complementary or similar product sets move off the warehouse shelves like the wind, but you have to be in the know on what's hot.
7. Feeds for life
Most retailers consider shopping engines a necessary evil. In a perfect world, every shopper would simply visit brand.com and make the purchase. Yet with each shopping season, consumers flock to shopping engines. Historical data from comScore indicates that while top shopping sites account for only about five percent of overall shopping traffic, up to 50 percent of that traffic came from search engines.
So while you are tweaking the product feeds this season, remember that a solid search to shopping strategy will keep those tire kickers coming to your site for the purchase.
8. Research online, buy offline
Retailers are doing a great job of connecting the online research phase of purchase behavior to making purchases offline. Assuming your inventory considerations are in line (see tip number five) take advantage of offline buying awareness with creative and content connections in search. For example, if you know a large percentage of buyers research online and buy offline for a specific product of group of products, make sure they know your store is the place to get it. Conversely if you don't have a large retail location network, let buyers know how easy it is to return items and talk about the advantages of buying online.
9. Remember the ghosts of season's past
Remember that thing everyone was buying last year or even five years ago? Do you have a hot product that has been update and changed? Do you think everyone that wants to buy product X knows that you have changed or updated it?
Well, you better make sure by picking up keywords that still show activity and make the connection for the buyer by filling them in on the details. Old products married to new content and the ghosts of hot items in the past can mean bigger holiday sales numbers for you.
10. Capture the last minute wonder
Sweetheart, it's not that I didn't have time to shop for that special gift for you… it's just that I have been very busy this year and… well... I think you may have heard this excuse before.
Millions of people each year wait until the last possible second to make a purchase. Shifting 80 percent of your search content-to-keyword creative focus (shipping details, gift cards) in the last days of the shopping season (including the holiday itself and a few days after) can give your holiday sales figures a much needed boost.
Of course, you'll get more of my money with last minute tactics as well, but that is another problem entirely.
Kevin Ryan is iMedia's search editor and the chief executive officer of Kinetic Results. .