‘Tis the season: 6 ways to prepare for holiday shoppers

Whether you’ve got your holiday marketing plan all mapped out or are just starting now, columnist Christi Olson has tips to prepare your search campaigns for the season.


For marketers, Christmas isn’t just one day a year — months of planning and weeks of meticulous optimization precede our celebration of the holiday season. For many retail businesses, it’s sink or swim during the holiday season, and they are moving from the planning to implementation phases of the holiday season now, with Black Friday just a few weeks away.

Even if you’ve finished your holiday marketing plans through the end of the year, it’s not too late to incorporate a few additional strategies this holiday season.

1. Think holistically for holiday success

Consumers touch multiple channels during the holiday shopping season, and part of what makes a world-class consumer experience is consistency across each of those touch points.

If you haven’t started to sync with your peers across other channels such as email, display, affiliates or social, then set up time on the calendar as soon as possible so you can create a cross-channel promotional calendar. It’s not too late to create the cross-channel view and to update your search campaigns to target and drive consumers from other marketing channels along their purchase journeys.

Some questions to ask:

  • What promotions are they running and on what dates?

  • Do they have specific, ring-fenced discounts or offers?

  • What holiday-specific messaging are they using?

  • What tagging are they using for their specific holiday campaigns?

2. Create cross-channel remarketing audiences

After you’ve met with your cross-channel partners, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge to use within search. Take the information you’ve learned from their promotional calendar and URL tagging to create remarketing audiences based on cross-channel consumers. Think “Target and Bid” for these audience campaigns so you can adjust your search messaging based on the cross-channel promotional messaging and match your ad extensions to take consumers further down the funnel.

Some audiences to curate and develop:

  • Email Campaigns: Loyal Shoppers, Cart Abandoners who have opened the cart abandon email

  • Pinterest & Social Shoppers

  • Affiliate Discount Shoppers

Within each of these remarketing campaigns, look at your cross-channel calendar and adjust the ad copy to include the right promotions, and adjust your sitelinks based on where the consumer might be within the purchase cycle.

3. Check your mobile presence

Mobile is becoming an increasingly important part of the holiday strategy. In 2015, the National Retail Federation reported that 56 percent of searches during the holiday season were conducted on mobile devices, and Business Insider reported that 29 percent of total online sales came from mobile devices.

Shoppers research their purchases ahead of time and start shopping early; based on internal Microsoft data, eight out of 10 top mobile shopping days occur in November and skewed to the weekends.

  • Update your mobile bid modifiers to make sure your brand is visible on mobile devices.

  • Use mobile URLS to send mobile shoppers to the right mobile landing page.

    • Bonus tip: With your Mobile URLs, create a custom tracking code so that you can create a mobile device remarketing audience.

4. Show discounts & offers on shopping campaigns

According to the NRF 2016 forecast, one of the top factors for choosing a retailer will be sales and price discounts, along with free shipping. Make sure that you’ve updated your Shopping campaigns so they are mobile-optimized and:

  • show price discounts on Shopping Ads by including regular price and sale price in the feed;

  • incorporate offers such as Free or Expedited Shipping; and

  • check your feed for data feed errors — especially if you are making frequent updates during the holiday season.

5. Prepare to boost your bids & watch your budgets

During the holiday season, manual bid optimization is always going on during the peak shopping days. Instead of waiting and adjusting on the fly, you can prepare in advance for some of the boosts and automate the process.

Start by analyzing your current time of day and day of week purchase trends, not just for the previous month but also during the previous holiday season. Use this to determine how much you should boost your desk and mobile bids by day of week and time of day to capture holiday demand.

Watch your budgets: Use scripts to notify you when you’ve capped out on budgets.

Watch your account invoice limits: If you are an advertiser who is on invoice and you plan on increasing your ad spend spending significantly more during the holidays compared with the rest of the year, you need to have a conversation with your sales reps now. Talk to your reps about increasing your invoice credit limits during the holiday season — and if it’s not possible to increase your credit limit, have conversations about the process for submitting payments outside of the traditional payment window.

Why is this important? In a previous role, my monthly invoice amount was half of what I would spend in a day during the peak holiday season. For three weeks, I was constantly playing catch-up and making sure that our search campaigns remained online and didn’t hit the invoice caps.

6. Schedule and plan before the holiday mayhem begins

Once you get into the throes of the holiday shopping season, you won’t have much time for building out new campaigns, uploading promotions and so forth; instead, you’ll be consumed by the day-to-day tasks of granular reporting and account optimizations. Prepare what you can in advance and know your key dates.

  • Don’t wait until the week of to build out your promotional campaigns — build them out in advanced and schedule them with set start and end dates.

  • Know your cutoff dates. Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, so the last-minute shipping cutoff falls on Friday, December 23. Look at the year-over-year differences in cutoff dates and determine how they might impact your overall campaigns.

  • Don’t just look at the trends from last year; put context behind them. What offers were you running on which dates? Were there differences in shipping cutoff deadlines or issues with delivery due to weather? Were there issues with product availability? Know your stats now so that in the heat of the holiday season, you aren’t having to dig through all of last year’s emails to jog your memory about what happened on which dates.

The holiday shopping season is always a little bit hectic, filled with a dash of craziness and lot of optimization. Don’t rush into the holidays — be prepared.

[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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