Sure, it’s only September — but if retail store aisles are any indication, it’s time to start thinking about holiday season 2019. In your personal life, that probably means shopping for gifts, planning travel, and stocking up on decorations.
At work — if you’re in the business of e-commerce — you’re thinking about Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the general boom in shopping activity during the last few months of the year. And just as you’re building out advertising, email and other marketing campaigns with holidays in mind, your digital marketing — specifically your search engine optimization (SEO) — needs a holiday refresh, too.
e-commerce SEO must be adaptive, with campaigns that effectively target relevant holidays and seasons. By custom-tailoring your SEO strategy to include seasonal campaigns, you’ll boost conversions and get ahead of your competitors.
SEO as a medium is typically focused on driving long-term success, however there is an opportunity to adjust your strategy and generate results in the short term by customizing campaigns based on seasonal events like winter holidays and other relevant occasions.
Designing an SEO strategy to align with Black Friday, Christmas, Hanukkah and other major holidays is a worthwhile investment as consumer interest in e-commerce continues to rise every year.
Consider Internet Retailer’s data on the 2017 and 2018 Thanksgiving Day-Cyber Monday shopping period (that includes Black Friday). They see spending during this five-day period to increase nearly 20% — highlighting a highlighting a growing opportunity to align your SEO appropriately.
A majority of e-commerce brands obviously cater their marketing to seasonal events of relevance to their business, but SEO isn’t often prioritized like paid advertising, display, social media, etc. when it comes to optimizing for a timely campaign.
According to Julien Berard, SEO manager at Coastal Contacts, an e-commerce brand specializing in eyewear and contacts, the main benefit of adapting to seasonality is being in the “right place at the right time to catch the largest possible audience when they are ready to purchase.” And really, that’s good advice for any time of the year, too — it’s all about understanding your audience and their buying journey.
Learn how to alter your SEO campaigns to account for the consistent trends and yearly nuances that occur each holiday season in any industry.
Timing Seasonal SEO Campaigns
SEO as a marketing medium typically takes months to produce results. Timing is one of the biggest concerns to consider when investing in a seasonal campaign as not preparing ahead of time can result in missing the height of the holiday shopping period.
However, most marketers disagree on exactly how early to start optimizing SEO for a seasonal event as recommendations vary from two months to six months ahead of time.
In most cases, the “45 day rule” is still held in high regard throughout the SEO world. The concept gained ground back in 2015, but the 45 day rule has held true in the following years — so listen up. If an organization wants to participate in over 90 percent of the search traffic around a given holiday, content specific to a seasonal event needs to be published at least 45 days prior.
Of course, opinions differ. If your big SEO focus comes through the lens of content marketing, then you may need a longer lead time. Search Engine Journal recommends six to eight months of lead time to really impact holiday traffic, in fact, when utilizing content. It makes sense — you need to audit your existing content, reuse old stuff, plan out a new editorial calendar and then actually produce the blogs.
But every SEO strategy is different. If you’re thinking about holiday seasonality and how it affects your SEO strategy now, you’re in better shape than if you put it off for another month. What’s essential now is getting to work and implementing your holiday SEO strategy as soon as possible!
There’s plenty of published articles out there telling you how and when to plan for the holidays. The rule of thumb for timing a seasonal event is taking into account expert advice and adapting it to work for your company and campaigns. Just get going as early as possible.
“Regardless of your industry, niche, product or service, we recommend starting approximately six months prior to the peak season, which realistically means starting to optimize for the winter holidays in early March each year,” says Kevin Chow, Digital Current’s Director of SEO and Paid.
But even once fall rolls around, it’s not too late.
“While it’s definitely smart to start holiday SEO strategizing in the spring or summer, that may not make sense with the other marketing campaigns you have going — you just may not have the time. The important thing is to get it prioritized within your marketing strategy as soon as it makes sense for your business.”
To best align the timing of a holiday-specific SEO campaigns, coordinate them with what’s happening across other marketing channels ahead of a seasonal event.
“Holiday SEO must be inclusive of all marketing efforts, online and off, to drive all of the signals Google now weighs,” says Brian Wood, associate director of marketing, SEO at Wayfair, an e-commerce brand specializing in home goods. “The traditional SEO testing and measuring of Google algorithms needs to be applied to optimize offline marketing tactics as well.”
The more coordinated each marketing channel is online and offline, the better the chance your holiday specific content will gain traction in search at the right time.
For example, Digital Current worked with Candian Niagara Hotels, owner of multiple hospitality properties at the namesake waterfall, to drive traffic during the 2018/2019 holiday season. With SEO and content marketing working hand in hand, we developed an end-of-year content strategy in the summer of 2018 and thoughtfully rolled it out ahead of and during the holiday season. Posts focused on winter events, such as ice wine festivals, as well as holiday travel tips and local winter attractions.
The results? More than a 100% increase in organic pageviews and higher engagement levels than the previous year, including a 73% increase in traffic referred from the blog to the homepage.
With a persona-backed content strategy mapped to keyword research and search trend data, we created SEO-optimized blogs that appealed to users throughout the season and drove bookings at the hotel properties.
How to Cater SEO to Holiday Seasonality
The first step to success with adapting SEO strategy for holidays, vacation season or another occasion is identifying which targets to focus on. Start by mapping out the holiday shopping seasons.
Once it is clear which seasonal events are of relevance to your company, refer to your analytics to analyze year-over-year activity to see which holidays and events drove the most sales, conversions and engagement previously.
Then, compare industry data with your company’s more specific analytics. Any overlap shows an opportunity to grow your sales by capitalizing on a hungry audience.
“Focus on reviewing your legacy data, as well as available industry data to clearly identify where to invest in seasonal SEO,” says content strategy expert Dustin Diehl, Digital Current’s Director of Strategy and Performance.
Refer to Google Trends to see what search patterns emerge during specific holidays to begin building an optimization road map for that campaign. See the chart below, for instance. Searches for “christmas gifts” rises steadily from about November through the actual holiday, while “black friday sales” searches increase and peak much sooner. Consider, then, the value of going after each of these: do you typically make more money on Black Friday sales, or throughout the Christmas season in general? Asking questions like these help you prioritize your holiday SEO planning.
The third step is building out a list of keywords the organization will focus on based on what’s being searched for during a specific event like Christmas or hunting season.
One of the goals of this process is to find keywords related to both the company’s offerings and the specific holiday that illustrate a user’s intent to purchase. For example, an apparel company might plan to optimize for “best t-shirts of 2019” or “top-rated clothes of 2019.”
Next, begin optimizing pages across a website with content focused around this list of relevant keywords for the holiday season. This will entail creating new pages on a website, but also optimizing existing pages with refreshed information, paragraph headers, title tags, updated timestamps and more. Focusing optimization on existing pages is the most effective way to scale your seasonal SEO efforts.
Our tip? Build out landing pages that appeal to specific holiday shopping audiences, then customize them every year to point to products you’re selling currently. Next year, you just need to update your holiday messaging and product links and you’re all set. With permanent holiday landing pages optimized for holiday keywords, your content gains SEO traction and authority year-round, and doesn’t have to start from square one every year.
Lastly, after updating content across a website to resonate during a particular holiday, monitor results to ensure pages are performing as planned or if they require further optimization.
Measuring Short-Term Success
The most important part of running a seasonal SEO campaign is measuring progress as it is happening, since there is typically only a short window of time to drive results.
Year-over-year organic traffic to seasonal pages provides the clearest indication of success.
“When optimizing for the winter holidays, I typically look at organic visitors from August through December and then compare that time range to the previous three years,” explains SEO expert Kevin Chow. “Look at organic pages per visit, time on page and bounce rates. Ultimately, the best metric is total number of goal completions, as measured by Google Analytics.”
After reviewing key SEO metrics like goal completion, bounce rate, time on site, organic-driven revenue and organic traffic, identify which pages need to be further optimized in order to better perform during this highly competitive shopping season.
And don’t think this is a one-and-done situation — you’ve got to stay on your toes and prepare for competition. It doesn’t do any good to rank number one 10 months of the year if you get outranked during the two months that drive 90 percent of the traffic. There’s often a huge flux in rankings right around the peak season as all the sites gear up their SEO efforts.
Get Started on Your Seasonal SEO Strategy
There’s no secret formula for staying ahead of the curve with a seasonal SEO campaign, other than investing time to research the landscape, optimize accordingly and continually monitor progress to see what could be better positioned for success.
How does your organization handle SEO during the holiday seasons? Has your organization seen success with building organic rankings around key holidays?
What about this year — are you SEO-ready for the holidays? Let’s start getting you prepared for this season.