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Getting Your Paid Search Program Ready for Holiday 2012

It’s that time of year again!  (Always sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?)  With Thanksgiving and Black Friday just over a week away, there is no time to waste in making sure your account is optimized for the flood of holiday traffic.

We’ve previously written about tips for managing bids during this critical and fast-paced season as well as important strategies to boost incremental traffic (especially PLAs).  This time, we want to share part of our to-do list for getting keywords in order to ensure that our top-revenue drivers are in place to be successful again this season.  We’ll also cover a general checklist for the entire account.

Keyword Checklist

Review keywords that performed well last year but are not receiving traffic/generating sales this year.

These could be holiday-related or regular keywords that spike during holiday.  Simply look at last year’s performance data at the keyword level.

  • Are these keywords still relevant?
    • If so, are they active and in an active campaign/ad group with active ad creatives or even still in the account?
    • If they’re not active, do they need to be re-launched, or simply updated and activated?  Check to make sure that the URLs and ad creatives are still accurate.
    • Are your keywords active but still not receiving sufficient traffic?
      • If not, check to make sure the traffic hasn’t simply been funneled to more relevant, similar keywords (ex. the same keyword on a stricter match type).
      • Also, consider increasing bids to/above their first page minimum bid threshold.

If you haven’t already segmented by match type, consider re-launching these high traffic keywords from last year on exact match as well and bid these more aggressively than their broad or phrase duplicates.  This could help to lower CPCs while improving conversion, which is a good way to combat the fiercer competition each year.

If your account is new and you do not have any historic keyword performance data, try utilizing data from your other channels or tools such as Google Trends.  Make sure you have sufficient keyword coverage around top-selling product areas, and keep a close eye on how any anticipated trends are performing.

Brainstorm new important keywords for this year’s season. 

  • Do top keywords need to be updated with the current year (ex. “Top 2012 Holiday Presents”) or other seasonal information?
  • Can keywords for new variations/editions of top products be created?
  • Are there new industry trends related to your business that you can capitalize on?

Consider Implementing Google Dynamic Search Ads.

Google’s recent Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) product could be a way to accomplish this with relatively little effort, saving you time to focus on other optimizations for holiday.  Google’s algorithm serves ads for you when it determines that a search query is relevant to your site.

Google has already indexed your site for organic purposes, so this information is there, available to be used for PPC.  Check out our video on how it works and why we think this product can be great for some advertisers (plus, we’re excited that we had the opportunity to partner with Google on testing this new offering)!

If you already have DSAs running, check Google’s Search Query Report (found in the “Keywords” tab) for new keyword ideas.

General Checklist

Be ready for Thanksgiving!

For the past few years, we have seen holiday shopping begin earlier as Thanksgiving has moved up in the calendar and consumers have worked to beat the Black Friday rush and look for deals sooner.  Many retailers are now beginning their Black Friday promotions on Thanksgiving or even a few days before.

Be sure that you are ready with aggressive bids and enough budget to avoid hitting caps on or after Thanksgiving.  We anticipate tablet traffic will also be higher on this day as consumers are lounging around the house on Thanksgiving and formulating their shopping plans.

Plan for Mobile/Tablet.

Smartphones will be even more important this season as consumer adoption continues to rise and in-store comparison shopping is becoming more common.  If you haven’t done so already, we recommend creating mobile-only targeted campaigns to control bids more appropriately, accounting for differences in performance, search queries, and even geographic trends.

It’s difficult to quantify the true value of mobile since many orders are unaccounted for due to purchases completed in-store or consumers shopping on multiple devices, which is a growing trend.  Consider allowing a lower ROI target or measuring performance by other metrics such as page visits, app downloads, store location requests, or email sign-ups.

Tablet adoption is increasing as well, though they have different usage trends.  Tablets are used mainly in the home, especially in the evenings, and are not used on-the-go as often as smartphones.  If your tablet traffic and conversion volume is significant, you may want to create tablet-only targeted campaigns as well, allowing, for example, the flexibility to bid tablets more aggressively in the evenings.

Q3 Results from the RKG Digital Marketing Report

You may want to bid tablet-targeted keywords more aggressively than their computer-targeted counterparts in general if you are seeing the common trend of higher AOVs and conversion rates on tablets (particularly on iPads).

Don’t short-change December.

Focusing all of your effort and advertising budget on the November Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days can cause you to miss out on maximizing December volume for those with tight budgets.  Yes, those two days are still usually among the largest for retailers, but December boasts many additional huge shopping days!

For many of our retail clients, revenue in December can more than double November’s revenue figures.  In addition, this year’s shopping season is longer, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve budgeted enough.  Take a look at your own historical performance, but, in general, we’ve found that Mondays and Tuesdays are critical in December, with Green Monday performance (the second Monday in December) just below Cyber Monday levels.

Top Holiday Sales Dates from Thanksgiving through New Year's

The second and third Thursdays are important as well, and the more recent “Free Shipping Day” (December 17th this year) continues to grow its reputation as another big shopping day.

Anticipate shipping cut-offs.

Conversion rate will decline once the ground shipping deadline hits and consumers realize how much they have to pay for expedited shipping.  The two-day shipping will provide a small window where you can gather last-minute sales (though you will need to adjust bids down to maintain the same ROI), but conversions will drastically drop-off when next-day shipping is the only option.

Mind the click date v. purchase date gap.

As we’ve mentioned before, it is extremely valuable to look at data that ties the sale back to the actual click date, not simply the date that the sale closed.  Click date v. purchase date differences become more pronounced and important during the holiday season.

Comparing Two Views of Revenue Per Click

Sales may still be coming in a few days before Christmas, but if the clicks that generated those sales are from earlier in the month/week, current clicks will not be as valuable   You’ll probably want to lower bids, even in spite of seemingly good intra-day ROI on those days, to truly maintain your target efficiency level.

This is by no means a comprehensive checklist for preparing your account for the holiday season but when in doubt, look at your data! What are some other tactics or strategies you employ to ensure you’re ready for the coming weeks?

  • Rachel Schnorr
    Rachel Schnorr is Vice President of Paid Search at RKG, a Merkle...
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