This the season for search marketers in retail to not sleep, as click volumes begin to rapidly increase and fluctuate throughout the busy festive online shopping season. To ease some of this stress, we at Marin Software have been analysing data from the 2011 festive season to help search marketers prepare campaigns for key dates and fluctuations.
We’ve been looking at spend, CTR, CPC, impression, revenue and mobile click share trends across Q4 2011 to identify key dates for your 2012 Christmas calendar. Off the back of this I wanted to provide nine practical and actionable tips to prepare campaigns for the festive season. So, here goes:
1. Prepare Campaigns in Advance
Once the Christmas season begins, search marketers are often consumed by data analysis, granular reporting, and continuous campaign optimisation based on recent performance. This leaves little time to launch new campaigns with targeted keywords and relevant creative that are carefully tuned to key promotions. In advance of Christmas, be sure to build campaigns that align with promotional calendars. Leverage proven creative text combined with engaging promotional offers. Aggressively expand to more action oriented keywords (i.e. buy watches online). Finally, avoid manually pushing new campaigns during the holidays and weekends—and ensure a timely launch across all products—by scheduling campaigns to launch automatically.
2. Adjust Daily Budgets
With search volumes and clicks increasing year-over-year, paid search costs will inevitably increase from October through December. As a result, be sure to adjust campaign daily budgets to accommodate this expected increase in spend. Revisit 2011 spend levels to determine a starting point for 2012 daily budgets. If any campaigns are expected to be “limited by budget”, be sure to day-part or change the campaign’s delivery method from “Accelerated” to “Standard”. Delivering ads during top converting hours of the day or ensuring that budgets are not exhausted early in the day are effective techniques for spending a limited budget.
3. Create a Boost Schedule
During the festive season, shoppers are more likely to purchase and purchase more per transaction. Creating a boost schedule is a smart way to prepare for shifts in purchase behavior. A boost schedule is a roadmap that helps determine when and by how much to increase (or boost) bids, enabling search marketers to take advantage of high conversion rates and revenue-per-click (RPC) during Christmas. To develop a boost schedule, first set a baseline for RPC in October. Then estimate how much bids should be increased by examining how RPC changed throughout the 2011 festive season. Create and apply a boost schedule using actual 2011 RPC trends, then fine-tune boost estimates by monitoring RPC changes on a daily basis. Lastly, remember to set your bids back to the October baseline once the shipping cut-off date has been reached.
4. Refine Negative Keyword Lists
As search volumes rise throughout the festive season, it becomes increasingly critical that search marketers eliminate unwanted impressions that lead to unqualified clicks. Aggressively researching and adding negative keywords will go a long way in reducing unprofitable clicks and maximising the overall quality of traffic. In preparation for Christmas, generate a list of negative keywords for each product SKU. Continuously mine publisher search query reports and add non-converting queries as new negative keywords. Finally, add negative keywords across ad groups with different levels of detail or themes to shape traffic and ensure that the most relevant creative is delivered.
5. Promote Special Offers
Promoting special offers will be a standard throughout the holiday season. Free shipping, discounts and coupons are among the most influential promotions for shoppers. To reach value-shoppers, highlight special offers like “25% off”, “£10 coupon” or “Free shipping” within creative text. Introduce shipping cut-off dates and time-sensitive offers to create a sense of urgency and convert shoppers at a higher frequency.
6. Test in the Offseason
Promotions during the holiday season can be successful for some retailers and a complete disaster for others. To avert disaster, utilise the offseason leading up to Christmas to test special offers with shoppers. Carefully establish an understanding of value throughout the year and condition shoppers to recognise the sales strategies and cycles. Allow shoppers to recognise when a special offer represents a “buy now” opportunity. For example, is “25% off” and “Free shipping” a monthly promotion or something that is only offered once a year on Cyber Monday? Educating shoppers creates more predictability and control during the competitive months of November and December.
7. Develop a Mobile Strategy
Shoppers are increasingly using mobile phones and tablets to find deals and compare prices on-the-go during the holiday season. An effective mobile strategy starts by separating out mobile and tablet from desktop-targeted campaigns; resulting in two significant advantages. First, ad position is far more critical on mobile devices where real estate is limited, than compared to their desktop counterparts. To increase mobile traffic and conversions during the Christmas season, leverage position-based bidding to ensure that ads are delivered within the top three positions. Second, include location ad extensions to quickly point on-the-go mobile shoppers to the nearest store location. This can mean the difference between a shopper purchasing in-store and abandoning the search in favor of a competitor around the corner.
8. Implement Product Listing Ads (PLA)
To capitalise on click volume increases and engage more shoppers during the festive season, search marketers should consider implementing PLAs. These highly visible and content rich search ads make it easier for Google shoppers to find and compare different products. PLAs include a product image, price, and business name to better engage and inform shoppers. As a result, many retailers experience significantly higher click-through-rates for PLAs than standard text ads. To get started, set up a product feed through a Google Merchant Center account and link it into AdWords.
9. Establish Retargeting Lists and Buyer Profiles
Display advertising continues to grow—accounting for a larger share of online marketing spend and revenue than ever before. To effectively reach and influence shoppers this holiday season, take advantage of more sophisticated retargeting options and develop a competitive bidding strategy for display campaigns. Prior to the holiday season, build retargeting audience lists based on website behavior and establish buyer profiles based on interests and topics. Identifying visitors that abandoned their shopping cart or focusing on websites that shoppers frequently visit prior to purchase are effective targeting techniques. Understanding this purchase behavior now allows for the highly targeted and timely delivery of display ads to eager shoppers during the festive season.
Jon Myers is Commercial Director – EMEA for Marin Software, the leading digital ad management platform. Previously a Director at Yahoo!, MediaVest and Latitude, he also sits on the Global SES Advisory Board.