Just because your business doesn't have traditional seasonal spikes doesn't mean that you can't use a seasonal approach in order to capitalize on the increased interest that comes with everything from annual events and major holidays to simple seasonal associations (like warm weather driving up sales of pool floats in the Southern USA.)
Link building for seasonal events is definitely a bit tricky because the positive effects of links can take some time to show. You can crank out a ton of paid ads for Valentine's Day flowers a few days before Valentine's Day and have that work well, but where links are concerned, waiting 'til the last minute only means one thing: your competition will crush you.
Step 1: Do Your Demographic Research
Where Does Your Main Target Audience Live?
If you target local shoppers in an area of not more than 250 square miles, you're probably pretty well versed in how to properly conduct seasonal marketing, but what if your audience literally lives all over the world? Do your demographic research. Sean Revell recently composed a massive list of data resources and I highly recommend bookmarking it.
Segmentation is useful here, as you can craft specific content for the different hemispheres, for example. If you have a big sale, don't send the email to Australians saying "save big at our massive end of summer closeout!" when it's winter there.
Analyze your customers and find out where they live before you send them something that shows that you have no real clue about who they are. You can get this information in a variety of ways (analytics, physical addresses, survey questions, etc.) so use it.
When Are the Main Country-Specific Public Holidays for the Area You're Targeting?
When Are the Religious Holidays for the Area You're Targeting?
This is really tricky, as obviously there are many different religions represented in one area.
There's a good list on Interfaith Calendar but you should definitely do some research into the religions in your targeted areas in order to get as much information as possible.
If one of your main demographics is observant Jewish people and you send them an email on their Sabbath advertising a one-day only sale that's happening right now, it might not be seen if they are avoiding electronics for that day.
What Annual Events Take Place in These Areas?
Music festivals, horse races, museum galas, tax-free shopping weekends, large conventions and conferences, sports events, etc. are all amazing sources of fodder for content that can generate links and get your brand out there.
Step 2: Keep Informed On What's Going On In Your Niche
Find Out What's Happening
You may already have some good ideas based on holidays, events, etc. but using free alerts will help you generate content based on what's happening in relation to your niche. You'll want to keep on top of anything news-related or interesting since you can use it to your advantage.
Types of Alerts You Should Set Up
I probably err on the side of having way too many alerts but I do find them incredibly useful for staying informed about what's going on. For this purpose though, I'd do at least the following basic alerts in relation to your niche:
- Seasonal event
- Monthly event
- Yearly event
You should set them up way before anything will pop, as you don't want to just be reading about Valentine's Day on February 13. In addition, to stay informed about something unexpected that you can capitalize on for content, you can set up some alerts for your general keywords. Hopefully you're doing this anyway but if you aren't, now's a good time to start, and you can set some up just for News. Set up alerts for competitors in case they catch something you didn't.
Generally with alerts, you may get nothing from some of them and you may get way too much from others, so play around with them and adjust them as needed in order to best fit how you work.
If you see a site repeatedly showing up, but the info is usually not relevant for you, you can exclude it, and you can specify that you want to be alerted only for certain sites for certain keywords. That can be especially useful for seeing what your competitors are doing.
Other Ways to Get Ideas
Checking Google Trends, following relevant people on Twitter, checking out Facebook pages of your competition, seeing what people are asking questions about on Quora, and paying attention to the actual news are ways that to keep informed about what's going on. There are some great apps for mobile as well, especially Zite, which showcases popular stories in categories that you want to see.
Newsjacking has been the big buzzword lately but to capitalize on something newsworthy, you do have to get in front of it quickly.
Step 3: Set Up A Basic Content Calendar
You can flesh it out more later but it's important to set up the basics for what you will do, then you can do new content generated by ideas based on what is happening. Figure out how often you can produce content, make a list of ideas based on what you know will happen (like Valentine's Day…it's not going away anytime soon), and schedule in some time to produce content on the fly.
For a content calendar, I just use Excel. It's basic, it's easy to understand, and it works for me.
However, using Google Docs is a good idea if you're sharing it with several people and need to update on the fly.
I've seen so many formats that look great but have too much information but hey, whatever works. I just like to have an idea of what to write, when it's due, and who's responsible. There's also a good post about creating a content calendar here.
Step 4: Generate The Content
Don't neglect video as it can be a very powerful form of content that draws some great links. Make sure it's ready for release well before the event in question is actually happening.
Make sure that if it's on your site, it's going to be prominent when the time comes. Work in last year's seasonal content to the new seasonal content.
Step 5: Link Internally
If you have a seasonal product that's critical, make sure you link to it from the home page. New pages take time to get spidered and start showing up. If your content is buried somewhere deep inside the site it may not get indexed in time.
Step 6: Promote The Content
If there are sites devoted to the seasonal event, contact them well ahead of time and see if you can get a guest post on the site or work with them in some way. Plan a way to socialize it before it "happens" if you can.
Make sure you're socializing it when it's happening. Be careful with still socializing it after it happens though, unless you've got a good way to do so, as you certainly don't want to annoy customers by promoting a sale that has ended, for example.
You can start intentionally building links to seasonal content before it happens, of course. If there are bloggers with whom you have a relationship, contact them well ahead of time to tell them what you'll be doing. Create some buzz about it.
For example, if you'll be unveiling a piece about the actors who have scared us the most in movies, you can easily put up a page that has content about it, a contest for a prize awarded to the reader who has the most correct 10 guesses, a Twitter hashtag, etc.
You can link to it from the homepage and tweet about your "coming soon" content. You can contact celebrity bloggers who can help you garner interest in the piece, and then when it's out there, you will already have links.
What Does a Seasonal Link Graph Usually Look Like?
It's sometimes full of link spikes as shown in the example below, which is a for a business that installs inground swimming pools:
It's important to recognize that this is a natural pattern but it's also a good idea to look at your link history (as shown in Majestic SEO) and try to build links during your typical off seasons so that your graph isn't as spiky. Just as you can look at your analytics and see when your typical seasonal highs and lows are, you can view your link history graph over the past few years and better plan for content that can help generate links all throughout the year.
Think about summer camp. If you're a parent whose child goes to summer camp, you've probably been thinking about it for a couple of months, will hold off for another few months, and will then be thinking about it again. My children participated in camps run by two different outfits this summer.
One is held at a school where they've attended camp before. If you're on the email or regular mail list, you get notified about the upcoming camps a few months in advance, usually around March. This year, however, for some reason we never got an email or a mailed brochure as we usually do.
The information was up on the site though, so I could plan what I was going to do. However, I'm one of those people that, if I can't do something online, just won't usually do it.
Many people are the opposite. If they didn't get the emails or mailed brochures, that could be lost opportunities. By the time the mailed brochure got to me, I'd been registered for over 6 weeks. Two friends of mine were depending on that information, didn't look online, and made other plans, so I know it cost them at least two campers. Maybe that's not a big deal but considering the cost of summer camp, I'd say it's not a good thing.
The other camp was run by a teacher at my children's school. In the spring, information about the camp was sent home with every child. Teachers talked about it with their classes. It was in the PTA newsletter as well.
In short: We all knew about it, knew the dates, times, prices, offerings, etc. We knew about it and could plan as early as March, while with the other camp, unless you went looking for the info, you'd not have been able to plan anything until late April.
With a seasonal approach, if you snooze, you could lose. You may have the content but if you don't get it out in front of your audience, what good is it going to do?
A Few Things To Consider
Without going into a lesson combining science and geography and throwing in some cultural relativism, it's important to realize that the way your world looks to you at this very moment isn't necessarily the way it looks to someone else.
Christmas in Australia takes place in their summer, for example, and right now while it's hot as heck in North Carolina, it's winter down in Oz. Some holidays occur on different dates in different places. Mother's Day, for example, is in May in the U.S. but in March in the UK.
Obvious points really, but they're points we sometimes forget when marketing. The results of that oversight can be offensive and cost you business. There's being politically correct just for the sake of appearances and there's being culturally sensitive because it shows an awareness that your way isn't the only way that matters.
What Might Look Odd
(I say might because I've seen enough creativity in this industry that I can tell you that for everything I say will look strange, someone can work it so that it looks perfectly natural.)
Building links with the anchor for something that's completely out of season (like Valentine's Day anchors going up in a great number in April, for example.)
Putting up content about how to enjoy your summer on an Australian blog in July.
Putting up content about something that happened last month and won't happen again for another 11 months.
When to Implement Can Be Tricky
James Agate had a great point about how having success with both your customers and the search engines is difficult with just one release date:
Customers will want to read your content about a particular seasonal event much closer to the event than you need to start your link building so you need to ensure you have the lead-in times planned out correctly. You can’t sell the seats on a plane after it’s taken off.
This really is critical. You need time for the links to start coming in but most people don't want to read about back to school organization in December.
If this was a post about anything other than link building, it would be much easier to define when implementation should occur. You can get PPC up fast, as I've said. You can create content quickly and socialize it immediately. Links, however, take more time to happen, unless you're willing to take a dangerous and shoddy approach.
Just to add to the complexity, there are other factors that would dictate how much lead time you need.
If your seasonal product is incredibly competitive (like Valentine's Day flowers), then you'll probably need to start earlier than if you were dealing with something where the pool of competition was much, much smaller.
Agate offered another great piece of advice, which is to ramp up link building to the homepage:
It would be more prudent to ramp up link building to the homepage for example, with the view to then having a seasonal look to the site and links to the seasonal page from there. You could also link to products or categories that perhaps sell well in the upcoming seasonal event but aren’t necessarily just for that time of year i.e. stationery sells well just before children go back to school but it wouldn’t be all that odd, to be proactively link building to those pages most of the year round, in the way that trying to score links to artificial Christmas tree pages in the middle of summer would be.
Seasonality is a defined part of many businesses' sales cycles but even if it's not part of yours, it doesn't mean that you can't harness the upswing in seasonal trends and build more links for your site. It does take planning and a lot of upfront work though, so be prepared to get ultra-organized early on.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!