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Jim Yu

Cyber Monday Optimization Checklist

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If you're in the ecommerce space, this is one of the busiest times of year for your business and your website. It's about to get even more hectic from here on out.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as Cyber Monday, falls on December 2 this year. If you're keeping count, that's about two weeks away.

According to a Google-conducted survey, 49 percent said they knew when they would begin the shopping race, with 26 percent citing Black Friday and Cyber Monday as the starting line.

When Shoppers Plan to Start Making Holiday Purchases

Technically, a comprehensive Cyber Monday marketing plan would have began months ago. However, if you're wondering if there's still time to prepare for the retail event of the year, then the answer is yes.

Marketers can still implement the following tips to ready your website, drive more visibility, and connect with your target consumer in time for Cyber Monday to claim your fair share of the estimated $82 billion that will be spent in online holiday shopping in 2013.

Mobile Considerations

It's no secret that shoppers are mobile this holiday season. Newly released data from Google showed 76 percent of smartphone owners plan to use them for holiday browsing this year, and one in four smartphone owners plan to make a purchase on their device.

Consider the following:

  • Shop.org's eHoliday survey showed online retailers gearing up for the growing trend, with about 57 percent saying they had invested in optimizing their mobile websites.
  • If your website isn't mobile ready, it's a bit too close to Cyber Monday to forge a responsive web design overhaul, but there are other ways you can ready your site for mobile shoppers.
  • Focus on small changes that can impact the user experience on revenue-driving pages and pages you'll anticipate will receive traffic during Cyber Monday. A big part of this user experience equation is site speed.

In fact, Google's Matt Cutts recently reinforced the importance of site speed during his talk at PubCon, stating Google is less likely to rank sites that are slow on mobile devices.

It's important you first get a snapshot of how your site is performing in terms of page load times. You can access this in Google Analytics in the Behavior reports section under Site Speed > Speed Suggestions.

Speed Suggestions

PageSpeed Suggestions

These suggestions will take you to the PageSpeed Insights tool, which gives detailed recommendations on how to make the page faster for both mobile and desktop devices. It's important to consider both; Google reports 80 percent of consumers will use more than one device at this holiday shopping season, with 84 percent starting on one device and finishing on another.

Speed Suggestions Summary

Technical Considerations

If your ecommerce website isn't set up to handle the influx of traffic you may be receiving on Cyber Monday, you could be in real trouble. Back in 2011, a slew of top retailers online lost Cyber Monday traffic when their sites crashed, including Brookstone and Nordstrom. Just this year, Amazon.com was down for approximately 30 minutes, which reportedly cost the company $66,000 per minute.

Here are a few simple ways to ensure your site is prepped for Cyber Monday so your site visitor's have a good experience:

  • Time your promotions well. Stagger email communications, for example, to groups of users instead of all at once to temper large quantities of traffic.
  • Check Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). Check for any 404s your visitors might be incurring by heading to GWT under Crawl > Crawl Errors.

Site Errors

  • Evaluate server performance. Work with your IT team to ensure the infrastructure is set up to handle spikes in traffic. You might consider a content delivery network (CDN) like those powered by Akamai to enhance your site's performance.

The Marketer's Cyber Monday Optimization and Marketing Plan

In a perfect world, most marketers would have started optimizing organic search marketing campaign months ago in anticipation of Cyber Monday. However, there are still steps you can take to gain more visibility and connect with your target consumer.

1. Understand Popular Queries

First and foremost, apply the knowledge you have about what's trending among consumers to your products' marketing plan.

To help understand search volume for queries that are important to your business, you can use Google Trends to identify queries that surged on last year's Cyber Monday, and then decide whether they might apply again this year.

For example, Google reported the search term "free shipping" emerged during last year's holiday season and peaked on Cyber Monday.

Indexed Google Search Queries for Free Shipping Q4 2012

Shop.org data suggested the demand for shipping would continue this year, showing 16.3 percent of online retailers surveyed pledged to offer free holiday shipping as early as October 28.

Other ways to glean keyword data that might be important to your business this Cyber Monday is looking back at your analytics from Cyber Monday last year, seeing which keywords drove traffic [pre-"(not provided)" in Google].

2. Benchmark Where You're at, Plan Accordingly

SEO takes time to move the needle and build visibility for your business around certain topics. Being this close to Cyber Monday means applying a discerning eye on the queries you choose to target organically. Of course, adding a PPC campaign in preparation for Cyber Monday is a great way to capture more traffic faster, but that's another post.

After you excavate query data to benchmark where your site is today, you can then use Google's Keyword Planner to discover search volume and bid values on keywords. This will help you gauge how competitive a given keyword might be, and then weigh that against the timeline you're up against.

You may want to:

  • Focus on those keywords that aren't the most competitive, but are still important to your business – your "second-tier" keywords. If you're in Position 5 in the search results for a second-tier query, for example, you may have enough time to get yourself to Position 4 for Cyber Monday.
  • Consider the competitive landscape. While evaluating keywords and the subsequent on-page optimization of important pages on your site is the first step in gearing up quickly for Cyber Monday, understanding the competition comes next. What are you up against?

The important thing is that you're looking at multiple avenues as a means to become as competitive as possible in a short amount of time.

3. Content: Focus on How You Can Help Your Consumer Now

Take what you've learned about what your audience is looking for during their shopping quest and consider how you can help your target consumers now.

Look at the content on the pages you're investing efforts into and evaluate the user experience. Does the content answer the query well? Your goal is to make the shopping experience for that product the best it can be.

Consider an aggressive content creation plan that facilitates the decision-making process for your target consumer ahead of Cyber Monday. Answer common problems people have about which gifts to buy, how certain products compare and so on. Add this content to your product pages and push them out via social media to drive traffic.

Social Media: Your Cyber Monday Content Vessel

The more social signals your content has in the form of endorsements and shares, the more search engines like Google can take into account the quality of that content, and act accordingly. In fact, in a recent Google+ Hangout, Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting suggested Google's Hummingbird algorithm enables Google to better make use of social signals now than ever before.

But it's not just about driving people back to the content on your site; it's about having a social media plan specific to your audience on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and so on. Make sure you understand the behavior within those social networks and what sort of deals people would be looking for in advance of Cyber Monday.

Don't forget about other channels you can explore to drive visibility to your site, including image campaigns for your products on Pinterest, or videos on YouTube for brand awareness, to name a couple.

Pinterest is especially interesting for Cyber Monday in that it is image-heavy and ripe for consumers to view products. Consider the following tips:

  • Align your Pinterest marketing with the products you wish to sell on Cyber Monday. Then, make sure you understand the audience on Pinterest, and what they're looking for.
  • For each audience, identify a handful of themes to start Pinterest boards around. Pin images that are visually attractive and aligned with your Cyber Monday strategy. But don't aim to sell. Instead, inspire your users. If you're selling home goods, think décor ideas, boards that represent "moods" or DIY projects.

Holiday Marketing: Better Late Than Never

Remember, Cyber Monday is just the beginning stage of the holiday shopping season. Going back to Google's survey data, we see the majority of holiday shoppers are still unsure when they'd begin the shopping process.

Conclusion

You still have time to refine your Cyber Monday marketing plan and even beyond through the 2013 holiday season. Target your consumers, starting now, by becoming an integral part of their decision-making process, and taking steps to ensure your brand is more visible in more places online.

Cyber Monday checklist:

  • Consider small improvements you can make to your site for your mobile audience, even if you don't have time for a responsive design overhaul.
  • Give the back-end of your website a health checkup to ensure it's ready to receive the influx of traffic it could face on Cyber Monday.
  • Evaluate what's feasible in terms of your organic marketing and the timeline you're working with, and plan accordingly.
  • Create social-specific campaigns and great content that helps the buyer make a decision about his or her Cyber Monday purchase.

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