Hot Holiday Tips and Tricks

It’s that time of year again! Yes, it’s nearly the holiday season. While for many this means cozying up with hot chocolate, singing holiday tunes by a warm fireplace, or spending time with family and friends – for those in e-commerce, Q4 means planning, budgeting, reporting, and good ole’ quality time with their co-workers. For me in particular, it’s meant a few gray hairs, longer work days, and lots and lots of coffee.

So, how is one to survive? For starters – take a deep breath. Next, read through the tips and tricks outlined here. As a power trooper, I’ve successfully survived many Q4s managing global campaigns for some of the largest retailers in the world. It’s my hope that sharing some advice here, much that was gleaned from learning the hard way, will help you find success this holiday season.

Have a Plan

…And a backup plan, and a backup plan. Planning how you will spend holiday budgets far in advance relieves a lot of the pressure brought on by the season. However, you should always have a plan for the “unexpected” occurrence. Try listing out which channels you would add with extra budget, or which channels you would cut with less budget. If you are running digital campaigns outside of search, know which publishers are flexible with their timelines and delivery. Planning in the short term will save time in the long term.

Automate What You Can

As a search marketer, I love being in on the action. Sometimes that means I feel like launching a new campaign at 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving to introduce a new Black Friday sale (and then aggressively cheering on my shoppers as I refresh my screen). It’s true, I really enjoy that. However, you can’t commit yourself to pull every lever manually, and you shouldn’t. A little too much Turkey and …ZzzzZzzz…

Instead, automate and schedule as much as you can, even if the automation is only to back you up. In AdWords, you can schedule campaigns, adgroups, and ads to enable and pause whenever you want. Also, from the Ad Extensions tab you can create start and end dates, plus eligible times for your Sitelinks and Sitelink Descriptions to run. Though I recommend launching holiday search campaigns fairly early to catch those super-efficient shoppers, schedule out your more timely offers and sales.

Customize Ads and Landing Pages

This is a big one. During the holiday season, you are going to be competing with a ton of other retailers vying for your customer’s attention. If you’ve got a unique offer (or just any offer), your ads better showcase it. I’m also a big fan of switching up your landing pages to call out holiday offers. If you’re not doing anything particularly special, at least consider adding a Holiday Gift Guide to your site to help shoppers navigate to your top products.

For more winning holiday ad copy ideas – consider using advanced scripts to insert countdowns into your ads, creating urgency for your customers. Try showcasing your price point, or presenting your offer in the ad copy. Or, if you’re feeling particularly innovative, try using the new ad customizers in AdWords, which allow Google to dynamically populate and match the most relevant ad to each customer based off of spreadsheet data that you provide.

Buy Holiday Terms

Oftentimes the house is divided on whether or not to purchase holiday terms. I am all for it, as long as the keywords are carefully curated and you’ve got a portion of budget to spend on holiday initiatives. I’ve seen performance swing either way, but knowing that my ads are showing on relevant searches during my highest revenue quarter gets me through the night.

I stick to a few rules for holiday terms:

  • Keep them in their own campaigns and label them as “Promotional” or “Holiday” in the campaign name.
  • Set campaign end dates. You don’t want to forget these are running and let them go passed their peak.
  • Group relevant terms together into their own adgroups. This can be as simple as “Gifts for Him,” “Gifts for Her,” and “Best Holidays Deals.” However, I like to do some grouping by gender, grouping by buyer type, type of gift, specific holiday, and then a few additional adgroups for hot terms, like deals, sales, offers, free shipping, etc.
  • As we discussed earlier, ad customization is important. For these adgroups, it’s even more important. Since these aren’t your typical terms and you don’t have a historical click-through rate (CTR), there’s a chance you won’t show as often as you’d like when they are queried due to a low quality score. To increase that score, incorporate the key terms into the ads for each given adgroup.

Bid Like No One’s Watching

Bidding during the holidays can be a bit frightening. What’s more frightening? Losing your customer to the guy in position 1. As a rule of thumb, I increase a good portion of my bids during the holiday season. For my top terms (you know, the few key terms bringing in 90 percent of sales), I typically bid up to 50 percent higher than normal. It’s all about staying competitive.

What to watch for:

  • If you’re going to increase your bids, track your average CPC and your CPA over the holiday season. If your average CPC is increasing, which it may, ensure you are still staying within your CPA goal. If this is happening, you are likely getting additional volume for your uptick in bids. This is a good thing. Pat on the back.
  • If your average CPC is getting higher and impacting your CPA by going over your goal, pull back bids on the poor performing keywords that aren’t paying off.

Another bidding tip I’d recommend is to trigger a few searches and consider who else is bidding on your terms.

  • When you see the results, ask yourself if this is where your ads belong. If they don’t, consider pausing these keywords or pulling back bids. Don’t play in someone else’s space unless it’s profitable for you.
  • If you do belong, ask yourself – who else also belongs? If you’re seeing ads with affiliates you’ve partnered with, or other retailers selling your product, consider a game plan. A simple phone call or email to discuss bidding strategy for your products could be valuable. Be prepared to discuss who should get the top spots based on forecasted revenue and profit from each partner.

Wrap Up

During the holidays, the list of tasks can seem daunting. Though I hope I’ve given you a solid starting point to get you to success this season, my biggest piece of advice is still to breathe. Oh, and mark off the days until 2015 in your calendar, too.

If you have any Hot Holiday Tips and Tricks of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments below. We’ll think of it as a gift exchange. That about wraps it up.

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