Black Friday & Cyber Monday PPC: How Did Retailers Prepare?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday, often looked at by holiday enthusiasts as the official start of the retail holiday season, results in a great deal of advertising. With the conclusion of 2012 upon us, the holidays are the time of the year that can be deemed most stressful for everyone, including both the public and retailers alike.

An informative analysis of the holiday spending of various retailers in their efforts to cope with the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shows some interesting and perhaps unexpected results regarding how they adjusted their expenditure and advertising in preparation for the commencement of the holiday season.

Fresh to one’s mind during the holiday season are stores such as Sears, the Home Shopping Network, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Godiva, The Container Store, and The Gilt Group. Many of these retailers are shopped both in-store and online.

Many things change prior to Black Friday and Cyber Monday including search engine traffic and the amount of money that retailers decide to spend on their PPC in preparation for the influx of shoppers, orders, and purchases that are expected. Many people have also begun to complete the majority of their shopping online for a variety of reasons, whether for the sheer convenience or to avoid the tumultuous, irritating crowds that disburse during the holiday season.

Number of Ads

Major holiday retailers such as Sears, HSN, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus have all allocated a significant amount of their budget to Internet advertising, and the chart below displays the number of ads that are being employed for each merchant.


There was much fluctuation from 2008 until the present time however it can clearly be seen that Sears had been wavering more than anyone. Additionally, the number of ads for Sears went down significantly beginning around September of this year and continues to decrease (even though they have the most ads with 54.6 percent), so they obviously did not increase any ad purchases for the holidays.

Macy’s, on the other hand, increased this fall, more specifically last month. All of the other retailers minimized their ads despite the presence of the holidays. Is it possible that they have looked into other methods in which to advertise their holiday sales?


Furthermore, the retailers Godiva, The Container Store, and Gilt have also seen some flux in the number of ads being presented to the public. Gilt in particular had a great deal of variation throughout the years but became a steadier this year and had their final decrease around October of 2012.

Both The Container Store and Godiva have progressive increases and decreases throughout the years, but they both increased their number of ads more recently. The Container Store’s ad growth was gradual, while Godiva had a sprightly and extremely significant upsurge in their ads right around the beginning of last month. Gilt is currently bidding on the most keywords among them, with 63.2 percent.

Number of Keywords

Similar to the number of ads, in evaluating the number of keywords being bid on by Sears, HSN, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus, quite an interesting result surfaces.


It looks as though all of the retailers have augmented their bidding habits over time, however between October and November of this year decreased the quantity of keywords being bid on (although it is a very minimal decrease). This may be due, perhaps, to the realized success of certain keywords for the holiday season, so they have decided to maintain their strategy. Sears is bidding on the most keywords with 53.1 percent and Macy’s coming in next with 27.5 percent.


Comparatively, Godiva, The Container Store, and Gilt have quite the different story. Godiva hasn’t had that many keywords at all, and decreased what they did have around September of this year (they have obviously put a larger focus on ads).

The Container Store has varied in their number of keywords, while Gilt shows the biggest change of all. They went years only a few if any keywords, and expanded greatly around March of this year, increasing their keywords drastically, and the number has continued to rise ever since, specifically in November of this year for the looming holiday season.

Is it possible that based upon all of the above results that conceivably some retailers are looking to be more thrifty in their advertising budgets for the 2012 holiday season?

Keywords Directing the Most Traffic, November 2012

(excluding company names as keyword)

Typically certain keywords tend to drive more traffic than others do, and in following all of the sought out holiday retailers, it can be determined which keywords produce the most volume and traffic to their websites last month.


The most popular keywords for each retailer in November of 2012 varies in many ways including CPC, volume, traffic percentage, and number of results.

For instance, the Home Shopping Network’s top keyword is “shopnbc (which just so happens to be one of their largest competitors, smart move) which has a CPC of $1.18, 246,000 searches per month, 3 million results, and consists of 7.06 percent of traffic to their website.

Surprisingly, Godiva’s top traffic keyword is “cake pops” (they sound tasty, and I’m guessing holiday-themed) with a CPC of $0.66, 90,500 searches per month, and 13.08 percent of traffic.

Neiman Marcus received 7.10 percent of traffic through the jewelry designer “david yurman”, and Gilt received 5.11 percent of their traffic last month via the keyword “free people”, while a clothing brand, also has a massive search result of over 5 billion likely due to its many possible interpretations.

Top Keyword Percentages by Retailer, November 2012

By analyzing the percentage of the budgets that these holiday-esque retailers are spending on specific keywords presents an in-depth look into what they were looking to accomplish with their Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2012 PPC efforts.


Rather than allocate a large portion of their budget to a single keyword, Sears instead extended their funds to many keywords, however the largest expenditure for a single keyword was for “Christmas Tree Shop” (which is also a store in itself and offers more than just Christmas items) with a whopping 3.51 percent and 1.25 CPC.

The Home Shopping Network is allocating 12.68 percent of their bidding budget to “shopnbc”, which once again is a substantial competitor. Macy’s, similar to Sears, is disbursing their budget amongst many keywords while Godiva is spending quite a bit to bid on “chocolate”, logically (11.06 percent) and “gift baskets” (9.79 percent), which have CPC’s of $2.45 and $4.84, and are extremely pricey.

Neiman Marcus is bidding mostly on the names of specific designers such as “stella mccartney” and “david yurman”, which have significant CPCs of $1.94 and $1.08. The Container Store is playing it safe by bidding mostly on their own keyword, and the Gilt Group has taken the route of mostly bidding on their own keyword as well as that of a known designer whose focus is mainly on extremely pricey dresses (unless of course you find $6,000-$9,000 to be affordable).

In this example, both The Container Store and the Gilt Group are making a common mistake among advertisers; take into consideration: if your business has a name, which all do, it is likely that you are already ranking first for that keyword, right? So, many retailers don’t even realize that it isn’t necessary for them to purchase their own business name keyword since the customer already sees the name at the top of the results page. Retailers such as these may want to possibly re-think which keywords they are spending the most on!


Preparing for the holidays is a daunting task all-around, especially when it comes down to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Retailers took different advertising routes in an attempt to accomplish their holiday goals.

Up next? It’s Free Shipping Day on December 17, where you can order online from participating retailers, receive free shipping, and still have your purchase delivered by Christmas Eve. How great does that sound?

Advertising endeavors for those retailers partaking in Free Shipping Day may be substantial or minimal, but holiday-hungry, at-home shoppers are likely to take advantage of such a deal.

With the holiday season officially in full-swing, there’s no telling what strategies retailers will use to make the most out of the few weeks that are left – and we have to consider the after-holiday sales and merchandise returns.

Now stop procrastinating, finish that shopping, and enjoy the rest of the holidays.

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