Once our bellies are full of Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing and vegetables, many of us turn our attention to the upcoming holiday season. Millions of people rush to get their hands on gifts for friends and loved ones — especially on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
This year, however, most shopping agendas will be somewhat different. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, most holiday shoppers feel concerned, rather than thrilled, about upcoming in-store elbowing and main street bustle.
Unsurprisingly, 66% of global consumers plan to increase their online holiday shopping in 2020.
As such, this holiday lead-up period can present a massive opportunity for ecommerce business owners. To offset the mounting logistics pressure due to increased ecommerce transaction volumes and minimize shipping delays, retailers should capitalize on that early-bird shoppers. A winning holiday SEO strategy is the first step to that.
By investing early in seasonal optimization, you can ensure good positions in SERPs ahead of the competition. This way you can capture more holiday traffic and convert the most sales.
So let’s make the search engine optimization (not-so-)magic happen! Here’s how you too can optimize your holiday content and landing pages to rank higher to maximize organic traffic.
2020 Holiday Season Is Different From Past Years
Anything but the ordinary, 2020 has changed how consumers research and purchase products. This makes it hard to gauge how this holiday season will pan out for retailers.
Much of holiday spending will happen online. According to Google, 74% of US consumers plan to buy more Christmas gifts online compared to last year. Among those planning to venture in-stores, 67% will still go online first to confirm local stock levels.
Adobe research mirrors these findings. They predict that search engines will bring in almost 47% of holiday shopping season revenues to retailers. Again, this point strengthens the importance of having a formalized SEO strategy.
2020 will be also different in terms of what consumers shop for. NPD gauged the overall sentiment among US shoppers and found some interesting trends:
- 3 in 10 plan to spend more on physical gifts this year because they have fewer ‘experience’ expenses (e.g. related to travel, fine dining).
- 40% will splurge more on holiday gifts to create a sense of joy during challenging times.
- 53% plan to grab gift cards (up from 45% last year).
- 31% are eager to do more self-gifting as a form of holiday retail therapy.
Last, but not least, home-bound folks are starting to holiday-shop earlier this year. And some even plan to get going after Christmas to snatch some extra promo deals. So don’t rush with wrapping up your holiday marketing campaigns on Dec, 26th!
Finally, cross-border commerce will be bigger this year. Ecommerce businesses supporting international check-out and shipping will be better positioned for sales growth than domestic-only players. For example, last year as much as 19% of UK consumers placed orders with US merchants. Since travel is out of the question, many expats and locals alike will be likely shopping and shipping more gifts within and outside the borders.
What all of this data tells us is this: the 2020 holiday season will be digital-heavy with most of the battles taking place in SERPs. Retailers with a staunch commitment to growing their sales volumes need to prioritize ecommerce SEO.
5 Steps for a Successful Holiday SEO
SEO is a long-term game. No matter what some ‘mythical’ SEO tips suggest, you can’t double organic traffic volumes overnight. But the earlier you start — the faster you’d climb to the top of search results and the more keywords you’ll rank for.
If you are ready to optimize for holiday traffic, here are the five main steps to take:
- Assess Your Site’s Current Load Times and Performance
- Study Last Year’s Trends
- Identify Relevant Keywords for the Holidays
- Create Landing Pages for Black Friday and Cyber Monday Offers
- Coordinate SEO With Your Other Marketing Efforts
Assess Your Site’s Current Load Times and Performance
At any time of the year, ecommerce sites need to load fast and function well. Slow page loading time, missing images, glitching forms and non-intuitive navigation spike bounce rates. For Google, all of these are a strong indicator of a no-good website. The algorithms rank your online store lower than your competition, even if you are otherwise excelling in digital marketing.
So before you dive into anything else, focus on optimizing your website’s technical performance. In particular, audit for:
- Slow website loading speed on desktop and mobile devices.
- Mobile-friendliness score.
- Broken URLs and in-content links.
- Incorrect or missing canonicals.
- Website indexing issues.
- Outdated and redundant website pages.
- Duplicate content.
- Inconsistencies or complexities in website architecture.
- Orphaned pages.
- Unsecured pages and page resources (no SSL certificate).
Also, look for other shortcomings in user experience. The newest edition of Google algorithm —
RankBrain — takes on-page user interactions into account when deciding how to rank product pages or other content. So make your ecommerce website delightful to interact with both for consumers and the crawling algorithms.
1. Best tools for assessing site performance.
You don’t have to be an SEO-pro to figure out where targeted re-optimization can make the biggest impact performance-wise. You just need to use the right tools:
- Google’s PageSpeed Insights: locates performance-busting issues within your website code. Analyze your homepage, along with other main product, category and content marketing pages. Then forward the recommendations to your development partner.
- Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool: scores your mobile-friendliness and mobile website speed. You are also told what code or design elements need to be re-optimized.
- WebPageTest: a free tool to measure your website load speed. You also get a score with suggestions for fixes. Again, test multiple pages.
- Siteliner: analyzes your website for broken links, duplicate content and number of internal/external links per page and compares your results to others.
- “Index Coverage” Report on Google Console: Check this tab to review any indexing errors.
- Screaming Frog: A more advanced freemium tool for technical SEO audits. Helps uncover deeper-level issues.
Study Last Year’s Trends
To anticipate where your holiday traffic will come from this year, look backward at last year’s Search Terms report in Google Console.
This is a great start point to work out:
- Which pages generated the most traffic last year (and likely to do so again)?
- What queries people used to discover your products and deals?
Next, analyze data from other Channels. In particular, look for your top referral sources — affiliates, social media websites, email campaigns. Determine which channels drove you the most conversions and prioritize them for this year’s strategy.
Lastly, both Google Analytics and Google Search Console are as helpful, as they are complex. If you are new to them, give yourself extra time to study different reports and metrics before the holiday shopping madness kicks in.
1. Google Analytics tips for ecommerce.
Google Analytics allows you to view real-time information about your site. This includes how many people have visited your site, what regions your visitors live in, which of your holiday marketing tactics are driving the most traffic and much more. You can also view which of your users converted into sales, your visitors’ behavior within your pages and which pages are getting the most traffic.
To drill down to the most valuable insights, try this:
- Explore Reverse Goal Path report to determine which content attracted the most website visitors and triggered the highest number of conversions.
- Prepare a set of custom URLs for planned ad and referral marketing campaigns to help track on-site customer behavior after they landed on your site.
- Analyze data from last year’s conversion funnels and/or set up new ones for this year’s holiday campaigns.
2. Tips for using Google Search Console.
Unlike Google Analytics, Google Search Console is more tailored for providing you with technical website data. In short, this tool reports how search crawlers ‘see’ your website and interact with it to determine its value for users.
Here, you’ll want to make use of the following features:
- Performance: Search Console lets you select a custom timeframe, where you can then compare total clicks, impressions, click-through rate and more.
- URL Inspection: Under this tab, Search Console allows you to check the performance of individual pages.
- Coverage: In this section, you’ll receive a breakdown of all the pages on your site and their current status: valid, valid with warnings, error or excluded. This can be especially helpful for quickly identifying broken pages, as well as which of your pages your robots.txt file block or appear as “noindex.”
You should familiarize yourself with Search Console to have the most up-to-date information possible regarding your site and its performance.
Identify Relevant Keywords for the Holidays
Keyword research is a huge part of a successful SEO strategy. Targeting irrelevant keywords or those with no purchase/product research intention translates to budget waste. Going after overly-competitive keywords that every other online store is after means low chances for success.
To create your holiday keyword plan, first look into historic data from last year. Did you see any interesting keywords that shoppers used to find you? Check the Queries report on Search Console from last year.
Then, you can paste some of those keywords into Google Keyword Planner for extra ideas. Ignore PPC metrics such as bid cost for now and focus on seasonal keyword volumes. Segment keyword suggestions by month to find trending keywords for the holiday season. The wrinkle is that GKP doesn’t give away exact search volumes (only a range), plus their competition score is for paid search, not organic results.
So it’s best if you have extra keyword research tools in your box such as:
All of them let you see the exact monthly search volume for a keyword, get more ‘related keywords’ auto-suggestions, plus review which domains currently rank for your target keyword (and how hard it will be to bump them).
P.S. If you are unfamiliar with keyword research, check this helpful guide first.
1. Steps for finding the perfect holiday keywords.
When it comes to holiday keyword research, you have to pick your battles carefully. During the holiday season, you’d need to rank fast. So don’t go after overly-competitive broach keywords such as “buy cosmetics online”. Because you’d be competing for shopper attention with carousel ad results, Amazon product listings and category pages from other national retailers.
A smarter SEO move is to go after an array of lower competition keywords with a purchase or product research intent. Let’s take Bliss World as an example and pretend that we want to find more keywords for their gift guide product category.
Source: Bliss World
Here are the steps to find such holiday keywords:
- Pick a general high-volume keyword “gift ideas” or even “christmas gift ideas”. That’s a top of the funnel query a lot of people will use when casually browsing for ideas. In 99% they’ll bounce off your website without buying anything. (Unless they are on a therapeutic shopping spree).
- Zoom in one level deeper and think about your customers’ purchase intentions. Who are they shopping for this year? Create a spreadsheet column listing all the relevant “gift ideas for …:”.
- Next, think about relevant gift types. For example, for Bliss that would be “cosmetics gift ideas” and “skincare gift ideas” among others.
If you are using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs, you’d automatically get plenty of suggestions:
Prioritize keywords with high search volumes, low competition and high relevance to your niche. For example, ‘secret santa gift ideas’ looks nice, but it’s hardly a keyword worth pursuing as a fine jewelry retailer.
Your main goal is to make a good list of long-tail keywords to fuel your content strategy.
2. What to look for when searching for long-tail keywords.
Long tail keywords are low search volume, highly-specific keywords that are likely to match exactly what the user is searching for.
They are the actual goldmine for attracting relevant traffic with high chances of conversions.
Since most of us now have a Ph.D. in googling, we rarely use those exact match keywords. Unless we are very early into our product research. So people who want to say ‘buy a diamond ring online’ are more likely to be shopping around and comparing prices among online stores, rather than those who are mid-way into their journey.
Such folks are more likely to be looking for more specific products such as “princess cut 1-carat diamond ring” or even something like “diamond rings that look good on short fingers”. When they see a highly relevant result, they are more likely to click and perhaps even convert.
Questions are another great example of long tail keywords. Such queries are more popular for top to mid of the funnel shoppers seeking holiday deals. This makes them an excellent choice for content marketing resources — gift guides, video tutorials, product comparison blog posts or round-ups.
When you assess every long-tail keyword ask yourself this:
- What’s the user intention behind it— research, consideration or purchase?
- Is it relevant to my product range?
- Does the search volume justify the difficulty level (low-comp/high search volume is the best combo?
To find some interesting long tail keywords around your main product categories, you can also use these free keyword research tools:
3. Use google trends to determine the seasonality of keywords.
Google Trends is another excellent (and free!) tool for seasonal keyword research. Use it to review the latest changes in search trends and discover emerging search queries. Plus, the real-time search volume dynamics behind them.
Source: Google Trends
Click around to explore related topics and queries to discover even more long-tail keywords ideas. Then assess them using the 3 criteria we mentioned in the previous point and add the strongest contenders to your plan.
Create Landing Pages for Black Friday and Cyber Monday Offers Ahead of Time
To increase your chances of showing up on Black Friday and Cyber Monday related search queries, it’s important to create pages that target relevant keywords. (That you’ve discovered during the previous step).
To find the best prices available, users will often search for keyword combos with “[brand name] or [product] deals, discounts, promos”.
You can research which options are trending in your product vertical using historical results from Google Trends. Depending on the industry your business is in, it may be beneficial to create a Black Friday or Cyber Monday page for each product you plan on offering at a discount.
Also, don’t wait until Thanksgiving to create pages and target relevant keywords. Use an alternative strategy.
Create the pages ahead of time, then use a 302 redirect (a temporary redirect, as opposed to a permanent 301 redirect) so that the pages remain hidden until needed. This will give you ample time to optimize the pages for holiday shoppers, as well as give website crawlers time to scan the site. You could even create an entire “mini-site” of holiday-related pages that are not visible to visitors until it’s time to start ramping up for the season of giving.
Once you create the pages, you must add them to your XML sitemap as well as your site’s navigation. The goal of creating these new landing pages is to drive traffic from search queries that include holiday-related keywords. However, you should still have a way for returning customers to access the new pages if they would like to see your holiday deals. By adding the new pages to your sitemap, you are providing a sort of roadmap for crawlers to quickly find your pages and index them.
With these two simple steps, you are making it easier for users and crawlers alike to view and access your new holiday landing pages.
Coordinate SEO With Your Other Marketing Efforts
All parts of your holiday marketing strategy need to be well-aligned with one another. This will provide users with a unified experience that shows them exactly what they’re looking for. The best way to do so is to think from the top to the bottom of the funnel. Use social media to increase brand and product awareness. Leverage paid search in tandem with SEO to convert buyers in the middle of their customer journeys. Measure all your efforts carefully to understand which channels work best and prioritize them!
1. Paid search and the holidays.
While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are only two days out of the year, it’s important to coordinate your paid search efforts with your SEO strategy. This way, you’ll have the most cohesive omnichannel experience for your users.
Similar to your SEO efforts, your paid search campaign quality should be based around a mix of historic ad performance data and new keyword findings.
Apart from that, here are a few things to remember when planning a holiday PPC campaign:
- Black Friday and Cyber Monday ad bidding can be brutal for your budgets. Be careful when selecting target keywords for search ads.
- As holiday shopping starts early this year, run paid promo campaigns before the big days when the competition is lower.
- For paid social media campaigns, match your campaign objectives to the right stage of the funnel.
- Leave some ad budgets for ad experiments. Try inventory Google Ads, LinkedIn sponsored posts (if you are in B2B space) or TikTok advertising tools (if you are in B2C).
2. Leverage social media to pump mo’ traffic.
Like with SEO and paid search, you should begin planning your social media strategy for the holidays well ahead of time. First and foremost, you should determine the start and end dates of your social campaign, as well as which channels you plan on using.
The trending social media promotion tactics to explore in 2020 are:
- Instagram Reels: Use them to share behind-the-scenes preparations, tease new seasonal products and content.
- TikTok branded hashtag challenges: Ask your fans (or influencers) to tout your products in a creative way to seed brand awareness.
- YouTube or Instagram live streams: Make big product reveals or share curated product edits in real-time to steer engagement. Shoppable live streams are a huge trend that bigger brands already harness successfully.
From there, you should also study the social media tactics that your competition has used in the past and use the strategies that apply to your business.
3. Measure real-time success.
With site performance-optimized, keywords lined up, seasonal content live and paid promotions in full swing, you are fully prepared for the holiday season. But how do you know if the grand sum of these efforts is successful?
Google Analytics and Search Console offer a variety of reports to help you identify your results. While every ecommerce business is different, there are several universal metrics worth monitoring:
- New vs returning shoppers (Audience > Behavior > New vs. Returning).
- Traffic channels report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels).
- Referral report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals).
- Search terms report (Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms).
- Ecommerce conversion reports (Conversion > Ecommerce > Overview > Shopping and Checkout Behavior)
These reports can break down your site’s traffic by total visitors, click-through rate and much more.
Jolly SEO Holiday Tactics to Try Out in 2020
If you are still in the mood for a gourmet dessert after our big feast of holiday marketing tactics, shove your plate with this handful of holiday SEO tips. They are bite-sized, but won’t leave you traffic-hungry!
1. Update product descriptions for the holidays.
You already know that ecommerce product descriptions impact conversion rates. Spruce up your copy with more emotional words for holidays. So that shoppers could picture how much joy your product could give them or their loved ones.
How do you make your copy joyful and persuasive? The Yale Attitude Change model suggests that people are more likely to respond to persuasive claims if they trust the ‘messenger’ and believe in the credibility of their words.
In that sense, all your marketing pitches need to focus on two things:
- Come from a source with the appropriate expertise/ethos, relevant to the product.
- Provide solid evidence as a backup.
Auvere uses this trick well in their product copywriting:
The jewelry retailer has a ‘compare section’, explaining how they price their product versus the competition, using concrete figures. Their main product description, on the other hand, is lighter and more aspirational.
2. Repurpose last year’s pages
Black Friday and Cyber Monday come and go. But the original URLs stay stashed in your admin panel. Instead of creating yet another duplicate page, re-use the last year’s ones! Doing so not only saves you design time but also carries some SEO benefits. Instead of trying to rank a brand new page with less page authority and no backlinks, you’d be re-optimizing an already solid asset. The best part? You can repeat the trick next year to compound the benefits further!
NB: If you plan to change the URL structure from /black-friday-2019/ to /black-friday/, set up a 301 redirect.
3. Don’t forget about local SEO
With the rise of ecommerce, it’s easy to forget about the local crowd your brick-and-mortar location can serve too. While most holiday shoppers plan to prioritize online channels, some will also shop in-store.
Convert local online traffic into online visits by:
- Updating and optimizing Google My Business profile.
- Creating local content marketing resources.
- Acquiring press coverage from community publishers.
- Advertising alternative delivery options — BOPIS, curbside pick-ups.
- Regularly updating your inventory levels to get included in the line-up of ‘nearby’ filter results on Google Shopping.
SEO is tricky for ecommerce websites, especially the smaller local players.
To increase your odds of climbing to the top of SERPs prioritize keyword research (you know have plenty of tips for that!). Go after long-tail keywords that bigger competitors have missed. Capture top-of-the-funnel prospects with inspiring, educational and oh-so-jolly content that helps them make their best choices. Create Black Friday and Cyber Monday landing pages ahead of time and optimize them around a custom mix of keywords, sources from historical trends and new industry developments.
Keep your SEO efforts working in tandem with other marketing tactics and you’d be golden during this year’s holiday season!
Want more insights like this?
We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.
Less Development. More Marketing.
Let us future-proof your backend. You focus on building your brand.
Get ready to conquer retail’s busiest time of year
Unlock proven tips, tactics and expert advice for a successful holiday season.