Despite the hassle, it’s possible to put one’s holiday shopping off until the last minute. But for those whose businesses depend upon the holiday season to end the year on a high note, waiting too long to prepare for the holiday shopping season can be disastrous. Websites have become increasingly important for taking advantage of this time of year, not just for online retailers, but for offline retailers as well, since many shoppers find information online before making a purchase at a bricks-and-mortar retail store. This practice is so common, in fact, we even have an acronym for it–ROPO (research online, purchase offline).
Smart retailers are already preparing their websites and online marketing campaigns for the holiday shopping season. If your company hasn’t started you may have a few weeks to get things in order before it’s too late. Here are 9 steps to help you get on your way.
1. Analyze past and current data. Dig into your reports from Google Analytics or whatever other analytics tools you use. What worked well last year? What didn’t work? What has changed during the past several months that might impact how you interpret the data and apply it to this year’s activities? Oh, you didn’t collect good data last year? See step #9 below.
Also analyze the current data, and not just for your website but for those of your competitors. What are your competitors saying about the holiday season? If you pay attention to what they are saying, you can adjust your own strategy to better compete with them.
2. Think mobile. Mobile usage is growing steadily, and if you don’t have a mobile strategy this year it’s likely you’ll be driving customers into the arms of your competitors. Thinking mobile means having a responsive website, mobile site, or mobile app, or a combination. Google specifically recommends you use responsive design, but the point is to consider all your options and how your customers want to interact with you, and act accordingly. Simply ignoring mobile users should not be an option.
3. Prepare your PPC campaigns. Start building landing pages and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns now so when the holiday season comes around all you have to do is flip the switch on the campaign. Then you can start optimizing those campaigns immediately and you’ll have at least a few weeks’ head start over your competitors who wait.
4. Work on SEO–right now. If you’re planning on launching a new website and hoping to capitalize on the holiday season this year, you’re too late. For a new website in an area that’s halfway competitive it takes months to get SEO going. Now would be a good time to start on SEO for 2015. But if your website is already well-established then you might be able to launch new content right now and get it ranking quickly, in time to still get a substantial return.
5. Start a conversion rate optimization (CRO) program. Getting lots of traffic to your website is great, but if you don’t focus on conversion rate optimization you may be leaving a lot of business on the table. Using A/B testing data from Optimizely you can perform tests that will tell you whether you should change the color of a button or the text on that button, whether you should change a headline or the content on a page, or whether altering an image results in more sales or conversions. These tests take time to set up, run, and analyze, so waiting until November will mean you’ve missed your chance.
If you don’t have the time or expertise to engage in a process that is quite this scientific, at least spend some time thinking about it and make common sense changes to improve conversions on your website. “Make it easy for people to buy!” says Stuart Barker, Country Manager, Hong Kong at the customer engagement platform company Emarsys. “Help consumers by arranging products into lifestyle bundles where suitable products are ‘curated’ together.” Barker recommends going beyond “Gifts for Him” or “Gifts for Her” to identify more specific customer profiles and then create “The Fitness Fanatic,” “The Gastronaut,” or “Cosmetic Crazy” collections.
6. Begin content marketing. Content marketing is an under-appreciated form of marketing, and for precisely this reason now is the time companies can gain an advantage over competitors because not as many have jumped on this bandwagon compared to PPC and SEO.
The trick with content marketing is marketing without marketing. The producers of the 2014 hit The Lego Movie got it right, because most of us left the theater saying “Wow, what a great movie!” rather than feeling as though we had sat through a 2-hour long Lego commercial. That’s great content marketing. But most of us won’t be spending $60M on feature film production as part of our content marketing efforts. Instead, we’ll be creating infographics, shorter videos, apps, or online games. But the objective of marketing without marketing remains the same. “When producing content for the holiday season, you have to strike a balance between not only making something that journalists want to talk about and that gains the site links, but that also aids the sales funnel,” says Darren Kingman, Senior Digital Marketing Consultant at the UK-based agency Builtvisible. “In many ways this is the holy grail of content marketing, and there’s no better time to get it right than the holidays. Striking that balance is tricky, but by ensuring the content topic is popular and people are able to engage with the content, you’ll create something that will not only gain links and drive traffic, but create a positive affinity with a potential customer.”
Start by creating an editorial calendar, building out holiday-related content, and optimizing it–now, before launching it. This way when the timing is right for that content to go on the site, it is already available and optimized.
7. Get social media content ready to post. Start writing and scheduling social media posts. You’re going to be busy once the season starts with everything else you need to do. If you have all the content planned out, written, and optimized, you can save themselves a lot of time when time is precious. Then you can focus on interacting with followers rather than writing posts.
8. Engage in PR. PR has become a potent tool for driving traffic to websites. Need to get the word out about your new products? You can’t turn PR on in a day. Journalists are creating their own editorial calendars right now. If you want to become a source in a story or get a feature story written about your company or product, you need to be developing relationships with the right journalists right now.
9. Create processes to collect and analyze this year’s data. It’s never too early, or too late, to start collecting data, and generally speaking the more the better. At a minimum make sure you have Google Analytics (free) installed on your website with proper conversion tracking set up, or opt for a more robust, paid analytics platform like Adobe Analytics. Even if you don’t have time to analyze it yourself, you might hire someone two years from now who will be able to turn that data into digital marketing gold. Additional measures you can take to collect data include using call tracking and call analytics, heatmapping software like CrazyEgg, user surveys using sites like Qualaroo, and services like User Testing.
The next few months can make or break companies. Make sure you have the right plan in place when it comes to your website marketing and you can make sure you have the right strategy not just for this holiday season but for years afterward.
Josh Steimle is the CEO of MWI, a digital marketing agency with offices in the U.S. and Hong Kong.