The holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier each year (which makes prepping your search campaigns tricky). And this year is no different. On November 1, British catalog retailer Argos kicked off the holiday season (with much fanfare) by unveiling its three-minute-long holiday ad (a dad’s Christmas dream), and—in case there was any doubt—the “All I Want for Christmas Is You” pop singer Mariah Carey declared the start of the holiday season after receiving a call from Santa himself shortly after midnight.
In Q4 2018, overall search marketing spend rose 9% over 2017’s Q4, according to Kenshoo. For marketers, the holiday season brings significant boosts in ad impressions, click-through rates, and conversions. It can also bring rising ad costs.
Preparation is key to capitalizing on the frenzy of the holidays, and it’s likely you’ve already done much of your work. But it’s never too late to fine-tune as you move through the season.
Let’s start with some key dates:
Black Friday, November 29
Small Business Saturday, November 30
Cyber Monday, December 2
Hanukkah, Sunday, December 22–Monday, December 30
Green Monday, December 9
Super Saturday, December 21
Christmas, Wednesday, December 25
New Year’s Day 2020, Wednesday, January 1
Not all holidays are created equal, though. For example, a New Year’s resolution campaign may be more effective for a local gym than a Cyber Monday deal. Make sure you know your market and promote accordingly. Then determine if it’s best to launch your promotion in the days leading up to the holiday or on the actual date itself. Make sure to use your budget wisely as holiday CPCs are always much higher than the rest of the year.
Try to prepare your campaigns at least a month ahead of the launch, including proper budgeting, bid increases, seasonal keywords, and customized ad copy. You wouldn’t shop for Thanksgiving the day before (or at least we don’t recommend it). Treat your campaigns like the holidays themselves.
With increased traffic during the holidays, it’s important that you adjust your budgets to match. If you have the data available, forecast your budget based on historical results.
With Google Ads, start by checking your impression share. This metric can be added as a column to your report view by clicking “Modify columns” and adding the options under “Competitive metrics.”
If you’ve consistently been running the same campaigns year over year, you can view your spend for the holidays in previous years. View the impression share lost due to budget and if it’s anything higher than 0%, that’s how much more your budget should have been. For this current year, make sure to pad in some additional budget for projected year-over-year growth.
If historical campaign data isn’t available, then there are a couple other options for you to help forecast your budget needs.
Google Trends is a great tool for keyword volume insights. Plug in your top keywords to view historical search trends and identify seasonality peaks. Look back to up to five years of trends to help create a seasonality index that you can apply to your average monthly spend. This can help determine how much to increase your budget settings for specific months.
Keyword Planner is another useful tool, especially if you plan on adding new keywords. You can get search volume and forecasts based on keywords and your planned max bids. Further refine your results by customizing the date range, as well as adding locations and negative keywords, which are words or phrases that prevent your ad from being triggered, to match your exact needs.
Your bidding decisions can get a little tricky around the holidays as bids will rise, but so can your sales. Again, it’s best to go by historical data points here if you’ve had active campaigns for past holidays. Keeping in mind your goals for profit margin or return on advertising spend, take a look at how your costs and rate of return fluctuated on the same days historically and plan your bidding strategy accordingly.
If you don’t have the historical performance to go by, then Keyword Planner is an excellent tool to forecast your projected clicks and cost-per-click. You can use this method to have proper starting bids to kick off your campaigns.
With the recent removal of the average position metric, monitoring for rank loss is a bit more challenging. Keep an eye on your top page impressions and impression share to get a sense of how you’re ranking. Also, make sure you know your average revenue generated per click and monitor it more frequently during the holiday campaigns for optimization.
Start brainstorming new keywords by combining holiday names with keywords of your product or service in both Google Trends and Keyword Planner. This often reveals keywords, such as “Black Friday Sale for [your product/service],” that can be useful for developing your promotional offers.
Thinking about potential gift recipients is a good exercise as well and can reveal keywords, such as “Christmas gift ideas for dads.” If your product is a particularly good fit for a certain target market, this is an excellent time to capitalize on more discovery-related keywords that get a seasonal spike.
Lastly, don’t forget about negative keywords to filter out search terms irrelevant to your campaign. You don’t want to discover that your budget was spent on clicks that weren’t valuable to you. Make sure you plug your new holiday keywords into Keyword Planner and take a look at the relevant terms that get generated. After launch, keep an eye on your search query and terms reports so you can negate irrelevant keywords often.
Make sure that you’re maximizing the effectiveness of your campaigns by investing proper time into the ad copy.
Customize your ad text to align with the respective holidays to help your ads look more relevant and lead to increased click-through rates.
In addition to seasonal relevance, try including specific information on discounts, sales, and promotions to help your ads stand out more than when running generic ad copy.
Adding a sense of urgency to your ads with wording such as “limited-time only” and “act now” can further enhance your click and response rates.
Google offers features, such as adding countdowns, that can add an element of urgency to your ads. You can also use Merchant Promotions to enhance your ads—highlight offers and add the sale_price and sale_price_effective_date feed attributes to schedule price changes in advance for promotions.
The holiday shopping season is undoubtedly hectic, but it’s also an exciting time for potential opportunities.
Just like when you’re getting ready for your own holidays—don’t forget the mashed potatoes or Grandma’s present—preparation makes your holiday search marketing more manageable and, hopefully, more rewarding.