Preparing Your Search Campaigns for the Holiday Season

It’s about that time again: family comes to town, things start looking festive, and…marketers are preparing their campaigns for the holiday shopping season.

Last year in Q4, search ad spending on Google grew 23% year over year.* That growth trend is likely to continue in 2018. The holiday season brings significant boosts in ad impressions, click-through rates, and conversions. It also brings rising ad costs.

Preparation is key to capitalizing on the frenzy of the holidays—now’s the time to get started on holiday campaigns.

Let’s start with some key dates:

  •      Black Friday, Friday, November 23
  •      Small Business Saturday, Saturday, November 24
  •      Cyber Monday, Monday, November 26
  •      Hanukkah, Sunday, December 2–Monday, December 10
  •      Green Monday, Monday, December 10
  •      Super Saturday, Saturday, December 22
  •      Christmas, Tuesday, December 25
  •      New Year’s Day 2019, Tuesday, January 1
The holiday season brings significant boosts in ad impressions, click-through rates, and conversions.

Remember, not all holidays are equal. 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.

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.

Your holiday prep—search marketing style

1. Proper budgeting

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 impressions 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.

If you have the data available, forecast your budget based on historical results.

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.

2. Bid increases

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.

More real-time monitoring requires keeping an eye on your average position changes. If the number is going up, that’s usually an indicator that you’ll need to raise your bids accordingly. Also, make sure you know your average revenue generated per click and monitor it more frequently during the holiday campaigns for optimization.

3. Holiday keywords

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.

keep an eye on your search query and terms reports so you can negate irrelevant keywords

4. Custom ad copy

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.

Then sit back, relax, and enjoy your holidays

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.

*Ginny Marvin, “Merkle Q4 2017: Search Ad Click Growth Fell, Ad Spend Rose 23% across Google, Bing, Yahoo,” Search Engine Land, January 29, 2018,