Its that time of the year again! Feeling stressed about your ecommerce revenue this season?  November to December is the period that most companies rely on to get them in the black for the year.  

I want to discuss some tips and strategies to help ecommerce businesses alleviate the stress of executing a successful retail season.  These tips can work for large and small online stores.

Despite there being many channels to highlight for a successful holiday season, I want to focus specifically on Google Ads.  I want to discuss how we prepare for the influx of traffic and optimize for such a tight window period. I would like to share the framework I have worked on for my various retail clients.  What you will get out of this post:

  1. Setting yourself up for a successful holiday.
  2. Launch on schedule, on time and on point.  
  3. Preparing yourself to tackle any curve balls in a seamless manner.

1) Plan Ahead

Coming from a retail background, (my time at Best Buy Canada), here are some tips I do to be proactive for the holiday season.  

Past Performance

Did you have a successful holiday season last year? Looking back at performance data from last year’s period will help guide you through estimating your budget, traffic, and determining which ads and keywords performed. Additionally, make sure to allow some flexibility in your budget to cover the holiday shopping spikes and lows. Developing these will help you focus towards your end goals. You want to also make sure you create a buffer while maintaining flexibility in your budget to compensate for the increase traffic during key periods such as Black Friday/Cyber Monday.  

1. Download data from the month(s) you wish to forecast and the preceding month.
2. Calculate the change from one month to the next.
3. Download data for the preceding month you want to forecast for in the current year.
4. Multiply each metric for the preceding month by percentage change calculated from the previous year. The results will be used to forecast the following month.

Marketing Calendar

Set out your marketing calendar early to help you keep organized, aligned and on schedule to ensure your campaign will run smoothly. Determine which promotions you want to run and for how long. It is important to make sure that each promotion is aligned with your overall marketing strategy as well.  

Break Open in Case of a Crisis

Establishing a crisis plan of action will alleviate any panic scrambles. Once your marketing plan is in place and set, make time and prepare for potential trouble. Create a call list and confirm the on-call contacts for your holiday campaigns. Define who needs to be contacted for which crisis (ie. technical or messaging changes) and loop in relevant team members and vendor account teams.  

Examples would be: If there is an influx of disapprovals, or your feed isn’t updating properly, if there are price mismatches, etc..

Get an Early Start

If possible, it is recommended to start your sales ahead (Article link) of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday period to capture shopper’s dollars earlier. Companies such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart have dedicated sale days ahead of those key dates to capture as much consumer dollars as possible and then carry over the momentum into these key dates.  

2) Organize your Holiday campaigns

Getting yourself organized from feeds to campaign structure will help you make those times when you need to adjust on the fly look seamless.   

Update Products and Feeds

Customers will leave if they don’t see the price and availability they expect, and Google Merchant Feeds will flag any mismatches as disapprovals or warnings. This would have an impact on your products appearing on Shopping Ads.

Enable automatic update and automatic item updates to make sure that fluctuating products and availability are up to date.  By using automation, you will be able to react sooner to whatever needs your attention.

Campaign Set up

Break out and label all your Christmas campaigns, focusing on key products and brands that you want to concentrate on for the holidays. Such effort will keep your accounts clean and sane, especially for broad Christmas focus campaigns, and will be a lifesaver when you have to make any last minute changes to campaigns. Have holiday specific keywords and ads, you can refer back to what worked last year and layer in new ones. During this time, users are looking for the best savings so make sure your copy is centered around your deals. Be sure to take advantage of extensions to tie-in the holiday theme and highlight your promotional deals.

Audience Segments and Targets

Sometimes when retailers are dealing with a high influx of traffic to their website, they will just focus on capturing the bottom funnel.  Why not diversify yourself and target various user stages and targets? Don’t pigeon hole yousrelf into thinking narrowly.

Examples – Segments broken down by cart abandonment, 7 day/30 day/60 day past visitors, interests segments, homepage visitors versus product page visitors.  

Optimize your budget and campaign

Holiday traffic can be unpredictable.  Make sure that you have enough budget and forecast a buffer budget during key periods such as Black Friday/Cyber Monday. It is best to avoid being surprised if your campaign is paused midday due to budgets being reached.  

Frequent optimization is key to a successful holiday season. The influx of traffic and promotions can disrupt users’ researching habits, messages exposed, and competitive bidding.  If you are just launching a campaign, I would look at YOY holiday performance to start. Monitor and adjust your campaign every few days for the first 2 weeks and then monitor and adjust weekly.

You will also want to pay attention to the ebbs and flows of the season as some users will hold off on purchasing the week before a big sales event, but still are comparison shopping. It is best to optimize and adjust your campaign during the key sales events as SOV is highly competitive during this time.

3) Upload and Test Early

Lastly, many retailers are in the same boat and will be flooding their respective feed providers and Google with updated feeds.  I would suggest giving your vendors as much notice as possible. My rule of thumb: add on another week in advance to help contain the backlog and troubleshoot any issues, thus ensuring that you are launching on time (especially for key periods such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday). By being proactive, you are able to test the feeds, troubleshoot ads, and fix any issues before you set it live.  

Set up your campaigns in advance if possible. This way you are minimizing any human error brought on by waiting until the last minute. You don’t have to scramble to set up your campaigns and segments, if you’re on top of it.  

Final Remarks

Hopefully, these preparations help you minimize the stress of the holidays and give you control of your holiday marketing campaigns. They sure have helped me. Remember to take a breath, be calm and don’t overreact and hit the panic button. Happy Holidays!