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Unwrap The Best Search Strategy For The Holiday Season

Recycling insights from the last holiday season is not going to work in 2020

Photo by Athree23 on Pixabay

By Randy Stark

What used to be two competing days on the retail calendar, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is likely to morph into one giant block of mostly online shopping this year. Deemed the “Cyber 5”, 26 to 30 November – the long weekend from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday in the US – will bring a host of new issues for search marketers to consider. Understanding as much as possible about the millions of potential customers and their new behaviours ahead of time is an important part of the typical preparation that goes into holiday search planning. Maximising flexibility in order to respond to changes throughout the process will ensure that marketers can take full advantage of new insights.

Combining Old Patterns With New 

Recycling insights from the last holiday season is not going to work in 2020. With COVID-19 and social-distancing measures limiting in-store shopping, there has been a dramatic increase in digital retail. In Asia, the holiday shopping season typically kicks off earlier with Singles’ Day sales on 11/11. There will be people new to online shopping, people looking to splurge after nine months of being subjected to stay-home restrictions due to the pandemic, as well as those who have become experts at looking for deals. There will also be higher volumes of every type of shopper across different platforms – websites, mobile, email and just about every other channel one can think of.

Search can be thought of as the road that takes people where they want to go – some people are new drivers, while others are speeding. And, since it’s the holidays, there will be a lot of traffic. In order to ensure that everyone gets the best possible search experience, the first step in year-end planning must include a fresh analysis of those shoppers (or drivers, if we keep the analogy going). Understanding more recent shopping habits across demographics and customer segments can help with forecasting as well as with personalisation. It’s possible that the new segments identified might benefit from unique messaging.

Get Ready for Changes

Despite the many automations that Google and other search providers continue to roll out, the holiday season is simply too important to “set it and forget it”. Rather, marketers should plan for a scenario where they gather data for rapid analysis that they can use to quickly react. For example, designate media budgets that can be throttled up or down, or even switched to other channels if it becomes clear that 2020 patterns are truly unpredictable. It’s possible that social media really explodes in the next few weeks or months, or that mobile is even stronger as a conversion channel than forecasted. If budgets are pre-committed to different agencies, then shifting is difficult. It’s a good idea to dole out budgets in chunks, and switch them up based on performance and volume. If there’s a centralised media buying plan, then it would allow for more flexibility and marketers can lean into the elements that are working best. 

Marketers should also install analytics and reporting systems to monitor performance data in real-time. They need the ability to see and react to intraday demand changes. Search scripts or API-based tools such as Supermetrics, as well as setting automated alerts can be helpful.

It’s not a good idea to rely completely on automated bidding from either Google or a third-party vendor. These systems react to observed historical performance, meaning marketers could be underbidding during times of initial demand then overbidding after it subsides. One option is to install a hybrid campaign structure where manual bid campaigns can be used to react more quickly to real-time trends. The automated and manual campaigns can both be set up ahead of time, and can be turned on and off based on real-time performance.

Retailers should ensure that their product feed is well optimised. While this is a standard best practice, improvements to data feed quality will pay extra dividends in Q42020. The feed should be regularly updated with daily or intraday refreshes. Proactively create merchant promotions and set sale prices with effective dates. Populate as many recommended product attributes as possible, such as Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), Manufacturer Part Number (MPN), brand, size, colour and shipping cost.

“11/11” and “Cyber 5” is a time for fast reactions and immediate gratification – conversion numbers are usually highest during this time. However, all of the planning and insights that are recommended here will also set marketers up for long-term success. The habits that consumers have formed and refined in 2020 due to the pandemic are not going away anytime soon, so learning as much as possible about them now in the lead-up to the year-end shopping period will inform campaign planning and budgeting for 2021. Nimble paid search optimisation can now be used for post-holiday analysis that can feed a robust organic search strategy, as well as drive improvements to on-site search. And of course, the better that marketers do during the “Cyber 5”, the more new customers they have to market to with loyalty, sales and other promotions to create long-term value.

Randy Stark is a Sales Engineer at ADARA

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