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On Your Marks, Get Set for Search: Don’t Get Left Behind in the Race for Holiday Sales

By: David Smith
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It may only be June, but it’s never too early for brands that sell online to get ready for the fast-approaching holiday marathon. While brands around the world compete in the race for paid search sales all year round, there are seven key strategies that are essential in the run up to the biggest shopping days of the year. These search strategies range from the more mundane to the risky, but each is vitally important to your overall marketing mix if you want to remain competitive during a time when consumer purchases determine the winner.

  1. Think beyond Google

It may feel like Google is the only game in town, but it would be a costly mistake to ignore regional differences and smaller engines that have significant shares of the market in their own right.

Globally, Bing holds a market share of 9%, but in some markets — like the U.S. — this is as high as 33%, so little or no presence in this channel means missed shoppers. Although Google is huge in Europe and the Americas, it’s tiny in comparison to Baidu in China, which commands over three quarters of the market thereYandex in Russia has nearly half the market, and Naver in South Korea has a 25% market share.

Thinking a little further outside the box, Amazon is now a search engine in its own right with 44% of U.S. product searches starting on Amazon. Many of these shoppers never reach traditional search engines so brands with products on Amazon should consider how to ramp up paid search activity via Amazon Sponsored Products. Another channel that shouldn’t be ignored is Pinterest, a social network that is making a play with a very different, more visual take on search, and capturing customers higher up the funnel.

  1. Mobile isn’t just for research

At the end of 2016, world wide mobile market share topped 50% among devices, outpacing both tablets and desktops. If you still think customers aren’t comfortable making purchases on mobile, you’re living in the dark ages. What customers dislike is poor user experience. The solution is not to ignore the mobile opportunity. Rather, your holiday plan should embrace it with best practice mobile experiences that engage customers, and give them the confidence to make a purchase through optimised pages and frictionless cart journeys.

Potential customers, especially those shopping on mobile, make decisions quickly to try to get the best deals while they last. Be sure to showcase your brand at the right place and time across device types to align to customer shopping patterns.

  1. Build your seasonal keyword lists

Last year, searches for “Black Friday deals” spiked at the end of November with near zero volume in the months preceding and following the Cyber Week period. Customers anticipate these big seasonal shopping events and have come to expect brands to push their best discounts.

Brands should be positioned on as many relevant keywords as possible with highly targeted ads and landing pages — using urgency messaging to drive sales and ROI.

  1. Get your promo plan approved

One of the biggest obstacles to success during peak sales periods is not getting promos ready in time to capitalise on demand for your products. Having a well thought out promo plan in place that takes into account what has worked well for your brand in the past, allows PPC managers to focus on campaign execution rather than chasing discount sign offs, and updating ads and landing pages at the last minute.

  1. Get ads approved early and test at scale

The holiday sales race is rife with competition. To stay at the head of the pack, once you know what promos you plan to run, get your ads approved by the search engines in advance. Making use of every possible piece of ad copy real estate is key, so call out promos in headlines, expanded text ads, ad extensions and Product Listing Ads.

With the sheer volume of online traffic during the holiday season, brands have the unique opportunity to nail quick wins at scale and drive incremental volume where it matters most by running high frequency ad copy tests.

  1. Watch out for the competition

It’s a cutthroat race to the finish. Brands need to watch their competitors and be ready to change course quickly by offering more compelling promos. This includes developing a “break glass in case of emergency” plan B set of ads and landing pages that will stop more aggressive brands from eating their lunch.

  1. Don’t forget landing pages

Tying all this together with targeted, keyword optimised landing pages that include countdown timers, and are laser-focused on price and urgency is the ultimate path to those all-important target sales figures.

A winning strategy

Above all, brands should ensure their PPC, creative and CRO teams are synched up in creative optimization and testing to deliver optimal conversion performance.

Creative teams are well suited to add creative insight and fresh ideas that bring clarity to promotional messaging in a way that’s both engaging and on trend with the latest designs. Tapping into that knowledge is vital. Meanwhile, CRO teams should be thought of as the inner voice of the customer — informing brands about how customers are responding to messages so that creative treatments can be refined and scaled to satisfy customer needs.

Learn more about how Digital River can help brands win the holiday sales race using advanced marketing techniques.