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Onsite Optimisation: Get Your Online Store Ready to Compete During the Holiday Rush

By: Grant Reid
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Even though we’re months away from the holidays, any online brand that wants to win the holiday sales race needs to start their marketing planning now — that includes promotional testing and optimisation.  

Running optimisation programs, especially in marketing channels like PPC, is an opportunity for big wins during the holiday sales period. You can work to match on page presentation with ad content, or personalise and improve landing pages. The best bit about optimisation programs on PPC is that your impact on revenue is always clear. 

To make sure your online store is set to compete during this year’s holiday rush, here are a few suggestions to get you started. 

Avoid locking up your optimization program with a code freeze

In the lead up to the holiday sales period, it’s a good idea to make plans to freeze the code for your online store. For most companies, this means your website optimisation program also might be frozen, which can lead to missed opportunities when you can’t add new campaigns or functions, or respond quickly to new trends. To avoid interrupting your optimisation program, you can (a) create your tests months in advance; (b) do a thorough QA and platform testing; (c) share the test results early to get approval from your platform team; and (d) focus on simple tests. 

Create a targeted testing plan

First, align your optimisation plan around your online sales priorities: Which channels deliver the most revenue? Which channels have the worst ROI? Which channels impact customer satisfaction the most? 

As a quick example, if you know that PPC delivers 20% of your revenue while email brings less than 5%, it’s best to focus on getting the most out of your PPC traffic. 

Second, figure out the content areas and marketing journeys you care about with some basic metrics like bounce rates, keyword level stats and exit rates. For PPC, that’s likely to be your click-through rate, bounce rate and conversion. We won’t worry about cart drop out or keyword level information at peak time — we’re aiming for the big wins in the simplest way possible. 

Next, use the marketing data that you’ve gathered during the last 12 months to help you decide what promotions will work best going forward.   

Keeping it simple is important here. Stay away from big functional tests. For example, the end of year is not the time to test a whole new cart. Instead, focus on creative, messaging and design. Think about smoothing out the lumps in your customer journey, not creating a new journey. 

Finally, focus on testing the journeys, pages and products that will be present in all promotions. While it’s great if you can create the perfect landing page for Black Friday, it’s even better if you can identify principles that will work for Back to School, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and January sales. 

Move fast

In every sales period, the window of opportunity for sales is small so you need to capitalise on every day for testing. Most tests run for four to six weeks. But during this high stakes time of year, you often can’t wait four weeks to find out if you’ve crossed the gold standard of 95% statistical significance. Instead, try doing an analysis after one or two weeks of testing. Then you can either decide to go with the data you’ve got, move on to your next idea, or iterate on what you’ve got to improve it and scale up.  

In short, be prepared to move faster to get through more ideas in a compressed period of time. Have a lot of back-up tests built in advance. Then, if another team makes a last minute change, you’re more likely to be insulated and prepared to switch to better fitting alternatives. 

Pay attention to timing

The holiday season brings a full roster of events, which is why you need to plan now. 

You’ve got all your old data and four months until the end of the year. That leaves you a couple months for really focused online promotional testing and making sure you have the right processes in place to iterate quickly.  

Start by testing summer sales, then Back to School, and your end-of-season sale if you have one. As you figure out what works well in each promotion, you can carry your insights to the next campaign and iterate (or retest until you reach statistical significance). 

By the time you reach November, you should have a handful of online promotions that are clear winners to implement and some new theories to build on. Launch your promotions in the lead up to Black Friday. You also might want to run something new on Black Friday, considering the volume of traffic that you’ll have. Iterate again for Cyber Monday. 

Stop at this point. Consider the big picture. Run back through all your findings and make sure you’re 100% happy before you dive into December for the final push. 

Stick to your plan

If you can create a structured approach to promotions, you’ll have a marketing foundation that you can continue to build on, rather than start anew. While the process is not always easy and requires a lot of foresight, the end result is worth it — and will draw thanks from channel managers, creative teams and digital directors alike. 

In summary

  1. Gather promotional data from the past 12 months 
  2. Prioritise carefully and early 
  3. Plan your promotions months in advance 
  4. Work with the platform team early 
  5. Find principles that work for all promos 
  6. Find the balance between moving fast and knowing when to step back and review your numbers