Preparing for the Holiday Crush

Happy holidays!

How much do you spend on online marketing? Have you carved out a significant portion of your budget for analytics and optimization? Are you spending wisely on SEO (define) and SEM (define)?

I’ve addressed these questions many times over the past few years and hope you’ve paid attention to the importance of making the right investments. I bring it up again now because the summer’s over and we’re heading into the critical holiday season. For many retailers, the holidays can be the difference between profit and loss for the year. A good season means big bonuses and a positive shine on Wall Street; a poor season means clearance sales and cost-cutting.

It’s time to evaluate your yearend strategy and figure out if you’ll make your numbers. Hopefully, you’ve invested all year in building a great site, conducting ongoing analytics and optimization, and running smart marketing campaigns. But you must regularly take stock of your investments and ensure you’re on track for your business goals. The upsurge in Internet retailing during the holiday season often spills over to lots of non-retail sites (and can bring traffic down for some B2B sites). The change in traffic patterns provides a great opportunity to scrutinize how your strategy plays out online.

What should you look for? Here’s a plan:

  • Review the marketing budget and spend. Your fiscal year is likely coming to an end, or about to reach the end of Q2. See how your budget and spend map to the core numbers for your business. You should do these ROI (define) calculations on a regular basis, but now you should take a more macro perspective.
  • Produce a roll-up scorecard for the year to date. Look closely at how things have been trending and map them against financial investments. If your investments are rising, make sure your KPIs (define) are trending same way. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when monitoring weekly or monthly snapshots. Grab a whiteboard, bring your team to the table for an hour or two, and draw the chart: finances (e.g., revenue, profit, or sales) against KPIs (e.g., site, analytics, optimization, or SEM). How does it look?
  • Set aside at least 5 percent of your budget for site optimization. Remember the power of optimization? Five percent provides the power for ongoing improvements in both the experience and value of your site. See if you’ve actually spent that 5 percent wisely, or spent it at all. What does your site look like today compared to six months ago? Has your optimization program been working to make it more powerful and efficient? Consider it like six months of working out in the gym — everything should look fit and lean.
  • Start planning now for the next big investment. Is it new analytics or optimization software? A broader SEO/SEM program? Will you overhaul the entire site next year? Thinking about these things far in advance helps prevent surprises down the line. Thinking about the budget requirements now also allows you to start determining business goals, success metrics, and KPIs.
  • Watch the holiday season for economic indicators. A good holiday season in retail often means a good year ahead financially. If that’s the case, factor that into your post-holiday plan. If things are looking a little dreary, optimization may need to grow beyond that 5 percent investment for awhile.
  • It’s not too early to worry about how November and December will perform; smart online strategy and investment requires plenty of advance planning. While your competitors might grow complacent as the year winds down, gather your team and data, and make sure there are some nice gifts under the tree.

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