Searching For Holiday Profits, Part 1

For online merchants, multi-channel traditional retailers and catalogs, Q4 is critical. Even some B2B businesses rely heavily on holiday business (corporate gifts, premiums, etc.). If your organization relies on sales, leads and new customers around the holiday season, this column is for you.

Paid search campaigns may need special attention at this important time of the year. Search can play a significant role in generating holiday profits. Or, it can be a significant drain on marketing budgets when dollars are misallocated and opportunities missed. My goal in the next weeks is to make sure my readers execute the most efficient campaigns possible, generating profits for the holidays and beyond. You’ve got to prep for holiday searchers.

What Kind of Search Marketer are You?

Even if you don’t touch your campaign, search marketing is different in Q4. As searchers’ missions change, the mix of keywords across the engines changes, too. Product-related searches increase — particularly search terms that have to do with products and categories that make good gifts. If your keyword list includes such keywords, expect a surge in keyword inventory. Budget appropriately. Or, if you’re a direct marketer, see you’ve set and are monitoring your cost per order (CPO)/cost per acquisition (CPA) compliance over time. The effective CPOs and CPAs you measured in the past for specific listings, prices and positions can change based on season.

Decide what kind of budget strategy you need. There are two basic ones: budget maximization and campaign optimization. For budget maximization, you try to spend a fixed, pre-determined budget most efficiently. You want the biggest bang for your buck. Once you’ve defined the “bang” metric or success objective, you can execute the strategy.

For e-tailers, a success objective might be cost per order, cost per new customer, revenue per dollar spent, profit per dollar spent, return on ad spending, or a more complex, blended rule set that includes store locator requests or registrations. Budget maximizers’ goal is to allocate that budget for the highest results on the success scale.

Pure campaign optimizers (classic direct marketers), on the other hand, don’t have a budget, just a success metric. They’ll spend as much as they can, as long as every listing delivers at a specific, pre-defined ROI threshold or (as direct marketers call it) the “allowable” where they make profit. Success metrics are the same type as before, but instead of lowering the average (by spreading a fixed budget around), a campaign optimizer wants as much volume as possible, subject to a cap. In both cases, each listing is measured with respect to the success metric, but actions taken across the campaign based on the measurements are different.

What Kind of Holiday Searcher Do You Seek?

Budgets and campaigns can be challenging to manage in Q4. One reason is the type of searcher. Holiday searchers are different. Your industry and product segment may not be impacted by the shift in searcher type or mission. Then again, your entire Q4 revenue expectations could be based on the fact that holiday searchers are different.

Holiday searchers often include “browsing gifters” who seek gift ideas for family, friends, co-workers, or clients. They don’t have a shopping list from which to work, they’re just searching for “something right.” They may use more general search phrases while looking for inspiration. They could be further along the buying cycle and be shopping for price or features for a particular product. If your product or service mix would appeal to browsing gifters, your creative and merchandising may benefit from a shift.

Alternately, your target could be “list gifters.” List gifters know what they want. They work from a list, or know what they want to buy. They behave similarly to buyers shopping for themselves in the latter stages of the buying cycle (ready to buy). List gifters are great prospects and respond to the right message, merchandising and price. They don’t have time to educate themselves; they’re on a mission: cross a gift off the list and move on to the next one. Multi-category retailers such as Amazon and can sometimes benefit from capturing a list gifter on the first item. That buyer may search within the site for more items on their list.

Then there are “list builders.” They don’t show up in your conversion stats because they are searchers building gifts-wanted lists. In the fourth quarter, suddenly there are browsers who don’t buy, but spend lots of time comparing products, specifications and perhaps price. Your site and pages must sell to list builders. If you aren’t on the list, you won’t close the sale when the desired item is passed on to the list gifter for purchase. Many shopping cart systems allow items or wish lists to be emailed; this method allows list builders to get merchant help communicating with the list gifter.

The primary way you, as a merchant, can adapt to the mix of holiday searchers is to revisit your creative strategy. Think about the types of searchers who might type in your search terms. Do some terms fit well with a particular type of holiday searcher? Should you test listing creative and landing pages based on seasonality? Let’s look at options for a merchant who sells “cordless electric razors”:

Title options: (we’ll use Google title lengths)

  • cordless razors, cheap
  • discount cordless razors
  • cordless razors on sale
  • cordless razors good gift
  • cordless razors selection

Description Options: (we’ll use Overture description lengths for illustration)

  • cheap cordless razors at we have a huge selection

  • discount cordless razors at acme check out the latest models

  • cordless razors on sale at acme low sale prices and great selection

  • cordless razors the perfect gift give the razor he wants

  • great selection of cordless razors the right price, overnight shipping

Which combination of these titles and descriptions work best for Q4 and for the rest of the year? If you were running a campaign without testing these cretives separately by season, you’d never know which of the title and description combinations works best for the holidays. Perhaps the copy that includes the word “gift” will outperform during the fourth quarter, perhaps not. That is why constant testing is important.

Next: Holiday-related keyword research and listing expansion.

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