Searching For Holiday Profits, Part 2: Seasonal Keywords, Listing Expansion

Last week’s column discussed holiday search strategies, searchers, search behavior and budgeting. It also touched on creative. This week, as promised, I’ll cover the listing expansion that should precede any holiday (or other highly seasonal) campaign.

Each industry has some seasonality. Online retailers have a huge season coming up — probably the biggest ever. Even with economic stagnation, more people than ever are online. They’re getting more and more comfortable shopping online, too. Even for those searchers not ready to shop online, the Net has become a research library. The B-to-B market isn’t immune to holiday seasonality. Corporate gift merchants enjoy their strongest sales before the holiday season, as do premium and incentive companies that sell logo-imprinted merchandise.

Dig for Gold in Seasonal Log Files

During Q4, broad campaigns pay off more than ever, especially if the campaign is managed strategically. Seasonality drives changes in search keyword mix. Some rarely-searched keywords are suddenly hot.

I hope your Webmaster is a packrat. If your site is fairly well optimized for organic traffic, and you have access to last year’s log files (internally, or through a third-party analytics firm), they may valuable for identifying seasonal keywords that worked in the past. A log file shows the search terms used by visitors who found, and clicked on, your listings. You may also have internal logs of searches performed on your site. That, too, provides insight into seasonal behavior. Of course, a log file also tracks paid search keyword traffic. Combine last year’s organic and paid keyword data. You’ll have a good foundation for this holiday season.

The Right Way to Go Broad

Many marketers fall into a trap. They think running Overture and Google listings set to broad match is all that’s necessary to “go broad.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Each engine rewards you for going broad in a different way.

In Google, a broad match listing may show up at a particular position based on the creative you generated and tested for the overall broad mix of keywords that match the Ad Group. Consider the permutations of root words in your campaign. Use referral data captured by your log file (or a third-party tool) to generate a keyword/phrase opportunity report. This report can show you the most popular phrases for keywords set to “broad match” or “phrase match.” Write new copy for those popular phrases. It will be better tuned to the search. The result is higher CTR (click through rate), a higher position and chances are, a lower CPC (cost per click). You heard it right: a higher position for lower CPC.

As the holiday season approaches, the mix of key phrases on broad listings may shift. As soon as any of the phrases reaches critical mass, consider breaking them into a new Ad Group with more precise creative. Each marketer’s critical mass is a different traffic level, depending on traffic value compared to the value of the time spent breaking phrases into separate groups. The competitive landscape is also a factor. A well-tuned spin-off ad is often very efficient and positioned higher.

In Overture, tracking the exact phrases used to find broad match listings is also important, but for different reasons. Exact match listings are always displayed first, then phrase match, finally broad match. If you don’t regularly check the Overture keyword suggestion tool for new keywords to add to your holiday campaign (after all, results lag by over a month), your own current listings may provide new ideas.

Inclusion and Keyword Breadth

Both LookSmart directory inclusion and XML paid inclusion provide marketers with more control than ever. In XML paid inclusion, you control URLs submitted to the index (either directly or through a third party with the expertise to optimize XML feeds). The power to control titles and descriptions can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful XML campaign. If data from your paid placement campaign indicate the hot phrases around a particular item or category, a good campaign manager will apply that linguistic data to tune the Web site and similarly, the XML feeds. Paid placement data can also be used to tune LookSmart listings. In LookSmart’s case, editorial change requests go through a human approval process. All inclusion programs can benefit from unified, centralized information analysis. Better information is the foundation of effective strategy.

Shopping Bots

Big news this week: Yahoo joined the shopping comparison service fray. If you use (DealTime’s new moniker), PriceGrabber, MySimon, BizRate, NexTag, or even free shopping engine, Froogle, make sure your data are up to date. In shopping feeds, options available to optimize a listing aren’t as broad as other types of search listings, although some allow paid placement-style listing changes. Two powerful testing options you do have are the ability to test item pricing and item image (thumbnail). Both can be time intensive. If the competition is testing price at the same time you are, it makes the data suspect.

Next week, in Part 3 of this series, I’ll cover best practices in landing pages: optimization, tuning and selection.

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