Turn Holiday SEM Blunders Into Best Practices

At last week’s Shop.org Summit, I spoke with a cross section of retail marketers. Both multichannel and Internet pure-play marketers were out in force, attending sessions, networking, and sharing best practices. Though many marketers are doing a lot of things right, they’re also setting themselves up to make some serious blunders this holiday season. Some best practices could easily replace those blunders.

If you want a successful holiday season supported by a killer SEM (define) campaign, watch out for the following blunders and transform them into best practices.

Not Allocating Enough Budget to SEM

This holiday season, there’s a high likelihood of a “perfect storm,” particularly in Google, Yahoo, and MSN. The storm will happen when:

  • More people than ever use search engines during the holiday season, from research through purchase. That means more search impression inventory than ever before.

  • The yield management algorithms at Google, enhanced by the new quality score, favor the high-clicking ads. For every thousand searches, more clicks will occur. If you’re an aggressive marketer, many of those clicks could be yours.
  • Impression-to-click conversions within the SERP (define) go up on commercial queries across all engines. This increases spend.
  • Click-to-conversion rates rise. An even greater percentage of searchers will become comfortable with online commerce this year. This doesn’t even take into account the fact many searches are performed as gift lists are researched.
  • MSN launches adCenter, a hybrid auction (yield-managed auction), which will probably launch with bids at or above the prior prices paid under the Search Featured Sites (SFS) listing program.
  • Yahoo temporarily sees a spike in traffic over and above the expected clicks as MSN switches to its adCenter auction.

Power Tip: Find another source within your media plan with a lower ROI (define) than search and that you can cut back if necessary. Use it as a buffer for increased search budget requirements.

Managing Budgets Based on Engine-Set Budget Caps

All clicks and keywords aren’t equally important to a campaign’s success. Ensure whatever method you use buys the best clicks first (those with the highest net profit contribution). Reserve the last dollar for the least efficient click. You know the value of clicks; the engine doesn’t.

Power Tip: Rank your keywords by ROI and click volume to help estimate budget spending, and allocate spend to the best clicks. Alternatively, use campaign management technology managed by in-house or external analysts to assure high-efficiency spending.

Forgetting to Test New Ad Creative

Don’t forget to test new ad creative targeted at both those building gift lists and shoppers working off those lists.

Power Tip: Write some holiday promotional ad creative. Test it against your existing control creative.

Neglecting to Test and Tune Landing Pages

Test and tune landing pages based on holiday shopping promotional messages.

Power Tip: Put yourself in the shoes of both the giver and the recipient, and imagine what creative messaging might appeal. Then, test your ideas.

Forgetting Phone Calls to the Sales Staff

Take into account the phone calls from gift shoppers to your trained sales staff for advice.

Power Tip: Use quantitative or anecdotal evidence collected from your inbound tele-sales team to help make better media decisions. If necessary, use campaign-tracking technology to get a better handle on phone purchase behavior.

Underestimating Buy Cycle Importance

Searchers can go through a buy cycle over time or within a single session. Every touch point within the cycle has an effect.

Power Tip: Use analytics to understand more about the buy cycle and how it changes based on seasonality.

Neglecting Keyword Seasonality

Don’t neglect keyword seasonality. Some keywords only come up to speed once a year.

Power Tip: Look at last year’s Web analytics or log files to see what was hot last holiday season.

Forgetting to Add Holiday Keyword Combinations

During the holidays, certain search terms may make their way into the searcher’s psyche. Those keywords should be on your holiday search term list.

Power Tip: Consider if your target audience will use keyword modifiers, such as “gift,” “holiday,” “delivery,” “popular,” and “highly rated.”

Bidding Emotionally

Each year, I hope it’s the last one I hear marketers or C-level executives talk of “killing the competition at all costs.” If your competitors feel that way about you too, and put their money on the line, the search engines are the real winners.

Power Tip: Build a business rule set that takes into account the true value of clicks, including interaction effects.

Not Balancing Power and Tail Keywords

Marketers seem entranced by the tail. Though keywords at the tail of the search distribution are important, you can’t win the SEM wars on tail keywords alone. Small efficiency gains on a power keyword with high volume potential often outweigh a slew of tail keywords.

Power Tip: Try to determine a point of diminishing marginal returns where the additional targeting and ability to tune creative for new listings outweighs the convenience of having a multiword listing on broad match to capture the tail.

Have a prosperous holiday selling season by setting the groundwork early. You can outmaneuver the competition if you execute a well-constructed plan.

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