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Are Those Sleigh Bells or Cash Register Bells?

Website Strategy for the Holiday Buying SeasonThe Christmas buying season starts November 1, and if you’re not making plans today for the Christmas season, it may already be too late! Keep in mind: During the 2009 Christmas season, a record-breaking $27 billion was sold online—a 5% increase over 2008.*

For many large companies, the holiday buying season never stops. Orders are negotiated and placed with suppliers year-round for the next season in hopes of keeping margins low while anticipating what shoppers may be looking for during this 2-month buying frenzy.

Over the years, we’ve noticed that many small businesses don’t start thinking about Christmas until the season actually begins. Unfortunately, their efforts are usually too little too late because their more savvy competitors started working on their seasonal marketing efforts much earlier in the year. As a result, many businesses find themselves at a competitive disadvantage as they try to catch up to their competitors.

Considering that November 1 is only 3 months away, now is the time to begin preparing your website for the Christmas season . . . before it’s too late. So how can you start preparing? Let’s look at four ways:

  1. Perform a self-check of your website. Are you happy with the natural rankings that you’ve achieved on the big three search engines: Google, Bing™, and Yahoo!®? More specifically, are you happy with the keyword ranking for your offerings that you want to sell during the Christmas season? Given that it takes time for natural search results to change rankings, now is the time to ensure that your site is optimized to gain the highest possible ranking for your seasonal keywords. Here are five things to consider:

  2. Content: As we’ve mentioned in other blog posts, content rules the search engine world. It’s important that your content is well written, offers the user good information, and is oriented to the specific offering that you want to market.

    Page titles: It’s also important that every page title be consistent with the content that’s on the page, which includes the on-page keywords. Plus, each page must have its own unique page title.

    Meta description: While the description doesn’t play a role in the ranking of your website, it does play a role in prompting searchers to click on your website link, rather than your competitors’.

    Hosting: The hosting of your site is another factor that can affect your ranking. Make sure that your site download time is acceptable and is not affecting your rankings, especially with Google.

    Settings: You should also ensure that there are no settings that would prevent search engines from crawling your site. One wrong “permission” setting could keep a search engine from crawling the critical pages on your site, and thus keep you from ranking for a critical keyword.

  3. Examine the links to your website. Websites that have links that point to your website have a major and positive impact on your rankings. Google interprets these external links, or backlinks, as a vote of confidence in your website by others, and they will generally boost your keyword ranking as a result.

    There are several methods for acquiring quality backlinks that can assist your rankings dramatically. Links from sites that relate to the same business you are in are desirable, as are links from very popular sites that have a lot of visitors and a high page ranking.

    By contrast, there are also a few methods that will not help your rankings and that should be avoided, such as purchasing links from sites that sell links. When in doubt, consult a reputable search engine marketing organization.

  4. Fine-tune your estore. If you have an estore, now is the time to fine-tune such elements as your product descriptions and seasonal photographs. Depending on the nature and number of items in your product line, it may take some time to gather or create seasonal photos, which tend to resonate better with online shoppers who are in the seasonal buying spirit.

    If you don’t have an estore, consider setting one up now. Many service-oriented businesses, such as hair salons and restaurants, sell gift cards or gift certificates online during the holiday season.

  5. Start a paid campaign. If you’re not currently running a paid advertising campaign, now may be a good time to learn how these programs work. With a paid campaign, advertisers “bid” on the keywords associated with their website. The highest bid will gain the number one paid ad position, which in turn helps to generate traffic to the site. The search engines furnish reports that indicate how much traffic a keyword generates, which you can then use to calculate a rate of return on your advertising budget.

    Additionally, searchers tend to favor clicking on search results when the website appears in both the natural search results and the paid advertising column. Appearing in both places tends to reinforce that a company is a bona fide and serious Web-based business.

    Because the marketplace bid process determines the per-click price that you pay, popular seasonal keywords generally cost more during the height of the advertising season. Therefore, it may be wise to test those waters now while costs may be lower. That way, you can evaluate which keyword ads work best for your business and where you can best spend your advertising budget when the season is in full swing.

If you’d like some help getting your website strategy in place for the holiday buying season, just give us a ring at 1-800-GET-SITE.

*Source: comScore press release, December 30, 2009.

Related articles:
Investing in SEO Before Your Big Sales Season
Search Engine Optimization: 7 Proven Steps (Plus a Bonus Tip!)

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