The holiday shopping season is coming up fast. Don’t worry, there’s still time to do some quick-turnaround SEO that can have an impact on your natural search traffic (and resulting revenue!) in time for Black Friday and CyberMonday.
For many online retailers, November and December are the busiest months of the year. Of course, this is one of the most nerve-racking times of the year as well, especially when a disproportionate amount of one’s business hinges on such a short time span.
As you gear up for the holiday season, search marketing underpins your overall online marketing. Don’t neglect “search”, invest in it. Building on these holiday SEM tips from Niraj Shah, here are a few more SEO-specific tips to help you on your merry way…
Escape the code freeze
A common IT practice among mid to large size online merchants is to institute a “code freeze,” or site lockdown, during the holiday shopping season to minimize the potential for catastrophic errors and downtime. If your organization institutes a code freeze, you may not be able to make changes to your site for months. This means your on-page SEO effectively stagnates for an entire quarter. It also means you must race against the clock to implement SEO initiatives of any significance; and if you don’t make it in time, you must wait until the new year.
One way around this stress-inducing time crunch is to implement an SEO proxy platform. Such a system allows you to implement optimizations via the proxy throughout the holidays, quickly and easily, without impacting your native site.
Perhaps your code freeze still allows you to add static landing pages during the holiday season. That’s better than nothing, but it can take several weeks for new pages to make it into the search engines — and during the holidays, time is of the essence. So, the sooner you can add links to these new pages, the better.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to do a quick audit of your site. If a code freeze is or will soon be in place, you won’t be able to make sweeping changes, but hopefully there’s still the opportunity to fix anything that isn’t working right. Especially if you just underwent any major changes in the last few months, this is a critical time to find anything that slipped through the cracks.
If you aren’t under a regimented code freeze, it may not be a bad idea to implement a self-imposed one as this can be a dangerous time to make major changes to your site.
Double check your contact form, live chat or other mechanisms that are in place for customer contact.
Review the last couple months of log files or your site analytics, looking for any 404 errors for missing files, moved or removed pages, broken links on your site, or missing graphics.
Make note of your most active pages. While you probably won’t be making any major changes to these pages, they might be good targets for including links to other key site pages to route holiday traffic.
Reorganize your internal links
Your customers probably have different buying habits during the holiday season than they do at any other time of the year. Therefore, it’s common sense that you should modify your internal linking structure to reflect seasonality. Don’t trash your existing site’s navigation, simply augment it with additional links containing keyword-rich anchor text, to create shortcuts that pass PageRank to your popular holiday categories and products. For example, if all of your holiday ornaments are three clicks away from your home page, create a text link on your home page that reads “Christmas ornaments” or “holiday ornaments.” Don’t rely on links on your site map page or on footer links to achieve this; such links are less than ideal.
Since hundreds of thousands of people search for phrases that include “gifts,” you would do well to create a Gift Ideas page for your specific industry/market, then optimize it and place it one click away from your homepage to maximize its PageRank and give it the best opportunity to rank well.
Don’t go overboard in your internal linking. Keep in mind that Google advises that you to keep the number of links on a page to fewer than 100.
Merry meta descriptions
Are you promoting a holiday sale or specific items on your site? If so, don’t forget to polish your meta descriptions so that searchers will recognize the keywords they’re looking for. Last-minute holiday shoppers will be attracted to descriptions that speak to them, so remember to mention seasonal search phrases to encourage them to click through to your site.
Including calls-to-action and/or value propositions into these meta descriptions will help ensure these searchers react favorably and click on your listings.
Be sure to make a list of the pages you revised so you can change the meta descriptions back after your New Year’s Day sale.
Pareto principle of link building
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, says that 80 percent of the value/effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Arguably that concept could be applied to link building: 80% of your link authority (PageRank) comes from 20% of your back links. So your job is to focus on building more of those “vital few” links that deliver the bulk of your link authority.
Now is NOT the time to start some long, drawn-out link building initiatives to build these high-value links. There just aren’t enough weeks left in the 4th Quarter to do proper planning and execution for a complex and involved campaign, such as a music video creation contest. Focus on the “quick wins” – things like socially-seeded link bait articles hosted on your site, or single links that by themselves will have a measurable impact, acquired from sites where you have a relationship or some other “in”.
Have you been meaning to submit a guest article to a respected online publication that would love to publish your “thought leadership” and agrees to link to you from the byline/bio? No time like the present for that! One link from a trusted high PageRank authoritative source like that could boost your rankings in just weeks.
Also, use your influence with business partners and bloggers you know who already link to you, and try to get them to revise the anchor text of their links to you when the anchor text is less than ideal (e.g. “click here” or “visit site”). Again, focus on your most valuable links.
“Free” is a strong attractor
With giveaways like “free gift wrap” and “free shipping” you’ll attract holiday shoppers because you’re providing them with real value. Take advantage of this fact by incorporating powerful messaging (e.g. “free gift wrap,” free shipping”) into the title tags, body copy, and meta descriptions which will filter into the snippets of your search listings.
Even though it may not be free, another way to “give” during the holiday season is to offer gift certificates for the last-minute shopper. Feature gift certificates prominently on your site and cross-sell them on your “gifts” and “gift ideas” pages to achieve maximum visibility. Start optimizing for gift certificate related search terms through featuring your gift certificates immediately; don’t wait until the holiday season kicks into full swing.
Blog to attract customers and links
Hopefully you already have a blog. If not, then you’ve already found your New Year’s resolution. (What a relief to have that out of the way, eh!)
It should go without saying: make sure that your blog isn’t just another sales pitch. Your blog should be about connecting and communicating with your readers. Share some holiday stories, maybe your favorite recipes, or offer helpful packing and shipping tips. Any product mentions should be done carefully and subtly and in moderation. Blog with conviction and/or humor and/or personality. Offer real value. Be transparent, authentic.
If you don’t have time to blog yourself or with internal resource, you could try recruiting passionate customers as blog authors and run a group blog.
Map out your blogging for the season just like you map out your sales and advertising calendar. Plan posts now and start working on them for publishing later so that you can keep on top of them during the busy holiday season. Submit pre-written, post-dated blog content into your blog platform (e.g. WordPress) so you can maintain an active publishing schedule – even if you’re pressed for time and blogging seems daunting (if not impossible). That way, when you are inspired and free to generate a flurry of blog posts, all of these posts won’t be clumped together.
Always keep writing. Make sure posts are published regularly and frequently so that you have very few “gaps”.
Participate in the blogosphere
If all you do to engage with bloggers is to blog yourself, you’re really missing the mark. You should be spending as much time commenting on the blogs of important bloggers in your industry/segment/market as you spend writing for your own blog. That will help get you on the radar screen of these influencers. You can also generate positive buzz in the blogosphere by sending free product samples or review copies to these bloggers with “no strings attached” — it’s a bad idea to try to buy bloggers off by sending them useless kitsch. Remember that bloggers can wreak havoc on reputations, so tread carefully.
It is not too late to get out there, create viral content, and build your network of friends. You’ll need to work fast though. Whether it’s on YouTube, Facebook, Delicious, Flickr, Digg, etc. It can be as easy as publishing a killer list of gift suggestions and asking a power user friend to “seed” it into social sites like StumbleUpon and Kirtsy.
And remember, the #2 search engine isn’t Yahoo, it’s YouTube. If you’ve been waiting for your film debut, here’s your chance: produce a light-hearted, or humorous, or helpful video and post it to YouTube. It could be just the thing for that extra boost. If you have products that require complicated assembly, some short instructional videos would almost certainly be well-received; who knows, maybe they could become unexpected holiday hits.
Connecting offline and online
If you live and breathe SEO, offline may be the furthest thing from your mind. Of course, there are other angles to the offline world. Hopefully you have the basic fundamentals covered, like making sure that your web address appears in all your mailings, advertisements, and anywhere else you may be marketing offline. If you have brick-and-mortar locations, it doesn’t hurt to remind people that you also have a website.
Don’t forget that many of the traditional offline entities now have online presences themselves. TV news, radio stations, and newspaper reporters are often looking for interesting holiday stories, from the “most unusual” gift ideas to how to entertain for the holidays. Come up with an interesting story idea and you may not only get valuable airtime or print mention, but a link from their site to yours.
Separate out, into “buckets,” those purchases that happened offline (e.g. phone orders) but that resulted from online marketing (i.e. were generated from natural search, from paid search, from print, etc.). You could even go more granular, beyond the referral source, and associate actual keywords (search terms) with these referral sources.
With some cleverness, creativity and a bit of “elbow grease”, this holiday season could be your most successful yet, recession or no recession. And there’s still time, if you act now.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.