The holidays are just around the corner, and with shoppers gearing up for the holiday rush, smart marketers are already preparing their paid search campaigns for the 2010 season. By evaluating consumer trends from last year’s holiday season we found some interesting insights that will help marketers be even more successful this year, including a few observations that run counter to conventional wisdom. In general, retail search programs performed as expected: starting to increase in traffic and conversion rates in the final week in November and running significantly more profitably than the year’s average between Thanksgiving and the start of the new year. However, the timing and patterns in conversions provides deeper insight into when and how marketers should prepare for increase spending during the holidays.

Here is a normalized graph of the total number of daily conversions from paid search across a sample of retailers last year.

Daily Conversions in November & December 2009 key_holiday_paid_search_dates_2009

Several interesting trends to consider as you plan your paid search campaigns for the coming holiday season include:

The peak week beats cyber Monday. According to Shop.org, the Monday after Thanksgiving—known as cyber Monday—is one of the busiest online shopping days of the year. While this may be true of online commerce in general, for paid search cyber Monday is only the beginning of a trend.

As we evaluated the traffic from last year’s holiday season, cyber Monday accounts for the biggest one day jump in conversion rate but overall revenue and conversion rates were even higher during the first week of December. In 2009, the week of Sunday December 6th through Sunday December 13th was the period that demonstrated the highest level of profitable activity throughout the holiday season. This “peak week” delivered 24% of the impressions, 18% of clicks, and 25% of the profit generated for all of November and December. For all of the hype associated with cyber Monday, keeping a focus on December can count for even more. Planning your program around this “peak week” of conversions should include everything from increasing budgets and bids to keeping an eye on inventory levels.

Buyers may shop early, but they buy late. Each year, there are projections that consumers will be shopping earlier and, the expanding internet retail landscape definitely enables this pattern. However, when we look at last year’s retail paid search data, while shoppers may have been thinking about shopping earlier in 2009, crowds weren’t actually making more purchases online until the black Friday starting gun fired.

As a search marketer, here are two suggestions for ways that you can adapt to this behavior:

  • Make an effort to encourage early buyers: advertising pre-season promotions and shipping discounts in your paid search ads is a great way to encourage browsing consumers to make purchases early. Perhaps the pre-Thanksgiving, cyber Monday searchers each deserve different promotional messaging than consumers coming to your sites during the “peak week”?
  • Track and measure early funnel activities: tracking consumer activities that are part of the shopping process such as product views, reading reviews or wish-list activity can give you valuable insight into consumers who may make purchases later on. This traffic may help you pinpoint which items will be hot in the coming holiday season as well as helping you understand common click-paths that lead to conversions later on.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Research shows that online shoppers tend to do the most buying on Sundays and Mondays. Throughout the holiday season, Sundays outperformed the other days of the week in terms of average daily conversions, conversion rates and overall profit generated. As a search marketer, keep this pattern in mind as you are evaluating weekly data because the revenue or conversions you get each Sunday may not be a direct indication of the traffic of the week to follow. Be cautious about reacting to jumps in conversions on Sunday before seeing how much the traffic drops again when the work week starts.

It’s not over ‘til it’s over. While we’ve seen that online traffic and the rate of conversion drops the week before Christmas due to the shipping cutoff date, there is a rise again after the holiday. Consumers are looking to take advantage of end-of-year bargains, and you don’t want to let the valuable traffic from this period go to waste. During the period between Christmas and the end of the year in 2009, clicks fell significantly, but conversions increased, giving the 2009 holiday season a profitable finish. In anticipation of this profitable traffic, make sure you adjust your Christmas focused creatives to capture this crowd (you don’t want them to search for “sale sweaters” and get a creative that says “great deals on sweaters for Christmas.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | How To: SEM | Industrial Strength

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About The Author: is VP of Marketing for Marin Software, bringing a breadth of online marketing, web analytics and search experience to the company.

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