SEM Budget Planning for the Holidays

The season is upon us – well, sort of. It will be that time of year again sooner than you can say “mega-sale” and we’ve started getting all of our merchants prepared for the Q4 rush. I of course am talking about the holiday shopping season. You may think I’m crazy to start this topic right now as many retailers are in seasonal mode for summer and back to school, consumers must think I’m crazy I am talking about all of this now, this is the equivalent of starting to sell bathing suits in February but there is a method to the retail madness. This will be my 5th holiday rush working in eCommerce search engine marketing and I can tell you now that every year has become more competitive, which means many ad bids are going to be placed. If you haven’t already started your SEM budget planning for the holidays and following year, there are a few things you need to consider now!

The key dates that are without a doubt in every retailer/consumers calendars are the following:

  • Black Friday – Friday November 27th
  • Cyber Monday – Monday November 30th
  • Christmas Eve – Thursday December 24th
  • Christmas Day – Friday December 25th
  • Boxing Day – Saturday December 26th

The common trend that we are beginning to see is that these specific dates, while still significant, mark a whole period of holiday retail sales. It doesn’t necessarily come down to the final day anymore as retailers are competing to clean house and increase sales year over year. The following diagrams shows a comparison year over year from 2014 vs 2013 of monthly spend as a percentage of total annual retail sales both in Canada and the USA.

Canada Monthly Spend

US Monthly Spend 2

What is important to note, is that the U.S. data remains pretty consistent year over year which makes sense considering Black Friday has been a pinnacle days for our neighbours to the South for quite some time, and with the implementation of Cyber Monday following suit. The interesting data point is how towards the end of the year the gap closes which is indicative that sales are beginning to pull back into late November rather than all fall under December (take note last minute shoppers). Once the trend heads that way, it is fair to assume that is will continue that way moving forward.

The question now becomes how far in advance should you be updating SEM campaigns or on page SEO content to meet the high demands of educated holiday shoppers? There’s no right answer or best practice, but you have to be cautious of what your promotion plans are while taking into account how search engines index and present your search results.

Related: Holiday Code Freeze 101

What to take into consideration for all things search.

holiday seo planning

Search Engine Optimization

If you are creating specific landing pages or blog articles that are heavily targeted with seasonal search terms, you should be publishing well in advance. Take this post for example, I am not suggesting 6 months in advance, but remember for search engines to crawl the site, crawl bots needs some (week or 2 in advance) to full index the page and position it in the search results. There of course are ways to have your content indexed faster such as utilizing the Google Webmasters Fetch Tool. Publishing content as early as September and October can be beneficial so you can focus on paid marketing activity and on site banner ads for your sales in November & December.

Fetch As Google

Related: Crucial Campaign Strategy for the Holidays

Search Engine Marketing

Last year I wrote a post that contains an SEM Checklist for the holiday season. The list groups everything you need to have prepped and ready leading up to big sales events such as product feeds, holiday ad copy, set budgets, display creatives etc. If you are working with a graphic design team internally or outsourced, take into account turn around time for ad creative as it can take anywhere from 1 day to a couple of weeks (not knocking processes, but this can affect your asset requirements and promo planning). Note the review process for each platform you are uploading creative to. For text campaigns, depending on ad polices regarding text in the copy, the turn around can be relatively quick, however display ads can take some platforms such as Google Adwords anywhere from 24 – 48 hours to review. You also want to consider ad score quality (better known as quality score) and take into account that improving this can take a few days, sometimes weeks of testing before really pushing your holiday campaigns.

In short, there is no right amount of time you need to prepare leading up to the holiday rush for SEM, however the wrong thing to do is leave it all to the last minute.

Where should the budget be allocated? Search, Display, Social…

With a large enough budget you can allocate advertising dollars to most digital media channels. But is a pray and spray plan the best tactic? Are you working with a set budget that restricts you from advertising on all channels you want to? I know I am throwing out a lot of questions, but when budget planning for the holidays, consider evaluating where you have had your best performance over the year. If you have data from the previous year, this is the best place to look in order to make decisions going into this season. Consider a few factors when making this decision as to where you are going to allocate budget. For display & remarketing campaigns, CPM’s tend to rise during the holiday season but can have a significant impact on sales. Is the end goal to increase sales year over year, maximize profit margin, drive more traffic? This could very much be a determining factor in how many dollars you allocate to a particular platform.

Related: Your Search Engine Marketing Holiday Checklist

Start Your Budget Planning Now!

beat the holiday rush recap

Don’t wait too long to begin planning your content strategy for both on-page and paid marketing efforts. If you have a big enough following then you have a little bit more wiggle room to work with, but for those who are getting ready for their first or second holiday season, it is safe to say having a content calendar planned out ahead of time will make life a little bit better down the road when the holiday season closes in.

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