Top five PPC tips for online retailers in the lead up to Christmas

Christmas is my favourite time of the year. Nothing makes me feel better than a few festive beverages and a bit of 'Wham' on a crisp Winter's day. Christmas is a time for family and rest but for a lot of online retailers, Christmas 2010 was a tough trading period. Aggressive snowfalls and freezing temperatures threw delivery dates and gift purchasing up in the air for many Christmas shoppers and retailers.  This, coupled with continuing harsh economic realities, should push online retailers to have more structured online plans for this Winter. So, in order to ensure your paid search efforts are as successful as they can be this Christmas, below are my top 5 pay per click (PPC) Festive Tips:

 1)     Plan and Promote Earlier

The Festive period is the busiest time for retailers. Companies must plan ahead this year and use what they learnt from last Winter to secure sales and ensure customers do not suffer should the bad weather reoccur. If you are a retailer, start pushing your Christmas offers earlier to encourage people to purchase sooner. The last three years have seen consistent increases in the time of the year consumers begin searching for Christmas offers; so, why not hit these people earlier to ensure the weather this year does not wreak havoc with your Q4 performance?

Think strategically as well. The biggest retail days for web visits last year were December 5th and 6th; For 2011 they are forecast to be December 4th and 5th.  Therefore, ensure your ad copy and accounts are optimised to allow for "always on" visibility, as much as your budget will allow at these times, and display ad copy that incentivises the customer to click with a strong offer and call to action.

 2)     Think Mobile

Dec 25th last year saw huge spikes in mobile searches as people looked for products and deals when they were away from their PCs and also whilst they played with their new phones and tablets. Mobile and Tablet searches have seen strong growth this year and, with mobile sales increasing from 3% to 6%, according to IBM Coremetrics over the last year, this channel is becoming progressively more important.  With that in mind, it is important to ensure you have clearly built out mobile and tablet campaigns to guarantee you capture these searches. Create mobile suited ad copy with different sitelinks to your search campaigns as mobile will only display 2 as opposed to 4 or 6 on PCs.

Consider creating a separate Google Adwords account for your mobile activity. Although Google has not announced any changes to quality score for mobile searches, it must be coming and thus gaining mobile only history in an account purely for this platform can only be a good thing.

Targeting tablet users, in Tablet focussed campaigns, is something I would also advocate. Ebay research from last Christmas has shown tablet users tend to spend 50% more than PC users, therefore it is worth having tailored campaigns for these devices. Break your campaigns out into separate areas for both Android and iPads. Learnings from having both platforms broken out can allow for further optimisation and a specific platform strategy to be developed into 2012.

 3)     Budget Management

All categories will start to see increases in their cost per clicks (CPCs) from late October onwards as demand increases, and as additional advertisers become more aggressive in the run up to Christmas. It is important you budget sufficiently well to be able to handle a 5% -10% increase in CPCs along with the corresponding increase in traffic. Analyse previous years' data to accurately forecast and use tools like Google Insight for Search to estimate demand trends and spikes.

 4)     Optimise Now and Regularly

Online sales and traffic are forecast to grow this year so, if you are a small retailer whose budget is limited, it is important to maximise efficiencies across your PPC accounts to make sure spend goes as far as it can. Review search query reports (SQRs) more forensically and build out more long tail keyword terms. These can be cheaper with the right match types and can ensure you are not wasting money on keyword matches that are not completely relevant to your business. Review your campaign setting, ensuring you are visible at the right times, basing your scheduling decisions on full conversion path information rather than last click data if possible. Optimise on a weekly, if not bi-weekly basis, as this will enable you to spot any trends through your SQRs, CPC developments or specific campaign growth or declines.

 5)     Get all Channels Working Together

Link in your other online channels with your PPC efforts. Have email and any social media efforts follow up the week before Christmas to encourage any last minute shoppers. Clearly communicate last delivery dates and any last minute offers to ensure you push customers towards purchase. If you are a food or grocery retailer, plan for spikes the week before Christmas and New Year to ensure you are visible for any last minute food and drink orders, to cater for festive parties. Align all channels at key points, change all efforts to suit the week and predicted demand that is coming down the line. If you have attribution modelling and full channel tracking available from last year, analyse this data and use any data on the interaction of the different channels in the sale funnel to feed into your Christmas strategy.

Hopefully the above will get you thinking and on the right road to a Merry Christmas.

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