By Brandon Bauer
For digital marketers, the holiday e-commerce season is never far from mind. But now that the calendar has turned from summer to fall, it’s time to shift fully into planning mode. After all, the biggest shopping season of the year only lasts six weeks, so we had better make the most of it.
As you begin mapping out your holiday strategy, keep these three things in mind:
1. Be mindful of past data
If you’ve run holiday campaigns in the past, you already have a wealth of information at your fingertips. Before starting any planning, consult your e-commerce data from the last two years with an eye for the big takeaways. Determine what worked and what did not. Are there trends you can take advantage of? Is there something you wish you’d done differently? Look for sales spikes you might be able to anticipate and leverage again this year.
Then, examine the same data from late summer and early fall of this year. Has anything changed? Are there new competitors that didn’t previously exist? You may be surprised what insights your sales history holds, so don’t overlook it.
2. Consider shifting some budget to early November
Many marketers reserve the majority of their holiday advertising budget for the few weeks between Black Friday and Christmas. However, digital marketers are seeing more purchasing happening early in November and, as a result, ad dollars are starting to follow. This tracks with buying behavior as consumers expect early promotions and deals.
I’m a big advocate for getting customers while you can, so consider targeting those early shoppers using a portion of your holiday budget. There’s no reason to intentionally miss out on early November revenue because you’re holding out for something that might be better in December. And, with a round of tariffs on Chinese goods set to hit mid-December, there’s reason to believe that consumers might start the holiday shopping season even earlier this year—possibly before Black Friday—to take advantage of current pricing on must-have items.
As an added bonus, you may be able to meet your holiday return-on-ad-spend goals earlier in the month at a lower cost-per-click (CPC) than if you waited until later in November. CPC costs always spike on Black Friday from the increased competition.
3. Take a dashboard snapshot
One of the biggest challenges of the holiday e-commerce season is returning back to normal once the promotions end. If you’ve switched to a more aggressive bidding strategy to compete for all those new eyeballs and don’t back off quickly enough, you risk blowing your monthly budget out of the water. At the same time, rediscovering the pre-holiday balance you spent months perfecting can take time.
We’ve developed a simple solution to this problem depending on the size of your campaigns. For smaller accounts, I recommend taking screenshots of all your current keyword and product group bids. For larger accounts, you’ll want to export a backup of all of your campaigns using Google Ads Editor, for example. Regardless of which method you use, when the holidays are over, you’ll have a handy guide ready to help recalibrate your campaigns back to normal.
It’s never too early to plan for next year
Digital marketers are in the business of building on success and learning from their failures. As this year’s e-commerce campaign plays out, it forms the basis for what happens next year. With that in mind, here are three tips you can use during this year’s campaign that will set you up to achieve even better results in the coming year.
1. Document your work. This easy, but often overlooked, step can make a huge difference next year. While you’re planning, executing, and reacting to events in November and December, make a point of documenting them in real time. That way when the new year rolls around, you’ll have a play-by-play guide that will refresh your memory, reminding you of important insights you could easily forget. If done correctly, this can serve as the guiding document for next year’s campaign.
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2. Increase Your insight. Anything you can do to increase the granularity of your insight this year will benefit you next year. I recommend setting up pay-per-click campaigns on the product line, category, or brand level with ad groups made up of single item IDs. While this approach may not change your results this year, the insight gained for next year will be invaluable.
By digging deeper into the product level, you’ll be able to identify what’s being clicked on versus what’s being purchased and adjust accordingly. If you also audit your search query reports, you’ll begin to see which products are showing up based on search terms. All this data will serve as direct feedback from the customer in the form of what they’re looking for, how they’re looking for it, and if they’re willing to make a purchase.
Armed with this new information, you can build better campaigns that deliver exactly what customers are searching for based on the search terms they’re actually using. You can also take this information into other parts of your business. For example, it might be necessary to restructure your website so customers can more easily find what they’re searching for. Collecting more granular data today is the key to unlocking better results tomorrow.
3. Create a custom audience. As the holiday sales come rolling in, you can target these buyers again the following year by creating a custom remarketing audience. This approach is especially useful if you’re offering some kind of holiday-specific item. So save the audience, apply your dates, and use it next year to hit a really engaged audience.
Plan early, succeed often
Even though you not be in a holiday state of mind, it’s never too early to think about the upcoming holiday selling season. By making a few simple tweaks to your approach and keeping your eye on future campaigns, you can make this year and next your best holiday seasons yet.
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