Holiday season SEO for eCommerce brands
Holiday season SEO is a phrase loosely associated with SEO activities around periods towards the end of the year. It covers events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving in the USA, Christmas, and the New Year. Of course, holiday season SEO can be applied to any seasonal peaks in demand, which vary across product categories, countries, cultures and religions.
The holiday season also sees big marketing budgets come into play. While expected to be significantly down compared to 2021 due to the current climate, UK shoppers are forecast to spend £15.5 billion in the period running up to Christmas this year.
As well as early planning activities, a lot of holiday season budgets for eCommerce brands and online retailers are spent in areas such as display advertising, PPC, paid social and digital advertising to capitalise on consumer demand. This can also manifest itself in the form of pricing actions and increased CRM efforts.
SEO, as we know, is a different beast. It takes time, and requires longer planning and implementation in order to capitalise on the demand spikes around seasonal events (and indeed on an ongoing basis).
So how do we cut through and ensure SEO success at this particularly competitive time of year? What means can we take to get ahead as early as possible and sustain our success into the future?
Assessing trends and planning your content early
In the run-up to any seasonal peak where sales potential is elevated, there needs to be a period of planning to ensure you have a clear roadmap and vision of your content plan.
A good way to start this is to assess some of the learnings of the previous year.
Let’s say you ran an SEO push to capitalise on the January/New Year sales in the previous year. With your team, take a look at Google Analytics and Google Search Console and assess how things went:
In the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which of your product or campaign-specific pages generated the most traffic and revenue?
How can you attribute this traffic in terms of your holiday-centric keyword rankings at the time?
Were there any keywords or content themes that your competitors swept up on, but you missed out?
How did other channels perform in the wider mix compared to SEO?
Getting together some key learnings to factor into your plans for the coming holidays, it’s then time to undertake some refreshed keyword research to identify potential content gaps and opportunities that may have emerged in recent months.
Of course, broad terms such as “Xbox January sales” (for example) or “black friday deals” are always going to carry huge search demand, and landing pages should be targeted towards this for your brand. However, modern-day keyword research techniques and practices such as mapping out and optimising for search intent present lots of opportunities for enhancing your content.
Looking at January sale terms question-based terms, for example, Ahrefs shows a total monthly search volume opportunity of around 5,000 for variants of terms where people are simply asking when January sales start and end. Further, “Best January Sale” based keywords (around specific products and brands) also serve up huge opportunities and could be used to create comparison content on the USPs of your deals compared to others on the market.
When should I start deploying my holiday content?
We know SEO takes time and, with that in mind, it’s recommended to start publishing some time ahead of the period in question, once you have your keyword research and content calendars in place.
There’s no golden rule, but lean on your SEO team’s knowledge in terms of how long it takes Google to crawl, index and eventually rank a page (and what, based on your competitor research, it will take to rank well) to inform your launch date.
A good way to get a rough barometer on this is to head to Google Trends and start assessing when search terms begin to take an uptick in popularity. Search volume data should always inform the baseline of what your content plans are, though not all tools will reflect fluctuations.
Looking at Google Trends data for the base term “January sales”, we can see over the past year that interest starts to rise in mid-December:
This would suggest that to get ahead of the curve, you’ll want to have your key content, including product deal pages, general landing pages, and any bolstering long-form content you have in the pipeline ready and live perhaps by the first week of December, if not earlier. Even if there’s no interest in January Sales prior to Christmas and no one pays your content any mind, it may be worth quietly pushing it live on your site to start to give some hints to Google.
There are, of course, arguments to push such holiday-specific content live even earlier. Competitor research can help you understand how key competitors are timing their content launch. It’s commonplace for many retailers to start campaign planning in the summer, with consumer minds naturally shifting in focus to the winter months and thinking about their Christmas shopping once the summer is over.
Studies show that in 2022, 61% of consumers had already started their Christmas shopping in early November, with typical reasons being to avoid the Christmas rush and manage their spending over a longer period. Much to many people’s annoyance, it’s not uncommon to start seeing Christmas trees and other such festive products in stores (physical or digital) as early as October.
In terms of publishing content, getting ahead of the curve by drumming up interest with your customer base before the surge in demand (perhaps even offering some early seasonal deals) could be a wise strategy. While interest may peak around late November as the festive season comes into full swing, you can certainly capitalise on early interest from consumers in the months prior.
Again, from an SEO standpoint, your content will be readily indexed and will be working its way up the rankings as the calendar spins towards December. You can also ratchet up the promotion of your holiday pages nearer the time by bringing it further up your site architecture, internally linking to it more prominently, and pushing it out through other channels such as social.
Even if you don’t have all your deals in place on your holiday content pages by the time you launch, you can start to seed interest to both users and search engines by getting your landing pages in early. One tip could be to feature an email sign-up for users who wish to stay updated with your upcoming deals. This is a great way to establish early and ongoing lead gen alongside your organic efforts.
Whether it’s Christmas, the January sales, Easter, or another period affected by seasonality, use similar methods of research and planning to make sure you’re prepared early.
What should I do with my old holiday content?
Maintaining your holiday content can be a tricky affair, whether it’s pages from the previous year or new-ish pages from a holiday campaign just gone. To ensure your website appears up to speed with the time of year and your content is fresh, it may be tempting to undertake a mass removal or redirection of all your holiday content from the period just passed while you start thinking about the next campaign.
This isn’t generally advised, as you will be undoing all your hard SEO work in getting these pages indexed and ranked. Customers may even have bookmarked these holiday URLs in their browsers for next year, and search engine crawlers certainly will have, too.
To avoid this, ensure that you use a recurring URL for your holiday campaigns that can be recycled every year. For example, brand.com/january-sales/ rather than brand.com/january-sales-2022/ will allow you to keep the page live throughout the year (though ensure it has reduced visibility across your site when outside this period) and subsequently re-visit it and refresh the content once the period comes around again. Google allude to this practice in their Black Friday and Cyber Monday guide.
It’s also advised for eCommerce brands to have perpetual holiday landing pages live and indexed at all times, be it branded Black Friday, Christmas or Easter pages. Consumers will always be searching for “brand Black Friday deals” or “January Sales brand”, for example, and the last thing you want is to be outranked by a third-party affiliate or industry publication that directs last clicks and purchases away from your own eCommerce platform.
If there’s a case where you have one-off deals or products in stock for a short time that you know won’t come back around in the future, you can look to redirect these pages to a relevant product or deal page that has more permanence.
Refresh, modify, rinse and repeat
More broadly, and this is something that relates to eCommerce businesses with large inventories and accompanying holiday campaigns spanning many pages, is the practice of bringing everything up to date with the current season.
Again, it’s not feasible (and bad for SEO) to simply remove all product pages and general holiday messaging pages once the holiday in question has passed. Look to identify which pages have seasonal deals and messaging on and update them to ensure they’re timely and relevant.
Update old gift guides or deal pages and their imagery so they feature new products or deals for your next campaign. Changing the copy and on-page SEO from “Black Friday 2022” to “Christmas deals 2022” once Black Friday has passed is a quick way to send Google some seasonal signals on your core ranked pages, if you have one master holiday landing page.
General SEO considerations for the holiday season
Outside of macro approaches for the holiday season in terms of planning, strategizing, and thinking ahead for future campaigns, there are also plenty of ongoing things eCommerce brands can look at to optimise SEO performance at any given time.
Improving page speed
During holiday periods, many of us may stumble across seasonal deal roundup aggregator sites (or the aforementioned affiliate last click pages) that are jam-packed with ads and third-party web plugins that slow down page performance. Certain news and media sites that do promotional roundups with links out to their selling and advertising partners are also guilty of this.
With consumers shopping around and eyeing up deals around the web, page speed is crucial as it can assist directly with conversion rates. The last thing you want is for a user to have done their research, decide that they want a deal from your online store, and then bounce off the product or deal page because it’s taking too long to load. According to research by Google, the bounce rate increases by 32% if a page takes three seconds to load, and a staggering 90% if it takes more than five seconds.
Utilising structured data
Optimising your product or holiday landing pages with structured data can be a great way to make your pages stand out among the competition. As an eCommerce provider, marking up your pages with review Schema or product Schema should be something you’re already pursuing, though use holiday seasons as an opportunity to divert resources and refresh this to make it as thorough as possible. Crucially, ensuring that your product pages featuring seasonal deals have accurate pricing markup (so that it appears as such in the SERP) can be a great help in getting users to click through and buy.
In terms of more long-form pages, look to make use of FAQ structured data that taps into the more long-tail keyword opportunity around certain holidays that we touched on earlier. Answering questions in your January Sales hub page, such as “when do the January sales at brand X end?” can be a great way to not only get ahead of third-party sellers but also capture featured snippets.
Keep your local SEO up to date
As an eCommerce brand, you should have an established presence in your verified Google My Business Profile. This details your brand offering, services, store locations, and customer reviews, among other things.
Make sure these are up to date and include messaging around holiday-specific products and services you may be offering, as well as any changes to opening hours (of your physical stores) around the time. While you’re doing all you can to optimise your digital store, a big part of driving footfall during holiday shopping times is making sure your local SEO is up to date.
Keep in sync with other marketing channels
We wrote an in-depth piece on the importance of working with other marketing disciplines to complement your SEO efforts. This becomes heightened during the holiday seasons, as activity gets ramped up and budgets become targeted.
Work with CRM and social teams to promote the carefully crafted holiday landing pages you pushed live in the months prior to the holiday in question. Ally yourself with your paid search or SEM teams and share data on the keywords you’re both targeting to ensure that you’re not missing anything vital. While there are some arguments to avoid the cannibalisation of organic and paid search rankings, SERP dominance is an important factor during the holiday season, so make sure you’re working together to target your important landing pages and deal pages across your site.
Use historical data to present interesting content
One advantage of targeting black friday each year, is that you have access to data harvested from the previous years. This data can be utilised in your page content to help make a more informative or engaging page. An example of this would be, creating an on-page infographic for user behaviour during the sale; such as which products or categories were the most popular, which products were searched for the most, etc. The key here is improving your content value proposition by using data unique to your business. This content can form your holding page through the rest of the year, building up ranking authority in preparation for the next event.
Staying on top of it all
One of the overarching themes here is proactivity. Whether it’s preparing six months in advance for an all-encompassing Christmas campaign, or planning January Sale content before Christmas has even happened, the need to get in as early as possible is becoming more prevalent each year.
There are plenty of things you can be doing in the background alongside your existing ongoing SEO strategy. Adherence to general best practices in terms of your product pages having fully operational and verified structured data will get you very far, gaining trust and drawing in deal-hunting audiences from the SERP. Ensuring your legacy landing pages for Black Friday, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, New Year (or any major holiday) are well looked after within your site structure once the holiday has passed will help you maintain and grow your holiday season authority as the years go on.
Make sure you keep a keen eye on emerging trend data as well as your insights from previous campaigns and keep on iterating, learning and optimising. Whether it’s Black Friday, Christmas, Easter or the summer period, we hope that this walkthrough can serve as a guide to SEO success for any holiday period throughout the year where seasonality comes into play.