The 12 days of digital Christmas – SEO for the festive season

When it comes to sustainable and quality SEO there’s no such thing as a ‘quick fix’. However, while your SEO strategy should be viewed as a long-term investment for your business, there are some digital tactics you can implement in the run up to Christmas to ensure your business truly maximises its visibility.

Rob Marsden, head of SEO at digital marketing agency Search Laboratory, offers 12 tips on how to refine your SEO strategy and implementing short-term strategies to make sure you’re on track this Christmas, whilst being prepared for next year’s festive season.

digital Christmas1. Start early – if your Christmas content isn’t live yet, it should be!

Believe it or not, the worst time to start thinking about Christmas, is Christmas itself. Good SEO is always performed as part of a long-term strategy; investing time into a long-term SEO strategy means your SEO will be more sustainable and far more likely stand the test of time. Ensure your seasonal content has been written, checked, optimised and uploaded as soon as it’s ready to make sure you can maximise on sales before the rush.

2. Look after your links all year long

When festive pages and links are disabled or deleted after the Christmas period, the page returns a 404 error and any link equity that was being passed to it is immediately lost. This can have a knock-on effect for the following year as the pages lose value. You also face the possibility of site-owners removing their links through to these pages, so they aren’t seen to be using dead links.

Our top tip to avoid losing SEO value is to leave the page live for the whole year – even if it’s only via a ‘seasonal shop’ section of your HTML sitemap. This way you will maintain the value of the page and the link equity from the site. Debenhams is a great example – their Christmas page stays live all year long, featuring valuable and evergreen content such as gift guides.

3. Avoid risky site changes over the festive period

The run up to Christmas is a key trading period in an online retailer’s calendar, so it’s important to avoid making any technical changes to your website, both in the run up to or during the festive period, in case they have a negative effect. Consider implementing a code freeze during this period which ensures only critical changes can be made to the site. This is a tactic often employed around peak periods as it helps to avoid any disasters which, if they happened, could have a huge impact on the financial performance of the whole year for a business.

4. If you’ve left it too late, turn to PPC

If you’ve left it a little last minute to implement a well-thought-out SEO strategy, PPC is a good way to go. Paid media is a great way of attracting more sales on a day-to-day basis and is a solid short-term solution for combatting low organic visibility. Your PPC will still need to be meticulously planned and tested in advance if you are to cut through the Christmas noise. For each product and category you want to run ads for, you need to know the budget, the audience, what keywords you are targeting, the maximum cost per click/action you’re willing to pay, and your conversion goals.

5. Use historic data to guide your PPC strategy

Using insights from previous year’s PPC should be an important part of your strategy, as it can help you know what to expect from your customers and therefore plan accordingly. Look at your sales and analytics data for previous Christmas periods and ask yourself; which audiences tend to perform best that you should be targeting? Are there particular categories that do well in seasonal sales? Which devices have the highest conversion rates? Use these insights to help form your Christmas strategy, deliver what your customers want, and maximise sales – a key tactic you should be using to inform your PPC strategy for the rest of the year too.

6. Focus on your best performing products

Your search strategy should already focus on driving traffic to your best performing product pages but if this is not the case, now is the time to identify which products drive the most profit and most sales and optimise their landing pages to improve online visibility.

While getting links to these pages this late in the year may not increase their ranking positions in time for Christmas, it can be a good way of driving digital traffic, so link building campaigns should still focus on these top products.

7. PPC practise makes perfect

Testing your PPC campaigns before they go live minimises potential problems and helps key buying days run more smoothly. Play around with different ad texts and call-to-actions (CTAs) to see what works best, check your shopping feed and ensure tracking is set up. This will help to ensure your campaigns run smoothly and performance is optimal in the run up to Christmas.

8. Keep on top of any technical issues

During peak sales periods like Christmas, every minute counts and having a technical issue that means pages are down or the checkout is not working can impact your yearly revenue. Ensuring that you have alerts, or a team, set up to warn you when a site error has occurred means you can fix issues as quickly as possible.

9. Have a contingency plan up your sleeve

It’s important to have a ‘plan B’ in case your paid media strategy does not perform as expected – and to make sure everyone on the account is aware of the backup. Things to consider include underperformance, overspend, and selling out of key products. Agree on how frequently these metrics need to be checked, and what are the upper and lower limits where action needs to be taken.

10. Handle your out of stock products correctly

In an ideal world, retailers would have adequate stock all year round but it’s likely that some products will go out of stock over the festive period. Handling these product pages correctly from an SEO perspective is important – deleting the page will lead to a loss of link equity, while redirecting the page to another page such as the homepage may leave your customers frustrated.

There are a few ways you can handle out of stock products:

  • Leave the page up but add in a ‘notify of stock’ button.
  • Leave the page up but add in links to similar items.
  • Redirect the page to the product category (if the product is never going to come back into stock).

11. Organise your out of hours – and be tactical!

The festive season and its surge of traffic is bound to bring with it additional complications at all times of the day, so ensuring you have someone on hand at out of hours is crucial. Speak to your agency in advance to arrange weekend cover as you will need a team on hand to monitor your Christmas digital campaigns and website closely. Regularly check campaigns to ensure they’re on track to hit KPIs within the set budget, keep an eye on inventory so you can react to low stock, and check competitors for any opportunities – for example, if servers are down or they’ve sold out of products, can you take their share of sales? Tactical thinking has never been more important than now!

12. Finally, and most importantly, start planning for 2020!

If you’ve left it too late to implement anything SEO-based ahead of this Christmas, now is a good time to turn your attention to your 2020 digital strategy to ensure next year’s opportunities aren’t missed. SEO should be included as part of your long-term digital marketing strategy, rather than something to invest in as a one off or at particular times of the year.

Search engine algorithms are constantly updating, and new content is being uploaded to the internet daily, so any increase in rankings delivered by a one-off campaign or tactic is likely to diminish over time. Ongoing SEO activity ensures that your brand continues to be at the top of the SERPs and in front of your target audience.