It’s never too early to start planning for the biggest shopping season of the year, especially this year as the world is slowly opening back up again. Last year, retailers had to get creative to ensure a positive and safe shopping experience amidst the global pandemic. As a result, sales started earlier, new promotions were introduced, and digital strategies pivoted in preparation for the ramp in digital shopping.
So what does the pivot in strategies and record-breaking online sales in 2020 mean for the 2021 season? What should be the key considerations as brands prepare for the big shopping moments? What can they do to ensure they are getting the most traffic to and engagement on their websites?
I sat down with a number of members of the Earned Media and SEO team at Jellyfish, one of Botify’s strategic solution partners, and they shared their perspectives and offered advice on how to navigate the next couple of months to maximize the much-anticipated holiday season.
First and foremost, while gearing up for the 2021 shopping season, it’s important to remember that “nothing about 2020 was normal,” said Edward Turner, SEO Director at Jellyfish. So many shoppers who would typically buy in store were forced to buy online, but as we return to “something that resembles ‘normal,’ we don’t know whether buying behavior will return to what it was before Covid, stay as it has been over the last year, or settle in between,” he continued.
This should be taken into account when performing historical trend analysis to predict what products will be exploding in popularity this Black Friday.
Don’t just use 2020 as your comparison point, as doing a year-over-year analysis isn’t going to be accurate. Make sure you also look at 2019 to give you a flavour of what the last ordinary year looked like; build another year into your reporting and forecasting. – Ed Turner
And, because consumers were spending so much time online last year, they’ve also become savvier than ever. Felicity Mikellides, Jellyfish’s Senior Content Manager commented, “Brands will need to hold their nerve as traffic builds and sales dip pre any Black Friday/Cyber Monday offers. Once those offers end, there will also likely be another dip until the January sales. I’m expecting this year to echo the last, with January sales brought forward for a pre-Christmas boost. Retail is still recovering, so it’s going to be about getting smart with offers.”
Nick Fettiplace, Jellyfish’s Chief Solutions Officer of Earned Media, highlighted the fact that while many brands generate a huge part of their annual revenue across just a couple of peak season moments during the year, the comparable budget investment isn’t given for those seasons. This year will be a bit more unpredictable, but brands are super keen to keep the momentum they saw last year, so it’s especially important to strategize accordingly. He suggests thinking about the holiday season in three phases.
During this first, planning phase, focus on key website optimizations to maximize visibility, traffic, and conversions on the most important pages.
A few example of things to think about:
Be conversion ready! If you’re not conversion ready, all of the activity above the line – the efforts of other teams to drive brand and product demand – you’ll lose off the back end when people go to search. – Nick
Timing plays a very big role in being conversion-ready. Senior SEO Manager Nathan Kinnear’s number one recommendation is to “get a Black Friday page live ASAP. Ideally, one should already exist and be available to search engines that can be used annually without a year/date added to the page or URL, e.g. www.brandname.com/black-friday. It takes time for search engines to crawl, index, and rank pages accordingly, severely hindering organic performance if a page is put live only a week or two before the event.”
In addition to search engines needing enough time to find your pages, consumers are already doing their research, seeking early deals or information on when Black Friday sales will go live. Felicity commented, “users are searching earlier than ever before in a bid to be first in line when the latest deals drop!”
Not only should those pages launch early, but according to Ed, any Black Friday pages, dedicated sales pages, pages for the categories you expect to be big this year, should all be part of a dedicated section within the navigation of your website. Optimize those pages in the background before they go live.
Having a dedicated section within your global navigation of your e-commerce site is the most powerful tool that webmasters have control of. You can actively pull that lever to channel your authority. – Ed
In fact, Felicity wants to see those pages all year round! “Don’t leave your Black Friday pages to die in between seasons. Search is happening year round. Update Black Friday pages annually to scoop up any early search intent, with a short summary of what customers can expect from the upcoming sale. Links to current sales can help keep visitors on site and converting, whilst email sign up boxes boost mailing lists.”
Another important aspect of the planning phase, as shared by Chris Suarez-Biberle, SEO Director, is to understand what your branded landscape looks like for Black Friday. “Learn who else is in the space already; get a sense of who the other contenders are.”
Make sure to leverage your existing content – such as evergreen landing pages – and optimize your digital assets to make sure you dominate your branded real estate. – Chris
Nathan agrees that “100% organic coverage for brand-based searches should be a top priority. No matter what the search term covers. If it is about your brand, you should be available to the user. We see too many instances where brands don’t rank for something about them because there has been too much focus on the top keyword targets.”
He believes that “there is always a way to ensure organic searchers can find you when searching for your brand. Mid/long-tail search around your brand and products can be targeted in several ways, whether it’s focusing efforts on filtered navigation sections on category pages to allow for variations to be indexed, detailed FAQ sections to answer all customer queries or simply creating a new blog post that gives more information on something which can’t be articulated on the main e-commerce pages.”
When thinking about the competition, don’t underestimate the underdogs. “Competition is strong and the ante is turned up,” said Nick. “Keep in mind that the breakthrough brands have dedicated teams in place that are purely focused on these moments.”
In fact, according to Rob Philbin, VP of Earned Media, smaller retailers who tend to get overshadowed during Black Friday or Cyber Week by the brands that are already associated with offering great deals, are launching their own version of Black Friday. They are deploying ambush strategies by going live with sales two weeks early.
Build awareness and affinity about your Black Friday all the time. Make it feel like a big deal! – Rob
Rob continued by sharing one of his favorite success stories; one that had accidental SEO benefits.
Weeks before Black Friday, Gymshark launched a video campaign across social channels, leveraging influencers that didn’t necessarily fit their typical influencer profile in order to reach new and alternative audiences. The videos promoted their early holiday sales, however they built up curiosity and suspense by not revealing when exactly the sale would be launching, keeping the audiences coming back for more. Eager to learn more about the sale, shoppers turned to search. Not only did their relevance for Black Friday increase among users, but their search volume grew by 49%!
“Beyond conversion, another thing you can improve is search volume,” noted Rob, however he suggests that this should be a metric pushed by other teams such as PR, brand, and social. This underscores the general importance of coordinating efforts across teams. What the paid, brand, and creative teams are doing during the run-up to the season should be integrated with organic search efforts and geared towards accruing authority.
While there are so many facets to planning during the lead-up to the holiday shopping season, the work doesn’t stop when the big money-making days arrive.
According to Nick, “in those moments, you need to make sure your data collection and measurement are really strong because that will educate you in terms of where you go next and how you plan for the future.”
Dan Froehlich, SEO Manager, will be paying close attention to the data around Google Shopping’s free product listings, a feature they released in April 2020. “Organic Shopping is a relatively-new feature that has been effective in driving valuable traffic for my clients. Last year was the first holiday season featuring organic shopping listings in the US, and we anticipate performance improvements from feed optimizations and automated inventory updates. We also expect growth because Google is prioritizing transactional content as they further commercialize the SERP.
And if you see online sales decline post-Black Friday, Rob encourages you to take a close look at your in-store sales in tandem with your online sales to determine if they fill a gap for any dip in digital sales this year.
If you’ve successfully collected and analyzed your data, the next step is to take those learnings and turn them into best practices. Instill them across the organization so that you are not only ahead of the game for the next peak season, but that you can also raise the bar and leverage your success year after year.
Post-event activity is also really important. Instead of starting over each year, take your learnings and create evergreen peak season environments to leverage your successes. – Nick
This is the first of two holiday-readiness articles developed in tandem with our partner, Jellyfish. Next up, learn from Jellyfish’s PR Director, Katheryn Watson, on how SEO and PR can work hand-in-hand this holiday season.
As a Botify Solution Partner, the Jellyfish team is a certified user of the Botify platform and collaborates with Botify’s Customer Experience team to provide additional expertise, services, and support to our shared customers. Interested in becoming a Botify partner? We’d love to hear from you.