October 01, 2010

We all know that the holiday season is the most important time of year for online merchants. And this recessionary year will be especially competitive as more merchants duke it out for every prospective shopper.

With close to 46% of total sales  influenced by online media and marketing, according to Forrester Research, having a smart online marketing strategy is critical for survival and success. Search engine marketing continues as the most effective way to connect with customers, with over 57% of customers starting with a search engine to start looking for a product they desire, according to Power Reviews' 2010 Social Shopping Trends.

My team has learned a lot about which strategies work and which ones don't.  Following are some of the major principles that most merchants would be wise to follow.

Timing Is Everything: Identifying high-traffic days and fine-tuning your bid and budget strategies is key. During the holidays, the cost per click for keywords is volatile, so it's imperative to closely monitor and adjust your bids to ensure your ads are being displayed. If your ads are not being displayed, you're not being found by shoppers. Online merchants also need to consider their shipping deadlines when bidding, and turn off ads after their last shipping date has passed.  

Ad Network Diversification Pays: It's difficult to diversify your advertising investment across all the major advertising network. However, diversification can have a huge upside given that opportunities on any single network can saturate, causing diminishing returns. Moreover, different advertising networks attract different audiences and offer unique targeting abilities. Unless you launch across all the major networks, you'll never know what opportunities you may be missing. Fortunately, technology now enables merchants to easily launch and manage their investments across all the major ad networks.

Test, Test and Test Again: Specify your unique value proposition -- what differentiates you from everyone else -- and test multiple messages and calls to action. Just as with a stock portfolio, you'll want to put your money in the ads and campaigns that perform the best. 

Tap Into Your Long Tail: Strategies to cater to the long tail can pay rich dividends and improve the experience for shoppers. When it comes to online advertising, a good strategy is to analyze your own site history and identify keywords, messaging and offers that worked. A keyword search query report is a great place to start. And don't forget that people search for SKUs and product-model numbers online.

Extend Your Strategy To Gift Cards: While the arrival of shipping deadlines may signal the end of physical purchases, that's when demand for online gift cards often heat up. You should extend your holiday advertising investment to gift cards, and leverage them to capture frenzied demand among last-minute shoppers. Moreover, recipients of gift cards and cash will often go online to redeem them. Make sure you capture their demand as well.

Tweak, Tweak and Tweak Again: Online advertising is a dynamic marketplace and, as underscored earlier, it is volatile. Therefore, you must continually monitor how your ads perform and optimize continually as well, based on sound data. That requires setting up core reports that can be automated, accessed easily and translated into actions.

These are among the core online advertising principles that drive success during the holidays. Indeed, there are many more advanced and exotic tactics, but often the greatest returns follow simple execution of the fundamentals.

By Max Kalehoff
Max Kalehoff is vice president of marketing for Clickable, an award-winning solution that makes search & social advertising simple
Courtesy of MediaPost

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