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Jul 19, 2010 | 6 minute read

The Ecommerce Get-Started-Now Guide for the Holiday Season

written by Linda Bustos

Though we're only half way through the year, the holidays are just around the corner in the ecommerce world. If you want to grow your holiday sales over last year, you need to get very busy. Today.

What should you be doing now to ensure a successful holiday season? Here are some ideas:


Ten years ago, web users were more forgiving of slow page loads. But according to Forrester Research, 47% of today’s web shoppers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. 40% will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load. 64% would purchase from another store, and 75% would be less likely to return after a bad experience.

Think that’s scary? Heavy site traffic can bog down your servers and slow page load speed even more. Response times can spike as high as 50 seconds during the holiday season.

Think your performance is fine? Don’t rely on testing your site speed from the office or even your home computer. Response time increases the farther you are from your data center. Acceleration technologies like pre-fetching uncacheable content closer to your user location (intelligent caching) helps optimize your load speed around the globe. Services like Akamai, Gomez and Strangeloop can help you with this.

Check out our site performance webinar recap for more tips on speeding up your site.

Site Testing

You don't want to be running tests in peak season, as customer mix and behavior can be very different than at other times. Also, you want to be showing an optimal version of your site to maximize success, not sending 50% of your traffic to a hair-brained experiment. So it's best to get your testing out of the way before traffic starts to spike. Check your analytics to see when traffic began to ramp up last year to give you an idea how much time you have to test.

Focus your attention on elements that will remain constant through the end of the year, like the checkout process, shopping cart summary, product page templates and navigation elements, rather than promotional offers, merchandising strategies and headlines.

For more site testing tips, attend our webinar tomorrow (July 20): Taking Your Site Performance to The Next Level With Optimization Testing

Search Marketing


Make sure you've taken advantage of webmaster tools with search engines. They'll help you identify crawling errors and other issues with your site so you can fix them well in advance of the holiday season. You can also geo-target your stores for better visibility in country-specific search engines.

If you issue coupon codes or offer free shipping, consider creating a landing page with these offers to capture searches for your brand name plus "free shipping," "promo codes" etc. Also consider including these value propositions in your title tags:

You may want to create pages optimized for holiday related search terms like "gift ideas for men." It's a good idea to launch those soon to make sure they are indexed in search engines, and so you have time to build links to these pages. (Tip: if you create holiday or gift themed pages, leave them up year round to keep your link value).

Paid Search

It's not too early to start planning your holiday-targeted campaigns. (I've put together swipe files of holiday and post holiday terms to get you started.) You should also be ramping up your keyword research, especially negative keywords.

Back to web analytics, do you know your efficiency targets for keyword bidding? Didn't think so. Check out this post by George Michie of the Rimm-Kaufman Group that shows you how to analyze last years trends in order to plan for this holiday's bidding strategy.

You should also be focusing on ways to improve your quality score so you're appearing in the best positions you can during the holidays at the lowest cost per click. Craig Danuloff from ClickEquations offers 3 quick-fix tips to improve your Quality Score:

1. Go through your Ad-Groups, look at the text-ads that are running. Delete any ads getting CTRs 50% lower than your top performers.
2. Go through the keywords in each Ad-Group. If there are keywords getting performing 2X worse than your average CTR, pause them or move them to a new ‘Rehab’ Ag-Group.
3. Visit your landing page. Think like a prospect and fix anything that would stop you from understanding, trusting, or moving forward.

If you need help wrapping your head around the whole Quality Score thing (keep in mind many bloggers are propagating false information about it) I suggest you check out Craig's web seminar on Quality Score (no signup necessary).

Google has also recently launched a split testing tool for campaigns called Adwords Campaign Experiments (Beta). This can help you determine your optimal campaign structure in time for the search rush.

Comparison Shopping Engines

Rick Galan from Mercent shared a bunch of tips for holiday comparison engine optimization last year. Have a look.


Holiday retail-mail has already begun, with Hallmark's first holiday email appearing on June 29.

Again, analytics from last season can guide this year's strategy. Which segments responded best to what kind of messages? What subject lines worked or flopped? Can you segment last year's campaign responders and create a special campaign strategy for them?

Creative can take time to design and move through approvals, so it's important to plan ahead. Don't forget that campaign landing pages must maintain the "scent" (deliver what was promised in the email), and they require custom design and approvals too.

As always, keep your list clean (remove addresses that consistently bounce back or have not responded to your messages in 6-12 months), and take the opportunity to really promote your email program on your site to build up a healthy roster of subscribers before Black Friday.

Affiliate Management

Affiliates can be tough to motivate, especially when they're also being romanced by all your competitors. Consider offering above market commissions to entice affiliates to feature your offers more prominently on their sites, and develop the content they love to publish (product video, buying guides, killer product descriptions and attractive banners).

Also consider nurturing the relationship via snail-mail - send affiliates product to review, gifts or other physical objects that can put your site top-of-mind. Try to arrange product reviews to be published during or just prior to the holiday rush.


User Reviews

Customers crave content to help them make purchase decisions. Beef up your product pages with 360 degree photography, multiple images, video product tours and detailed descriptions. It's also a good idea to ask your current customers to review products so you have a lot of review content come Christmas. Check out these posts for ideas:

How to Attract Customer Reviews
8 Out-Of-The-Box Ideas to Attract Customer Reviews
How To Ask For Customer Reviews – Nicely.
Trigger Email: Asking for Customer Reviews & Video Reviews

Guided Selling Tools

You may have enough time to build a gift finder if you don't already have one. Ditto for filtered navigation (refine by category, subcategory, price or other attributes). Don't forget to add filtered nav to your search results pages, not just your category pages.

October is not the time to decide you want these features!

Other Site Features

Features like in-stock indicators, showing quantity in-stock and "email me when this item is back in stock" can help customers when inventory is most likely to dwindle. Think ahead to which items are most likely to sell out, and be prepared to show product recommendations for similar items when product is out of stock, rather than accessories. Another great feature found on Amazon is estimated arrival date when your order by [time].

Do you require registration or have an otherwise cumbersome checkout process? Now's the time to bring your cart up to speed. According to Forrester Research, 23% of customers will abandon their purchase if asked to register, and many existing customers can't remember their email/username/password combinations. Make it simple, offer a speedy checkout process.


Finally, don't forget to mystery shop your site to uncover pain points in the user experience.

Happy pre-holidays!