That’s right, it’s nearly Christmas time. Well, sort of. While I do think it’s too early to be seeing Christmas decorations this side of Halloween - I don't think it’s too early to be talking about digital marketing and SEO tips to prepare your Christmas campaigns and site for the holidays. So grinches, sit down and take note - you need to be ready and do the unspeakable: prepare early this year!
Preparing this early for Christmas can also help you make more sales over Black Friday – a time when organised people are already starting to shop for the holidays. In fact, GoogleTrends highlights that interest in ‘Christmas’ as a generic topic begins to rapidly grow from October onwards, so you should be ready from then too!
It’s also worth noting that this post doesn’t need to relate exclusively to Christmas – just any busy period for your business. So if you’re big on Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, get real busy over Valentine’s or Mother’s day or make a tonne of sales around Halloween, these tips will also be helpful for you.
Make sure your site is technically stable
Before we look at what things can be done around Christmas specifically, it’s important to consider that fundamental elements of SEO will remain essential to Christmas success.
Think about why this is important: your customers are Christmas shopping – something a lot of people don’t take much pleasure in. They’ve left it until the last minute, they have no idea what to buy for Aunt Harriet, they’re panic buying cheese pattern socks for dad, praying they’ll arrive on time. They’ve already lost the Christmas spirit and it’s not even happened yet. Sound familiar? The very least you can do is give them an easy online experience. What I’m looking for here is:
- Be mobile friendly
If your site is not mobile responsive in 2019, you’re really late to the game. If Christmas is a big time for you, you’ll lose out on a huge amount of sales. In 2018, 44% of Christmas purchases in the UK occurred on a mobile device. This is up from 42.3% in 2017, and is likely to increase again this year.
Crucially, since July 1st 2019, all new websites not before known to Googlebot are indexed using mobile first indexing. For older sites, you can check in your Google Search Console if and when your site switched over to mobile first indexing. Ensure your site works perfectly on mobile and that users see the same content on desktop and mobile to help avoid any indexation issues.
- Speedy site for people on-the-go
Make sure that your site speed score is high: using free tool Page Speed Insights can give you an indication of how fast your site is already and what you can do to speed it up. I’d recommend a page speed score of no less than 85/100 for all your page formats. Christmas shoppers are stressed out – they won’t wait for your 2gb images to load, they’ll just go elsewhere – as would you.
- Make sure your server can cope
Make sure your server can cope with the influx of seasonal traffic. If you’re getting five times the amount of traffic around Black Friday or Christmas, you really need to make sure that your server can cope with that demand and ensure that your site doesn’t crash. You could lose out on a load of sales – it’d be a shame to miss out on these by forgetting to preempt it.
- Broken? Bin it!
Got loads of 404 pages and server errors on the site? Make sure they’re all fixed or 301 redirected so that people don’t think your site is broken and so that search engines don’t either (chances are they might not rank you as highly if they think your site isn’t technically sound).
- Structured data
Add structured data to your site. Structured data (or schema markup) is code that boosts your website’s SEO and allows your site to be more visible and useful to potential customers. Schema is essentially a SparkNotes version of the data on your website for search engines, to help them understand, crawl and index your pages. Without schema, a search engine will look at your site and think “Right, I think I know what this data is saying.” Implement schema and a search engine will take a look at your site and say “No doubt about it, I know what this data means, it’ll be really useful for the people searching for x.“ Here’s how to add it to a site.
- SSL certificate
Google – and users – prefer sites that are trusted and certified. If HTTPS offers security to buyers and their data and puts you in Google’s good books, it’s a no-brainer. If you haven’t already made the switch, do it now. Here’s how to do it.
Make sure your UX is helpful to buyers.
If you’re aiming to make some sales, or simply trying to get into the Christmas spirit and be kind to people, please make sure that your site displays only absolutely essential pop-ups, and that you’re abiding by GDPR regulations. Navigating through this minefield is pretty frustrating at the best of times, let alone when stress-buying soap for your office’s Secret Santa.
Other UX tips for the holidays:
- I’d strongly recommend going through the buying process on your site, and ensuring that it is as easy, efficient and clean as it can possibly be: the fewer steps, logins, and barriers to purchasing gifts the better. The dream here is “buy as a guest”: no one wants to create 45 new accounts and passwords to online shops. Let people buy without signing up – you’re still getting their email address at the end of the day.
- Accept all forms of payment, including Paypal, so that people don’t have to enter their payment details into the site every time – the easier you make it for people, the more they’ll come back.
- You can even install Hotjar to see how people find using the site – some of the feedback could be invaluable – and could help to push for the changes you’ve been asking for all year.
- Make sure that your site conveys your USPs. People tend to be in a hurry so make sure to tell them they’ll receive their item in a day or two (and definitely make sure that they do), send items with gift receipts and cards or anything to make you stand out and be super helpful.
- I’d strongly recommend adding your business opening times over the festive period and a potential complaints department number on the site too. This can avoid a lot of customer frustration and avoid you coming back to a swathe of negative reviews in the New Year.
- Good user experience need not only be an online thing. If you can, when you send the item to the person in question, add in a little something for them: free wrapping paper, card, a little something for them like chocolates etc. – anything to make you stand out and really get into the spirit of giving. People always remember the personal touches.
So far, this is really just common sense: have a safe, working, easy to use website that search engines can understand. Sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how many online shops don’t even get this right. Don’t be that guy, fix it while you can. Now for the marketing bits!
SEO-HOHO: Keyword research, landing pages & content planning
First and foremost, I’d recommend looking at your best ranking pages. These will not need to be changed: they already rank – you may just want to add some jazzy Christmassy designs to them, or change the content slightly to reflect the time of year, add your USPs etc.
Once this is done, turn to the products you most want to sell over Christmas: where are they ranking? If they’re on page two or three, I’d recommend:
- Making sure you remove any cannibalising content on the site that may be affecting these. To do this, do a site command search (site:www.mysite.co.uk) with the search term relevant to that product. If you see that there are loads of pages trying to rank for the same term, parse all of the content and add it all to the main page you want to rank and redirect all the others to it with 301s.
- Make sure that the strongest and most authoritative pages on your site also link to these important product pages, as well as your email, social and advertising campaigns.
- Make sure your link building and digital PR efforts include links to these important products – too often companies mainly try to send links to the homepage of their site. This isn’t entirely necessary – if you write a good press release, article or advertisement for a third party publication, or have an exclusive offer, you can link directly to that page to give it some more authority – authority which will last for much longer than just the Christmas period.
- Over the festive period, the people browsing your site are busier than ever and trying to cram in some online shopping on their lunch break or on the bus. Make sure to optimise your title tags and meta descriptions for the user: the person buying a gift for a loved one. Make sure to add USPs and special offers in there – the descriptions will be a little different to what they usually are throughout the year.
You can also create Christmas-specific landing pages that highlight exclusive offers, top selling products, competitions, an advent calendar of sales, FAQs on how to shop during the sales, videos, countdown clocks, social media buttons, limited offers, etc. Not only will these rank organically, but you can also send all your email, paid and social traffic to them.
Christmas SEO for online retailers: targeting seasonal searches
For many online retailers, Christmas brings a whole host of new target keywords which new landing pages can be created for.
Big retailers like Debenhams, John Lewis and Dunelm have built out entire product categories on their sites dedicated to search queries such as ‘christmas gifts for him’ and ‘christmas gin gifts.’
On all three websites, the Christmas section has been added to a prominent position in the main navigation bar – using the Wayback Machine, it looks like the Christmas sections gains pride of place in the far left of John Lewis’ navigation bar as early as September. The festive subcategories are well-linked to both in the navigation and within the text.
Even if you’re working on a small site, you could still benefit from the principles followed by these large retailers: if you have Christmas products, house them in their own section on the site and include it in the navigation, structure the pages in a logical way and ensure that good internal linking is in place.
What else can smaller businesses do to target seasonal searches?
First up, think about the sorts of Christmas-focused content you could be creating that allows you to target some long tail search terms.
Content-wise, it’s a really good idea to create guides on shopping for specific people on your site. Do some keyword research:
Christmas is unsurprisingly a competitive time when it comes to digital marketing, so consider that unless you get pretty niche with the focus of your content, it’s going to be tough to rank organically, so get even more granular:
Get creative with your guides – keyword research highlights other less competitive terms that content could be created around, such as:
- ‘christmas ideas for 11-year-olds’
- ‘what to buy your staff for Christmas’
- ‘gift ideas for someone who likes to bake’
Depending on what you sell, there is a vast array of options open to you. If you know what people are most likely to buy and for whom over the Christmas period, or know of a better alternative that you offer, let them know. People always want help when it comes to buying gifts – despite being busy, they do want people to like what they get for them.
These articles are great for social media and email marketing campaigns – remember to use all channels available to you, including paid media (especially remarketing), as the more best practice work you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
Whatever you’re writing your content on, honing your keyword focus to include the year could increase your visibility for searches where the year is included. This should become clear during the keyword research phase. For example, you may see that competition levels for ‘Christmas ideas for 11-year-olds 2019’ are significantly lower than without the 2019.
When you create your Christmas content, don’t delete it once January comes around. Keep the page up year round, and rather than needing to create new content on a similar topic next year, simply update the existing piece. This allows you to retain the authority that the page builds over time. If you do focus on the year in the content, perhaps keep this out of the URL, as this avoids the need to change URL and risk the page’s authority.
When should you start optimising for Christmas?
How long it will take your newly-created pages to rank in Google depends on a lot of factors, and the topic’s been covered in detail in this useful study by AHrefs.
The study found that of the 5% of newly published pages that are ranking in the top ten within a year, it takes them between two and six months to get there. Obviously, your chances of ranking depend on all sorts of factors including the authority of your site, the competition and how many resources you can put into SEO, but I think the thing to take away is that the sooner you can publish your Christmas pages, the better. Definitely think in terms of months, not weeks.
That’s not to say there’s nothing you can do in the short-term though…
Christmas SEO for local businesses
It’s not just ecommerce sites that can benefit from a festive focus to their SEO.
Consider people who are out in town doing some rather panicked last-minute Christmas shopping. They’re probably going to turn to their phone to look for some shops to go to. Someone looking for some earrings might search for ‘jewellers’, and local SEO is going to be really important here so that your business is the one people click on.
Google is keeping more and more users within its ‘walled garden’, and the number of zero click searches, whereby the user’s query is answered on the SERPs, with no need to click through to a website, is on the rise. With this in mind, ensure your presence within Google’s walled garden is as strong as possible: fully optimise your Google My Business profile and make full use of all its functionality to maximise your chances of displaying in the local pack, stand out from the crowd and earn those Christmas customers, even if they don’t go to your website.
If your opening hours extend over Christmas, ensure that you update your Google My Business listing so that people looking for you know you’re open. See Google’s guidelines for setting special hours.
Use Google Posts to promote Christmas offers
Google Posts display in the local panel and on maps. They’ll display for direct searches of a business name, or when that business is clicked on after a more broad search.
Google Posts are suitable for all sorts of business types, and at Christmas could be used to highlight any festive offers. Whether you’re a restaurant looking to promote your Christmas menu and get more bookings, a local retailer highlighting a Christmas sale or even an ecommerce site looking to promote some top Christmas products, Google Posts offer another free opportunity to stand out on the SERPs.
Google Posts last for one week, so remember to update them in the run-up to Christmas. This great blog on Google Posts goes into much more detail on setting them up and how you can track engagement.
Depending on your business, it’s likely to be a long-term and challenging process to get your Christmas landing pages ranking, and the earlier you can start getting them indexed, the better. However, every business can get some Christmas-themed Google Posts out quickly and for free, and local businesses will always benefit from optimisation of their Google My Business listing.
That covers the essentials but seems like quite enough to be getting on with for now. Good luck and I hope that this guide helps you throughout the festive period! If you need any help, get in touch with us.