Advertisers: Q4 is All About the Holidays

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pay per click holidays

Have you ever noticed that the holiday shopping season seems to start earlier and earlier every year? Whether that’s a symptom of mass consumerism or the retailers who contribute to it, many would agree that brands of all kinds are now seeing opportunities to capitalize on Q4 consumer spending habits much earlier than the actual holidays.

So when it comes to online advertising during Q4 and the holidays, don’t rely on presents from your customers—it’s likely your brand will face stiff competition when it comes to winning over potential customers. A spring report by the Internet Advertising Bureau showed that in 2012, online advertising revenues increased 15 percent (to $36.6 billion) compared to 2011, with Q4 accounting for nearly one-third of the total annual revenue. Not surprisingly, when compared to actual online retail revenues for the same period, revenues rose nearly 16 percent as well, to $225 billion.

That said, it stands to reason that Q4 and holiday pay per click (PPC) advertising campaigns represent great opportunity for brands to target customers efficiently. After all, last year a percentage point of increased ad spend led to more than a percentage point increase in revenue, translating to about $7 in additional revenue for every extra dollar spent on ads. So in this article, we’ll review some ways that online advertisers can build highly effective campaigns that are designed to minimize risk, build brand awareness, and above all else, drive sales.

Diversify and Plan Your Promotions

Having a detailed, balanced promotional plan is crucial before you can even start building an effective holiday campaign. Start by building a brief promotional calendar, outlining key dates for different sales and promotions during the holidays—this will serve as your guide as you set up your campaigns.

Holiday marketing strategies are dime-a-dozen, but in the pay per click marketing world, some proven practices include:

Segment Your Specials: For those big ticket items or categories you’re really trying to push this holiday season, create separate ad groups for them, complete with optimized copy that sums up your sale or promotion. And if there’s a time to serve these kinds of ads more quickly and frequently, it’s now.

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Mobile Trends Chart from – Click to Enlarge

Focus on Mobile: For a campaign designed to take advantage of shopping trends highlighted in recent years, hone your efforts in on mobile-optimized ads at strategic times throughout the holiday season. Consumers are increasingly turning to their smartphones when it comes to not just mobile purchases but researching products to buy in-store.

According to IBM’s 2012 Digital Analytics Benchmark survey, 24 percent of consumers used a mobile device to visit a retailer’s site on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday (up 14 percent from 2011); and on Cyber Monday, 18 percent of consumers used mobile to access a retailer’s site, a 70 percent increase over 2011. Additional research from last year also suggests that up to half of consumers wanted exclusive in-store offers delivered to their mobile devices.

Going into the 2013 holiday season, consider two strategies: Claim your share of the increase in mobile retail traffic by ramping up your mobile-targeted ads as these key dates (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday) approach; and develop some in-store promotions, redeemable through a coupon distributed through mobile-targeted PPC ads.

Investing in Video Banners Can Pay Off: While high-quality video content can sound costly to produce, recent data indicates it can yield great return for advertisers this holiday season. Video ad views reached an all-time high this July, continuing an upward trend of month-to-month growth in 2013. In-Banner Video ads are a great way to cut through the fog of static advertisements, engaging your users with eye-catching, relevant video content they care about.

Holiday-ify Existing Ad Groups: Although you’ll be creating separate ad groups for your seasonal specials, remember to refine your existing text copy for the holidays: Encourage purchases by reminding your audience what time of year it is, what kind of deals and discounts you’re offering, and even work in some language that emphasizes the convenience of online shopping, such as “Beat the lines!” or “Stress-free holiday shopping.”

QA for Q4

If you’ve never done A/B testing on your ad copy, the holidays are a great time to start maximizing your click-through rates. Try split-testing your new promotional ad groups with not only different copy but different keywords, bid strategies, and site placements in the weeks before Black Friday. This will help you hone in on the most effective online advertising strategies so your ads are running optimally in time for the peak of the season.

Another factor that can be tested before you push your campaigns ahead at full-steam is the times your ads will run. You can start by asking yourself, “When do my customers typically search?” and set your campaigns accordingly. Generally, retail brands see most searches on weekends and evenings, while B2Bs might see better results during normal business hours on weekdays. Try tailoring the tone of your text copy to the demographics you’re targeting at specific times, whether you’re marketing to stay-at-home moms shopping in the mid-morning or affluent executives shopping over the weekend. And as usual, adhere to general best practices when it comes to testing your campaigns, including researching competitors’ ads and their keywords, and targeting appropriate channels.

Remarketing: Your Holiday Season Secret Weapon

The holidays give advertisers the opportunity to capitalize on how consumers have previously behaved on their e-commerce sites. With a pay per click ad network that features a dynamic Remarketing platform (and has one for you), you can remarket to customers who have abandoned their shopping carts with items still in them, who have viewed products multiple times without purchasing, or have even just visited your website. Tailor your ad copy to communicate a sense of urgency for these visitors, such as “Order now! FREE shipping for next 24 hours.”

The increase in sales over the holiday also means that you have a larger pool of potential repeat customers to remarket to. Consider targeting first-time customers who have purchased items on your site during previous sales. A loyalty program, coupon, or discount can go a long way in making an extended positive “first impression” on your soon-to-be-loyal customer base.

Set a Budget that Makes Sense

Think of your holiday campaigns as a gift you’re giving to your brand—and yes, this means you should set a budget, too. Take a look in your Analytics panel and at your sales figures to identify seasonal trends:

  • Do you typically see a spike in traffic during Q4? How big is it?
  • Have Q4 total page views been increasing year-over-year? Or decreasing?
  • What was your percent increase in sales last holiday season?

Take these factors into account when setting your budget, using your “everyday” bid settings as a baseline. Don’t be alarmed if trends seem to be encouraging you to raise your bids over the holidays—As mentioned earlier, online retail ad spend tends to spike in Q4, and total ad spend is increasing year after year. That means that not only will your competitors’ bids be higher, but they’ll be advertising to your customers even more. You’ll likely need to match that trend in order to protect and increase your Q4 revenue.

Use these seasonal trends in conjunction with annual industry trends to develop an overall budget for the season—even working in changes to your bid structure into your promotional calendar. Remember to set aside some funds specifically for A/B testing so that your more experimental strategies will not eat up your budget if they don’t work at first.

Finally, to ensure that your holiday advertising efforts will continue to yield results the in future, keep track of how consumer behavior changes over the course of the season. Identify variables like “revenue per day” or “abandoned items per day” and track them throughout the season, keeping an eye out for peaks and valleys that you can both react to in real-time and take into account as you plan for future holiday seasons. Every brand’s customers shop differently, and the data that your brand is generating in Q4 can be just as valuable as the conversions it generates. With well-planned, optimized campaigns entering the biggest spending season of the year, your site can expect presents under its own tree.

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