Search Focus: Ready to Seize the Season?

If my mailbox is trying to tell me anything (which I hope it isn't), it's telling me that the holiday season is here. The cover of my Pottery Barn catalog is gracefully directing me to "Let the season begin." My Elle and Vogue magazines are walking me through the "fall fashion fundamentals." I'm no fashion icon, but I am usually ahead of the trend before something becomes a "fall fashion fundamental." Can I just jump ahead to my "wonderful winter wardrobe"?

In much the same way, it is time for all our hard work and planning for the holiday marketing campaigns to go into effect. If you haven't already planned your holiday search campaign, it's time to get it in gear -- forget fall and embrace winter! Here are some search marketing tips for the holiday season:

Start planning early. By early, I mean last year, last month... or at least as soon as you finish reading this article. Your competitors probably already have a plan in place. Make sure that yours is unique to your business and is planned based on your unique ROI goals.

Don't make large site or technical changes after mid-October. Lock down what you can, and keep changes from occurring. You'd think this was obvious, but I've heard my share of horror stories about how site changes killed holiday campaigns.

On a similar note: tracking is key. In order to truly measure and optimize your campaigns, you must have a true pulse of your key metrics.

Be flexible. Write a plan and measure results early. If something is working really well, be prepared to move more money to that tactic or kill something that is not working. Set daily or weekly goals, and adjust often to optimize return.

Don't focus on CPC or spend; focus on return. If every dollar spent returns $10 in revenue, be ready to spend millions until that return gets too low to keep investing.

I've seen many tragic mistakes with holiday search campaigns over the years. Not quite as tragic as Britney Spears' Florence Henderson hairdo on the cover of the aforementioned Elle, but tragic nonetheless. My list of avoidable holiday tragedies:

Underestimating the month of January. Consumers have holiday gift cash and New Year's resolutions to drive new spending. As you plan your search budget, make sure you don't let your campaign flatline after New Year's Eve.

The Pray and See Method. During the holiday season, many marketers plan to spend their entire budget, close their eyes, and pray it ends up being a good season. The smart marketer will plan to spend 70 percent of the budget, keeping 30 percent back for the tactics that are delivering the best results.

Having a rigid budget instead of an ROI goal. In many large companies, there is no way to get around a traditional budgeting cycle. However, the most innovative marketers rely on a return on investment goal to determine which tactics to focus on and when to shift spending.

Each major shopping season is also a major learning experience for marketers such as myself. Consumer behavior shifts. Younger and more tech-savvy shoppers have disposable income. I will look forward to sharing with you all the key lessons from the 2005-2006 (don't forget January!) holiday season. Until then, I will focus on my "wonderful winter wardrobe" and trying to look a bit more Sarah Jessica Parker and a bit less "Oops, I did it again."

Misty Locke is Co-Founder and President of Range Online Media (mlocke@rangeonlinemedia.com)

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