Let the Chrismukkah Planning Begin

From a marketer's perspective, this is the worst time of year. When not at work, you're thinking of back-to-school shopping for your kids, last-minute vacations, Labor Day barbecues, and apple picking.

Then at work, during these so-called dog days of August, the focus is holiday shopping - thinking ahead to that period between Thanksgiving and (pick one) Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or Chrismukkah (an aside: when confirming the preferred spelling of the holiday born on The O.C., Google returned - a blog, no less).

It's enough to make marketers develop a split personality a la Batman's Harvey "Two-Face" Dent, walking around with a beach umbrella in one hand and holiday gift wrap in the other. The holidays are coming though, so it's worth giving them a look from the search engine marketing angle.

Au-No Natural

For starters, any budget considerations made dealing with search spending during the holidays need to focus on the paid side. Natural search optimization is as important as ever, and it's ideal when considering long-term marketing strategy. However, beware of any company guaranteeing top rankings in time for the holidays.



Just this month, a Redmond, Wash.-based search engine optimization company settled with the state's attorney general, who levied charges after customers complained the company promised top rankings for sizeable fees and failed to deliver. There are a number of options when you need an established SEO company, but if it smells like a scam, then take Toucan Sam's advice and follow your nose.

The budget considerations for the holidays should revolve around paid search media. By planning now (if you haven't already), this allows for a month of strategizing before quarter four even begins, and three months before the Thanksgiving to Christmas crunch time.

Hold Your Fire

There are some marketers who may want to spend less on paid search during the holiday rush. Consider that retailers will be going gangbusters with search. Right now, they're pumping themselves up, eyeing their ambitious goals, reviewing their distribution channels, and readying themselves to do whatever it takes to move product and increase profits this season. Christmas bonuses are on the line and everyone wants to party come December. These retailers will be migrating to search with a vengeance.

That means some others may want to refrain from the bidding wars. Conducting a search for "wine" in Google brought up an ad for a winery's gorgeous site that was heavy on information but soft on merchandizing. Investigating further, most items sold for low prices, and the winery could only ship to a dozen states, which didn't include my own. The chance of a profitable sale is so slim, especially without location-based targeting, that there's hardly a need to compete with larger sites that have broader distribution and can pay top dollar, ROI be damned.

Pay Your Way

If you're planning to spend big this holiday season, whether you're in retail, travel, health, or another relevant vertical (health offers fun possibilities during the holidays, as searches for "weight loss" and "acid reflux" should spike after the third helping of yams), think about strategy and budget now.

How much is a customer really worth? What is the average order size, and how does it change in quarter four? For those who've been in the search game for awhile and have sophisticated reporting backing up their efforts, dig deep. When customers search for Product A, do they also tend to buy Product B or Product C? And is this true for searches on Product B? Are the shoppers largely new customers, and thus especially fruitful targets for paid search campaigns, or are there many returning customers who saw the paid search ads as reminders? If the latter's the case, could e-mail and other tactics bolster the retention side, easing one burden off paid search so it can primarily target newcomers?

There are hundreds of questions that you could ask, and if you have the answer to just a few of the critical ones, it could have a measurable impact on your budget, conversion rates, and results. If you're working with an interactive agency, do them a favor and start asking these questions now instead of November. If you're going solo, use whatever options you have to prepare yourself.

The Search Insider would like to be the first to wish you a joyous holiday season. And remember to wear sunscreen.

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