How SEO Will Drive Holiday Marketing Success In 2021

Consumer fears about in-store shopping and economic or employment concerns didn’t hold shoppers back in holiday season 2020. When all was said and done, retail sales for the period increased 8.5%, while online sales grew a staggering 45.2% YoY to over $201 billion.

Gains in spending continued through January, with total retail sales up 9.2% and online sales up 62.1% YoY.

This year promises a different dynamic yet again with another season of unknowns, as we have not yet experienced a post-pandemic holiday retail period.

What we do know is that search — and the insights it provides marketing and the organization as a whole — will be front and center in guiding real-time marketing through the holiday season in 2021.

Retailers Reliant on Historic Data are Vulnerable Heading Into 2021 Holidays

Our understanding of consumer behavior and intent was upended when Coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions took business-as-usual and turned it on its head.

The futility of relying on customer data from previous years became crystal clear.

Faced with sweeping changes in consumer behavior and preferences, brands were forced to pivot (and in many cases, to completely reinvent themselves) and make changes in mere weeks that may have been planned months or years ahead.

This past year was one of blind leaps of faith for many organizations. The upcoming holiday season promises to be less tumultuous, as increasing vaccination rates and the reopening of the economy have many consumers craving a return to real-world shopping experiences.

Even so, we’re unlikely to see a return to “business as usual.” COVID-19 has changed the retail landscape, and the jury is still out as to which consumer trends are here to stay.

In the face of this ongoing uncertainty, search engine optimization (SEO) and the data it provides have become as close an approximation of the real-time voice of the customer as businesses can get. Google alone handles an estimated 5.6 billion search queries per day and each one can help inform our understanding of what the consumer needs, wants, and is trying to find. 

As marketers it is critical to keep ahead of these trends and while many marketers look one step ahead in the travel season, the retail holiday season is approaching fast. How can you put that information to the best possible use? 

Five ways to harness SEO for holiday season success

1. Tune in to emerging trends in retail. Look to search data insights to keep you abreast of trending product categories and the queries associated with them. Take a look at information sources such as Rising Retail Categories and business intelligence sources to build up your insights stack.

2. Use local SEO to drive online-to-offline traffic to stores. Local SEO is essential for small businesses and brands alike looking to compete at the local level. A properly optimized Google My Business profile, local reviews strategy, local link building, and high-quality photos and video can all help support a robust local search presence.

3. Power personalized real-time offers and promotions with AI. Applying search intelligence after the fact is a missed opportunity. Sure, you’ll know what customers were searching for last month but how can you meet the needs of customers who are on-site right now looking to fulfill a need? Now, AI-powered platforms are enabling not only real-time search data analysis but optimizations that deliver personalized content, product recommendations, and offers in the moment.

4. Fuel DOOH campaigns with localized product/service insight. Digital out-of-home advertising will be a great opportunity to get in front of customers who are sick of being stuck at home and out browsing this holiday season. Use your own first-party search insights to determine which products/services are most in demand and what problems customers are trying to solve with them as you plan holiday campaigns. You might find that these insights vary by region or location and can tailor your messaging accordingly.

5. Use PPC to support SEO & vice versa for best performance in each channel. A recent study shows a widespread lack of confidence in the efficacy of local marketing strategies, alongside largely stagnant local marketing budgets for 2021 (over 49% plan to keep the budget the same this year as last).

Once again, every marketing dollar is precious. Retailers should approach SEO and PPC with a two-pronged approach designed to ensure maximum visibility on relevant local searches with as little cannibalization as possible. After all, there’s no point paying for a Google Ads click where you’re already ranking #1 in the organic listings for that query. Instead, focus on using PPC to fill gaps where organic is not yet performing, and use SEO data for laser-focused paid campaigns.

Holiday season 2021 creates a fantastic opportunity for proactive retailers

Positioning search centrally in your marketing organization will put you in a good position to make use of its myriad insights this holiday season. Consider SEO data your voice of customer; the expressed interests of your most valuable prospects.

Staying ahead of changing consumer trends and behavior in the future isn’t a matter of using just technology. It’s also a shift in mindset — a commitment to listening in real-time and deploying those insights in real-time optimizations and cross-channel campaigns.

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