Commentary

July's Already Last Minute To Gear Up For Holiday SEM

For most retailers, holiday shopping is undoubtedly the most challenging, competitive, and crucial six weeks (or so) of the entire year. And it's the time when small flaws in your search management can easily turn into serious issues. Which is why, come mid-November, you want to be sure that you have the best search management possible.

I bring this up now because it's July already--and the entire process of transitioning search firms is a long one. First there's your own internal selection process--the due diligence and internal discussion that goes into finding a new search vendor. Once you've transitioned into a new firm, completion of ramp-up could realistically take 12 weeks. Which means you should start thinking now about where you are, if you want to be ready when November comes. To elaborate my point, I'd like to make a comment or two about why the holidays are so competitive in search, and why search ramp-up time can take a while (if you're doing ramp-up the right way).

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If you're in retail, you're familiar with why holiday shopping is so rough. Everybody with anything to sell is working a lot harder to make sales, and that includes stepping up advertising of all kindssearch advertising among them. More advertising means rising advertising costs; more search advertising means rising keyword costs.

There's also a somewhat search-specific phenomenon to consider: Many businesses only operate during holiday shopping. They've decided it isn't worth their spend to be in business any other time of the year, so they invest everything they have into the six weeks when they're most likely to attract customers. Since they don't advertise the rest of the year, they're not around the rest of the year to push up keyword prices. During the holiday season, though, they are around to push prices up--and they do.

Many of these six-weekers are smaller businesses (but collectively can add up to something serious). Others can be larger. Since they're so interested in leanness--they're looking for direct conversions, not branding--they have a strong reason to invest most heavily in search, which captures customers far along in the buy-cycle. And because the six-weekers are only around for that limited period of time, they really need to win: a poor holiday season can seriously hurt most retailers, but a poor holiday season will put these guys out of business. Meanwhile, they've been saving their spend all year while you've been buying in search year-round, which is how some of them can spend more than what a comparable larger business spends in Q1 - Q3 combined.

What I'm saying here is that there's a tremendous amount of search competition to face during the holidays, and not all of it comes from where you would expect. And all the competition pushes keyword prices up. As the keyword prices rise, getting good results becomes increasingly expensive. The only options you have are spending more, or becoming more efficient. Increasing efficiencies--getting the best results from your search spend--includes building out the best keyword list possible, and switching more expensive terms with less expensive ones that drive identical traffic. It also means generating ad copy that attracts searchers who are likely to convert, and that send away the searchers who aren't conversion-likely. And it means developing landing page solutions that drive searchers to stay on your site, and convert while they're there.

Any one of these parameters can take a week, or two weeks, or more to get done perfectly--and this list of ramp-up initiatives is hardly exhaustive. Plus, your new search firm needs time to understand your business and your market, even to accomplish a task as basic (and as crucial) as improving your keyword list. Getting that understanding also takes time.

Since the entire ramp-up process takes a while--and since your internal team needs time to make its own search-management decisions--you should allow real time for search vendor transition. Which is why, if you're in retail, you need to start thinking now about where you want to be this holiday season

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