Search Engine Marketing Goes Back To School

The back-to-school season is hot on our heels. According to the National Retail Federation, this is the second largest shopping season of the year. In 2006, the NRF reported 42% of respondents began shopping three to four weeks before school started, and 15% of transactions occurred online. Last year, the back-to-school season generated an estimated $17.6 billion in total spending. So, how should paid search advertisers prepare and adjust to maximize their ROI during this impending seasonal peak?

Many large retailers plan their budgets quarterly or annually and often find themselves forecasted short of the maximum potential. More consumers are comfortable completing transactions online and enjoy the ease of no-hassle shopping -- no waiting in long lines, fast and easy price comparisons, no need to take the kids along -- the list of benefits goes on and on.

There are several great ways to take advantage of the back-to-school season. The right approach is to be ready early and to plan a comprehensive strategy that maximizes your SEM campaign's potential.



Your strategy should begin with your offer. Free shipping is a great offer for the back-to-school season. Just think about the average order of a back-to-chool shopper: the NRF reported the average spend per buyer in the 2006 season was $662.70. Free shipping will be an attractive offer to consumers purchasing multiple items online.

The next step is assessing the competitive landscape in the search results pages. If all of your competitors are using a Free Shipping offer in their ad copy, then it may or may not work to promote it in your own ads. It may be better to utilize the limited character space to make your ad stand out from the rest of the landscape. You should rotate two versions of copy, with and without it, to see how searchers interact with them both. Regardless of whether or not you move forward with the offer in the ad copy, the offer should be prominent on the landing page.

The final step is to monitor your conversion rates, average order values and gross sales from your search engine marketing campaign daily and adjust daily. Most online retailers should expect to see an uptick in mid-July, but monitoring performance closely is the key to maximizing sales. Watch for changes in competitor campaigns and trends in performance, and seize opportunities to ensure a successful back-to-school season.

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