How Retailers Can Optimize Search During The 2011 Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday shopping season is approaching and retailers are eager to implement strategies that will pique consumer attention across all channels. While online search is vital to boosting brand awareness and purchase rates, it becomes more prominent during the month of December. However, new research from Marin Software reveals that more people may start their shopping earlier this year, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming to the forefront. In turn, the spike in search volumes is expected to swell during November, creating increased keyword competition for marketers hoping to optimize search exposure and click-through rates. 

In its report titled “The Online Marketer’s Guide for the Holidays,” Marin Software conducted an analysis of more than 1,000 of its clients. The online advertising management solution provider studied search impressions, click-through rates, and average cost-per-click and revenue-per-click from Nov. 1, 2010, to Dec. 24, 2010, using October as a baseline to compare monthly search traffic. Search volumes boosted 40% in the days leading up to Christmas Eve, followed by a rapid post-holiday decline, according to findings from Google Insights for Search. Results also indicated that companies experienced the largest growth in search volume (+125%) and extreme revenue increases in November.

Matt Lawson, VP of Marketing for Marin Software, shared key findings from the study, as well as top tips retailers can implement to maximize the powers of search during the 2011 holiday season.


Retail TouchPoints: Marin Software’s findings indicate that consumers spent approximately $32.6 billion online during the 2010 holiday season, a 12% increase over 2009. As shoppers grow more comfortable buying online and even via mobile, how vital will a seamless cross-channel experience be for retailers this holiday season?

Matt Lawson: According to Forrester Research, $1.1 trillion worth of retail sales in 2011 will be web-influenced, a number that is rising quickly. As shoppers continue to turn to the web to research gift purchases this holiday season, coordination between online and in-store promotions is more critical than ever. Retailers can use search marketing to create an offline-online experience that is seamless in multiple ways. These include promoting gift cards that can be redeemed in stores, ensuring all store inventory is merchandised on the web site even if it is not sold online, coordinating in-store pickup and returns, and using mobile campaigns to help consumers locate a nearby store.

RTP: Results from Google Insights for Search show a spike in retail search volume from November 1, 2010, to December 24, 2010. In line with these results, how can retailers and/or merchandisers across verticals optimize search to ensure their brands, products and specials are seen?

ML: The most important thing a retailer utilizing search marketing can do is prepare a bidding strategy in advance. This ensures its brands and products are being seen by an optimal number of shoppers. Given that conversion rates rise during the holidays, retailers need to be prepared for greater competition for keywords. By reviewing last year’s revenue-per-click numbers and increasing search bids at key times during the season, smart marketers can stay one step ahead of the competition.

RTP: Can you provide insights on key search trends and why they’re vital to retail success, especially during the competitive holiday season?

ML: The biggest trend we are seeing on a year-over-year basis is the tendency to begin shopping earlier and earlier. In 2010, the spike in search volumes and revenues was far larger and more pronounced for the last week of November than it was in 2009. Shoppers that turned out early drove some of these results, but much of it likely was due to the variety of free shipping offers, discounts and promotions that merchants provide on key days such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday. In turn, it’s important for marketers to have promotions prepared for these days well in advance. For example, this year Amazon launched its Black Friday deals site on November 1 in an effort to capitalize on early shoppers looking for deals.

RTP: Based on research findings, what are the top days during the holiday season for which retailers must plan, and why?

ML: Surprisingly, we saw Cyber Monday — the Monday after Thanksgiving — capture the largest share of conversions of any day in the 2010 holiday season. Black Friday — the Friday after Thanksgiving — came in as a close second. To be honest, this surprised us, given the hype that often surrounds Black Friday. However, since Black Friday technically is a holiday, it’s possible that a larger share of shoppers visited physical stores as opposed to going online.

RTP: What are Marin’s top tips for optimizing search initiatives during the 2011 holiday season? How can retailers extend the reach of promotions and deals across channels and social networks?

ML: In addition to starting early, building a promotional calendar and updating messaging to specifically target gift shoppers, some less obvious recommendations, such as building a “bid boost” schedule, are just as critical to holiday success.

As far as cross-channel recommendations go, our data points to mobile as playing a big part in holiday shopping this year. Today, mobile search accounts for just 7% of paid search spend, yet click-through rates are higher on mobile than on desktop searches. Mobile users often are looking for the immediate gratification of an offer at a nearby location. Building out separate mobile campaigns, targeting users with iPhone- or Android-specific offers and ensuring that you have a well integrated mobile site experience could mean the difference between a window shopper and a buyer this season.

Click here to download Marin Software’s whitepaper titled “The Online Marketer’s Guide for the 2011 Holidays.”

Matt Lawson is Vice President of Marketing for Marin Software, an online advertising management solution provider that offers an integrated platform for managing search, display and social marketing. Follow Marin Software on Twitter via @marinsoftware.



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