SEO: Prepare Now for 2016 Holiday
Analyze 2015’s holiday search marketing performance before you do anything in 2016.
Search engine optimization attempts to improve past organic search performance. You must know how your site performed this year before you can optimize anything in 2016. You may have theories about what was supposed to happen based on plans that were made during the year, or launches of new products and initiatives that were supposed to be strong traffic drivers. You may have assumptions that SEO mirrored the overall performance of the site.
Do not act on theories and assumptions. Always analyze first. And analyze now, before you forget the nuances of campaign strategy, the online and offline channels that supported it, and when different aspects launched and ended.
You must know how your site performed this year before you can optimize anything in 2016.
This may sound like obvious advice. Who would optimize without analysis? Well, many marketers do just that. That’s how assumptions and beliefs work: They color your judgment and you’re not even aware of it.
Play devil’s advocate with your beliefs. Try to disprove the results you expect to find. If you can do that, you’re ready to start 2016 with an analytical, skeptical SEO outlook.
SEO Performance: Strengths and Weaknesses
It’s tempting just to analyze the positive aspects of performance, or to put a positive spin on the negative aspects. We are marketers, after all. Fight the urge.
Honest analysis of underperforming areas will usually give you much more insight than highlighting the winning aspects. Note the areas that performed well so you can reproduce them. But spend more time focusing on what didn’t work so that you can optimize for greater success.
Gather as much data about performance as you can. Start with Google Search Console — formerly Google Webmaster Tools — because the data there will only be available for the last 90 days. If you download the top keywords and top pages data on January 4, for example, you’ll only have a view back to October. Every day you wait is another day’s worth of data lost. See “Essential SEO Data, to Manage Performance” for more on the different types of data you need to optimize your site for organic search.
Honest analysis of underperforming areas will usually give you much more insight than highlighting the winning aspects.
Be certain to analyze keywords and organic search entry pages — those pages at which searchers entered your site. Keyword data hasn’t been reliable for a couple of years, since most sites see around 90 percent of their keyword data as “not provided.” However, comparing entry page data with keyword data, especially in Google Search Console where keyword data is supposedly more accurate for Google searches at least, can give you a more complete picture of which content was most successful and which phrases searchers used to find it.
When analyzing your wealth of data, be certain to compare year over year rather than month over month. It’s tempting, especially in the holiday season, to dwell on the increasing monthly trend. Looking solely at monthly — or weekly or daily — changes in performance hides true seasonal performance trends. What looks like a fantastic month may actually be a decrease from the performance driven in years past.
‘Gifting’ and SEO
If your site does not primarily sell gifts, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience a huge amount of success over holidays for “gift” keywords. Even if you have gift sets or sell products that may be given as gifts, the sites that sell gifts all year and target their entire SEO strategy toward gifting keywords are more than likely going to continue to dominate the rankings.
Using “gifts for her” keywords on a new landing page is about as likely to drive strong organic search performance as offering a single new book on your site and expecting to rank better than Amazon and Barnes & Noble for “books.”
By all means, use gifting keywords in conjunction with your seasonal gifting promotional pages. But be certain that your marketing team understands that SEO is not likely to be a strong performance driver for that promotion.
If this was a key strategy for holiday 2015, make sure to analyze its performance carefully so that you can report on its effectiveness for SEO. And note that this is an assumption that I’m making based on past history with many ecommerce sites. Using my own advice above, I would absolutely analyze the effectiveness of gifting and attempt to prove myself wrong using the data.
Archiving Pages for Future Holidays
Search engines factor a URL’s age into authority, and authority is one of the most important keys to SEO performance. Creating a brand new page for holiday content each year means that your most important promotions of the year have to start all over again without any previously acquired authority. That’s hard work
Archive your landing pages for your important seasonal periods and refresh the same page year after year. The links and shares those pages acquire one year will benefit the page’s performance the next year instead of being lost.
Search engines factor a URL’s age into authority, and authority is one of the most important keys to SEO performance.
Archiving sounds simple, but it requires two critical elements that developers and marketers typically do not want to do: The URL cannot change, and the content must be linked to consistently, even when the holiday is over.
If the new holiday page has a different URL than the last holiday page, the page is different. Even if it uses the same template or has the same design, as soon as that URL changes, it’s a new page.
For example, your holiday page this year may have been Site.com/holiday. Next year it also needs to be Site.com/holiday, not Site.com/holiday-2016 or Site.com/holidays. If you had the year in your URL this year, such as Site.com/holiday-2015, change the URL now to Site.com/holiday and ask your developers to 301 redirect Site.com/holiday-2015 to Site.com/holiday. Doing the 301 redirect now will pass the authority from Site.com/holiday-2015 to Site.com/holiday, and ensure that the page has had months to show its trustworthiness before it’s needed again.
The holiday or other seasonal pages you want to drive performance each year must be linked to somehow — they cannot be orphaned without links, as search engines cannot access them. Think of it like the oxygen line to a deep-sea diver. That thin tube delivers the oxygen mix that the diver requires to stay alive. The link to currently unused seasonal content pages is the lifeline that keeps their authority alive and ready to spring into use next season.
You need just a single link from somewhere on your site. It could be a link from an HTML sitemap to a “past promotions” page, which in turn links to all of your seasonal content. It’s unlikely that shoppers would stumble onto these pages, but they’re still accessible to search engines through the lifeline link.
The pages themselves would look and act like normal pages with the same navigational template. But the pages would be stripped of their promotional product content, such as sale prices and product details. You don’t want shoppers to think they can still buy last year’s Cyber Monday deals in April.
A small amount of holiday text should be included on the page so that it isn’t blank, and so that it has some relevance to the holiday it’s promoting. Just three or four sentences talking about your brand and your relevance to the holiday is all that is needed to keep the page in hibernation safely until it’s needed again.
In the same way that some sites have humorous 404 error pages, for example, you could also choose to make the text on the hibernating page funny. Include a short video, or whatever is in keeping with your brand and will delight the tiny number of customers who actually find themselves on the page accidentally.
A small amount of holiday text should be included on the page so that it isn’t blank, and so that it has some relevance to the holiday it’s promoting.
Monitor the performance of the hibernating holiday pages throughout the year to make sure that one doesn’t accidentally begin rankings for promotional or special keywords. If they do happen to start ranking, change the text to remove the keywords they’re ranking for, and to play up the seasonality of the page more. Just don’t panic and remove the page from the index or you’ll undo all the benefit of archiving that page for next holiday’s benefit.
For example, if your Cyber Monday page starts driving traffic in April, look at the keywords it’s performing on and remove those. It is likely an accidental combination of high authority due to the high number of links from deals sites and an accidental combination of text on the page that mimics something more searchers are searching for. You can likely take care of the problem by adding more instances of “Cyber Monday” and “November” keywords, and lowering the instances of the keywords “coupons,” “deals,” or “specials” that occur without “Cyber Monday” and “November.”