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Ramping Up Your Holiday Pay-Per-Click Advertising

The holidays are coming. For many online merchants, this means dramatically increased revenue and conversion rates. Start ramping up for holiday pay-per-click advertising now to ensure that you maximize your profits — and build momentum for 2012.

Below I’ve provided six tips that should be part of your PPC ramp-up.

Tip 1: Focus on Top Ads in Google AdWords

In July I wrote “For Google AdWords, It Pays to be on Top,” my take on Google’s new “top vs. side” segmentation report, which quantified the impact of bidding your PPC ads to the top of the page. According to the data I reviewed in that article, PPC ads garnered up to 25 times the click-through rate when they showed at the top of the page — versus at the side — in addition to a significantly higher conversion rate.

In preparation for the holidays, identify both top performing and high-potential keywords, and use analytics and conversion testing to maximize conversion rates for their target landing pages. The better your conversion rate, the more you can afford to bid per click. Consider an aggressive bidding strategy that leverages your high converting keywords and landing pages to push your ads to the top in a way that maximizes your traffic, revenue, and profits.

Since my article in July, Google released a new metric to help bid your ads to the top of the page. The “estimated top page bid” metric — which I described on my blog — provides insight into how aggressively you’ll need to scale your bids to secure a top-of-page placement.

Tip 2: A/B Split Your PPC Ad Copy

Test your ad copy to find the right recipe that maximizes your click-through rate without compromising your conversion rate. All things equal, the higher your click-through rate relative to your competitors, the less you’ll have to pay per click while securing the same or better position among other competing ads.

A PPC approach that leverages A/B split testing can increase your traffic and sales throughout the year, but the benefit intensifies during the holiday season as online sales skyrocket.

To split test not just your ad copy, but also your keywords, bids, ad groups, ads, and placements, check out Google’s AdWords Campaign Experiments (“ACE”), “a tool that allows you to accurately test and measure changes to your keywords, bids, ad groups, ads, placements and more.” Google recently released version 9.5 of its AdWords editor, and it now includes support for ACE.

Tip 3: Build Your Promotional Calendar

Every fourth quarter, Michael Ober, with Yahoo! Small Business, crunches data and then tweets — @mikeober — a link to a calendar that identifies the days he predicts will account for the highest online retail revenue sales. While you wait for Ober to post his analysis, consider doing your own. Review your holiday revenue from 2010, and attempt to predict which days will be your biggest and smallest shopping days this year.

Once you’ve prepared your calendar, map special promotions accordingly. For example on slower days you might consider aggressive price discounts. You’ll want your PPC ads, website messaging, and email campaigns to be coordinated. On bigger days, you might experiment with “gift-with-sale” promotions. Test different offers at different times, and use the data you generate to optimize future promotions.

Here are some important 2011 holiday-sales dates to remember:

  • November 25: Black Friday;
  • November 28: Cyber Monday;
  • December 11 and 12: Possibly the biggest shopping days of the year;
  • December 19: Last minute shopping day.

By building your promotional calendar, you can ensure that your campaigns are coordinated, and that continuity will result in higher conversion rates.

Tip 4: Start Creating Your Email Campaign Triggers Now

Don’t wait until 2012 to use email marketing to generate repeat sales from your customers. Start immediately. Email “triggers” — which are sent automatically based on a “triggered” event, such as a sale — can be a great way to quickly increase sales, as revenue from existing customers is often the most profitable. Email triggers come in many forms, such as a campaign that promotes a special offer to customers immediately after they make their first purchase. Begin creating and optimizing your triggers now, and you’ll have a sales machine that can multiply the value of each dollar you spend on PPC marketing.

Tip 5: Play the Trends

Google Trends is a great resource for identifying seasonal products that your PPC campaigns should focus on. For example, take the term “Winter Boots.” According to Google Trends, search demand for this phrase increases reliably in the fourth quarter every year. Begin building your campaigns for hot seasonal terms like this early to optimize your click-through rates and quality scores. By focusing on hot terms now, you can gain a competitive advantage over your competitors that choose to be more reactive than proactive.

Searches for "winter boots" greatly increase during the holiday season, as do other seasonal products.

Searches for "winter boots" greatly increase during the holiday season, as do other seasonal products.

Google Trends is also a great resource to identify hot new products. Take the board game “Scene It,” for example. Years ago a client noticed that its PPC campaign for that phrase was performing pretty well, even though it was not funded with a big budget. A quick Google Trends search confirmed that the product was indeed surging in demand, and as a result, we learned that many stores had already sold-out of this item. Our client quickly placed an order for thousands of additional units, and this one product made for a successful holiday season.

Searches for "Scene It" increased dramatically in late 2004, indicating consumer demand for that new product.

Searches for "Scene It" increased dramatically in late 2004, indicating consumer demand for that new product.

Tip 6: Emergency Procedures

Plan for the unexpected. A rapid increase in holiday traffic puts pressure on web servers. Protect yourself from wasting PPC dollars during a site outage by having a clear policy in place as to how you’ll handle your PPC account if your site goes down or experiences a major failure.


It’s proactive preparation that enables top merchants to produce consistent revenue increases year after year. Don’t wait until November to start ramping-up your PPC and other online marketing efforts. The time to act is now.

Scott Smigler
Scott Smigler
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