SEO: Is Your Site Holiday-ready?

Those of you with school-age children may have been preoccupied with back-to-school, but now it’s time to start preparing your site for the holidays. The holiday shopping season is not that far off, so get on with implementing these traffic-building tips in order to achieve maximum search engine visibility.

Build Your Links

By acquiring a handful of links from high PageRank-endowed relevant sites, you will automatically enhance your site’s worthiness in the eyes of the search engines. (PageRank is, on a logarithmic scale of 0 to 10, Google’s importance score.) In my experience, a single link from a PageRank 8 homepage has significantly boosted rankings within several weeks. It’s also worthwhile giving attention to existing inbound links where the anchor text is less than ideal (e.g. “click here” or “visit site”). If you can influence the text used in links by bloggers and business partners alike, you will profit in terms of additional rankings and traffic. Don’t forget to build your links slowly or you may raise red flags with Google and Yahoo!

Participate in the Blogosphere

Leverage the power of blogs for SEO. It’s a great way to positively impact your site’s traffic and readership. One key to success when blogging is to write posts frequently so that you have very few “gaps” in time. A great time management technique is to load in prewritten, post-dated blog content into your blog software, such as WordPress, so that all of your blog posts aren’t clumped together.

Spend as much time commenting on the blogs of important bloggers in your industry as you spend writing for your own blog. That will help get you on the radar screen of these influencers. You can also generate positive buzz in the blogosphere by sending free product samples or review copies to these bloggers with “no strings attached” — it’s a bad idea to try to buy bloggers off by sending them useless kitsch. Remember that bloggers can wreak havoc on reputations, so tread carefully.

If you don’t have time to blog yourself, you could try recruiting passionate customers as blog authors and run a group blog.

Re-Organize Your Internal Links

Your customers probably have different buying habits during the holiday season than they do at any other time of the year. Therefore, it’s common sense that you should modify your internal linking structure to reflect seasonality. Don’t trash your existing site’s navigation, simply augment it with additional links containing keyword-rich anchor text, to create shortcuts that pass PageRank to your popular holiday categories and products. For example, if all of your holiday ornaments are three clicks away from your home page, create a text link on your home page that reads “Christmas ornaments” or “holiday ornaments.” Don’t rely on links on your sitemap page or on footer links to achieve this; such links are less than ideal. Don’t go overboard in your homepage linking. Keep in mind that Google’s Webmaster Guidelines advises you to keep the number of links on a page to fewer than 100.

Escape the Code Freeze

A common IT practice among mid to large size online merchants is to institute a “code freeze,” or site lockdown, during the holiday shopping season to minimize the potential for catastrophic errors and downtime. If your organization institutes a code freeze, you may not be able to make changes to your site for months. This means your on-page SEO effectively stagnates for an entire quarter. It also means you must race against the clock to implement SEO initiatives of any significance; and if you don’t make it in time, you must wait until the new year.

One way around this stress-inducing “time crunch” is to implement a third-party proxy platform. Such a system allows you to implement optimizations to the proxy throughout the holidays, quickly and easily, without impacting your native site.

Perhaps your code freeze still allows you to add static “landing pages” during the holiday season. That’s better than nothing, but remember that it typically takes several weeks for new pages to make it into the search engines — and during the holidays, time is of the essence. So, the sooner you can add links to these new pages, the better.

Wrap Your Gifts

With giveaways like “free gift wrap” and “free shipping” you’ll attract holiday shoppers because you’re providing them with real value. Incorporate powerful messaging (e.g. “free gift wrap,” free shipping”) into your Google snippets by adding them to meta description tags. Since hundreds of thousands of people search for phrases that include “gifts,” you would do well to create a Gift Ideas page, optimize it, and place it one click away from your homepage to maximize its PageRank and give it the best opportunity to rank well.

Another way to “give” during the holiday season is to offer gift certificates for the last-minute shopper. Feature gift certificates prominently on your site and cross-sell them on your “gifts” and “gift ideas” pages to achieve maximum visibility. Start optimizing for gift certificate related search terms through featuring your gift certificates now, not just once the holiday season kicks into full swing.

Stephan Spencer
Stephan Spencer
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