Clinic notes: Ecommerce holiday playbook wrap-up


Editor’s note: Anyone involved in eretailing should know ecommerce analyst Linda Bustos. The driving force behind the award-winning GetElastic blog, Linda is also a MarketingExperiments certified optimization professional and knows our methodology inside-out. So we were delighted to have Linda as a featured guest on our ecommerce clinic and now on our blog, with her wrap-up and takeaway tactics from the session.

Just as shoppers often wait until the last minute to finish their holiday shopping, often online retailers find themselves behind on their holiday optimization.

Procrastinators need to implement ideas that don’t involve long lead times for design, development or approvals. In the Ecommerce Holiday Playbook for Procrastinators web clinic, we shared tips and tactics that online retailers can implement in as little as five minutes to make the most out of the “most wonderful (selling) time of the year.”

The 5 areas covered were:

  • SEM (Search engine optimization and paid search)
  • Shopping engines
  • Email
  • Landing pages
  • Post-holiday (ring in the New Year!)

1. Search Engine Marketing

  • SEO: Add value propositions in meta descriptions and page title tags to increase clickthroughs

using value propositions in SEO tags

If you’re familiar with the MarketingExperiments Conversion Sequence, you’re well versed in the importance of value propositions. They are the key to success in any optimization effort. Are you leveraging your value propositions at every marketing touch point?

If it’s true that 80% of web sales begin with a search engine query, it’s important that you sell yourself in your search listings, whether they be organic results or pay per click. Are you communicating why someone should click on your link, instead of anyone else’s? What is it about your store that is unique?

Make sure searchers can see in your title tags and your meta descriptions what it is that makes shopping with you the best choice.

  • PPC: Bid on relevant holiday keywords, such as …


People are not just searching for products, they are searching for ideas. It’s quick and easy to set up a holiday Ad Group or groups targeted to gifts and gift ideas for different holidays and recipients. Then flip the switch December 26th for after-Christmas sales. Last year Google Trends, which tracks the most popular searches of the day, exploded with searches for after Christmas sales.

2. Shopping Engines

  • Add free shipping, value proposition
  • Plan for increased bids during holiday period
  • Know when to turn down your bids (after shipping cutoff)
  • Sanity check data-feed accuracy
  • Pull non-holiday categories if budget is a concern

We know that shoppers use search engines to hunt for gifts, and often their searches direct them to a comparison shopping engine like Google Products,, BizRate, PriceGrabber etc. Shopping Engine Optimization is the “other other” SEO, and is also called Data Feed Optimization.

Data feeds are the way merchants provide their catalog information to these sites, and the information you include in your data feeds may vary from engine to engine. Some engines allow you to add shipping offers or other value propositions in extra fields. So it’s important that your feeds are tailored to each engine and really take advantage of your options.

On the strategic side, you should also be planning for increased bids to remain competitive. Holiday click prices are often higher than the rest of the year. While you don’t have to increase bids, depending on what other retailers are doing you may have to to keep appearing high enough in results, and it also provides you with a slight advantage if your competitors don’t turn up their bids.

Don’t forget to turn down your bids after your shipping cutoff date. This is different for every retailer, so make sure you have a process to do this.

And make sure your data feeds are accurate – that you’re not listing out of stock product, pre-orders, backorders and non-holiday items, especially when you’re working with a set budget and you’re spending more per click. It may make sense to remove categories that are typically not gifted to others (like computer cables if you’re an electronics store) temporarily for the holiday season.

3. Email

Stress the benefits of online shopping in your subject lines, including:

  • Save time
  • Save gas
  • Avoid lines
  • More selection
  • Hard to find items
  • Gift finder tools

Some of my favorite examples from last year are (emphasis mine):

Easy-to-Make Holiday Cards. We’ll Mail Them.
Avoid the Rush! Get Your Gifts Now, Save $15 & Pay NO Shipping!
Avoid the crowds – Shop from Home and get Free Shipping
The Gift Guide Is Here: The Best Gifts at Even Better Prices
Email Exclusive Free Shipping, No Threshold. Today Only!

Holiday time is both great and gruesome for sending retail email. On one hand, when you deploy retail email you hope that the recipient is interested in shopping that week. During the holidays, you’re nearly guaranteed that he or she is. However, you are also competing for attention against any other retailer that the subscriber has opted in to.

Like Dr. Flint McGlaughlin says, the goal of the email is not to sell but to generate interest in visiting your site. The offer and the creative is important here, but before one sees your email message, they must be persuaded to open your message. Subject lines matter!

Remember that we as ecommerce marketers want customers to use the online channel to shop. It’s great if you have local stores that may still benefit from your demand generation, and converting online can be attributed back to which campaign and email version referred the visit. This gives you better insight into what is and isn’t working. So may I suggest that you really communicate the benefits of shopping online, as well as shopping from you. The above examples do that.

4. Landing Pages

Address the FUDs (Fears, Uncertainties and Doubts, or, Anxiety)

  • Clear link to gift guide (create new category if needed)
  • Clear link to store locator
  • Clear shipping cutoff link
  • Shipping policies, return policies, countries ship to
  • Customer service number (every page is a landing page)
  • Promote e-gift cards (never too late!)

Just as important as driving traffic is having an optimized website prepared to convert it.

If you already have a gift guide feature, make sure you’re flaunting it — not just in navigation as a text link that blends in with the rest of the links, but clearly on your homepage and on product/landing pages.

Have a clear link to your store locator if you have offline stores. It’s fine to have it subtle the rest of the year in the header or footer menu, but around the holidays – especially after your shipping cutoff date — this deserves more prominence.

Customers want to know what your hours of operation are and even telephone numbers, so make sure that info is on your store locator page.

Shipping cutoff information is also very important. Many retailers do put this information front and center on the homepage. I recommend you show it on every page, because every page is a potential landing page. Don’t assume everyone starts at the homepage and absorbs your messaging and remembers all your details (research shows that’s often not the case).

Ditto for links to return policies and shipping policies, including countries you ship to. Even if your shopper is in the US, they may be shipping overseas.

Don’t forget customer service numbers on every page of your site and every step of the checkout process.

And if you do offer electronic gift cards which can be sent instantly, this is important to showcase – especially after your shipping cutoff.

5. Post-holiday

Post shipping cutoff strategies include promoting gift cards, any in-store pick up options and even gift notifications sent immediately to gift recipients, letting them know they weren’t forgotten but that their gift may arrive a bit after the holiday.

For example, is a service for merchants to offer such messages.

Last holiday, Musician’s Friend offered a $20 comeback coupon for the gift buyer, which is a great incentive to come back and purchase again during the typically slow month of January.

Finally, though we are really close to the holiday, it’s not too late to think about your merchandising for post-holiday. Popular approaches include showcasing items for New Year parties…

…and New Year resolutions – like’s emphasis on products to help you lose weight, stop smoking, get fit, look your best, go green or be healthy.

For more ecommerce tips, tactics, ideas and research, be sure to visit (and bookmark) the excellent GetElastic blog.

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