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Editor’s Note: This post is from Search Engine Journal’s new ebook A Complete Guide to Holiday Marketing. In this ebook, you will discover proven marketing strategies that will help you boost your holiday sales. Want your copy now? Download it here or scroll to the bottom of this post for more details.


I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer because it’s time to get ready for the holidays.

Those of you who have been at this SEO thing for a while will know, everything takes time and you even when you’ve done your job … the engines still have theirs.

Crawl. Index. Rank. Tweak. Crawl. Index. Rank. Tweak.

You get the idea.

In Some Ways… It’s Already Too Late

Realistically it’s already too late for some of you. At least … to get done some of the bigger jobs.

If you wanted to have a new site rolled out but haven’t started yet – unless you’ve got a fairly simple site or an incredible developer who either owes you a favor or who you’re paying extremely well, it may be too late.

If you want to rank for some big terms and haven’t been getting all the link building you need in place to support it … it’s almost certainly too late.

In Other Ways, It’s Never Too Late

Thankfully, there are always opportunities if you know where to look.

Regardless of the time you have left, you can do things that can have an impact

Heck, there are things we’ll talk about that you could do on the day before Black Friday and impact your sales on that day.

So let’s jump right in.

We’re going to divide this piece into three sections. Each section will contain my favorite technique for short-and-mid-range traffic improvements.

We’re going to talk about:

  • Getting rankings
  • Improving your CTR
  • Taking advantage of the SERPs

Getting Rankings

Getting rankings in the kind of timeframes we’re talking about here starts with being realistic.

Understand what your site is capable of with the time you have, and target that.

Trends Are Friends

Ask not what your market would look for… ask what those giving them gifts would.

It’s critical to understand that how parents, relatives, employers, etc. might search for a gift is very different than the person who receives it.

Let’s look at what I imagine the trends tell us about the release of the second-best-selling game last holiday season (and my personal favorite – thus making it the example I’m using) – “Call Of Duty Black Ops 4”.

Now, I’d just look for the game itself but then… I’m buying it, not thinking of it as a gift for my kids. When they asked for a game in their teens I was far more represented by this trend:

Google Trends Black Ops 4 Rating

Of course, we’re often in a spot where we don’t know what the phrases are that would produce a trend like this.

Enter Google’s Keyword Planner or a tool that pulls trend data from it.

There is definitely some trial and error.

You can also use other tools (e.g., SEMrush or BuzzSumo) to inspire ideas.

But a zero-cost solution is to simply start with your top-level focus (video games in this case) and run the query in the planner and look for keywords that spike in December (many will have a lift in November for Black Friday).

Google Ads Keyword Plan Best Video Games

We hopefully want to find ones that crash immediately afterward to reassure us that it is indeed gift-givers searching.

You can then take ones that are of interest and, after running your difficulty assessment, determine which to focus on.

Because the average monthly volume reported in Keyword Planner is lowered by the reduced interest though the rest of the year, I tend to find these terms are often less competitive in both organic and paid search than they are worth, provided that the content matches the intent.

If you remember who you are targeting and serve them the content they are looking for answering the query with content that answers questions like (in the example above):

  • What is the rating?
  • What does the rating mean?

And, if they aren’t OK with their kid playing that:

  • What are some great alternatives that hit the mark on gameplay and type but would be more suitable?

In this example, I’d visit some of the parent forums discussing games and read what they’re saying, they’re asking, and suggestions they’re making.

Do this and you’ve found some great keyword/content targets that are worth more than their difficulty would suggest.

I would also suggest running this query for popular products (bo4, red dead redemption 2, etc. in this example).

Collect a full pool of holiday queries and determine which, by competition, will make good SEO and PPC targets.

Improving CTR

Why do you want to rank?

Do you like bragging to all your friends about all those Page 1 rankings you have for obscure terms that nobody searches?

Or do you like cashing the checks that the rankings for the money phrases produce?

If you were going to make more money in position 21 than you would make from position 1… would you still target position 1?

Of course not.

Capitalize on Your Capital

This may seem obvious, but I see it missed more than not in a “can’t see the forest through the trees” kind of way.

Those internet marketers who have even the slightest experience in PPC will know, subtle changes to titles and descriptions can have a dramatic impact.

Let’s just take a quick look at:

Capitalize on your capital

Unfortunately, I can’t show the actual ads without violating trust, but I assure you, these two ads are very very similar.

But look at that CTR difference. Despite being extremely similar, one has a dramatically higher CTR and even more conversions.

This phenomenon obviously isn’t restricted to PPC. People are drawn to click on specific words, ordered in specific ways, presented at a specific time.

So, start testing various title and description permutations. Very subtle differences can have a large impact, so you may need to rotate through a few to find great combinations.

I can’t recommend enough – if you have the resource, deploy a paid search campaign to speed up the testing. Create an ad group for all the terms that the title and description you want to test would appear for and let the users tell you what works best.

Obviously, there are some formatting and position differences, but you can mine some gold very quickly.

And even if you don’t have a paid search budget, paid search can be your friend.

In almost every sector there is at least one company that puts huge money into paid search and spends a lot of time on click and conversion optimization. Be inspired by them.

Look up their ads and if you can, use a tool like SEMrush or SpyFu to review ads they’ve used over periods of time (and thus are likely successful) and test your own take on it.

In the example above, the better performing ad has a 50.06% higher CTR and organically would deliver that much more traffic at the same price (free).

How long would it take you to increase your traffic by over 50% if you were focused just on rankings at your current click-through rate?

I’m betting a lot longer than running a few simple tests.

Take Advantage of What You’re Being Shown

The constant changes to the SERP layouts are a curse and a blessing.

We all complain because we’re losing clicks but here are three simple facts:

  • It’s happening and it’s the engine’s page so… yeah.
  • If you’re a publisher or need ad revenue, this is a genuine problem. If you’re selling products, the user will generally visit a site for the final purchase and only use non-click info (think featured snippets) for research. So, it’s branding and while you can’t sell your products from the SERP itself (in most cases), you can get in front of the buyers.
  • Someone must provide the non-click info. You can complain that you won’t get the click and give the branding opportunity to your competitors, or focus on what you can have and move on. If I have a client in your space, I thank you if you pick the former option.

So, assuming you want to take advantage of all the SERP features the engines are making available to you, how do you do that?

I’m going to first note that there are all sorts of areas one can target and I covered them all in a different article here.

What I want to stress here is the speed, and for perhaps the first time I’m not talking about your site.

After the launch of the HowTo and FAQ schema, I started toying around with different iterations to see how long they took to pick up and what their impact was on click-throughs.

I had a client with a site ranking for an important ongoing event happening in their area. After adding the FAQ schema, the page almost doubled in traffic and received 14% more impressions.

For clarity, prior to adding the schema and having the info clearly available in the drop-downs on the SERP page the user would have had to click but now they could get the core info without leaving Google. But they did.

The trick is to use the structures themselves to your advantage but in a way that serves the user and the engine.

I’ve seen featured snippet lists that start from 10 rather than 1 and list in descending order. The advantage is, #1 does not appear without clicking BUT the user will know if that list matches their query and preferences. Google served, user served and click attained.

In the FAQ example I referenced above, we simply illustrate some critical answers to questions and via links coded into the FAQ schema itself as well as providing great information, we’ve drawn them to seeking more. Everyone served well.

The timeline for deployment is incredibly short.

When we built the schema into the FAQ page, we requested indexing via Search Console and within about 5 minutes the SERP changed to include the FAQ drop-downs.

This will, of course, vary by site, but it’s fast.

So Wait!

So, don’t do it now.

I know. It’s counter-intuitive.

I would suggest running some tests on the schema that applies to you on pages/queries with little traffic and off the radar.

Basically, make sure you know how the SERP element you’re trying to work and the timelines to appear.

Next, you simply create all the code/videos/etc. that you’re going to need and hold on to it.

Set a reminder for one week before you need it ranking to give you time to react if something doesn’t work quite right and when that reminder goes off, deploy it all and if it’s on your site – request indexing via Search Console.

Now – you’re probably going to miss some things because you waited. A few elements that didn’t work quite right. So why would you wait?

Because if you don’t some jerk like me is going to be doing their research into competitors and how to outrank then, notice what you’re doing and try to replace you.

So, don’t give me/them time.

I do recommend running a quick test perhaps a week before you’ll be deploying it and make sure you’re techniques still work and adjust accordingly.

You’ll also be able to take advantage of knowing if there are new pages ranking on the first page of the results that make good candidates for the type of content you’re deploying and that you may not have known about as you read this article now, and create the content for those.

And Happy Holidays!

Now, it’s time to get going.

SEO isn’t your only ‘To Do’ this holiday season. There’s social, paid and … oh right … selling to your customers!

So get your organic ready now to leave flexibility to handle all the other things to come.

And keep reading SEJ so you’re updated about more changes in schema, SERP layouts and the algorithm updates that occur between reading this and singing.

Get SEJ’s Complete Guide to Holiday Marketing Now!

Ready to capitalize on the most profitable time of the year?

Search Engine Journal’s ebook, A Complete Guide to Holiday Marketing, covers actionable tactics to help your business execute a successful holiday marketing strategy.

Download it here.

In partnership with WordStream, we created this ebook to help businesses and marketers create holiday marketing campaigns that stand out and drive revenue.

(And, while there’s always a strong focus on Q4 holidays, we’ll also show you other holidays throughout the year that you should start paying attention to.)

A Complete Guide to Holiday Marketing is divided into nine value-packed chapters written by some of the top digital marketing experts today.

  • Chapter 1: SEO for the Holidays: 2019 Edition
  • Chapter 2: Your Holiday Marketing Campaign Checklist: 6 Essentials
  • Chapter 3: How to Optimize Local SEO During the Holidays
  • Chapter 4: Holiday PPC Strategy: 11 Steps to Drive Greater Profit in the Holiday Season
  • Chapter 5: 10 Email Marketing Tips to Boost Holiday Sales
  • Chapter 6: Top Holiday Social Media Campaign Ideas to Try
  • Chapter 7: Creative Ideas to Work with Influencers This Holiday
  • Chapter 8: How to Create a Holiday Content Strategy
  • Chapter 9: The Ultimate Holiday Marketing Calendar for 2020 [Template]

EXPERT AUTHORS INCLUDE: Amy Bishop, Anna Crowe, Dave Davies, Jessica Foster, Sergey Grybniak, Kristopher Jones, Jeremy Knauff, Mandi Moshay, and Ashley Ward.

Make the upcoming holidays your most successful yet with the help of A Complete Guide to Holiday Marketing.

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