While it might be sunny days and summer nights right now, Black Friday and the holidays will be here before you know it! The end of the year is by far the biggest sales season for the vast majority of ecommerce merchants, and with everyone eager to grab their piece of the sales pie, you’ll need to do everything possible to ensure you come out on top. It isn’t just total sales either, this period can also be hugely beneficial to customer acquisition, which will be extremely valuable to your store well after the holiday season is over.
However, in order to acquire customers and grow your sales, they need to be able to find your store first. Search is one of the biggest channels for brand discovery, but it can take a long time for an SEO strategy to come to fruition. That’s why if you want to make the most of search come the holiday season, you need to start optimizing your store now.
Today, we’re going to look at 4 straightforward tasks you can start today that will make a real impact on your store’s SEO by the time BFCM rolls around.
#1 - Conduct a user experience audit
It’s Black Friday, you’ve seen a new brand is doing a great, time limited offer on something you were looking to buy. You go on to the site…and it takes forever to load. Is it broken? Is it just slow? You really don’t want to miss out, so you start looking at similar brands’ sites to see if they’re running any good offers.
That’s a scenario you really don’t want your customers to go through on BFCM weekend or in the run-up to the holidays. The more that happens, the slower your sales will grow, and the less likely it is that search engines will rank your page. Why? Because it’s a poor user experience.
One of the best things you can do to improve your store’s SEO ahead of BFCM and the holidays is to completely audit and optimize your user experience. If your site loads lightning fast, is easy to use even on mobile, and is simple to navigate, you’ll climb SERPs.
Here are 3 key UX factors you’ll want to consider as part of your audit:
Site speed - This is perhaps the most important thing you can optimize for your store’s experience and its SEO. 70% of customers say that page load times affect their likelihood to buy from a retailer, and speed is a key ranking factor for Google. Using Google’s tools, you can see where your key pages are falling short of speed expectations, and start to make optimizations to improve load times.
- Mobile experience - Did you know that mobile accounts for over 65% of ecommerce traffic? Especially over BFCM and the holidays, consumers want to snap up deals and research ideas quickly, and mobile makes this easy…in theory. If a site has a great mobile experience, 79% of customers will visit it again. Mobile experience also plays into Google’s key ranking factors for user experience, so it’s worth looking into in advance of BFCM.
- Site architecture - This is how search engines understand how your site links up and is navigated. The more straightforward it is, the easier it will be for search crawlers to discover and index your content, and the more likely it will be to rank in SERPs. There are two things you should consider when it comes to architecture. The first is assessing how easy your site is to navigate, and if you find it takes too long for a user to reach your most important pages it’s time to simplify your structure. The second is in considering any changes you may want to make to your primary navigation that could improve the experience for BFCM/holiday shoppers such as a “Gifting” or “Sale” section linked in your primary navigation.
Every time you make a change to your store between now and the holiday season, consider the impact it may have on these factors. For example if you find a new app you want to add to your store, look at if it will cause certain pages to load slower. This will ensure you catch any potential issues that may affect UX and your SEO well in advance of BFCM and the holidays.
#2 - Create or update your landing pages
Landing pages are great tools for showcasing content on your store that you want visitors to pay attention to. They can also act as a valuable hub of information for those with specific needs or intent for visiting your store, such as those looking for BFCM deals or gift ideas.
If you created a landing page last year for BFCM or holiday gifts, then the best thing you can for your SEO is to repurpose and update those rather than create a new one from scratch. That’s because that page will have gained link authority already, making it more likely to rank than a brand new page. In the time leading up to BFCM, you can simply update any dates in line with your planned BFCM sale dates, and have some place-holder content letting customers know that your deals are coming soon. You can also link to current sale collections, should they land on the page looking for a deal. For your holiday landing page, you can update this in a similar fashion, and add your holiday products, bundles, and information closer to the holidays.
If you haven’t had a landing page for BFCM or the holidays previously, then now is the time to create them. As above, you can have placeholder content in the interim and update it closer to the time with the content you plan to have on there. It can take a long time for a page to rank, even if it’s seasonally relevant to search users, so the more you plan ahead the better prepared you’ll be.
#3 - Start promoting gift products throughout your store
While you may not launch specific gift products until later in the year, you can still do a lot to promote your existing gift products so they build authority and recognition in the time between now and the holiday season. This includes things like your gift cards, physical gifting options like wrapping and greeting cards, existing gift bundles, gift subscriptions, and so on.
If you don’t already, it’s worth considering adding a “gifting” section to your primary navigation like we alluded to previously. This gives your gift products and options more weight, and demonstrates clearly to search engines that this is something your store offers.
When it comes time for users to start looking for stores to buy gifts from, it’s then more likely that your store will rank in SERPs as it’s highly relevant to search users. For example, if typically someone might search for “wine subscription” that may change to “wine subscription gift” during the holidays, and if you already have a gift section in your primary navigation then that could give you the edge over a competitor who doesn’t focus on gifting.
Essentially, give your existing gift products greater visibility on your store so that search engine crawlers can determine these are an important part of your catalog. This will help to build authority in the weeks and months building up to the holidays.
#4 - Start a big review push with existing customers
Reviews play a major role in both customer acquisition, and in your store’s SEO. 93% of customers say reviews influence their buying decisions, and just by making reviews more available, they’re more likely to make a purchase. They play an especially important part in how customers choose gifts.
During the holiday season, customers are often purchasing several gifts for different people, all with different tastes and interests. There’s a pretty strong chance that they don’t know the ins and outs of all those interests, so they rely on reviews to guide them toward a good option. Not only that, but if you’re thinking about customers who may discover your brand over BFCM, then they’ll be less familiar with your products but need to make a quick decision given the time-limited nature of the event. This means they may rely on reviews to choose between you and a competitor.
The role reviews play in the customer experience also impacts SEO and search ranking. It helps search engines determine whether or not a page is worthwhile to their users. After all, lots of poor reviews aren’t going to boost ranking even if the page is technically optimized for SEO. On-site reviews can also be added to your store’s structured markup. This is code which tells Google more information about the page at hand, such as pricing, availability, and of course, reviews. This then may show up in search results as a star rating, which can catch the attention of search users.
That’s why you need to make a push for reviews in the run up to BFCM and the holiday season. That being said, you can’t rely just on on-site reviews - you also need to push for Google reviews. On-site reviews can be manipulated, for example you can easily hide a negative review on your own website whereas you can't delete a negative review on Google without good reason. Set up automated email campaigns to gather reviews from recent customers, especially those who have purchased gifts. You can target customers based on product purchased, if you want to send more messaging to those who purchased different products. Conduct some A/B testing between Google requests only and on-site only, versus requests for both in the same email, different messaging, incentives etc. Remember that you cannot incentivize for a specifically positive review for Google, as this breaks their terms. i.e. "Leave us a 5 star review on Google and get a $10 gift card!" would be against the rules.
BFCM and the holidays are huge opportunities for your store, however in order to make the most of them, your target audience needs to first discover your brand. By starting your SEO prep well in advance, you can set your store up for success.