Five Last-Minute Must-Dos for Holiday Web Sales

Nov 25, 2009 1:09 AM  By

The holiday season is ramping up fast. E-mail campaigns are doubling their frequency, and Christmas-themed catalogs are weighing down mail carriers across the land.

But have you done enough to ensure your e-commerce site is firing on all cylinders? There’s still time to make continuous improvement to your online presence – right up to your holiday shipping cutoff.

Here are five priorities to jump on at this time of year. They don’t take a lot of time or technical investment, but these are the basic holiday-season tips to help your site perform its best at this critical time.

Deploy an abandoned cart program
Merchants are seeing an uptick in traffic but a decline in conversion rates as consumers shop around for the best deal, search for coupons, or just get cold feet. Cart abandonment rates are always around 50%, and I’ll bet many of us are seeing even worse numbers.

We see across-the-board revenue lifts of 1% to more than 3% for companies that deploy an abandoned cart e-mail program. Cart-recovery systems driven by pop-up windows or instant chat software can be even more effective, because they’re more timely and aggressive.

Vendors such as InstantService chat can integrate abandoned cart programs quickly with most e-commerce sites. And many e-commerce platforms have abandoned cart functionality built in. All you need to do is design and write your message, tag it with tracking links, and start watching the recovered sales roll in.

Get holiday specific on SEO and paid search
Search engine optimization can take months to play out. But even at this late date, you can change your meta description so that your search result will make a holiday-specific call to action, increasing click-through.

On Google, Yahoo and Bing, test-search all the likely variations, misspellings, and contractions of your brand name. Do the same for your core products, especially if they are exclusive, branded items. If you’re not ranking well for any of these terms, buy them on paid search.

Especially this year, many shoppers are modifying their brand-name searches with terms like “coupon,” “discount,” and “promo code.” If you’re not ranking for those searches, do you really want to cede them all to affiliates and rivals?

Build an SEO coupon page on your own site, and compete in paid search for those terms. You probably don’t like the idea of pursuing off-price sales, but you’d rather get the order than not get it – or pay commission to an affiliate if you don’t have to.

Shore up your on-site search
Shopping your own site, viewing it through the eyes of a customer, is vital. Perform holiday-specific searches like “Christmas presents,” “Hanukkah gifts,” “gifts for girlfriend,” “gift for husband,” to ensure your site delivers good, attractive results.

Don’t forget to test all the myriad spelling variations of Hanukkah, misspellings, and expressions like “Xmas.” If you’re an apparel seller, know that many people include sizes and even colors in their searches. If no products show up, manually seed your product database with search keywords (most e-commerce platforms support search terms that are not displayed on the product page.)

Inevitably, some queries still yield zero results. So you should also be sure your no-results page displays a few links to bestselling categories as alternatives.

Set your schedule in stone
Ensure that your home page design changes in sync with the in-home dates of your catalog mailings, so both reflect the same merchandise, creative, “hero shot,” offer, and headlines. Make a clear e-mailing schedule of what you’ll be promoting and what offers you’ll make, right through your after-Christmas sale. The recognition factor is one of the chief benefits of multichannel marketing.

Be absolutely clear about your holiday delivery promises, shipping methods and cut-off dates. Let people know how much more time they have for free ground, or for guaranteed holiday arrival by air. Take a look at L.L. Bean, for instance – they do it very well.

Decorate for the holidays
Are visitors seeing enough red and green when they visit your site? Enough blue and silver on your Hanukkah pages? Get into the seasonal spirit and give your site a holiday makeover.

It’s not just about the product, but the presentation, and the impression it makes on the gift recipient. Testimonials from gift givers and receivers – trumpeting the value and impact of your gifts – are sure winners.

The more snow and wrapped gifts visitors see – the more you tout free gift-wrapping, gift cards and personalization – the better your holiday sales will be.

Tom Funk ( tfunk@timberlineinteractive.com) is vice president of marketing at Website design/development firm Timberline Interactive.