Voices of Search
A Searchmetrics Podcast
Episode 4, Holiday Preparation

Voices of Search arms SEOs with the latest news and insights they need to navigate the ever changing landscape of Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing. From the heart of Silicon Valley, Searchmetrics’ CEO Jordan Koene delivers actionable insights into using data to navigate the topsy-turvy world now being created by Google, Apple and other search giants.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome back to The Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro. In this podcast were going to discuss the hottest topics and the ever-changing world of search engine optimization.

Ben:                 This podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions.

Ben:                 If you’re looking to understand how you can optimize your content, understand what topics you need to cover, and how to ensure that your writers produce effective posts, go to searchmetrics.com for a free tour of our platform.

Ben:                 Joining us again today is Jordan Koene who is both a world-renowned SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics US. Today we’re going to chat about how to prepare your search and content strategies to have a maximum impact during the holidays.

Ben:                 So, Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:             Thanks Ben. Looking forward to this topic.

Ben:                 Let me just say that right now it is July 31 and I want to be the first one this year to sing Jingle Bells.

Jordan:             This is great coming from a Jewish guy. [Laughing]

Ben:                 Let’s get ready for all of the holidays, not just Christmas, there are multiple holidays and multiple people looking for gifts and all sorts of things related to eCommerce.

Ben:                 So, let’s just dive into the details and hopefully educate some SEO’s on how to get ready for their search strategy because apparently that’s something you need to start thinking about now.

Jordan:             It might actually already be too late. But we’ll start now.

Ben:                 Well hopefully we’re catching people up.

Ben:                 First off let’s just look back in history and talk about some people who have done a historically good job in search during the holidays. Who catches your eye over the holiday times?

Jordan:             Some of the most… First of all let’s start by talking about the segment which is typically commerce retail. These are the guys who are over emphasizing their efforts in search and in trying to be present for that Q4 period, the holiday period, when most of the shopping happens. Some of the most successful businesses that have won during that period, some are no surprise like Amazon. Amazon has historically maintained and kept a holiday section on their site and over the past years has been predominately present not only during the holiday season but throughout the year with their various holiday campaigns. And really I think, in my opinion, it’s just dumb luck that they just kept some content available and when that new holiday comes up, or when the holiday season comes back, they’re just ready and primed to succeed.

Jordan:             And it also means they just have a lot of authority during that time of year because a lot of people are going to Amazon to make their last-minute holiday purchases.

Ben:                 Let me ask you a question about Amazon specifically. Is Amazon doing a great job because Google knows that people are looking for products on Amazon? Or are they doing something specific that raises their profile during the holidays?

Jordan:             It’s both. It’s more of the factor that so many people are expecting to see Amazon so it would be like going to a drug store and there not being a pharmacy. That would be kind of weird. It’s like when 7 Eleven stopped having gas stations, that was kind of weird at first.

Ben:                 7 Eleven had gas stations?

Jordan:             Some of them did.

Ben:                 Really? I had no idea.

Jordan:             I’m pretty sure. Maybe I dreamt that. [Laughing]

Ben:                 Are you thinking of AM/PM?

Jordan:             Maybe it was another one.

Ben:                 Okay

Jordan:             The expectation is that, when you walk into a particular search query, that certain brands are going to appear. And during the holidays Amazon becomes more and more present. We see it every year in our visibility data. Amazon increases in Q4 purely because of expectation. People want to see Amazon during the holiday season. And you just can’t take that out of [crosstalk 00:04:40].

Ben:                 My assumption is that going into the holidays there is a seasonality that Google understands. People are in buy-mode and the pages that Google surfaces are the ones that are most likely to drive that conversion, drive some sort of sale, and so Google just pumps up Amazon to the top of most queries.

Ben:                 I’m assuming they have a rich holiday strategy, but I’m assuming that Google just understands that it’s commerce time.

Jordan:             Yeah. And Google just right… there’s other big brands that have been playing this holiday gift guide or holiday center or holiday portal, for lack of better terminology, game for the last couple of years.

Jordan:             You got Macy’s, you got Target on the retail side.

Ben:                 Your big box retailers.

Jordan:             Your big box retailers, Best Buy has been doing this for the past three or four years. And some of these companies do a great job of maintaining this. Like keeping it live, either adding in rotational holiday events, like throughout the year so all of a sudden Valentine’s Day comes up, they put –

Ben:                 Fourth of July sales for barbecues and TV’s.

Jordan:             Exactly. And they just keep that traction going over time. Now some companies kind of forget and then they delete it, they remove it, and then they lose all their momentum. And I think that’s the real sad story here. I think that one of the first take aways is as an SEO or as an operator of a website that’s trying to be mindful of the holidays, it’s absolutely important to have a persistent and consistent section of your site dedicated to this. If you’re going to want to win during the holiday season, you have to have a holiday section on your site that is maintained, that is relevant, and that is useful.

Ben:                 Good news for everyone who loves the holidays, it’s important for you to keep the holidays going year round and we’ll circle back to that topic.

Ben:                 Who else is doing a good job during the holidays? We got Amazon, the big box companies, sort of the names that you would expect. Who else pops up? Maybe somebody that we wouldn’t be thinking about.

Jordan:             There are the content players that are doing a phenomenal job in this. We’re talking about folks like Esquire, a lot of the big magazines like Cosmopolitan. These online sites are providing their input on what is a good holiday product. And the beautiful thing about the nature of their businesses that they keep this content forever and some of them are becoming incredibly strategic in recycling and maintaining the authority of the previous year’s articles, and then passing that on to the new year’s article because the 2016, 17, 18 holiday, Christmas, whatever top 10, 25, 40 lists can then pass the authority onto 2019.

Ben:                 Are they just 301 redirecting to a new year’s page or technically how does that work? How are they passing that authority?

Jordan:             In most cases what they’re actually doing is they’re creating really useful experiences that say, “hey come over here and take a look at the 2019 year”. So they’re just using that link, a link authority, so they’re passing a link from one article to the next.

Jordan:             In some cases, they are at the turn of the new holiday season, they’re deprecating and redirecting, but they wait until that new holiday season comes. There’s a variety of different ways to slice this. The one thing to keep in mind though, is you cannot just remove when the holiday season’s done. That’s the biggest mistake most companies make whether you’re in the content space, you’re in the media space, or you’re in retail, the eCommerce space. The biggest mistake most SEO’s, webmasters, businesses make is they think it’s done because the holiday season’s over.

Ben:                 What’s the difference between a Christmas tree and a holiday focused webpage? And the answer is, one of them you get down as quickly as you possibly can after the holiday, and the other one you want to leave up all year long.

Jordan:             Exactly. You got it.

Ben:                 So, let’s talk about how far in advance you need to plan for the holidays. Obviously if you have some older pages you want to leave those up and try to take as much link juice as you can and pass it along, but how long does it take to prep for the holidays?

Jordan:             In my opinion it actually takes quite a while and it’s something you want to be thinking about in sporadic little periods throughout the year.

Jordan:             The first one is obviously once that holiday season is over, what do we want to maintain, what do we want to keep? Right so going through that kind of assessment or content audit is critical once that season is over.

Jordan:             The next phase starts to come into the beginning of the year when you’re actually starting to think about what worked and what didn’t work. So how do we want to focus on the holiday season going into this new year? Are there certain pieces of content or inventory that we want to prioritize as we go into this year? This is really a game of both looking at optimization opportunities but also looking at new content opportunities as a whole as you go into the beginning of the year.

Jordan:             Once you get to the middle of the year, its production time. So right now that’s where we’re at. What most companies should be thinking about is how are we going to get some of this stuff produced and built so that we can have either a great content or a great inventory and selection available or a portal that we want to create for the holiday. The most successful campaigns start early and effectively use all the different marketing resources available to a company to launch and drive the awareness necessary. You can’t just build a holiday gift page and pray to the gods that it’s going to show up in Google. There’s way too much competition over that space now. So you really need the momentum of your social campaigns, the momentum of your email campaigns, the momentum of your other ad spin that happens during that time of year to really drive the success of whatever you want to focus on.

Ben:                 So there’s something that feels like it’s in conflict to me here where you’re saying your holiday strategy, you need to build the pages, you need to publish them early, have your strategy set months in advance, and then when it comes to the holiday, isn’t there an element of surprise of what’s the inventory that’s on your site or what are the lists that you need published? It sounds like in the holidays I’m expecting those pages to be secret and launched when they’re ready and appropriate and you’re saying throw your holiday gift guide up in August, not November?

Jordan:             Yeah some of it is structural right like let’s start building out these various holiday pages and structure and architecture around what we want to have. Or in some cases when it comes to more of the media or content consumption it’s let’s plan out our schedule. Technically speaking, for your content to have some real generation of fruit, you need to be thinking about launching some of this in September, October. Because most of the consumption already starts happening in November. You need a lead time to generate enough awareness with Google in those prior months.

Ben:                 So it’s more about having the structure of the site and being ready to launch in appropriate time, really the holiday sales and promotions start in September basically a month or so before Thanksgiving at a minimum-

Jordan:             At a minimum.

Ben:                 And its less about what inventory do you have on the site and what’s the big surprise sale?

Jordan:             Right.

Jordan:             So, one of the things that we’ve actually seen that has worked really well is, a couple of retail companies have actually started to use their pre-holiday promotions and start to drive awareness to the page or the URL’s that they want to focus on for the holidays even before there’s really any inventory available.

Jordan:             The guys who actually started this were the Groupon’s of the world, the Wayfair’s of the world where they do the flash sales. So they actually started creating promotions and creating awareness to the landing page even though there weren’t any holiday deals yet. But they were doing that purely for the fact that they knew that if they didn’t do that early enough, Google wouldn’t get enough traction with their holiday deal page for the Flash sale day when that occurred.

Ben:                 Right.

Jordan:             When that actual deal occurred.

Ben:                 I’m spit balling here but let’s say we’re running an eCommerce store, does it make sense to basically have all of the holiday’s throughout the year in a specific section of your site so you constantly have some sort of holiday deal traffic? Then you’re just repurposing that portion of your site for your Thanksgiving, your Black Friday, right after the New Year, the returns all that, the after holiday sales.

Jordan:             That’s really the pinnacle of where you want to be.

Jordan:             Targets done this, they created a gift idea section. So have a couple of other retailers where they create just a gift section and they repurpose it for every single event. But then by the time the holiday season comes around there’s so much momentum behind that page, they don’t need to put in all this extra effort to create the awareness during the most competitive season of the year, they’ve already built that up because they did something for Easter, they did something for Valentine’s Day, they did something for 4th of July, back to school, and so all of a sudden…I don’t know if you buy gifts for back to school? But anyway…

Ben:                 Jordan you have three children, how do you not know if you buy gifts for back to school [Laughing]

Jordan:             I don’t call that gifts, it’s more required.

Ben:                 I feel like you need to buy a gift for your wife when the kids go back to school.

Jordan:             That’s what it is, a gift for ourselves. A little vacation. [laughing]

Jordan:             The momentum that can be built out of having a recycled page for all gift events is always a great idea. A lot of retailers are using that methodology. Again it goes down to planning and the preparation to do that because often times, by the time the holiday season is over, most people are already forgetting that you need that momentum going in the new year.

Ben:                 Back in the day when we worked at eBay, during that time there were a couple of key products that really drove a tone of traffic. There was always the gaming console launches. Whenever there was a new version of the XBOX or PlayStation, eBay would get a lot of secondary market traffic because they had a ton of listings for the gaming consoles or something that’s a toy like the Tickle Me Elmo. Is there a way that you can use search data or is there any sort of way that you can look into a crystal ball and figure out what are going to be the hot products in advance of the holiday to start building traffic around that?

Jordan:             It’s a question that’s often asked of SEO’s. Tell me something that’s going to happen into the future? But as any marketer know, it’s impossible to do. However, there are some clear pathways to generating a success for unknown products or unknown activities that are going to take place during an event or during the holiday season.

Jordan:             One of them is thematically looking at the most relevant or popular products that are in market right now. So we all know that the gaming consoles or we all know that last year the Nintendo Switch was going to be incredibly popular. Going into this year we don’t know which game is going to be the most popular during the holiday season right now. We could probably create a list, but we don’t know exactly which game it is. What you can do is start to produce and build content around those key themes. Because the moment that you’ve identified and so has the rest of the competitive set identified the most popular product, you now have a core set of pages that can support that product and can lift that product up in search.

Ben:                 So essentially something like a trending toys page, or a trending gaming console or trending games, by building the page you can plug in whatever inventory is hot and hopefully you have some and can drive a conversion or a sale.

Jordan:             Bingo. And you can even get down to as granular as subsections like Nintendo or others, you don’t have to be at the generic level because everybody knows you’re not going to compete with the billboard like list that exist out there, but you can create your own environment and know what themes make the most sense and focus on those.

Ben:                 Yeah. Okay

Ben:                 So, let’s boil everything down and try to put together an actionable list for our SEO’s that are listening.

Ben:                 Give me the top five checklist of thing that people can do to prepare for this year’s holidays. What are the things SEO’s can still do this year to get ready for the 2018 holidays?

Jordan:             Number 1: go do that assessment right now. You need to do your holiday content assessment. What do you have? What exists today? What don’t you have? And ultimately in this first audit assessment period, what fits you? What fits your brand, your content style? What makes the most sense for you? That’s step number one.

Jordan:             Step number 2 is to start planning because you’re obviously going to be missing out on certain opportunities. We talked about the thematic idea concept. That’s something that you can start early. Start planning what content you want to produce prior to the holiday season kicking in.

Jordan:             The 3rd one is obviously, and maybe it’s technically the first one, is timing. When are you going to be launching, why are you launching at that time, and what’s the expected outcome from that.

Jordan:             The 4th one is realize or factor is the authority you need in order to be successful during the holiday season. So, this goes to concepts that, traditionally for SEO’s, it would be the topic of link building but it’s… We also talked about this during the segment around driving awareness whether it’s through social media or other marketing channels, but creating that awareness and funneling that awareness to the content related holidays, you won’t win in a very competitive season unless you have that momentum.

Jordan:             And then the 5th one is measure, measure in real time if possible. But you should have a clearly defined set of keywords. You can use tools like ours, like Searchmetrics to define those keywords and then track the success of those keywords. Then ultimately you need to know exactly how that’s performing and you almost need to know it on a day-by-day basis because things change very quickly especially during the holiday season and there’s just so much cutthroat competition whether you’re on the content side or the retail side, doesn’t matter there’s so much being pumped into Google during that time of year, focused on a very small subset of topics and keywords, you really want to be monitoring that on a regular basis.

Ben:                 Alright so let me boil that down. The five items on our holiday SEO checklist are:

Ben:                 1 – Do your contenting planning in advance. Start it yesterday.

Ben:                 2- You’re going to have to get your content produced. Once you know what you’re going to be producing, get going and get it written, get it drafted, work with your writers.

Ben:                 3- Set realistic launch timing. Be ready to launch your content in advance. Generally we’re seeing that the holidays start in terms of conversion in September not in December so you have a couple of months of the holiday season.

Ben:                 4- Set some realistic targets about where you can compete and focus your efforts there.

Ben:                 5- Get ready to measure so you can evaluate the key words that you’re targeting so you can ready for next year and understand what works and do a better job in the holidays for next year.

Ben:                 I think the moral of the story here is that holiday planning is really a year round exercise. It’s not just Christmas. Personally I believe it might be Hanukkah as well, around the same season. But you can be doing holiday planning for everything from Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, back to school, 4th of July, Independence Day holidays, Halloween. They’re sprinkled throughout the year so be thinking about the holidays and be building more of a platform play as opposed to just a page specifically for December 25.

Ben:                 Okay any last words about the holidays?

Jordan:             Merry Christmas everyone.

Ben:                 I think we’ll just say HO-HO-Ho SEO’s and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                 Okay thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc.

Ben:                 We’d love to continue the conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan you can find links to his bio in our show notes or you can shoot him an SEO related tweet to @jtkoene on twitter.

Ben:                 If you have any general marketing questions or if you want to talk about podcasting you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet at @benjshap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com for a free tour of our platform.

Ben:                 If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app.

Ben:                 Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this show and you’re feeling generous, we would be honored for you to leave a review in the apple iTunes store. It’s a great way for us to share our learnings about SEO and content marketing.

Ben:                 Okay that’s it for today but until next time remember the answers you’re looking for are always in the data.