If you’re in SEO, it’s never too early to use the C-word. When Christmas is as far away from colleagues’ minds as it could be, it should be at the forefront of your activity.
Christmas, of course, is just one part of the peak trading period (at least in retail terms – some businesses find their peaks fall at other times of year). This busy period of online consumer spending and activity also encompasses the Cyber Weekend – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – which seem to kick off the spending frenzy earlier each year.
So, how can you prepare for peak from an SEO perspective?
There are three main things to think about:
- Reviewing last year’s performance
- Planning for this year
- Being reactive throughout peak
Let’s take a closer look…
1. Review last year’s peak performance
The only way to know if your SEO activity is having a positive impact is through robust reporting. That’s never truer than following peak. You need to analyse performance to understand how your work has supported wider business goals.
And when peak is looming, it helps to be able to review last year’s activity and how it drove performance. Before planning anything new, there are learnings you can take from previous years’ SEO data to inform your future plans.
Ask yourself and your SEO team:
- What worked well?
- What didn’t?
- What barriers and blockers did we encounter?
- How can we overcome or avoid them this year?
2. Plan in advance
Planning is key in SEO. Unlike the immediate nature of paid advertising, organic search optimisation can take a while to bear fruit. Sure, Google and other search engines are getting much quicker at crawling and indexing sites, which helps changes to be picked up and understood more quickly, but still, SEO is a long play.
For that reason, advance planning is so important ahead of a peak trading period. That means you need to be thinking about your activity well before the consumer demand starts to ramp up.
Some things to get in place in the weeks and months before peak include:
- Get your priority SEO technical fixes in before code freeze
- Get your priority pages and categories ready by optimising with meta data and up-to-date, relevant content
- Refresh your existing content assets to cater for informational and research-based searches, for example gift guides and seasonal blog content
- Publish relevant new seasonal content to cover any gaps in your existing editorial library
- Update customer service and delivery pages with important seasonal information, such as last order dates for Christmas delivery or extended returns policies
- Link in with your PR team to maximise any coverage – they may be able to land some SEO-beneficial coverage based on your business’ top deals and offers over peak
- Make sure you’re tracking all your important keywords, including any seasonal variations
- Set up a reporting dashboard to monitor key SEO metrics, such as traffic, organic click through rate, impressions – and those all-important sales and revenue numbers
- Consider budget – often the SEO team can run on a limited basis through peak, with most of the work having been done in advance, meaning some budget could be flexed to other teams such as paid media or social.
3. Stay reactive through peak
As already mentioned, Christmas comes early in SEO. But if you think it’s going to be a festive feet-up with nothing to do, think again: you still need to keep your finger on the pulse.
Throughout the peak period, you should constantly monitor performance. Ideally, you’ll have set up your reporting dashboards, so analysing the data should be straight forward enough. If you see a drop in traffic of keyword rankings, you can then investigate quickly to determine what the problem might be.
Although your website will likely be in a code freeze over the peak period, meaning technical developments are on hold, you should still be able to make basic content changes to pages if necessary. If there’s an opportunity to amend some meta data or on-page copy to improve rankings, then do it.
One final thing to consider during peak is SEO cover. It’s a time when many of us like to take some annual leave, but Google algorithms never sleep. Ensure there’s someone from your team able to monitor and run checks every day over the festive season to identify any issues that may arise.
Once peak trading is winding down and business returning to some kind of normal, you can look to report back with a wash up of activity and any initial learnings.
And you can also use your expertise to liaise with other internal teams. For example, many retailers make the mistake of completely removing their seasonal pages from the site, losing any authority built up over time.
Instead, work with your dev team to ensure key categories like Black Friday pages and Christmas categories are kept live (albeit hidden) until next peak. This will mean the authority built up this year and in previous years will make them easier to rank again when the next peak starts to come around. In the interim, use the pages as content assets to target longer tail, informational terms related to the peak period – they can still drive traffic even outside of the peak in shopping demand.