SEO Can Make Your Online Store a Powerhouse for the Holidays

This is the first of several holiday-focused SEO articles which will use real-life examples of different website business models. They will be shown as road maps for implementing successful SEO techniques. Implementing a holiday-related SEO strategy as early as August can set your website up for real success during the upcoming 2005 holiday season.

For this article, I’m going to focus on the most obvious type of website that can benefit from ramping up their holiday SEO efforts in mid summer: retail sites. I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Lindauer, owner of a website that sells specialty hot sauces and related products (www.sweatnspice.com), about what he recommends retail site owners do to get better visibility in the organic search results. Nick is an experienced search engine marketer, online media planner and colleague of mine. His SEO expertise has propelled his site to the top of Google results for “hot sauce” and a number of his other related keywords.

Why it’s good to start thinking about Christmas in August

It is particularly valuable for existing websites to implement holiday-related SEO strategies in August because once you are already listed in Google (and other engines), new changes in the form of added content or revised copy tend to get indexed fairly quickly. These changes are then reflected in the search results. For example, Nick added a page about Black Mamba Hot Sauce to www.sweatnspice.com on July 5, 2005 and within ten days that page ranked #1 for “black mamba hot sauce” in Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.

Nick recommends that small businesses begin preparing for the upcoming holiday season by evaluating key products and services, and coming up with unique product combinations. You can then create pages to highlight these new product offerings which can be optimized for different keyword combinations.

For example, you can target some different holiday-related keyword groupings by creating “gift sets” for the holidays. Sweatnspice.com offers a gift set which includes a mix of different brands of habanero hot sauces categorized under the title of “Habanero Heaven Hot Sauce Gift Set.” Although Sweatnspice.com already ranks well for most of the various product manufacturers and/or types of hot sauce (e.g., the site is #7 in Google for “habanero hot sauce”), this product grouping enables Nick to target the product specifically for gift seekers who reach his website via one of the many keywords he’s well ranked for, but who may not know what they want beyond a gift for someone who likes hot sauce. It is also a way for him to specifically target a variety of keyword groupings, e.g., “habanero heaven” and “habanero gift set” in the search engines.



“The summer months are when small business owners need to be most aware of the opportunities of SEO and the effects it has on your web site’s traffic. It is the optimal time to prepare yourself and your employees for the upcoming 4th quarter,” says Nick. Nick learned this firsthand when traffic to his website increased by 300% after Sweatnspice.com began ranking well in the top search engines for his targeted keywords. He was less than prepared to handle this for the 2004 Christmas season. However, he compensated by providing excellent customer relationship management.

Nick explained that, “Last year, as a first year small business owner, I was not as prepared as I should have been. The week before Thanksgiving the floodgates opened and orders started pouring in until the first week of January. I kept the holiday season going past December by offering shipping discounts to repeat customers and free giveaways each week. However, as a new website, we were not ranked within the first 10 listings of any of the major search engines for our primary keyword terms. Most of the orders were coming in through PPC avenues or word of mouth.”

With this in mind, it is crucial for a new online store to be prepared for the potential increase in orders over the holiday season. Understand that ranking well in search engines can translate into many more holiday orders in the coming months. Responding to online orders quickly and appropriately ensures repeat business and word of mouth and it also makes your investment in your SEO infrastructure that much more worthwhile. Since launching his online store last year, Nick fully expects to do four times the amount of sales that he did last year.

“This year, as August approaches, Sweatnspice.com is gearing up for a Christmas season that is projected to do 4X the sales we did last year. We are now ranking well in all the major search engines for our primary keyword terms and our traffic has increased 300% since last summer. This year, our sales in June alone topped our sales for all the summer months of 2004 combined.”



So just how does a small business prepare for the upcoming business season? Nick outlined a few steps you can follow to get your business in gear (from an SEO perspective) for the 2005 holiday season.

Step 1: As mentioned above, select some products that you feel are gift worthy for each of your market segments. Come up with gift sets by combining items you sell. Be sure to make your products unique.
Step 2: Create a list of keyword opportunities based on these product groupings. Search your website and do some external research via Google, MSN and Yahoo to see where your site comes up for the new keywords in the search results. It is also helpful to use Yahoo’s Keyword Selector Tool to get a feel for keyword search volumes.
Step 3: Put your new products online by August, at the latest. Make sure all new pages are optimized appropriately and integrated fully in terms of internal link structure with the existing pages of your site.
Step 4: Perform some link placement for the new product pages. Be sure to craft link text that is specific to the new keyword groupings (e.g., “unique men’s gift”).

You have just enough time if you start NOW to apply the above techniques to your website with the goal of transforming good holiday sales into GREAT holiday sales in 2005. And even if you don’t have time to cram SEO into your busy schedule before the rapidly approaching holiday shopping season is here, at least you have a strategy for next year. Keep in mind this strategy can be applied to any holiday for any time of the year. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, seasonal shopping peaks (back to school, spring cleaning, etc.) What possibilities do you see when you look at your products?



In addition to the above steps, Nick says, “Never underestimate the power of free promotion in your website marketing strategy.” For example, radio stations tend to do Christmas giveaways, so Nick recommends approaching stations early about including your products (and site URL) in those events. “For the cost of a few products, you can get a lot of free advertising which often translates to links back to your site,” Nick explains. “I sent free samples of hot sauce to a couple of DJs at SIRIUS Satellite Radio. They called me up and wanted to get more for stocking stuffer giveaways for listeners. They even had me come in to do a show with them. My website URL was mentioned twice a day for two weeks while they ran the promotion.”

Another local radio station plugged Sweatnspice.com during a tasting show. Says Nick, “The relationship started when they contacted me through my Hot Sauce Blog requesting samples. I sent them that, and more. That was three months ago and they continue to plug my website and my products whenever the topics of zesty food or hot sauce come up.” This is a great example of how blogs can contribute to product promotion and sales. Blogs are also search engine friendly and tend to get a lot of inbound links from other bloggers and niche sites that focus on topically-relevant content.

Nick offered up some next steps to help website owners deal with the huge increase in sales they will enjoy once their website ranks well in the search engines.

  • Prepare a schedule of discounts, giveaways and newsletters which begin to appear on your website in mid September.
  • If you have an opt in newsletter, prepare these in advance with your scheduled discounts, that way once a week you can quickly send out a newsletter to tickle your subscribers’ memory about what incentives you are offering and how your products make great Christmas and holiday gifts.
  • Make sure you have enough inventory to accommodate an increase in sales that additional promotion is likely to bring. This is not the time to experience delayed shipments because some products go out of stock.
  • Prepare yourself and your employees. Make sure you’ve scheduled all vacations and you have plenty of staff on hand. Make sure you have enough packing supplies.

Conclusion

Christmas in August? This is certainly the case if you want to apply SEO to your website in time for the upcoming holiday rush. It is never too early to start planning your online promotion strategy, particularly when it comes to SEO. Nick’s proven success with incorporating SEO into his holiday mix of marketing tips and tricks has propelled his website to the top of his industry niche. By applying some of his suggestions, you can hope to see an increase in sales, if not this year, then next. Happy Holidays!

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