The Essential Guide to Preparing Your Online Store for the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is right around the corner

Who doesn’t love the holidays?!

Holiday Grinch

Ok, I guess not everybody.

But for the vast amount of people, the holidays are about promoting peace and love throughout the community, reflecting on the joy of friendship and family, yada yada yada who am I kidding, it’s ABOUT THE PRESENTS!!!

T’is the season to be shopping. Check out some of these stats:

  • Mobile commerce was up $5 billion during the 2015 holiday, a 59% increase from 2014
  • Total digital spend for the holiday season, reached $69.1 billion, about a 13-percent annual gain vs. $61.3 billion spent in the 2014 season

Two competing stories emerged from the 2015 holiday season. On one hand, ecommerce had another terrific season, with sales growing 13.4%. On the other hand, retail sales overall fell flat, growing just 1.7%, the slowest rate since the depths of the Great Recession in 2008–2009.

It’s clear, buying patterns are shifting, and more and more customers are choosing to check off their holiday gift list through online shopping.

Now is the time for ecommerce entrepreneurs to start putting together a comprehensive strategy to capitalize on the most opportune time of the year. Here’s your guide to making sure you leave no stones unturned this season.

design

If you own a brick-n-mortar business, you don’t think twice about decorating for the holidays. But what about your online store? Presentation is everything in business, so it makes sense to put some thought into adding some holiday cheer this year to your web presence.

Your design and graphics will help tie your campaigns together and keep things consistent, from your email designs, to promotional banners for your website, to Facebook and Twitter. Graphics can help you visually and quickly help your followers and visitors understand your promotions.

Take a look at how Free People changed their site design for last year’s holiday season:

Free People Holiday Website

And here’s something different from Baudville:

Baudville

The key is making sure that the holiday symbols are visually compatible with your logo and brand colors. Don’t let the holiday theme prevail over your brand identity.

You can do many other things to liven up your ecommerce store and spread the festival spirit:

  • Change your site background theme with holiday related graphics
  • Make call to action buttons red, especially for sales
  • Incorporate video into your page
  • Try card-based design for easier sorting of info
  • Use color contrast to highlight importance

Add a Countdown

There’s also something about missing out on a deal that is a proven and potent psychological trigger. Have a countdown displayed to signal scarcity and get people excited about what you have to offer. You can add your own with the Product Discount app from the Shopify App Store.

countdown

Small tweaks and additions to design can do a lot to increase conversion rates and make a substantial revenue difference for the holiday season.

Email

Every store owner should be planning engaging email marketing campaigns that bring customers back to your website during the holiday season. Did you know:

  • Email performs 40 times better than Twitter and Facebook when it comes to customer acquisition.
  • In 2015, email marketing was responsible for over 27 percent of holiday sales.
  • 59 percent of consumers revealed that marketing emails heavily influence their buying decisions.

Take a look at these creative ways companies are using graphics for their email campaigns:

Canvas

Email Email

Email

Don’t Let Customers Abandon Their Orders

You should also keep in mind the importance of other transactional emails that alert your prospective or current customers about everything from shopping cart abandonment to order confirmations.

According to Barilliance, the average cart abandonment rate on Black Friday to Cyber Monday 2015 was 65%. Of course, you’ll want try and keep that number as low as possible. One of the easier and most effective ways of doing this is by setting up awesome abandoned cart emails. This way, when a customer adds a product to their cart but leaves your store, you can use a compelling email to bring them back to complete their purchase.

Shopify makes this easy with built-in abandoned checkout recovery and also a nice selection of abandoned cart apps in the Shopify App Store to choose from.

Then as the holiday season winds down, you can shift back to focusing on the customer’s own preferences by using historical data to recommend products related to previously purchased items.

SEO

During the holidays, people will be searching for more items to buy than ever. Without strong on-page SEO to send a clear relevance signal, everything else in your SEO strategy is just amplifying a muddy signal. Most merchants can find basic on-page SEO elements to improve on at least half of the pages they are targeting if they just take the time to do it. You can help your product marketing stand out with these tactics:

  • Perform keyword research to identify any relevant holiday-specific search terms for your market e.g. holiday gifts for kids, kids Christmas gifts, unique holiday gifts for kids, etc. Weave these keywords into your new/updated holiday copy on your product pages and category pages.

  • Update title tags and meta descriptions to include any holiday promotions. Perhaps a product is 20% off for the holidays only. This information will display in the search results:

SEO

  • Perhaps you are offering free shipping for the holidays. Put this into your homepage title tag and meta description. Again, this will display in the search results:

SEO

  • Look over last year’s data, and see what else you can apply this year to improve on last year. Visit your top landing pages. What made them so popular in 2015 and in the time leading up to this present holiday season? What are your current most popular product pages? If you cannot run specials on them, can you add links to your holiday sale items from these pages? What else can you do to funnel current organic traffic to your holiday sale page(s) to maximize your revenue?

  • Search engines measure a site’s strength based on the number of times content is shared, tweeted, liked, and posted in social media, and how connected each page is through linking to another page on the same site or a third-party site. Including social sharing buttons throughout your site and adding internal linking is a great way to increase SEO.

Optimize Your Site For Mobile Users

Last year, IBM claimed that mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic on Thanksgiving for the first time. Additionally, according to Custora, last Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend saw over 26% of orders come through a mobile device.

Clearly, we should expect this trend to continue and possibly increase. What this means for you as a store owner is that thinking mobile first is very important.

All of Shopify’s themes are responsive and mobile-friendly, but if you’re not using Shopify, test how your store looks on a mobile device.

Simply put, mobile friendliness is about removing the friction mobile users experience when navigating a page (i.e. on their way to checkout!). Achieving Google’s “mobile friendly” status occurs when a page adheres to basic mobile usability guidelines, such as:

  • No pinching and zooming required
  • Text large enough to be readable
  • Links spaced apart to avoid accidental clicks
  • Mobile content free of mobile redirect errors

To best align the timing of a holiday-specific SEO campaigns, coordinate them with what’s happening across other marketing channels ahead of a seasonal event.

The more coordinated each marketing channel is online and offline, the better the chance your holiday specific content will gain traction in search at the right time.

Gift Guide

Holiday gift guides fare well in Google, so be sure to take your share of the limelight by creating something unique and valuable. In terms of SEO this does a couple of things:

  • Gets your deeper content and product detail pages closer to the home page so the search engine spiders can crawl and index the updated content

  • Helps guide your current site traffic to holiday-specific areas and encourages them to purchase – hopefully increasing sales

There are many ways to approach creating a gift guide. You can create one highlighting specific products or one for each category in your store. Include products that make perfect holiday gifts and/or any products you’re discounting/promoting for the holidays.

Make sure you add copy that explains why these are great holiday gifts and for who. This works especially well for getting unique, hard-to-optimize-for products out in front of your site visitors.

J. Crew: Gifts for Her J Crew

Spread the Word

Regardless of how you approach it, be sure to link to the appropriate products and pages in your store. Encourage your customers to share the guides via social media for an added boost.

If you want put in some extra effort and have the time, consider creating a gift guide video. Everyone is busier during this time of year, and videos are easily digested and shared.

If you have a blog, write a post about your Holiday Gift Guide. Link to all your individual products featured and add a giveaway to one lucky reader who shares the post, links to it, etc.

Get the top influencers you’ve befriended in your industry to help promote the giveaway.

Find websites talking about Black Friday deals or running gift guides in your niche, and get in touch with them to feature your website and planned sales.

Gift guides are one of the best ways to drive traffic and conversion, while improving upon user experience and engaging the holiday shopper.

Social Media

Last, but certainly not least, is putting together a plan to get all your social media ducks in a row. Social media can help extend brand reach, build awareness for promotional efforts, support overall sales activity, and do so at minimal expense.

  • Make sure you’re on top of your social media marketing by engaging with your customers every day. If you’re using a social media management tool such as HootSuite, you can set it up to schedule tweets and Facebook posts in advance so you can be sure you’re regularly sharing content through all your networks. As you form your calendar, don’t be afraid to repurpose social posts across your various channels.

  • Again stemming from the last subheading, Pinterest is a wonderful tool for creating holiday gift guides. If you can manage to set your business up with a supple amount of followers this platform has the potential to drive traffic and sales during the holiday season. Your customers are looking for guidance, but they also want to share their finds, so make that easy for them to do. When creating holiday gift guides, especially for particular known shopping holidays, offer great deals as well.

  • Run a contest on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Contests are always a simple and fun way to take advantage of your social media presence, especially during the holiday season. Host a holiday photo contest on Instagram, giving prizes for the best photos (perhaps of someone using your product). Encourage users to input locations and hashtags which you can use on other social media sites, too.

  • Facebook Ads are a great way to get your promotion in front of your target demographic. Even if you have never used Facebook Ads before you can be up and running in less than 30 minutes. For a crash course in Facebook Advertising, check out A 30 minute Crash Course in Facebook Advertising. According to Nanigans, in 2015, Facebook ad click-through rates were up 66% on Thanksgiving and 36% on Black Friday compared to the Monday before Thanksgiving. This means people are much more receptive to ads during the holiday season.

Social Media

  • Tie social media into email marketing by asking people to share your message with their friends and followers. Add social sharing buttons (including the Pin It button) to product pages on your website. Create content on your website that people will want to share, as well as social network content that links back to your ecommerce site. When your viewers and readers join your social networks, you’ll have the chance to send them last minute messages and coupons.

  • Retarget browsing customers on Facebook and Twitter. According to Clarity.fm, it’s 50% easier to sell to existing customers than it is to brand new customers. People you’ve already sold to in the past will be much more receptive to your Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. To remain top of mind and bring these users back to your site when they are ready to buy, you should run retargeting campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. If you use paid advertising such as Facebook Ads or Google Adwords, you should place retargeting pixels on your website so you can remarket to your holiday sale traffic. You’ll need to place the pixel code snippets into the tags of every page.

Here are a few more quick social media tips you should plan to use:

  • Share high-quality product images along with the updated to make a deeper impact on your shared content.

  • Use proper hashtags on Twitter related to discounts and sales in the holiday season and tweet consistently.

  • Use the same holiday graphics you use on your site on your social media brand pages

  • Get into the spirit of the season by offering a part of your sales to charity with the support of your fans and followers.

  • If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to create cool photos, use Photoshop or Canva. Also, you can find free stock imagery on sites like StockSnap.io or Death to the Stock Photo.

  • Don’t forget to pin your most important post with all the special deals so it’s the first thing that people will see when they visit your social media pages.

Doing all the above will gain you more engagement with your audience which you can then reward them with by offering a promotional giveaway that promotes your brand even after the holiday.

Conclusion

We all know that this time of the year can cause a lot of stress. Minimize any potential miscommunication by giving as much info as you can, as often as you can.

At the very least, commit to being online more and shortening your response time to customer emails. By being more available, you’ll increase conversions and build loyalty as customers learn they can trust you to be there when they need help.

Online retailers have a lot to gain over the holiday season. With shoppers eagerly searching for gifts, you have the opportunity to generate huge sales and more traffic to your store.