5 Steps to Get Your Website Ready for the Holiday Season

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While it’s true that we’ve only just begun to see the premature roll-out of Halloween products to retail shelves, it isn’t too early to start thinking about how your website will handle the upcoming 2012 holiday season.  Because it may take SEO campaigns several months to produce results, you’ll want to make these important preparations a key part of your September and October “to do” lists!

Here’s what you need to know to ensure that your website is well-prepared for the holiday retail season:

1 – Plan out your promotions

Yes, it may seem early to start planning the promotions you’ll offer months down the road, but again – preparation is key!  Specifically, you’ll want to address:

  • The products or services you’ll feature during the 2012 holiday shopping season
  • What specific discounts or incentives you’ll plan on offering
  • Whether or not you anticipate utilizing a loss leader product in your promotions
  • Exactly how many products you’ll need to sell to break even or meet specific profit thresholds for your holiday promotions to be deemed successful
  • Whether you have enough stock on hand to meet potential demand

Really, the time to anticipate necessary stock levels isn’t the week of Black Friday – it’s well in advance when you’re able to take advantage of bulk discount prices!

2 – Identify target holiday-specific keywords

As you determine which products or services you’ll be featuring during the holiday season, you’ll want to make special note of any new SEO keywords you’ll need to target with your promotional campaigns.  While you should certainly continue to go after your standard keywords, you may find it advantageous to append the following modifiers to your target phrases to capture holiday shoppers:

  • 2012
  • Holiday 2012
  • Christmas 2012
  • Black Friday 2012
  • Holiday shopping 2012

For example, if you usually target the keyword phrase, “women’s boots,” you may want to structure your holiday promotions around the keywords, “women’s boots holiday 2012” and “women’s boots Black Friday 2012.”

Now, be aware that planning out your holiday-specific target keywords can be tricky, as potential search volume may be difficult to predict based on past years’ data.  This is especially true if you’re targeting a product or brand that wasn’t available in previous years.

In these cases, trust your gut.  Think through the phrases that you would enter into the search engines in order to find holiday deals on products like yours and run with the results you come up with.  Although you aren’t likely to hit a home run with every potential holiday shopping SERP, a few smaller wins can still pay off big time in terms of your campaign’s overall success.

3 – Begin holiday content creation

As soon as you’ve come up with the keywords you plan to target, you’ll want to begin the content creation process, as this part of the process can require a significant amount of time to carry out correctly.

You’ll need to address the following areas, in particular:

  • Graphic design – To celebrate the holiday season, you may want to create a custom, holiday-themed logo, set of social media icons or group of new banner advertisements.  Because the production of these items will require either your time or coordination with an external contractor, you’ll want to begin these projects as soon as you’ve decided on your promotions.
  • Web design – In order to accommodate holiday gift shoppers, many ecommerce websites will incorporate a new “Gifts” or “Holiday Deals” page into their existing sites.  If you plan to do this in order to promote your holiday deals, you’ll want to communicate with your web developer or designer to have your new pages created well in advance of the holiday season.
  • Web articles – Going after a new set of target keywords requires a new set of web articles, all of which incorporate the holiday phrases you’d like your website to rank for.  If you produce your web content in house, add these new “to do” items to your writer’s list ASAP.  Or, if you outsource your content to freelance writers, try to get your assignments in now before they’re swamped with holiday work.

When it comes to holiday content creation, a little preparation goes a long way towards reducing the overall stress that this season typically brings about!

4 – Identify resource weaknesses

Next, take a look at your website’s resources in order to identify any potential weaknesses that could occur due to an influx of holiday shoppers.  For example:

  • Can your hosting account handle higher levels of traffic?  If one of your holiday promotions hits it big, expect to see tons of new visitors streaming onto your site from referring sources.  If these new readers are met with a “Bandwidth Exceeded” error message, you’ll wind up throwing away a huge number of potential sales!  To avoid this scenario, check with your hosting provider to ensure you’re good to go.
  • Is your payment processor expecting a greater number of payments?  Depending on the service your company uses to process payments, you may need to notify your account manager to expect higher than usual sales numbers.  Paypal, in particular, is notorious for shutting down accounts when payments increase too quickly – a situation you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
  • Do you have the internal staff needed to handle holiday sales?  There’s a reason that plenty of retailers take on seasonal help around the holidays.  If you aren’t staffed appropriately to provide good customer service and timely shipping, you could inadvertently wind up trashing your company’s reputation with consumers.

While you likely won’t need the web’s largest hosting package or a team of twenty new staff members to handle the holiday influx, it’s better to be over-prepared than scrambling.  Make your sales forecasts as accurate as possible and plan accordingly to ensure that unexpected weaknesses don’t ruin your holiday numbers.

5 – Get your customers excited

Lastly, take some time to get your customers excited about your upcoming promotions!  Think about how Hollywood promotes its upcoming features…  It doesn’t just ship its movies to theaters and hope that word of mouth will be enough to generate high returns.  Instead, it runs trailers, sends its stars out on press tours and uses online promotions to create buzz before a film’s release.

You can do the same thing with your holiday sales.  To create your own interest and excitement, drop hints to your regular readers about some of the great promotions you’ll be featuring during the holiday shopping season.  Encourage them to sign up for your email newsletter in exchange for exclusive coupons.  Heck, you could even use guest posting opportunities on websites to mimic the positive press that Hollywood stars do with their interview tours!

Really, the sky’s the limit when it comes to building excitement about your forthcoming holiday sales.  But by taking the time to get your promotions in order now and ensure that they’re supported appropriately, you’ll both minimize the stress that’s usually associated with large scale events like the holiday shopping season and increase the likelihood that your sales campaigns will result in great returns for your company.

Have you started planning your 2012 holiday promotions yet?  If so, share one tip on how you’re building buzz amongst your target customers in the comments section below:

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