$123 billion. According to Statista, that was the total value of all the US sales made by ecommerce businesses during the 2018 holiday season. For context, that’s roughly 18% higher than the nominal GDP of Ecuador. If the holiday season ecommerce market in the US were its own country, it would be the 57th biggest economy in the world.
If we were hanging out at a college bar or pensively skipping rocks across the lake in which our adolescent anxieties melted away, now would be the time for me to demonstrate my intellect (and recently discovered affinity for Sally Rooney novels) by making a melancholy remark about the transactional nature of modern love.
Alas, that would be pretty weird—not to mention swiftly (and wisely) deleted by our managing editor. Besides, we’ve got bigger fish to fry: The holiday season is rapidly approaching and your ecommerce business needs a digital marketing plan.
In this guide, we’ll share 13 holiday marketing tips—spanning Google, Facebook, Instagram, and your website—that your ecommerce business can use to prepare for and win the holiday season. Each of them is courtesy of Kelly McGee, Sam Drane, and Holly Niemiec—all of whom work on our in-house agency team and drive consistent results for their ecommerce clients.
Holiday marketing tips for Google Ads
When the time comes to find gifts for their friends and families, a ton of your prospects are going to turn to Google for help. To be frank, a holiday marketing plan that doesn’t include Google Ads is an incomplete holiday marketing plan. Meeting prospects in the search results—both with text ads and Shopping ads—is absolutely essential. Elsewhere, using display ads to stay top-of-mind is an effective tactic as well. With that, let’s get into some tips.
1. Attract more clicks with Merchant Promotions
Merchant Promotions is a free feature that enables Google Shopping advertisers to make their Shopping ads more compelling by adding special offers like discounted prices, free gifts, and shipping benefits. Once you’ve submitted a product data feed in Google Merchant Center and it’s gotten a thumbs up, you can start creating promotions.
There are two ways you can take advantage of Merchant Promotions: by using the promotions tool or by uploading a designated promotions feed. Whereas the promotions tool—found by selecting Merchant Promotions from the left-hand menu and then selecting Promotions—allows you to create specific offers for individual products, a promotions feed allows you to bulk upload a high volume of promotions at one time.
Although you can never go wrong with a discounted price or free shipping, I think a particularly good offer for the holiday season is a gift card. Why? Because it allows shoppers to show their loved ones that they’re thoughtful while also giving them a little bit of insurance.
2. Inspire urgency with text ad customizers
For those of you running standard search campaigns in addition to your Shopping campaigns, text ad customizers allow you to automatically optimize your ad copy in real time based on query, location, device, time of day, or day of the week. Once you’ve uploaded an ad customizer data file to your Google Ads account, you can start tailoring your messaging to create the most relevant and enticing ads possible.
Via Search Engine Land.
Although ad customizers are useful in general and allow you to optimize in myriad different ways, in the context of holiday marketing ideas we’re primarily interested in using them to create a sense of urgency among your prospects.
For example, if you’re using text ads to promote your extended Black Friday sale, you could use an ad customizer to tell shoppers how much time they have left. Whereas someone shopping the night before Thanksgiving would see “Only 48 Hours Left!” in your headline, someone shopping the night of Thanksgiving would see “Only 24 Hours Left!” In effect, you can take advantage of ad customizers to create a countdown to the end of your sale.
3. Tame competitive keywords with audience targeting
For an ecommerce business, a key part of preparing for the holidays is compiling lists of seasonally relevant keywords: “black friday deals,” “holiday season sales,” and so on. Because the shoppers behind these keywords are obviously commercially motivated, getting your products and offers in front of them is incredibly valuable.
It’s crucial to keep in mind, however, that the competition for these keywords is intense. If you bid on them without any additional filters, your campaign budgets will dry up in no time. That’s why we recommend layering your expensive keywords with audience targeting.
Although the keyword remains the primary tool for targeting relevant shoppers with search campaigns, Google has gradually built a strong suite of audience targeting solutions over the years. Take Customer Match, for example—a tool that allows you to target past customers who’ve voluntarily given you their contact information.
4. Save last-minute shoppers with local inventory ads
This holiday marketing tip is specifically for retailers who own brick-and-mortar stores in addition to managing their ecommerce presence. As many of you likely know from your personal lives, a lot of people procrastinate when it comes to buying gifts for their friends and family. In fact, some are so late to the party that they don’t start looking until after your shipping cut-off—the last day people can buy from your online store and get their orders in time for the holidays.
Good news: Your business can save the day for these last-minute holiday shoppers. With a local inventory ad (LIA), you can advertise your brick-and-mortar store to nearby shoppers who are looking for a product you sell. As you can see below, users who click on your LIA are taken to a Google-hosted page known as your local storefront. Here, they’ll learn when your store is open, how much you have in stock, how much they’ll have to spend, and more.
Important note: As effective as local inventory ads can be near the end of the holiday season, they do require a bit of extra leg work. Namely, you’ll have to upload a local products feed and local inventory feed for each physical store you want to promote. That’s something you’ll want to take care of several months before the start of the holiday season. Learn more about that here.
5. Save last-minute shoppers with electronic gift cards
Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence, you can still save the day for your procrastination-prone prospects. Once your shipping cut-off has passed, we recommend ramping up your offers for electronic gift cards. True—most people (for the sake of showing their loved ones how thoughtful and punctual they are) would prefer to buy a tangible product. Nonetheless, when the clock is ticking and placing a traditional order is out of the question, shoppers will be grateful for the option of buying a gift card.
Best of all: Turning up the volume on electronic gift cards doesn’t mean you have to stop promoting actual products. Remember those Merchant Promotions we talked about earlier? One type of promotion you can run is tacking a gift card on top of orders over a certain dollar amount. That way, you can entice last-minute shoppers by offering them an easy solution while simultaneously marketing a relevant product.
6. Evade expensive keywords with display advertising
Our third holiday marketing tip for Google advertisers was taming the expensiveness of seasonal keywords with the help of audience targeting solutions. As effective as that tactic can be, you may find that you want (or need) to avoid pricey keywords altogether. This is where our final Google Ads tip comes into play: Connect with your prospects on the Google Display Network!
Despite the relative lack of commercial intent found on the display network, there are two key tactics you can use to drive value out of your display ads this holiday season.
First up: custom intent audiences. With one of these, you can give Google a collection of keywords and website URLs related to the offer you want to promote with your display ads. Then, Google will create an audience of users actively looking to make a purchase related to those keywords and URLs and serve them your ads. Generally, this is more effective than using one of the in-market audiences Google provides.
Second: responsive display ads. With this ad type, Google takes your marketing assets—images, videos, logos, headlines, copy, etc.—and dynamically creates display ads that fit the various pages and devices they’re showing on. What a lot of advertisers don’t realize is that you can add promotional text to your responsive display ads. If you’re using the display network to remarket to your holiday season prospects, sweeten the deal with a promotion like free shipping or a discounted price!
Important note: If you’re going to run holiday season display ads, get your creative assets ready to go as soon as possible!
Holiday marketing tips for Facebook & Instagram Ads
Wrapping up the Google Ads portion of our holiday marketing guide with tips for the display network provides the perfect segue to our next section: Facebook and Instagram Ads.
As crucial as it is to capitalize on the high commercial intent behind holiday season search queries, it’s important to remember that your prospects don’t stop using social media in November and December. In fact, many shoppers see Facebook and Instagram as sources of inspiration for gifts they can buy for their loved ones.
Without further ado, let’s get into some more tips.
7. Appease the algorithm by slowly upping your budget
You’ll often hear Facebook marketers refer to “the learning phase”—the process of Facebook’s algorithm experimenting with the delivery of your ads to determine what works best according to your objective. Generally speaking, each ad set needs to drive about 50 conversions in order to complete the learning phase.
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According to Facebook, the learning phase resets every time you make a “significant edit” to your ad set—and that includes changes to your budget. In order to keep up with your competitors during the holiday season, you’ll most certainly have to increase your ad sets’ budgets. However, if you abruptly make these changes all at once, all of your ads sets will re-enter the learning phase—thus diminishing your performance at a time when you need performance to be better than ever.
Here’s what you do: Increase your ad sets’ budgets little by little over time. Small changes to your budgets won’t restart the learning phase. That way, when the competition really ramps up, you’ll be spending what you need to spend without worrying about temporarily falling behind.
8. Fill your funnel with audience list building
The holiday season is a time to make sales—not a time to build brand awareness. If November rolls around and you’re just starting to get the word out to your target audience, you’re not going to drive the results you need to drive.
In order to set yourself up for maximum success, we recommend using the months leading up to the holiday season to build your audience lists. That way, when the time comes to make sales, you’ll have pools of relevant users who’ve already demonstrated an interest in your business.
Some of the options you’ll have for audiences down the line.
Examples are useful here. Let’s say you plan on using the holiday season to promote a big discount on your signature custom phone cases. A month or two before your sale starts, you could run a video views campaign in which you share time lapse videos of the creation process. Alternatively, you could run a lead generation campaign in which you target users who may be interested in your email newsletter. Either way, you’re arming yourself with pools of engaged prospects who will likely respond well to your holiday season offers.
9. Close all the deals with offer ads
Fast forward to the holiday season: The consideration campaigns you ran in recent months were tremendously successful and you’re practically drowning in prospects. How do you make the most of this opportunity you’ve created for yourself? With offer ads, of course!
With this ad type—available exclusively on mobile for Traffic, Conversion, and Store Traffic campaigns—you can retarget your most engaged prospects with a discount code. If you’re using offer ads to drive online sales, interested users will be sent to your website; if you’re using them to drive offline sales, they’ll be given a QR code that they can use at checkout.
Offering an easily redeemable discount is always a strong marketing tactic—but that strength is somewhat diminished when all of your competitors are also offering discounts. So, no matter how enticing of an offer you’re making, you need to make sure your ad copy is up to snuff. Take a look at the successful promotions you’ve advertised on Facebook and Instagram in the past and see if there are any common themes across the copy. If something seems to be working, the holiday season is not the time to get experimental!
10. Drive easy sales by targeting past customers
When the holiday season comes around and the ad auctions get more competitive, the costs of advertising on Facebook and Instagram get substantially higher. A great way to score some (relatively) easy wins and drive additional ROI from your inevitably higher budget is to target users who bought products from your store during last year’s holiday season. Alternatively, if this is your first time using Facebook and Instagram to run holiday-specific promotions, you can simply target users who’ve bought something from your store at some point in the past.
Regardless of which approach you adopt—if you can, we strongly recommend zeroing in on the folks who capitalized on last year’s holiday promotions—you’re going to do it with a custom audience. At the ad set level of your campaign, click the “Create New” link under the audiences tab and select “Custom Audience.” When the new window pops up, select “Customer List” as the source of your new custom audience.
Bonus tip: Another way to get more out of your holiday season budget is creating a lookalike audience based on the list of users who accepted one of your promotions last year. Using those past customers as a seed audience, Facebook will generate a group of new users who behave similarly. This enables you to reach new shoppers while feeling confident they’ll convert!
Holiday marketing tips for your website
Our final three holiday marketing tips all involve optimizations you can make on your own ecommerce website. As crucial as it is to build robust audiences and create amazing ads, you still need to invest some time in making sure you’re giving your site visitors the best experience possible. After all, the holiday season can be an enormously stressful time; few people will have the time or patience to put up with a sub-par user experience.
11. Generate hype by getting the word out early
In the weeks leading up to your holiday season sales, get your site visitors’ mouths watering by letting them know what’s to come! The best thing about this tactic is that it doesn’t need to be strenuous; something as simple as a countdown to the start of your sales should be enough to get prospective shoppers excited.
Although your homepage is certainly a strong (and high-traffic) place to start, don’t make it the only site of hype generation. If someone is perusing a product page or finalizing a purchase, why not let them know that they can come back in a couple weeks and enjoy your lowest prices of the year? By planting that seed in your site visitors’ heads, you give yourself a better chance of winning their wallets when the time comes for them to hunt for deals.
What better place to promote upcoming sales?
If you want to go the extra mile, you can include a blurb about your upcoming holiday season sales in the confirmation emails you send to people who’ve just placed orders on your site: “Thank you for your order! Come back on Nov. 22 for our best deals of the year.”
Who could resist an offer like that?
12. Own organic search by creating gift-specific pages
According to Google Trends, the search queries “gifts for mom” and “gifts for dad” peak in the middle of December. “Gifts for her” and “gifts for him” also spike around this time, though not to the extent that they do at the beginning of February. Evidently, holiday shoppers don’t always head to Google with a specific product or brand in mind; often, they’re hunting for gifts for specific people in their lives.
Interest in “gifts for mom” throughout the year.
From an SEO perspective, this presents (nice, Conor) an amazing opportunity—an opportunity that only the most prepared ecommerce businesses will be able to capitalize on. By creating new, dedicated pages on your site that are optimized for keywords like “gifts for mom” and “gifts for him,” you improve your chances of ranking highly in the organic search results and getting your products in front of eager shoppers.
Why is this an important holiday marketing tip? Because when a search query triggers both paid and organic results, the user is more likely to browse the latter than the former. To truly step up your marketing during the holiday season, you need to think about both parts of the SERP.
For more guidance, we recommend checking out our beginner’s guide to SEO.
13. Cross-sell like crazy with relevant pop-ups
We made it! We’ve got one last holiday marketing tip for all you online retailers out there: Use the power of pop-ups to cross-sell your site visitors.
Even if you’ve never worked with pop-ups in your professional life, you’re most certainly familiar with them in your personal life: They’re the (sometimes annoying) windows that suddenly pop up on your screen while you’re looking at a web page.
I describe pop-ups as sometimes annoying for a reason: Pop-ups don’t need to be annoying! In fact, when they’re used thoughtfully and with the experience of the user in mind, they can actually be helpful.
In the context of ecommerce holiday marketing, you can use pop-ups to advertise related products to your site visitors. For example, let’s say you’re a cartoonist and you use your website to sell prints and merchandise. If one of your loyal readers is perusing the product page for one of your prints, you can use a pop-up to advertise a t-shirt that features the same strip. Because the product you’re using a pop-up to advertise is relevant, your disruption of the user experience isn’t all that disruptive.
It’s not too early: Start putting these holiday marketing tips to use!
Although, as I said before, the holiday season is a stressful time for pretty much everyone, it’s particularly intense for ecommerce businesses. True—it gives you a tremendous amount of commercial intent to convert into sales. But it also gives you a tremendous amount of competition to keep up with.
Though we don’t have all the answers, we hope you’ll put some of these holiday marketing tips to good use. With enough preparation, you can make this holiday season your best one yet!