Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing for the Holiday Season (2021)

Oct 29th, 2021

In this guide, we hope to offer you one or two tips in each area that you may not have considered and which could help to make a good season great, as well as a list of key dates and some interesting statistics to consider, or to use when campaigning for budget from those in control of the purse strings.

Over the years, named retail days have been on the rise – with Cyber Monday cropping up in 2005 and continuing to grow in prominence, joining Super Saturday (the last Saturday before Christmas) – but these tend to be the naming of existing trends, which retailers have already reinforced with discounts long before they are named. What we have seen over the last decade, is a conscious effort by retailers to increase a demand that has no historical antecedent.

The shopping holiday season, therefore, seems to get bigger every year. For every brand that opts out of Black Friday deals (whether on or offline), there’s another ten or more that will be competing for the first time and that goes for almost the whole of November and December. Nowhere is this change more visible than with digital spend – which has increased consistently, even during the relative financial instability of 2019-2021.

In fact, there has been an unprecedented growth in digital and ecommerce, as noted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and confirmed by various studies, including the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)

What comes with increased revenue, however, is increased expectation – and it’s for this reason that brands will likely need to increase marketing spend to remain on a level footing with the competition. However, while increased spend may be necessary, there are also things that brands can factor into their ongoing digital marketing plans that will help them both in the short and long-term.

Digital marketing – year-round – is about finding unique and creative ways of implementing best practices and trying to find or invent new strategies for improving performance. However, there are specific techniques, both technical and creative, that can specifically help your brand to succeed during the glut of shopping holidays that take up the last three months of the year. These are what we mean by digital marketing for the holidays, those techniques above and beyond the day-to-day optimisation which can help you to get ahead.

While 2020 was an outlier due to the pandemic, there has been a general upward trend and even the addition of new dates to the seasonal calendar for more than a decade. This means that there’s a lot of work to do to ensure you’re fighting fit for the season which begins in earnest at the beginning of November each year. The reason we refer to it as the ‘holiday season’ is that the months of November and December include several shopping ‘holidays’ which, depending on who you ask, ends with either Christmas, Boxing Day or the January Sales.

annual value of singles day in the UK
Value of singles day (11th November) in the UK
  • 2nd November – Purple Tuesday
  • 11th November – Singles Day
  • 26th November – Black Friday
  • 29th November – Cyber Monday
  • 13th December – Green Monday
  • 18th December – Super Saturday
  • 26th December – Boxing Day
  1. Use the same URLs every year: – from an SEO perspective, building the authority of a page is an ongoing process. As such, brands should reuse the same ‘Black Friday’, ‘Christmas’, ‘Cyber Monday’ or any other shopping holiday or date specific pages every year (or ensure that redirections are in place from one year to the next and that redirect chains are regularly checked). By reusing the same URL, you can gradually build authority and visibility of the main page which can also help deal pages to rank when the holiday rolls around.
  2. Create a distinct shopping experience: – when shopping on your site for specific holidays, the user should know when they are within the borders of those deals, so create separate page types to allow you to differentiate the shopping experience, allowing for sharing, navigation and shopping without confusion.
  3. Make the most of trust signals: – shopping holidays or deals may be the first time that users have encountered your website. For that reason, you should ensure that you are trumpeting your trustworthiness. That means making reviews more visible, ensuring that your site is up to date with https and security certificates to avoid error messages, that your checkout process is recognisable and secure, and that you are only seeking information necessary for what the user needs to carry out the purchase or activity they’re attempting.
  4. Stress-test your servers: – while it may seem like wishful thinking that your store will be overrun with users desperate to buy your products, you can lose a lot of potential revenue if your site exceeds capacity. It is better to be too prepared for a surge than to risk hundreds of potential users hitting a 500 error.
  5. Have your updated content ready to go: – as with the season/holiday specific top-level pages, your holiday specific content should also be re-used and updated from year to year. By building your content out and updating it over time, you can be better placed every year for holiday/season specific keywords. Try to avoid dating the content in the URL and you can update annually to improve the content and your chances of capturing important keywords.
  1. Countdown: – one driver of sales is the limited lifespan of offers, so make the most of it with a countdown, create a bit of additional encouragement and drive customers toward the checkout. While it has been overused by sites looking to capitalise on the psychological impact of a limited time offer, a genuine countdown can still improve sales if used properly – see Amazon’s ‘Lightning Deals’.
  2. Differentiate your brand: – you will be competing with virtually every brand online in your space over the holidays and while prices may differ only a little, the extras can be a deciding factor even if your price is higher. Does a portion of your sales go to charity? Is your brand carbon neutral? Do you offer free delivery? Whatever your USP, the holiday season is a time you should definitely be shouting about it.
  3. Encourage sharing: – offer incentives for sharing – discount codes can be a powerful incentive and can boost your brand’s reach at an important time. The further your offers reach, the more buyers you can have, so make the most of holiday season traffic by asking users to bring a friend.
  4. Stop your basket timing out: – perhaps more of a generic bugbear than a specific holiday tip, but while you’re looking to do big business, having a basket that times out and empties due to inactivity is going to cost you money. People will be comparing basket prices and, if yours is empty when they get back, you’ll lose that sale for sure.
  5. Offer early access or personalised deals to members: – loyalty cannot be appreciated too highly, so if you have a membership or loyalty card, offer them that little bit extra and turn a happy shopper into a brand ambassador.
  1. Take advantage of new options: – whether it’s tROAS bidding or app deep linking, making sure you’re using the latest ad options will give you a competitive advantage over brands that may only make a big paid media push once every twelve months.
  2. Have a back-up campaign: – as with server load, planning for a rapid sell-out may seem like wishful thinking, but if your main campaign over-performs, or you run out of stock, you need to make sure you have a campaign ready to take its place in moments.
  3. Hit them where they live: – there are dozens of places to spend your paid media budget, but often not enough budget to go around. Make sure you’re doing your research and spending it on the right platforms. Social platforms have improved their ad offering every year, TikTok is now a thing, live-shopping is now a thing, so make sure you’re spending your budget where your target audience spends their time (and money).
  4. Use remarketing while you still can: – if you’re spending your budget through Google ads, the next couple of years could be the last time you’ll be able to use retargeting, so make the most of it. If a user has looked at products but not purchased over the preceding couple of months, let them know about the fantastic deals you have on the products they want.
  5. Use Google Shopping Promotions: – promotions on Google present shoppers with a ‘special offer’ link (% off, free delivery etc.) This can increase the appeal of the product and encourage sales, so make sure your product feed is active in Google Merchant Center and that you’re making the most of the promotions option.

While there are going to be different degrees of importance placed on each holiday by every brand, the main points here are as useful for any brand that is subject to seasonality. If your number one sale takes place in the summer, this advice is still applicable, if you’re only selling valentine’s day bouquets, it still applies.

The digital space is growing all the time, and it pays to keep ahead, so if your brand experiences seasonal or holiday related peaks in interest, you should be prepared!

Want to make sure your brand is in peak condition for next year’s holidays and seasonality?

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