Planning Your Holiday SEM Campaign

Planning Your Holiday SEM Campaign

By: Nick Guastella, Bruce Clay, Inc., July 2006

For many e-commerce sites, and especially for online retailers, the
year-end holiday season is the most critical six-to-eight-week selling
period of the entire year.

Each year, planning your holiday search engine marketing (SEM)
campaign becomes more competitive and increasingly challenging as
marketers realize the effectiveness of online advertising. The two most
successful online advertising strategies are SEM and display ads.
Marketers gain an advantage when they conduct both SEM and banner ad
campaigns concurrently.

Display Ads plus Search Ads Yield More Conversions

Atlas Institute reports that displaying banner ads alongside your SEM
listings will improve your campaign results. The study tracked 1.8
million users who were exposed to SEM ads and display ads from eleven
advertisers. Of the eleven campaigns, eight saw a 20 to 65 percent lift
due to the combination of search and display ads. The average lift in
conversions for all eleven campaigns was 22 percent.

Rise in Keyword Prices

Come autumn, keyword prices will begin to rise. Historically, prices
start increasing slightly in September, with the crest of the curve
coming about the second week of December. By late October or early
November, many marketers begin to realize how important holiday sales
are and will start frantically buying keywords through Google AdWords,
Yahoo Search Marketing and Microsoft AdCenter, as well as many of the
second tier pay-per-click (PPC) search engines.

One of the reasons for the sudden rise in keyword pricing is that
smaller companies that do not advertise regularly throughout the year
concentrate the bulk of their ad budget on the winter holiday season.
These marketers typically do not test their ads or analyze results. They
simply hope for the best by throwing money at PPC advertising,
believing that it is an easy way to get instant sales. Never mind that
they may not get the best ROI.

Savvy marketers know better–creating and following an orderly SEM plan is the only way to get a good return on your ad spend.

Plan Early

Smart marketers start thinking about holiday marketing plans in
August. It is easy to put this off because you know it’s still early,
but you don’t want to wait too long. When you don’t plan in advance, you
can end up spending too much for traffic that doesn’t convert well.
Thorough, advance planning will give you a well-tested campaign that
will generate maximum profits during those six to eight weeks when it
matters the most.

Create a Holiday Schedule

Starting in August, create a holiday schedule that fits in with your day-to-day operations. Guidelines are suggested below.


your goals and establish the metrics for success. This process is
crucial for any marketing campaign and especially for a seasonal SEM

Conduct research to identify the terms that will deliver prospects
motivated to convert. Then, set up your analytics tracking to show
results down to the keyword level. Start testing the first round in
August; that’s when the early birds begin searching for the perfect
gift. You can use this preliminary data to start fine-tuning as the
pre-holiday season gets underway.


implementing campaigns, testing and conducting research with a focus on
your brand. Try different keyword groups, develop a bidding strategy
and produce different ad creatives and landing pages. Begin identifying
the most profitable keywords, ads, ad groups and landing pages with your
analytics program.

Your research will center on the quality and quantity of keywords for
your entire product line. Retailers should ensure their entire catalog
is posted online, as people will search for everything you sell during
the holiday season.

Develop and leverage your brand terms. Use seasonal messages with
your brand, knowing that people typically search by brand just before
they buy.

Develop bidding strategies that line up with your budget goals.
Determine your positioning goals, performance targets and audience
segmenting strategy.


you can expand to multiple paid search options. Add shopping comparison
engines and third-tier search engines to your campaign. Explore
contextual advertising with Google AdSense and Yahoo Publisher Network
to expand your reach. Closely monitor and test your bidding strategies.

Implement and test these campaigns for keywords, creatives and
messages the same way you did earlier for campaigns on major search
engines. Continue to adjust your bidding strategies to coincide with
your predefined goals.


campaigns will already be paying off before competitors start their
frenzy of bidding without prior planning. It takes careful monitoring of
your bid targets and strategies to ensure you stay within your CPA
(cost per action) thresholds.

Continue monitoring all aspects of your campaign(s). Review metrics
to ensure plans are working. Refine your campaign by deleting keywords
and creatives that aren’t working. Set up keyword categories based on
what’s working, what should be changed and what should be deleted.


pricing will crest in about two weeks. Your SEM campaign should be
running full speed ahead. Now is the time to emphasize free shipping or
overnight delivery. As always, continue refining and monitoring your
campaign to meet predetermined goals, deleting keywords and creatives as
needed to maximize results.

This is also the time to develop your post-holiday campaigns.
Research keywords and prepare keyword groups. Create your sale ads,
offering bargains on items that will likely still be in inventory.


sales mark the tip end of your holiday season campaigns. Every year,
many shoppers have holiday money to spend and are looking for
after-Christmas sales. You have already shifted from pre-holiday
promotions to holiday ads, now you’re ready for the post-holiday sales.
Shoppers are looking for specials. Change your message and make bargain

In-House or Outsource

You can be prepared for the 2006 holiday season by following a
schedule similar to the one outlined above. Better still, you can hire
an SEM agency
to do it all for you; it takes a major chunk of time to
accomplish the tasks described above and with this strategy; you’re
going to be too busy making your customers happy.

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