Christmas begins in July for search engine marketers

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When other marketers head to the beach in July, search engine marketers begin planning for the fourth quarter boom. For those who balk at the idea, this is a welcome change from past years when search engine marketing spends were gleaned from traditional budget leftovers.

“A major trend that we've seen this holiday online shopping season is that marketers started planning even earlier this year than they have in past years,” said Robert Murray, president of iProspect. “We were engaged in conversations with many of our clients as early as July.”

Kevin Lee, executive chairman and co-founder of Didit, concurred. “At our suggestion, many clients raised their credit limits with the engines just in case they had to get aggressive or their campaigns were working unusually well due to a hot product. That strategy has already paid dividends.”

Consumer search patterns have been a focal point of early planning sessions. Chris Wallace, VP of media for iCrossing, noted that “the consumer path from consideration to conversion has become more complex.”

External factors have also shifted consumer research patterns this year.

“DoubleClick Performics recently conducted a survey asking consumers how the recent recalls would impact their toy-buying decisions and 58% plan to turn to research online and eliminate the dangerous toys from their shopping lists,” said Stuart Larkins, VP of search for the firm. “Given this information, how are toy retailers and manufactures using natural and paid search to inform consumers? It's absolutely a reputation management moment.”

While seasonal keyword inflation receives the most media attention, experienced marketers know that active bid management will offset any price increases.

George Michie, VP of client services for the Rimm-Kaufmann Group, advises that studying the previous year's data will help anticipate trends. “The more granularly this is done, the better,” he said.

Alison Roigard, director of online marketing for Netconcepts, reported that her firm has even seen lower CPCs, most likely due to tightly managing geo-targeting, landing page quality and matching types. Wallace points to proper use of broad and negative match types in particular.

Finally, bid management tactics must also take into account what DoubleClick Performics calls weekly “arcs”, where every holiday Monday is a potential Cyber Monday

“The busiest day will likely be a Monday closer to Christmas: Cyber Monday 4 or December 17 is a good bet,” said Larkins. “Each week has an arc as well, with heavier shopping on Monday and a move toward product research during the week as weekend offline shopping draws near. So, it's important to remember how and why consumers are using search throughout the season and allocate budgets accordingly.”

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