Profiting from the lull

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After years of tracking online retailer paid advertising and natural search campaign performance, we've come to one obvious conclusion: Every e-commerce market segment has a busy season. Or seasons.

We've come to another conclusion regarding online retail sales: What a retailer does during the seasonal slow times can dramatically influence how profitable they are year round. Following are a few things worth considering during the seasonal lull.

■ Assess analytics: Are marketers measuring what's important or simply what's been measured in the past? Organizations should poll internally about what data is important and adjust metrics accordingly. Also, are sites optimized for the best-selling PPC terms? If so, in the future it might not be necessary to buy the most expensive PPC positions and keywords.

■ Spruce up plans and internal systems: It's been months since the original marketing plan was created. Much has changed. Plans should be revisited based on what was learned last busy season. Have some priorities, capabilities or services changed? Were there internal bottlenecks that hampered overall performance and customer satisfaction? If so, now's the time to fix them.

■ Experiment: Marketers can build both market share and sales during industry slow seasons by experimenting. For example, a good but unaffordable promotion during peak seasons might now fit the budget. Combine this with a PPC campaign that purchases high positions on some seasonally expensive key terms, and it might jump-start sales. Slow sales times are also a good time to try adding search engines to a buy, expand the existing keyword list or look at vertical search engines.

■ Build the brand: Marketers should consider banner ads to differentiate their brand and build market awareness. Plan early, be consistent and negotiate placement so busy season positions are included.

■ Find an edge: Lulls are a good time to analyze what the competition is doing and saying. The first instinct is to copy what works for others. Unless a marketer is in a position to undercut pricing, improve delivery times or provide an easily perceived better value, it may serve them better to look for what nobody else in their industry is doing, something the market says they would appreciate. Develop some ideas and test them. Then get ready to get busy again.

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