Five Must Do's for Online Holiday Selling

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You should congratulate yourself While the rest of the world has been watching the leaves change color or wondering what costume to wear for Halloween, you have been laying the groundwork for your holiday marketing initiatives. As we approach the 31 most important days on the retail calendar, let's take a moment to run through one final checklist.

Web analytics have been Santa's gift to retailers. In the past decade, these tools have grown beyond simply reporting page views to offering powerful optimization capabilities that maximize your revenue potential. Today's smart retailers use Web analytics to more comprehensively understand their customers, their shopping patterns and buying intent. By leveraging behavior-based insights to target customers with relevant messages and content, retailers can sell more products more efficiently, more effectively, and at greater profit margins.

In order to take advantage of Black Friday and beyond, we've constructed a checklist to help retailers maximize Web analytics:

1. Set a benchmark by analyzing last year's Holiday results. What worked last season? What didn't? How much was spent? What products generated the most sales? This year's benchmark lies within last year's results. Furthermore, what channels were most effective? Was it paid search? An affiliate program? E-mail? What purchases generated repeat customers? What offers led to larger transactions?

2. Segment and then test last year's customers by shopping patterns to offer relevant marketing tactics, i.e., for early buyers, send 90-, 60-, and 30-day "countdown" emails or for last-minute shoppers, offer free shipping, coupons or other incentives to get them to buy earlier. Also make sure you test before committing significant online advertising dollars. By testing a campaign earlier, perhaps during another holiday, retailers can identify the window of opportunity between searching and buying.

3. Deploy and monitor campaigns before the Holiday season enters its peak period. This is important for a variety of reasons, but most notably because consumers are beginning to shop online earlier than ever before, according to Shop.org. Prior to the season, identify the hot trends and products (examine customer browsing behavior, carts adds, wish list activities, etc.) and examine zero-yield search terms to identify possible gaps in your product offering. Monitor for shifts in shopping behavior during the Holiday season. It's pertinent to identify when visitors shift from browsing to buying, so observe conversion rates to determine when the "must buy now" mentality kicks in. As you observe the increase in conversion, consider shifting your SEM budget from broad-match to narrow-match keywords.

4. Site Search. Many retailers spend millions on acquiring customers thru paid search keyword campaigns, but neglect their own internal site search. This is a major mistake. Site search is one of the most effective forms of conversion and product browsing for retail customers. Some minor tweaks to this functionality can mean the difference between a good holiday season and a great one.

5. Gift Centers and Cards are a staple of the holiday season. However, many retailers neglect to provide a smooth purchase process for these key areas. To bolster your success, make sure these areas are highly visible on your home page and other key landing pages, with clear calls to action that do not confuse the shopper. Doing so can prove very lucrative for your site.

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