'Tis the season to restructure your SEM

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Experts say the holiday season begins earlier every year, and online retailers must restructure their campaigns to thrive during this competitive time.

To attract buyers, search marketers need to create a lasting impression and secure the consumer's loyalty and trust.

"This can be done by maintaining an online presence throughout the year and monitoring the ever-changing bidding landscape to stay on top of the shifts in the industry," said Chrysi Philalithes, vice president of global marketing and communication for Miva, New York.

Adding holiday keywords is one way to adjust a pay-per-click campaign for the season. The existing list of keywords needs to be revised as well, said Ms. Philalithes and Alison Hilles, campaign manager at Sitelab International, San Diego.

"Take, for example, an online storefront selling stationery, business cards and related printing products," Ms. Philalithes said. "The storefront's main keyword list can include products such as 'greeting cards' and 'business cards.' From November, the storefront's campaign should include keywords like 'holiday cards' and 'corporate holiday cards.'"

Marketers often need to expand their budget during this season, and knowing your optimal bid range is imperative. Because PPC lets marketers track data in real time and calculate campaign performance, it is easy to determine which keywords have the best return on investment.

Keyword prices rise during the holiday season to meet higher demand. Testing a campaign before the season starts helps marketers avoid overpaying.

"This will allow you to better gauge the max bid you should set on certain keywords to produce a desired ROI," Ms. Philalithes said. "With holiday bidding, also remember to go out of the gate strong. Some PPC engines, like Google, incorporate factors beyond bid price, such as click-through rates, to determine your ad's position."

Updating a campaign's creative also is crucial. Holiday shoppers look for bargains, so titles and descriptions need to be revised. Ms. Philalithes suggests including the searched-for keyword in the title and mentioning the promotion directly.

"Such call-to-action phrases can mean the difference between a click on your ad or a competitor's," she said.

Combining holiday marketing efforts also is key. Include promotional information everywhere it fits. Simple tactics like adding a banner to a home page promoting the same offers can tie the campaign together as a whole, as long as wherever a consumer clicks, she arrives at the same landing page.

Ms. Willes urged boosting local search during the holiday season because local search draws a higher conversion rate than a national campaign.

"Set up local in two ways," she said. "Buy the keywords with local modifiers and also set up geo-targeted campaigns using generic keywords."

For example, if you know that the majority of your customers are from New York, bolster spending on a local New York search campaign.

"The holiday season can be a make-or-break time for search marketers and their online campaigns," Ms. Philalithes said. "It can also serve as the launching pad for ongoing future success."

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