Christmas is coming. I said it. I hate myself for saying it. You likely hate me a little bit for saying it, too, but I am a big guy, and I can take that.
As it goes, I like Christmas. I really do. I have three kids, and it’s an amazing time to spend with them. I don’t, however, like the immediate post-Halloween gear shift into Christmas overdrive that means we have to live with the anticipation of one day for two months.
However, all “bah humbugs” aside, we marketers can’t just bury our heads in the snow — and failing to plan is planning to fail. We must be thinking and acting now to ensure our digital marketing is on point and that we prosper during the festive period.
Shopping: Online, Offline Or Both?
The digital and physical shopping worlds are colliding. Purchases may start online and end up in store. Or purchases may start in store and end up online.
Customers do digital research, visit stores, and even then buy online. Even in the mad Christmas rush which sees shopping malls packed to the rafters, these shoppers are all armed with an always-on digital assistant allowing for quick and easy research (the smartphone).
I am probably a great example. When it comes to gift shopping, I flounder, walking aimlessly around the shops looking for a gift for my wife. I give up, grab a coffee and turn to Google. I search for [christmas gift ideas for her] and review the results, looking for inspiration as much as an exact gift.
In my search, I find Debenhams has a whole section on “gifts for her.” I get some ideas. I Google “debenhams birmingham” and find the shop address. I click on the directions link, and Google Maps guides me in. It’s all so simple and so obvious.
Today’s customers are not simply stumbling around like zombies in a shopping mall — they are using smartphones, search engines and social media to make informed purchase decisions.
What, No SEO?
Many physical shops, bars, pubs and restaurants pay little attention to their digital presence. Even those that were forward-thinking enough to claim their Google My Business listings are unlikely to update their store hours to reflect early openings or late closings around Christmas.
What happens when someone finds you, yet Google reports that you are closed despite a late-night opening? You just lost a sale. And this is just the tip of the Christmas iceberg.
This article looks at 12 simple, actionable improvements you can make to ensure your shop, restaurant or bar turns on its digital tractor beam and draws real customers in from the baying hoards this holiday season.
1. Mobile-Friendly Site
Seriously. mobile has happened. It’s a thing. For those of you with potential clients roaming around in your vicinity, it is a really big thing.
Quite simply, if you want to increase footfall to your store from customers during the Christmas rush, then you need to make sure your site works well across all mobile devices. Mobile has generally overtaken desktop in search volumes, and whether we are targeting folks who are starting to research a gift purchase or actively out shopping, mobile is going to be a huge factor.
Responsive design has been around since 2012 and has become somewhat mature and easier than ever to implement. If you run WordPress, then there is no end of responsive themes and frameworks. Also, there are plugins like WP Touch that allow you to make your site mobile-friendly in moments.
2. SEO Nuts & Bolts
Your site is not as well-optimized as it could be. That’s a fact. I would even go so far as to say that your site is likely not well optimized at all from a user experience and search standpoint. Christmas is massive in retail, but you will only do the numbers if customers can find you and they like what you have to say.
Take some time and get the basics dialed in:
- Product descriptions
- Product images
- Product reviews
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
These are all simple improvements that help your users and don’t require massive technical know-how. You can review up to 500 pages on your site with the free version of the Screaming Frog SEO spider, and this will allow you to quickly determine where you have title tag and meta description opportunities (and a whole lot more for the savvy site owners out there).
From a local SEO perspective, ensure you have great location pages, or add the address on every page if you have a single store. Think about what your customers need to find you, and optimize the connection between the digital and physical.
There are many reasons why your SEO may not be working as well as you would like, so take some time to review your current standing, understand areas that need improvement, and most importantly of all, get the basics dialed in.
3. Marketing Personas
Have you ever really stopped to consider who your customers are? In search, it is all too easy to rely on simple keyword search data to imply intent, but behind those keyboards are real people with real goals and problems.
By spending some time determining who your customers are and what they look like, you can be far more strategic in helping them and catering to their needs.
Marketing or buyer personas enrich all of your communications — content marketing, SEO, social media and paid search. This can be a relatively simple process, and most businesses will only need to create a couple of personas. I am a big fan of marketing personas from a practical and creative perspective.
Take a look at this beginner’s guide to marketing personas with simple templates to get you started.
4. Social Media
Whilst search provides the answers, the importance of social platforms in aiding shoppers is growing year on year. In particular, visual platforms like Pinterest provide users with a means to browse pictures for ideas.
Whether this is a man thing or just a me thing, I know I struggle knowing what to buy my wife each year — after all, just what do you get the lady with a search geek for a husband? Pinterest provides me with a way to search, browse and get ideas in a much more suggestive way than a simple Google search.
Potential customers will expect you to be visible on social networks, but you still must give them a reason to follow you. Special offers, coupons and support to assist consumers in the buying decision will help you build lists of potential customers. Just ensure you are active and can answer questions as they are asked.
Understand your customers. Provide helpful content that really assists them in reaching their goals, and be there to support them through the process.
Being active on social media is a great start, but these platforms also provide powerful advertising options. Facebook in particular provides an array of demographic and interest targeting options, allowing you to laser in on your key audience. Facebook provides a life event targeting option, allowing you to reach people who are in a new relationship, newly engaged or newlywed — powerful information if you are, say, a jewelery store.
This is where your marketing personas really come into play. By better understanding and relating to the customers you want, you can more accurately target them with ads on the social platforms.
Target your audience, give them a reason to follow you, and support them through the purchase process.
5. Paid Search Ads
If you search for anything with any kind of commercial intent, then you are going to see paid search advertisements. In fact, many searches on mobile now show only paid search ads above the fold, giving them a level of screen space that organic will never be able to deliver.
Many businesses have had their digital fingers burned with PPC, but there is a great opportunity here when this is done correctly. Google knows where users are when they search on their smartphones, and you can target search ads within a mile of your store. You can bid aggressively, as you know these users are close and are looking.
Google AdWords also provides a range of ad extensions to show local business information, such as your location and phone number. From this information, a user can quickly and easily get directions or give you a call.
By creating search ads that are shown within a tight geographic radius and only to users “on the go” on smartphones, you can quickly and easily raise awareness with potential customers as they are ready to buy. This allows you to help your potential customers achieve their goals and keeps the targeting laser-focused to ensure you keep the return on investment high.
6. Display Network Ads
Building on our search ads, we can also utilize image ads via the Google Display network. Again, you can utilize demographic and location targeting options. You can also build up lists of previous site visitors in remarketing lists to stay in front of users after an initial visit.
We find display network ads work well when they are part of a clearly defined sales funnel and the role is clearly defined — whether that is to educate potential customers about what you offer or to help convince them that this really is the right gift (or place to eat and drink).
Display ads are a simple, affordable way to expand your reach. Done well, they can be highly effective in expanding your audience, raising awareness and helping convince a potential customer that your shop or product is the right choice for them.
7. Click & Collect
Click and collect, in which users purchase or reserve an item online and then pick it up in person, has been a huge trend across Christmas 2013 and 2014. We can only imagine that this will continue to see growth this year as it is pushed by all the large retail players. In fact, major retailer John Lewis had more click and collect than home delivery orders over 2014. Click and collect provides convenience for time-challenged Christmas shoppers.
The sudden growth in click and collect has caused issues for the large players, with Tesco and Marks & Spencer failing to cope with demand. Everything from failed in-store deliveries to excessive wait times took some of the shine away from click and collect, so if you do it (and you should), do it well.
Argos and other players are all promoting and expecting big things from click and collect this year, so if you can implement this within your business, then you can ride the wave of customer awareness and put this to work for you.
Remember, we are trying to help our customers solve their problems, and the easier we can make it for them to do this, the more our online and offline marketing will work together.
8. Address & Directions
This should be obvious but often, the most obvious improvements are easily overlooked. If a customer searches for you, how easily can they find directions? How easily can they find your address? Do they need to visit your site? Is there a page on your site that is optimized such that this information can be gleaned from a search engine? Is your address on your social media profiles?
Make sure your address is correct on your website and Google Maps, and provide whatever information you can to aid your customers in getting to you. This can range from walking directions, public transit, driving directions and parking — ultimately, anything that will help your customers come and find you. Add your address to all social media platforms.
Consider embedding a Google map on your contact page, allowing customers to generate their own directions and customize to their own method of transport.
9. Holiday Opening Hours
Google has a great feature that tells search engine users whether you are open or closed. So, it naturally follows that you would like for it to get your opening hours correct. But, what happens when your opening hours change for a few weeks during the busiest period of the year?
If you are not careful, you may have your business returned in search results, only for Google to report it as closed. Google even has a simple drop-down allowing searchers to filter by opening hours — not that the majority will use this feature, but if your shop shows as closed, you could lose a potential sale. Likewise, if your competitors’ shops show as closed whilst yours is open, you have the chance to clinch an extra sale.
Ensure you claim your Google+ page and make any needed changes to the data. Also be sure to update any social media platforms with any changes to opening times. Don’t be scared to broadcast this information over your social channels.
10. Reviews & Reputation
In a 2014 consumer report by Bright Local, 88 percent of consumers reported that they consult and trust online reviews — yet most businesses still fail to have a proactive review process.
This is dangerous. While you may have a backbone of happy, contented customers, it is unlikely they are leaving reviews unless you ask them to. Without reviews, you are at risk of having no reputation signals, or worse — that one customer whom you tried and tried to accommodate but could not keep happy could leave you your only (scathing) review. This is all too common and does not represent the real situation for most businesses.
Fortunately, putting this right is relatively simple: you just have to ask your happy customers for reviews. This can be a numbers game and may need a customized approach, but your can boost your credibility and stand out amongst your competitors by seeding reviews out to all relevant platforms.
The statistics from a user, SEO and click-through perspective are clear: reviews help you rank, help you win clicks and help you win customers.
11. Live Support
There have been several live chat studies conducted over the last few years, with respondents claiming that live chat is the preferred customer support channel and that they are more likely to make a purchase after using a live chat. Live chat can also prevent any last-minute jitters during a checkout process — so from customer support to sales, live chat is an important piece of your marketing toolkit.
Adding live chat is a really simple way to create soft conversions and start a conversation with site visitors. We don’t have time for email and mailing lists when we are looking to pull real people through the door, so live chat can be the first stage in building a rapport with future customers.
You are prepared for the Christmas rush, but is your site? Do you know how well your site can cope with additional visitors? Is the site fast enough to keep mobile users happy? Does the site slow down under heavy loads?
Now is a good time to look at your website and ensure it will not only be easy to find but that when people do find it, the performance is lightning-fast and handles heavier than usual visitor numbers. This is crucial, and all of your other efforts will add up to a big fat zero if your site or hosting can’t handle the pressure.
Review your site from a technical perspective by using a tool such as Google PageSpeed Insights and implementing any suggestions. I would also recommend testing your hosting to ensure it can cope. You can simply have several people crawl your site with the free version of Screaming Frog for a simple stress test, or there are commercial services out there to do this properly. I am also a big fan of pingdom.com, which can actively monitor your site at all times so you know about potential issues before they become problems.
The 12 SEO Tips Of Christmas
Here are the basic tips summarized to help you maximize the digital visibility of your store and drive more customers your way over the festive period:
- Ensure you have a mobile-friendly website.
- Get the SEO basics correct (content, page titles, meta descriptions).
- Develop simple buyer personas to understand your audience.
- Be active on social media and utilize the powerful demographic targeting for ads.
- Target hyper-local smartphone users with paid search ads.
- Utilize display network ads for awareness and remarketing.
- If suitable, provide and promote a “click and collect” service.
- Make sure your address and directions are correct across your search and social channels.
- Holiday opening hours: Update your opening hours across your search and social channels.
- Ensure you have honest, positive reviews visible across the search and social networks.
- Improve visitor engagement by integrating a live chat platform.
- Ensure your site is fast and stable enough to cope with increased demand.
This just about wraps up 12 relatively straightforward and certainly important tips you can put in place to ensure you use the digital landscape to promote your local business this holiday season.
Implement all of these and you will bring home the Christmas goose!