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Preparing Your eCommerce Site for the Holiday Season

The importance of the holiday shopping season is no secret to anyone who works in retail, and the role that eCommerce plays continues to grow in significance.
 
A May 2019 eMarketer survey found that in 2018, eCommerce holiday shopping accounted for $123.39 billion worth of the more than $719 billion in total holiday retail sales reported by the National Retail Federation.
 
And, even of customers who choose to purchase in-store instead, 23% start by researching products online.
 
These statistics present pretty compelling evidence of how important your eCommerce site can be for your business — even if you do see a heavy increase in foot traffic at your brick-and-mortar locations. This is a great time to make sure your web presence is in tip-top shape to attract customers and facilitate (or augment) their holiday shopping experience.

Get Shoppers to Your Site with Optimized SEO


There are plenty of tools out there to help you optimize your SEO strategy. Most importantly, you want to make sure that nothing you do impacts your currently ranking keywords.
 
First, you want to do some regular housekeeping:

  • Check your site for broken links and images.

  • Eliminate any duplicate content.

Once that’s done, you can consider some of these holiday-specific strategies.

Research Relevant Holiday Keywords

Identify high-volume holiday keywords and target them where you can. Increased competition over the holiday season makes it even more important for you to stand out in customers’ shopping searches. 

Work on Your Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Optimizing title tags and meta descriptions — which shoppers will see first on search engine results pages — with holiday-specific messaging and promotions can help set your business apart from competitors in the search results.

Create Holiday-Specific Landing Pages

Landing pages for specific holiday promotions (e.g., for Black Friday or Cyber Monday) can help you show up in deal-seeking shoppers’ searches. If you create the pages ahead of time, you can use a 302 redirect to make sure the pages only appear when you want them to. This gives search engine crawlers time to scan the site — and you have more time to optimize.

Searches incorporating promotional keywords (e.g., “sale,” “coupon,” and “discount”) spike over the holidays. Long-tail keywords incorporating these promotional terms can boost your holiday performance.

Incorporate Personalization to Improve Conversions


Personalization can mean a lot of things, ranging from simple tactics to more technical strategies to convert customers. But whether you keep it simple or take it to the next level, personalization works. According to Think with Google, up to 89% of marketers report that personalization tactics resulted in increased revenue.

Segment Customer Groups for Laser-Focused Campaigns

Customer segmentation can improve ROI by enabling more targeted email communications and promotions. Different tactics may work best for new visitors versus your long-time loyal customers.

Make Relevant Recommendations

Use customers’ purchase history to make product recommendations, either via email marketing or on product pages.

Use an Optimization Tool

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) tools can enable you to customize the way your website appears to each shopper based on their previous browsing habits or content they’ve interacted with on your site.

Make Omnichannel Work for You


Shoppers are interacting with brands and products in more ways — and in more places — than ever before. Be where they are, and you’ll be top-of-mind when they need a product you provide.

Enter the Marketplace

Marketplaces (we’re looking at you, Amazon) are a huge part of the holiday shopping experience. In fact, about half of all Black Friday 2018 transactions were through Amazon. If your products aren’t already on one or more of the major marketplaces, consider making that part of your holiday strategy.

Align Digital and In-Person Experiences

You can also incorporate physical, in-person opportunities for shoppers to discover and interact with your products. If your business has brick-and-mortar locations as well as eCommerce, enable shoppers to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS). This provides added convenience with the positive byproduct of increasing foot traffic to your brick-and-mortars.
 
If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar, participating in holiday pop-up shops are another great opportunity to reach new customers.

Make Sure Your Site is Ready to Perform


In eCommerce, downtime is your biggest enemy — followed closely by pages that take too long to load. A 2018 Unbounce survey showed that 70% of consumers report that online retailers’ page speeds impact their desire to complete a purchase.
 
Some of the biggest impacts on site performance can come from third-party components and integrations, overburdened APIs, servers that can’t scale, and webpages overloaded with large graphics.
 
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure site slowdowns don’t slow down your online revenue:

1. Run Load Tests

Test your store’s server load capacity with tools like LoadImpact.com or Blitz.io. Load testing can help ensure your servers can handle the kind of increases in traffic and transactions the holiday season is sure to bring.
 
Make sure to test your third-party integrations, too. They can be common culprits of site slowdowns. Once you’ve tested everything, a code freeze for the holiday season may be a good idea — don’t risk downtime during your busiest season! (Exception to this rule: If you discover a security vulnerability, even during the holiday season, you must patch it. Keep your site and shoppers safe from compromise.)
 
You can look back on metrics from prior years’ holiday season performance to make an educated projection about how much traffic your site must be able to handle this year.

2. Test and Optimize for Page Speed

Going into the holiday season, everyone is in a hurry — and if your pages take too long to load, you’re going to lose shoppers. Tools like GTmetrix and Google’s PageSpeed Insights can help determine your page load speeds.
 
If your pages are taking too long to load, you may need to:

  • Optimize your images sizes,

  • Reduce redirects,

  • Eliminate unnecessary plugins or apps, or

  • Compress or minify your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.

3. Ensure Consistent Performance Across Devices

Don’t forget that the way your site performs on mobile devices is just as important as its performance on desktop. Mobile eCommerce sales in 2018 reached over $207 billion, up from just $42 billion only five years prior.
 
Your mobile site should provide shoppers with a seamless experience. It’s also important to check page load times, so shoppers don’t bounce out of impatience.

4. Make it Easy to Check Out

Speaking of impatience, the checkout stage experiences the highest level of cart abandonment — and too many fields to fill is one of the biggest culprits. If you enable customers to create accounts on your site or app, save their contact information and addresses, so future purchases are more convenient.
 
Another feature to consider, particularly for mobile sites and apps, is to offer customers the option to scan their credit cards with phone cameras instead of manually entering the full number. Apple Pay, Android Pay, Google Wallet, MasterPass, Visa Checkout, and PayPal are also great options to offer as digital wallets become more ubiquitous.

5. Offer a Great Search Experience

On-site search performance can vary widely. Newer site search technologies can help guide customers to the products they’re looking for by increasing error tolerance — returning helpful results despite spelling or grammatical errors — and using natural language processing to understand language nuances to understand what shoppers mean when they enter a query.

6. Back Up Your Data

Don’t risk losing all the work you’ve put in prepping content, collections, and landing pages for the holidays. Back up all your data on a regular basis. Hopefully, you’ll never need it — but if and when you do, it will be a lifesaver. There are plenty of tools that automate this, so you can set it and forget it.

Executive Summary


As the competition for business continues to increase, a high-performing holiday sales season is more important than ever. But there are a lot of opportunities out there if you focus your pre-holiday efforts where they’ll be most impactful.

  • If you want to get in front of new potential customers, SEO optimization will help you surge in the search rankings, setting you apart from competitors.
  • To improve conversions among your existing audience, use personalization tactics to help guide shoppers to products of interest (and give them helpful gift ideas). 
  • Meet shoppers where they are by integrating with marketplaces and aligning physical and digital experiences. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keep your shoppers on your site by making sure it works — and works well. Pay close attention to the user experience on your eCommerce site, including site speed, search, and mobile. Your customers might not give it a second thought if your site is perfectly functional, but they will notice if it isn’t!

Victoria Fryer

Victoria Fryer

Victoria Fryer is a content marketing manager at BigCommerce, an open SaaS eCommerce platform providing differentiated commerce experiences for growing businesses. With more than ten years of writing experience, she enjoys making words work across industries — including prior experience in cybersecurity and higher education. She lives and works in Austin, Texas.

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