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Monday, Oct. 19, 2009 at 9:00 am

How Much Pre-Holiday Optimization is Enough?

By Brendan Regan
October 19th, 2009

Lots of our clients and prospects are asking questions along the lines of: I want to optimize before the Holiday rush, but I don’t want to introduce too much change at such a critical time.

A valid question/concern, to be sure.  Our answer is, of course, “It depends.”  However, here are a few approaches that we’ve seen work:

Extreme Effort Until a Certain Datedecision

Look at your previous year’s analytics and the upward trend of conversions closer to the holidays.  When did it start to trend up in a consistent manner?  Mid-October?  November?  Late-November?  Based on last year’s trend line, pick a date after which you’ll stop optimizing and stabilize your site for the Holiday rush.  Then, free up all the budget and resources you can to work on an optimization to-do list from today until your stop date.  After the Holidays, you can finish everything that didn’t get finished before your stop date.

Optimize the Checkout Process

Another approach is to focus solely on the checkout process from now until the end of the Holidays.  This means leaving the homepage, landing pages, content pages, etc. alone until 2010, and just test and optimize the cart pages to squeeze every last conversion out of those folks you’ve persuaded.

Merchandise for the Holidays (a.k.a. Deck the Halls)

Some clients want a site-wide approach that ties in with Holiday shopping and gift-giving.  This is less about optimization and more about seasonal relevance, but it’s still a valid approach that could lift your Holiday conversions.  Many sites simply throw a Holiday-themed graphic on their homepage and call it “done,” but the world-class sites have little touches throughout the site to put their prospects in a shopping mood.  eBay has done some nice, subtle things to dress their site up around the Holidays, and I’m sure they have something up their sleeve this year.  One of our clients last year used empty real estate throughout the site, including the shopping cart, to display some Holiday messaging and graphics.  They also updated their checkout through the last week of the Rush to indicate how many days were left to have gifts reach recipients by 12/24, creating a nice sense of urgency as well as being informative.

Split Your To-Do List

A fourth approach is to simply brainstorm every optimization you think could impact your conversion rate.  Then, use various criteria to split the list into “pre-Holidays” and “post-Holidays.”  Commit the resources and intensity to get the “pre” list done, then leave the “post” list until everyone is back in the office and the 2010 budget is approved ;) .  This is probably the easiest approach, but carries with it the risk that you’ll implement some low-impact optimizations, when you could have implemented the high-impact items.  In this case, we recommend outside help to prioritize that list!

We hope these ideas help everyone find an approach they’re comfortable with, execute well, and reap the rewards!

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Comments (43)

  1. Planning your budget right now sure does help. I take my Soylicious candles and make great gift out of them along with gift baskets.

  2. Not directly related to this article but your pictures do not show up in my google reader. Other articles and sites I read in the reader allow images to show up. Hope that helps.

  3. Christmas season is fast coming now. That’s precisely the reason why clients can’t relax anymore. They want to go with the flow of this upcoming holiday season to boost their sales.

  4. Update your homepage to include a gifts link / links for gifts under $XX, gifts for her, for him, etc… Make it easy for last minute shoppers to get quick ideas.

  5. Planning your budget right now sure does help. And method of Split Your To-Do List is very helpful for me.

  6. It surely helps you BIG TIME. You are landing on to a different place, so you need to be planned in terms of money and schedule. Good piece of info.

  7. So who gets holidays?

  8. This is the best time to collect as many emails as you can and really push the newsletter all NOV for those that do a lot of email marketing

  9. I agree with Review Unit, It surely helps, don’t see this as a time waster!

  10. “This is less about optimization and more about seasonal relevance” time well spent

  11. Great article, very helpful indeed

  12. i would always complete my work and then take a long break from work, because pending works really becomes headache to me to complete all together, so its better to work first and then go for holidays.

  13. I think that in these financial hard times is better to wait for a last minute deals

  14. Very helpfull, thanks for sharing!

  15. Good post – too many people fret about improving traffic, but really improving conversion rate is more effective, and worth investing in before more traffic – otherwise you have wasted good leads.

  16. This year I will avoid doing direct pre-holiday optimization and I will rather concentrate on the quality of the content on my web site. This proved very successful last year, much more than optimization.

  17. From an SEO perspective you can still keep building external links without fear. New external links can only help, they are guaranteed not to hurt.

  18. Main thin is to keep in mind your goal and profit, and do whatever it takes to reach it.

  19. There never is a good time, I dont think…. if you plan well you can avoid all the trouble you pointed too.

  20. Planning now DEFINITELY helps. Thank you so much for posting!

  21. What’s special about the Christmas period ?

    1) More traffic
    2) More people buying gifts
    3) Time pressure to deliver before Christmas

    1) More traffic: this means now is a BAD time to try generic improvements like your cart

    2) More gifters: help them find their gifts with “for him/her” and “under $xx” and so on – and show good policies for returning unwanted/wrong size etc

    3) Time pressure: show your delivery policies and deadlines – maybe have guaranteed delivery at an extra cost for 11th hour shoppers

    Any non-seasonal stuff should be scheduled for a quieter time of year.

  22. Just have to agree John… but you could make a site only dedicated towards holidays (or only christmas… etc?) and optimizing this one. So you can even make an extra cut off from holiday with a specia holiday optimized website.

  23. In advertising and marketing they often work up to a year in advance (i worked on a website for Gossard that was produced 1.5 years before it was due to launch) so my guess is as early as possible.

    Personally on our current website we’ve planned in the few days before xmas and new year to impliment the sale with the planning starting around nowish.

  24. I don’t do much in the way of holiday specific marketing. I just wonder if all the halloween costume sites will disappear or do they stay around throughout the year.

    Now although I do not sell holiday stuff I’m certainly in the mood to buy for christmas so make those websites cheery so I can spend my husbands hard earned money. :-)

  25. We optimize the site the whole year, but leave it half October to get most out of Christmas.

  26. I think the important thing is looking at past data and see when traffic was ramped up. You may find that at other times of the year traffic may spike around other holidays, and you can use this for your advantage as well

  27. Very helpful article. Thanks for the writer

  28. We optimize the site the whole year, but leave it half October to get most out of Christmas.

  29. Great article, very helpful indeed

  30. Thanks for the reminder for preholiday optimization…I almost forget xmas was just around the corner!

  31. My tip would be to remove all mention of xmas immediately after the event – there is nothing worse than seeing a xmas-ised website at the end of January!

  32. The right amount of optimisation is the amount that gets you to the top of google, bing and yahoo for every search term even remotely related to your site, then gets every serious visitor to purchase. An impossible dream obviously – my point is there is always more you can do to improve things!

  33. Brendan,
    I completely agree with you.
    I must optimize my To-Do List first.

  34. I recommend not overdoing it.

  35. It depends on your market.

  36. Vertical improvements can make a big difference.

  37. A lot of things go wrong in the checkout process I noticed.

  38. [...] Source:How Much Pre-Holiday Optimization is Enough? Share and Enjoy: [...]

  39. Keeping things simple and not trying to fix what is not broken is a good way to go also.

  40. They want to go with the flow of this upcoming holiday season to boost their sales.

  41. I think the important thing is looking at past data and see when traffic was ramped up. You may find that at other times of the year traffic may spike around other holidays, and you can use this for your advantage as well

  42. thanks so mucj all admin
    think the important thing is looking at past data and see when traffic was ramped up. You may find that at other times of the year traffic may spike around other holidays, and you can use this for your advantage as well

  43. Ya that’s right, the clients want to finish there work before the holidays. One reason is that, this is the perfect time to hike the business and the 2nd one is that, they have the great celebration also. So everyone wants there sites to be optimized before the holidays, so that it can get more & more traffic in the meanwhile.

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