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Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010 at 9:09 am

Why the Holidays Are the Perfect Time To Tweak Your Site

By Natalie Hart
December 2nd, 2010

I’ve seen it time and again with my clients: as soon as the holiday season (sometimes even the beginning of the 3rd quarter) arrives, they begin to discuss putting a hold on their optimization efforts. I always ask WHY? I have at least three reasons why you should optimize during the holidays:

  1. Getting a large influx of traffic is perfect for testing, especially if you know you have problems in lower traffic areas of your site!  And tests reach their conclusion much more quickly.
  2. Since, optimization is cyclical, the data you gain during this time period is just as important for year over year comparisons.
  3. For some businesses, this traffic may account for as much as 50% of your revenue for the year, and help sustain the company during the low times.  Why wouldn’t you want to get the most out of it?!

No matter what your reservations, a good conversion rate optimization (CRO) program flexes to adjust to your current circumstances and goals. Here are a few of the top reasons I’ve heard for not optimizing during the holidays, and our take on them.

Challenges for Making Your Website Better During the Holidays:

Challenge #1: “We get such a large influx of ‘atypical’ clientele during the holidays, and we don’t want to optimize for a client base who will be non-existent come January.”

Our take: Remember that a truly data driven organization doesn’t make assumptions, but lets numbers do the talking. If you suspect you get a lot of visitors during the holidays who aren’t surfing your site during the rest of the year, create a holiday persona/demographic and run a few simple tests to verify this. You can do this by creating holiday themed banners, special “hot holiday gifts” links, or promoting free gift wrapping.

What you more than likely will find out is that a lot of visitors click on those options at this time of year, regardless of whether or not they are your typical customers. The more important factor in getting visitors to convert is their intent. It could be Suzie, your regular customer, who is such a big fan of your dance shoes that she’s ordering shoe bags for her entire performance group, and having them gift-wrapped.  Or, it could be Suzie’s sister who has two left feet, but really wants to impress Suzy with a holiday gift that shows how well she knows her.

The approach of the holidays creates a sense of urgency for customers, and a larger proportion of your visitors are likely to be late stage buyers. Certainly holidays can attract those who are not your ideal or typical clientele, but focusing on buyer intent, and optimizing for those who are ready to buy, will benefit all of your customers, regardless of the season and whether or not your visitors are regulars.

Challenge #2: “We need to focus on marketing efforts.”

Our take: Just because you’re focusing on marketing, doesn’t mean you need to stop optimization. In fact, your marketing efforts are the first step of the buying scenario for many of your potential customers, so naturally optimizing efforts has to be a part of your overall strategy to make your website better. I’ve seen significant increases in conversion from a simple test done on a single email campaign. Companies typically increase the frequency of email campaigns during the holidays. The more frequently you email, the more hypothesis you can test, and the more quickly you can reach a conclusion. (Just remember not to bombard your recipients’ in-boxes to the point of pushing them away!)

Although some people take advantage of holiday deals to shop for themselves, many holiday shoppers are looking for a specific item on little Johnny’s list to Santa. They are looking for the perfect gift and want to get it right. This means they often search using very specific, or late stage, keywords. Subsequently, the holidays can be a great time to bid on late stage keywords. Late stage keywords are very specific (think of the branded name for a toy, or even a model number), and with the large inventories of many e-retailers, it would not be economical to bid on keywords for every item in stock. Competitors are likely to bid on keywords for their best-selling items, or the season’s hottest items, decreasing the likelihood that you are bidding on the same word, lowering the cost of certain keywords, and increasing your chance for positive ROI. 

Challenge #3: “We don’t want to test during the holidays and jeopardize potential sales since we rely on the revenue from the holidays for the rest of the year.”

Our take: Most companies who test regularly have tests they’ve held back on implementing because they either are on lower-traffic pages or because the ROI won’t be that significant. The holidays is the perfect time to test these hypothesis without compromising conversions. The more traffic you have, the more quickly tests complete, so you can run less aggressive tests and still get valuable data in a short amount of time during the holidays. It’s the perfect example of how good CRO flexes with you, so you can always be working toward a better website.

Do you have other reasons why you’ve put holiday optimization plans on hold?  Tell us about them.  Maybe there’s a solution you haven’t thought of.  But the next time you consider pausing your optimization efforts, remember that the most effective conversion rate optimization efforts are continuous, with a multitude of ways to optimize even during the busiest time of year. Happy Holidays!

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Comments (55)

  1. This is such a radical post, because all other so called “experts” will always advise you to NEVER updated when the customers are hot and heavy! Anyway, learnt a LOT from this post, keep em coming! :)

    Dr. Diamond J Kliens

  2. As I always say – no emotions on optimizing the website – let only number speak!

  3. We designed our website through wix, so they don’t have a split-testing option. What would you recommend for website split testing, or should we just focus on ad and email split tests?

  4. yeah.. it’s important for us to tweak our site in holiday because we have enoug time to evaluate and reconcept our site.

  5. This is such a radical post?

  6. guess we can call it human psychology.After the holidays,people storm back to work with so much energy.therefore i think if you take the time to brush-up your website,when the traffic starts flowing back,you will have your best foot forward.
    great article by the way

  7. This is an excellent post from a totally different point of view than how we have always approached the holiday season. I’m going to try implementing a few of these ideas and see how they work. Thank you!!

  8. @Reno Eye Doctors – We recommend Google Analytics for gathering data about the performance of your site, and Google Web Site Optimizer for testing. Both are free and do 99% of the things we want to do with our clients. Best of luck!

  9. Still think that improving the content is the way to go during the holidays. More traffic means more income, more content means less bounces and more opportunities to sell.

  10. For us, challenge 1 (atypical clientele) is a major issue. We’ve found that customers who visit during the christmas period are much more willing to buy which tends to really bias the results and even out any differences.

    We don’t mind though… Holiday time!

  11. I agree entirely, particularly with the potential to do alot of split testing with the increased traffic. The problem is my wife won’t think its such a good idea! ha, ha!

  12. I juice up my content around the holidays use certain keywords because I know so many people are going to be searching the internet for amazing deals so why not tap into that endless source of traffic.

  13. Interesting topic, I usually prefer same method editing web-pages/content and even design during holidays period because, you may expect less traffic and sales (especially during long vacations when people are in “beach mood”) That’ll lower your loss sometime too.

  14. Now i think what you must do in this time is to focus on your content quality, not so much on your content quantity.

  15. You should always be tweaking your website. Most people make the mistake by having this great web design done, then leaving it for 2 or 3 years before they realize they need a new design and content. Have your site evolve by tweaking it constantly and avoid the big revolution every 2 or 3 years. Don’t let your site become a Banana Republic.

  16. For me don’t have to wait until holliday, the sooner, the better.

    Content is king and backlink is queen

  17. A very unique point of view on the timing on “tweaking’ a website. I will say that I do like your point on a word that is often missed in the online business world….testing. Testing is the only way you can truly improve any business and at the same time keep up with the ever changing business model. Testing and making changes during the holiday season is a calculated risk but can really have some huge benefits and rewards.

  18. The holidays make me wanna post everyday because during December, there are a lot of happenings and I can’t resist but blog about them. This leaves the tweaking of my blogs in the backseat. Maybe in January, I’ll get back to it. A new year means a brand new theme and something better to offer my visitors.

  19. More traffic means more income

  20. I can see the reasoning behind not wanting to fix something that isn’t broken, so if you’re getting a lot of good traffic during the holidays I would too place a hold on optimization. This time of the year is actually a slow season for us, so we’re making sure that we cram in as much optimization NOW, when then costs won’t be as significant, as we possibly can. Good post though +1.

  21. Testing and refining should be a constant on-going process. Trouble is, if you’re a one-person outfit, the Xmas period will likely be the busiest, leaving less time for analysis. Tough call to make!

  22. As with many businesses holiday traffic increases revenue and so even if you have a ‘normal’ optimization strategy, there is no reason not to have a holiday targeted one. Simply save it as a template of sorts and go back to the normal one after the influx. Then continue optimizing it for the 3/4 of the year it is used and optimize the holiday one for the 3 months it is used.

  23. I think it´s human to take holiday, when the rest of the world is on holiday too. Not perfect but understandable.

  24. @Trinny…. that doesn’t mean the people visiting your website are atypical clientele. It just means there is a heavier proportion of late stage traffic to the site at this time of year. A deadline (like Christmas, or sometimes even just a timed sale) encourages people to move through their buying process more quickly.

  25. @Altin Doviz Fiyatlari – sure more traffic means more income. However, with CRO your income grows exponetially, your ROI on your efforts goes up, and the impact lasts even after you stop putting money toward CRO.

  26. You bring up some good points. People generally do see an increase in traffic around the holidays, especially on e-commerce sites. The extra traffic is a great opportunity to do some A/B testing for better conversion optimization. You want to make sure you’re doing your best to convert the visitors to your site. -james

  27. I just don’t blog on holidays.
    Business is one thing, but getting my life back is just way more important to me now.

  28. Interesting point. I have to agree with you that holidays are the perfect time to tweak because of the traffic during this times, you can get your tests done in no time. A lot of people are looking for gifts they could give their loved ones so it is a good time for optimization.

  29. I never stop and you made some key points. My take is if they come to my site once I want to give them a reason to come back again. To keep up with the competition, you need to stay on top of things year around. IMO! Great article!

  30. How beautiful and helpful post! I agree that we should have time tweaking our site during holiday seasons because it’s the great time to get more money impact but never spend too much time optimizing as you forget to spend special days with your family.

  31. A great way to do seasonal SEO is to use your blog. You can write timely articles about the season or holidays and create a blog post
    that can get ranked in the search engines all by itself. While you do not want to be changing your website meta data too often (if at all)
    you can write endless blog articles with different meta data that is targeted towards whatever you’d like at that time.

  32. Thanks for being thought provoking and challenging the norm. Im still a little bit afraid of running big tests, but I guess I should just go for it instead of waiting 1 month.

  33. There cannot be emotion when making business decisions.

    Let the numbers do the talking and make sure you listen to them.

  34. I work with many companies that aren’t in retail (manufacturing, medical devices, various BTB component sales etc…) and the holidays are a perfect time for them to update their websites because so many companies in manufacturing shut down operations for a week or two in December.

    Other companies have hurried up and spent all their budget by late November (use it or lose it) & don’t get a new budget till after the new year.

    I can’t imagine that a retailer would be reluctant to do some tweaking to boost sales when the holidays are most businesses bread & butter.

  35. I think its okay to tweak during holidays. It’s how you dot it that determines whether it’s acceptable or not.

  36. I had a client earlier this year whose site was in a real mess. As soon as their busy period ended in September they put all their optimisation work on hold until January.

    I was dismayed by their decision as there was so much work to be done on optimising their checkout process it made sense to me to sort it all out when the site was quieter.

  37. I believe optimization should start at least 3 months before the holiday. If you’re doing SEO and link building for example it will take that long to rank for certain keywords.

  38. i always tweak my site during holidays because its the only time im free. I always try to bring something new to my sites during the holidays :P

  39. great article about updating websites on holidays although it may be difficult due to family commitments. Balance is key so some updating could be done. thanks for sharing.

  40. @Newegg Code – we believe that you should always be optimizing…. and if you haven’t started already, you should start as soon as possible. :-)

  41. I aggree. It’s a good time to update your site due the amount of quick feedback you can get from your visitors.

  42. I think its okay to tweak during holidays. It’s how you dot it that determines whether it’s acceptable or not.

  43. @Newegg Code I usually stick with the 60-90 day rule when optimizing. With the New Year approaching it also gives me a chance to update the copyright dates too!

  44. I juice up my content around the holidays use certain keywords because I know so many people are going to be searching the internet for amazing deals so why not tap into that endless source of traffic.

  45. thanks for the great post. it makes sense to not shy away from redesign during heavy traffic as it creates perfect test scenarios. constant optimizing is a great approach.

  46. Good article, and I agree your opinion, but the critical question is how to optimize your website…

  47. I have always love this time of year as it presents great opportunities to dominate people in terms of SEO. Most people’s SEO strategies remain the same all year long, yet Google def tweaks the algo around this time of year. In a world of static pages, dynamic holiday content rocks.

  48. I don’t like to tweak during the holidays because if you make a mistake you could lose out on large volumes.

  49. Data driven organizations do not make assumptions — so true! — they test and draw conclusions. We should all note and follow this advice.

  50. Optimisation has to be an ongoing process for all of us. Not so easy to maintain, but if you’re sporadic about it you won’t see any tangible rwards

  51. I think you have mentioned valid points but everyone wants huge traffic for more earning during the whole year.

  52. Yes but Shailender you are fooling yourself if you treat all seasons the same. I have tier 1 menus built on some sites that change every few months as traffic volumes and revenue opportunities dictate. Treat December search patterns and conversions like summer ones and you will be missing out!

  53. I think some people maybe missing the point,,, Many companies/sites do not receive consistently large amounts of traffic, so a period of influx is the only time to test. I also like the comment regarding differing user patterns during different time periods, this is also something that can be optimised!

  54. yes i want to say that I would too place a hold on optimization. This time of the year is actually a slow season for us, so we’re making sure that we cram in as much optimization and its helpfull for us..

  55. Well, Business & Individual, In most states, business is guaranteed issue with no pre ex, but business rates are substantially higher, so we are back to “how do we lower rates”.

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Natalie is a Persuasion Analyst with FutureNow.

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