When Christmas gifting is the bread and butter of your brand, you can’t afford to be at the bottom of the (gift) pile. As even major high street retailers such as Next and Debenhams reported sharply declining sales in their bricks and mortar stores in the lead-up to Christmas, optimising your digital marketing strategy to make the absolute most of the peak Christmas online trading period cannot be an option – but an important choice that you can make is when to begin putting in the work.

 

Over two years of working with Virginia Hayward, a family-owned, luxury food and drink gift hamper company, we’ve learned some important lessons about when to start optimising for Christmas-related searches. As you may expect, Christmas is a major time for this prestigious brand – in 2017, the overwhelming majority of their annual revenue was attained in the Q4 period, also known as the ‘Golden Quarter’ – so building out a digital marketing strategy with a sole focus on their peak trading period was crucial.

Yet placing peak trade at the heart of an annual strategy should be an important consideration for any brand, in a competitive online marketplace, especially when UK Google Trends data from 2017 shows that Christmas-related searches begin to ramp up as early as the beginning of September. This presents a problem for your brand – unless you pre-empt the savviest shoppers and build the peak period into your digital marketing strategy before the summer is even out.

In the article below, we’ll share with you our key learnings and honest insights from two years of building successful Christmas-focused digital marketing strategies for Virginia Hayward, that you can use to make sure that your brand capitalises on the Christmas trading period.

Black Friday is the new Christmas

 …well, it’s not really, but it’s still a pretty big deal!

According to Google Trends data, the global interest in Black Friday has increased by 108% in the last 5 years. This means that waiting until late November, or even December to ramp up your digital marketing tactics for Christmas may be effectively ‘missing the boat’ – you need to be ready for the Black Friday weekend shoppers who are taking advantage of the best deals to get their festive shopping done and dusted early.

For Virginia Hayward, we saw a 62% increase in Organic revenue on the daily average for Q4. Black Friday was the highest revenue generating day outside of December, and should be a key part of most Christmas marketing strategies.

Yet Criteo research has shown that peak shopping days in 2017 were as early as the 7th and 15th of November, well ahead of the Black Friday weekend, most likely due to larger brands rolling out their deals early. With this in mind, your Black Friday preparation should be wrapped up well ahead of the day itself.

Christmas shoppers begin their research early

For some of our more seasonal clients such as Virginia Hayward, we’ve noticed that users are searching for their Christmas gifts earlier each year.

This is supported by data from Google’s ‘Black Friday & Christmas Vertical Insights’, published in August 2017, which revealed that ‘Gifting’-related queries grew 14% year-on-year in Q4 2016. The growth was driven by the interest shifting to earlier in the year, with a 12% year-on-year growth in October and 16% year-on-year growth in November as customers prepared for the Black Friday weekend.

Understanding when prospective customers are likely to start their research for Christmas, is key to planning a strategy. If you can start a little earlier than the competition, it means your pages can be indexed and start building relevancy and authority ahead of the growth in searcher demand.

In 2016, we started planning for Christmas a little too late and didn’t implement our Christmas Hampers category until late October. Despite this still being relatively successful, we learned our lesson.

And it paid off: In 2017 we increased Organic traffic to the Christmas Hampers category by 55% year-on-year, by implementing all of the new and optimised pages within this category a little earlier than the year before, so that they had sufficient time to ‘bed in’ to Google’s index.

Use search volume trends, not immediate data

Using search volume trends is more important than ever for keyphrase research at Christmas. If you’re researching early, you don’t want to know what the search volume looks like at the time of searching, but how it will look in November and December.

Fortunately, Google provides this data within AdWords Keywords Planner, but as this is strictly AdWords data it’s also worth checking the Google Trends data for your target queries.

Google’s ‘Black Friday & Christmas Vertical Insights’ from 2016 showed that ‘Gift Baskets’ and ‘Gourmet Food Gifts’ were the categories that fuelled the overall growth in gifting queries in Q4 of that year, and searches for each increased by 11% and 10% year-on-year respectively. That’s why when we developed the 2017 Search strategy for Virginia Hayward, we knew that we had to start increasing the relevancy not only for ‘hampers’ and ‘baskets’, but for ‘gifts’ too.

Which brings us neatly to our next point…

Google rewards ‘Christmas’ relevancy

It’s now widely regarded that organising and structuring content by a central theme is rewarded by Google. This is because when relevant content is interlinked, it becomes far easier for a user to navigate and explore information around a topic.

For Virginia Hayward, we developed a Christmas Hampers content hub with 30 sub-categories which were all navigable via a mega menu. In Google’s eyes this significantly increased the relevancy of the category for ‘Christmas’, and in December we managed to achieve position 2 for the highly-competitive query ‘hampers’ – because Virginia Hayward had greater relevancy for Christmas-related searches than all but one of their competitors.

We provided further support to the Christmas Hampers hub by producing a series of blog posts to be published on the Virginia Hayward blog, which tapped into long-tail queries around the Christmas gifting theme, such as vegan Christmas hamper ideas and Christmas hampers for coffee lovers. According to data published by Think With Google, mobile searches for both ‘ideas’ and ‘outfits for’ have grown by over 55% in the past two years. This is no surprise as Christmas shopping online can feel terribly overwhelming, to say the least – and shoppers clearly appreciate a helping hand in nailing that perfect Christmas gift idea.