The dog days of summer are upon us and many people are looking forward to the beginning of football season and the onset of autumn. As your business settles into the third quarter of 2003 it's tempting to believe that there is plenty of time left before you need to think about your company's Christmas marketing campaign. After all, the leaves haven't even begun to change colors yet, so there's plenty of time left before you need to think about fourth quarter revenues. Right? Wrong!
While we may still be in August, I can guarantee that within the next 4-6 weeks your local department stores will start showing signs that they are preparing for the Christmas season. September has become the month that many traditional "offline" businesses start gearing up for Santa's visit and while an early start on your search engine marketing efforts may not attract the jolly guy in the red suit, there is a lot you can do now to ensure many other visitors locate your website.
Avoid the last minute rush
Last year, I wrote an article entitled "Last Minute SEO Christmas List" which was published in November. In that article I looked at the different last-gasp SEO efforts your company could make if it had not yet implemented a search engine campaign. With US online sales for 2003 estimated to top $100 million (up from $73 million in 2002), let's not take any chances with our efforts and make sure your website is ready now.
Rather than re-hashing the same general advice regarding search engine marketing, let's take a look at some techniques you should be thinking about if you want to ensure a Merry Christmas.
If you've added content, did you optimize it?
Chances are, you have added or will add new content or products to satisfy your visitors over the Christmas period. While your older, established pages have probably received attention; it can be difficult to keep all your new pages optimized. Take time now to review them to ensure that they at least have unique, keyword-rich title and Meta tags.
Have you checked your keyword density?
Every page on your website should be focused around a theme. If you don't know the theme or keywords a particular page of your website is targeting, visit one of the many keyword density analyzers that are freely available. A great one can be located at Search Engine World. Simply tell this little "spider simulator" which of your pages to check and it will analyze your content and let you know which search terms are the most repeated on that page. Make sure that you have between 3-5 search terms targeted on each page and aim for density between 5-15% (depending on the number of total words for that page).
Keep up to date with keyword trends
Have you checked the search frequencies for your targeted search terms recently? It's amazing how quickly trends come and go. If you have not reviewed your targeted search terms in the past 2-3 months, now is the perfect time to go back and review the numbers. You should not only use tools such as WordTracker, but also read publications for your industry to help spot potential trends or search terms that might develop between now and the end of the year. If you can identify a potential keyword to target now, before it shows up on WordTracker, you can help your business stay ahead of the competition.
Staying ahead of your competitors
Speaking of competition, have you checked the websites of your top competitors recently? While making fine adjustments to your campaign is great, they cannot be successfully accomplished without reviewing the efforts of your biggest competitors. Which products are they targeting; what press releases have they issued? Knowing your competitors' movements will not only help you with your SEO efforts but also prepare you for theirs.
Review your inbound links
How is that all-important inbound link campaign coming along? Chances are, once you managed to get a couple of dozen websites to link to your website, you took your foot off the gas. Don't get complacent, especially if you want your website to be at the top of the search engine results come Christmas. Techniques for linking have been discussed exhaustively, so we wont go into much detail here. However, make sure you regularly go back and review the websites that are pointing to your company. "Are they still linking to you?" is the biggest question. Are they using keywords in their link to your website? If they are simply using the domain name as the link, send them a polite email asking them to include your most important search term in their link. If you are already linking back to them, take the lead and make a similar change on your website first. That way you can show them the type of format that you would like them to use in return.
Improve usability of your site
Few search engine marketers cover usability when discussing optimization. However, ensuring a visitor to your website not only sticks around longer than a few seconds, but also buys from you goes hand-in-hand with any SEO campaign. Make it easy for every visitor to your website to navigate to your products or services page. Use every opportunity to initiate a "call to action." If your biggest seller happens to be the latest MP3 player, make sure there is a prominent link or graphic to that page from your index. Also make sure your website contains the important information most visitors are looking for when deciding to make a purchase online. According to eBrain Market Research, the features sought after by most consumers are:
90% Free Shipping
81% Discounts to Frequent Shoppers
77% Tracking on purchases
51% Received a High Rating from an independent source
Implementing an extensive search engine marketing campaign to double the number of visitors to your website can take time and effort. However, in some instances, it can be easier to make some minor changes to the usability of your website to increase your conversion rate. Doubling your traffic while doubling your conversion rate can make for some great fourth quarter numbers.
Your wake-up call
Although space does not allow for a comprehensive outline of steps to take to ensure your website is ready for Christmas, I hope that this message serves as a wake-up call to everyone responsible for marketing their company's website. While Christmas may well seem like a long way off, search engine marketing contains a lot of research, implementation and patience (as you wait for search engines to spider and index your site). By starting your search engine campaign in August, you hopefully won't need my last-minute articles come November.
Internet marketing consultant Andy Beal has provided online marketing advice to thousands of companies including, Motorola, NBC, Lowes and Quicken Loans and is a trusted resource for The Washington Post, LA Times, Dow Jones, NPR and CNBC. Andy provides consulting services on search engine optimization, business blogging and online reputation management. Read his blog and request a free consultation at Marketing Pilgrim.
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