All I want for Christmas is… more website traffic!

Looking to make this Christmas your best trading period ever? Here’s what you need to know about SEO and SEM, and how they can get more traffic to your website over the holiday period.

In the US, Christmas sales make up around 20 per cent of total annual sales: more than Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and St Patrick’s Day combined. If your e-commerce business relies on great Christmas sales, getting adequate levels of website traffic is paramount, followed by converting that traffic into sales.

So, how can you get your search engine optimisation (SEO) right for Christmas to boost site traffic?

According to Kieran Morrissey, director of website development agency Jack Marlow, the short answer is: you can’t.

“SEO is something you have to get right every day, all year round, to reap the rewards at Christmas,” he says. “Optimising your SEO for Christmas is somewhere between tricky and pointless.”

E-commerce merchants also sometimes forget that making an SEO change doesn’t give you instant results. “There’s a lead time of up to six weeks between the effort you put in and the effect SEO work has,” Morrissey explains. However, all is not lost. “If you need a pre-Christmas traffic boost, search engine marketing (SEM) is the way to go.”

Christmas SEM tactics

SEM comprises AdWords and online display advertising, in the form of banners and tiles. According to Morrissey, even SEM campaigns have a deadline coming round sooner than you might think: “1 November is the absolute latest you should be starting your Christmas SEM campaign.”

One advantage that small and medium businesses have with AdWords campaigns is that they usually only pay per click (the number of people who actually click on an ad). This means that you can try many keywords and combinations. “Put all the variants out there, because you’ll only pay for what works,” says Morrissey.

When it comes to display advertising, Morrissey says that display ads simply need to be “eye-catching and somewhat obvious” to get cut-through. “Give people bright, shiny visual cues. Seasonal Christmas visuals like tinsel are maybe a little trite, but they work,” he says.

“Focus your effort on products that make great Christmas gifts. Don’t try to promote everything you do.” You should be promoting items that you sell lots of, items you’re known for and that are easily recognisable.

From ad to sale

While you might usually try and capture customer details for repeat purchases or for your newsletter, Morrissey says that at Christmas time the conversion needs to be as clear and simple as possible. “You should optimise and simplify the journey a visitor takes through your site just to convert the sale. Don’t ask for sign-up prior to purchase or hassle people to like you on Facebook before you let them see your content,” he says.

It’s also critical that you deliver on customer expectations. “Ideally you’ll have up-to-date stock levels live on your site, so that customers don’t order items that have sold out,” says Morrissey. “Make sure you have a clearly stated shipping policy. If there is any reason why a product might not reach a recipient before Christmas, have a really bold message saying so. You should start communicating Christmas deadlines for the order and delivery of last orders from mid-November.”

P.S. Don’t set and forget!

It’s also important to turn off or update your promotional activity straight after Christmas. “Nothing looks sillier than display advertising or a website banner with Christmas branding in January (or even later!),” Morrissey says. “It tells people the business owner isn’t paying attention.

“With any decent content management system (CMS) or shopping cart platform, you should be able to schedule the relevant sections of your site to change tack for the post-Christmas period automatically on 25 December.”

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