It's not often I begin my writing by begging, but today I'm going to make an exception.
Please, please, please don't contact me (or any other SEO for that matter) saying, “I really need to rank for the holidays.” Here's the long and the short of it — if you don't already have a very strong foundation or a budget for paid search, you're not going to rank in the next couple months. Here's who can:
1. Sites that already rank well but need a bit of a bump, and 2. Sites in extremely low competition sectors
So if you don't have a good foundation, a phrase like “blue widgets” is out, but a phrase like “1-inch blue widgets for whatever they're for” just might be possible.
OK, so we've set the expectations. As an SEO, it's good to keep the bar realistically low (nobody has ever complained to me when things ranked better or faster than predicted). But if I told you you could rank for anything you wanted by the holidays — I'd be lying. Heck, I'd be lying if I said that now about the 2015 holidays.
So let's put a to-do list together.
Let's assume you've got a bit of SEO in place. (After all, you're on the SEMrush site, so you've obviously got a decent handle on good tools.) This article is for folks with a site ranking in the top 30 but not the top spots for phrases they realistically want, and those who want to know how to make the most of what they do have over the holidays. Sound like you? Great.
First, let's cover a few limitations you're going to have in the optimization process. Then, we'll move on to some of the actions you need to start taking today to make the campaign pop in time, assuming you're in a position to do so.
As we've already touched on, if you've got a new site or one that's totally unoptimized with a poor or absent link profile (or worse, a penalty), and you're target is anything above the lowest hanging fruit — don't bother. I'm sorry, but your energies will be better spent elsewhere. Focusing on social media or paid search will produce a far, far more likely ROI. Or, if you really want to get going on your organic, think, “What would I like to rank for by Thanksgiving 2015?”
Another limitation will be the time to test. With such a short window of opportunity there isn't a whole lot of time to test pages, titles or refine your organic strategy. You'll pretty much have to pick a path and run with it. Some refining will be possible, as will be touched on below, but it will be quite limited.
There isn't much time left in September, so you'd better make the most of it.
The goal in September has to be to get as much link foundation as possible and get our social media in shape. While link building is always sector-dependent, you need to think about quick-win strategies. That is, strategies to acquire links quickly that will pass relevance and trust.
Basically, don't plan on sleeping much. It would have been good to start a few months ago, but, here we are.
In this category you can think of topical and niche directories. (And if they offer guaranteed placement — they're not good. Only go with directories where you pay for a review). If you have a good blog and great content, assisting others in forums and Q&A sites can be useful for traffic, too. And, there's nothing wrong with honestly answering a question well and linking to content with more information; just be honest about who you are.
You can also seek to provide quality content to relevant and topical blogs. To this end, if you send out a generic, “Hi, I saw your site and would love to give you 500 words of crappy copy for a link,” you might as well just stop there. But if you're willing to engage the site, show genuine interest in their work and what they cover, as well as provide great content filling a hole they have not discussed, you'll do well.
While this is all going on you'll also need to make sure your social profile pages are in good shape. You'll need them later. Be sure to have good covers, are publishing content regularly (and not just yours), industry news and related information. Make it a resource, not an ad. Don't forget to include LinkedIn in this list, both from a company standpoint and personal. We'll get into that next month.
We're getting short on time, and there's a lot to do.
In October, one big goal is to connect with industry leaders via social media (this is where LinkedIn is quite helpful). Now that your social profiles are in good shape you can use them and these connections to engage with these leaders. Through communicating and without being aggressive, look for ways to work with them on mutually beneficial outcomes. This can range from sharing quality content with them to sharing social shares. Of course, the quality has to be high and you have to be creative; it's not easy, but nothing worth doing generally is.
Through October you'll continue to work on your links (let's assume you'll be working on that every month for the rest of the lifespan of your site). Continue to engage users where they are and share answers with or without a Like. If you see common subjects coming up (read: common questions), write a quality piece on it. the post likely won't contain your targeted keywords, but it might drive traffic and, more importantly, attract quality links. Or, at least be easier to build links to manually.
In October, you'll also have to ready your site for the holidays, as you'll be busy in November and December with other tasks (like increasing conversions and hopefully making sales). Assuming your site is already reasonably well-optimized, your focus should be on determining what changes you want to make to products, design, headers and sales, etc. for the holidays.
Get some press releases and buzz for the media ready, and get a schedule organized for deployment. Obviously you don't want a holiday-related header on your site on October 3rd, but having it ready on that day will help keep you on track and able to focus on other tasks.
All right, it's November and the holiday buying season is almost upon you. This month the focus is on deployment and continuing to build on what you've been working toward.
I've already mentioned that link building needs to continue, but it can be scaled back a bit. At this stage you want to show steady growth, but the impact of new links won't be as strong in the remaining weeks. The focus then needs to shift to onsite and social media.
In the social realm, people will have begun doing some early research or at least be susceptible to holiday-related marketing. Assuming you have the budget it's time to start spending to get your pages in front of your target demographic. For example, get your Facebook Page marketed to acquire more Likes. (Ideally, you would start this earlier but I'm trying to be budget conscious.) What you're doing here is building up your interested parties for use once the holidays are in full-swing, and now that your social profiles are packed with good information people will view as a resource.
While that's going on you want to get your site restructured and change your images and sales to prepare for the upcoming traffic. Further, you'll want to take stock of how long it takes for your top organic landing pages to get cached by the engines. For the sake of example, we'll say seven days. You will want to adjust the titles and descriptions on these pages that many days prior to cyber-Monday.
What you will be doing here is gearing the titles and descriptions for clicks. If you have sales starting, mention them. If you have free shipping for gifts, include that. Depending on your structure and current titles and descriptions, the placement is up to you. For visibility the title is obviously the best place, but you don't want it too long and you don't want to dilute the SEO value of it. The description tag is safer, but if you're in doubt of what will happen SEO-wise you can simply count the words you want to add and test titles and descriptions with that many extra words earlier in the month (or earlier months) to help make sure it won't cost you rankings to chase after clicks.
At this time, if you have the budget, you'll also want to have all your paid search campaigns together and scheduled for launch on relevant dates.
Which brings us to...
You're going to be busy the month of December! So the key here is efficiency. This month will be more about maintenance since we got everything together previously. Here's how this breaks down:
Link Building – Your focus here will simply be keeping up with past communications. If you have time for continued pro-active efforts, great! If not, simply maintain your contacts and messages.
Social Media – You want to be active, talk about sales and also reference other pieces of material (yours or a third party) that will help keep your social stream useful. If you have new sales items or just want to send out reminders, you'll want to boost posts on Facebook. This is why we ran the campaign earlier to acquire Likes. The boosted ad will go out to all those who already Like your brand page and their friends.
Onsite – You want to monitor your conversions and search engine clicks. The biggest impact here will be on click-throughs. If you see they are lower than you would expect to see, you’ll want to quickly adjust your titles and descriptions. Further, as it gets closer and closer to a particular holiday, include key information in your title and description such as, “Guaranteed delivery by Christmas!” or “Free shipping until Hanukkah!”
PPC – The goal here is ROI on the dollars spent. In December, you stand the risk of wasting a lot of money if you don’t watch it closely. Track carefully and be sure to change up your ads to reflect urgent events and a closing deadline (like “last day to ship”).
It’s January, the season is over and you’ve got time to catch your breath… kind of.
Now is the time to take stock of where you are, where you wish you had been, and start planning your activities to rank for the next holiday season.
What else do you do to help your company or product rank during the holiday season? Let us know in the comments.
Ed note: Check out "SEMrush Round Table: SEO Tips and Tricks for the Holiday Season" for more suggestions on ranking from our panel of experts.