Holiday 2023 Paid Search – Get Ready Now

The holidays are coming faster than we know it, and the time to plan is right now. Today. Waiting until the last minute is not when you should be planning for this most wonderful time of the ecommerce shopping year. If you wait until the last minute, you run the risk of your campaigns not launching on time, spending too long in editorial, or just missing out on potential customers.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at some stats to get your holiday thoughts flowing:

  • eMarketer is forecasting only a 4.5% increase in spend over last year, which is slightly less than the prior year’s forecast.
  • 74% of holiday purchases are planned ahead of time (Google/Ipsos).
  • According to a MasterCard credit card analysis of shopping in the US by the Boston Consulting Group, consumers spent as much in the three days after Cyber Monday as they did on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
  • From the same analysis, weekend shopping is only slightly higher than the spend on weekdays ($4.2B on weekdays vs. $4.4B on weekends).
  • Post-holiday is a massive time for consumer shopping. In the two weeks post-Christmas Day, more than $47B was spent on retail, and 57% of people were self-gifting.

What does all that mean? From an advertiser standpoint, spending by retailers isn’t anticipated to be significantly higher. And from a consumer standpoint, people are starting to shop earlier and extend shopping well past December 25th. Being there when they want to plan their shopping or complete their shopping is important. And with all that, did you also know there are FIVE full holiday shopping weekends this year instead of four like last year‽

The first step is to think of the big picture and plan ahead for better success. These three items below aren’t specific to paid search but are important to decide for your overall marketing strategy.

  1. Promotions and Sales: come up with a calendar of promotions and sales. Look at key dates: 
    • Thanksgiving: November 23rd
    • Black Friday: November 24th
    • Small Business Saturday: November 25th
    • Cyber Monday: November 27th
    • Giving Tuesday: November 28th
    • Hanukkah: December 7th to 15th
    • Super Saturday (the last Saturday before Christmas, which happens to be the day before Christmas): December 24th

Then, think about what you’ve done in the past and how successful (or not) it’s been, and add in a few contingency plans in case sales are lower than normal (especially based on the last few months of softer sales that many clients are seeing). Also, determine your shipping cutoff date.

One thing to consider is free shipping as a promotion. People are trained not to pay for shipping, even to the point of paying more for an item, just to not pay for shipping. You may be able to do less monetary discounts by offering free shipping as a promotion, especially if free shipping is not something you normally offer.

  1. Determine Your Shipping Cutoff Dates: figure that out now, and post on your website. If you have options for those beyond that date, like gift certificates, include that too.
  2. Update Your Website: Think of things that will get your shoppers in the mood to buy from you, whether it’s the look of your website or the things that will give them confidence in buying from you. So include those shipping cutoff dates, update the look and feel to be holiday-centric, add any promotions, and update any changes to return policies for holiday shopping (for example, do you offer an extended return policy so that people can feel confident buying earlier rather than waiting to purchase?).

Once you have your plan in place, let’s move on to what you need to do to your paid search campaigns.

  1. Start To Increase Your Budget Early: not everyone procrastinates! A Google/Ipsos study reports that 74% of holiday purchases are planned ahead of time, and 28% of shoppers are already done with their shopping by the end of October (who are those people‽). But don’t lose heart – the average US shopper still has 50% of their shopping to complete after Cyber5. But you need to be there in the searching and planning phases in order to reap the rewards of the sales.
  2. Update Your Ads: that means new holiday-centric ad language and imagery to include those promotions and shipping cutoff dates that we talked about in the planning phase. We tend to create new holiday ads for Search, Video, and Display campaigns that we can turn on and off with rules. For Performance Max campaigns, we create new Asset Groups, which can also be turned off and on with rules based on our promotion dates. Here’s what I recommend updating per campaign type:
    • Search Campaigns: ad language, image extensions, site link extensions, and promotion extensions
    • Performance Max: images, videos, ad language, site link extensions and promotion extensions
    • Display Campaigns: ad language and images
    • Video Campaigns: ad language, videos, and site link extensions
    • Shopping: promotions in Google Merchant Center
  3. Add Seasonal Audiences: both Google and Microsoft Advertising have seasonal audiences that are available to add. You can add them as audiences in Search, Shopping, and Display campaigns and to your Audience Signals in Performance Max campaigns on both Google and Microsoft.

(image: Seasonal Audiences available to add to campaigns)

  1. Make Sure To Think Post-Holiday Sales: remember that stat I gave at the beginning of this blog that US consumers spent $47B in the two weeks post December 25th? Do not cut your budget off on Christmas Day and miss out on all those shoppers (57%) who are looking to gift themselves all the things they didn’t get for the holidays. We see sales usually stay high through mid-January.

The holiday shopping season is shaping up to be an interesting one this year. Many of our clients have experienced soft sales that began in July and have persisted into October. To prepare for the upcoming season, it’s important to plan ahead for promotions, determine shipping cutoff dates, refresh your website, and update your paid search campaigns accordingly. This includes early budget increases, updated images and ads, audience additions, and post-holiday sales considerations.

Source data for the Google/Ipsos holiday shopping study is found here.

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