It’s That Time Again – Christmas in July

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the July 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Thoughts are turning to that exciting time of the year again – no, I don’t mean evenings outdoors, barbecuing, or networking on the golf course – I mean Christmas. Seems like just yesterday the last bit of snow finally melted away – come to think, it practically was yesterday.

It’s the other Christmas in July. While the online world gives the impression of instantaneous-ness, the reality isn’t always so. Sure, you can often make changes or updates to your Web site faster and with less effort than anything comparable in the offline world, but most from a marketing point of view, the online world isn’t that much different than the offline one.

Online retailers understand this fact, but the principles apply to anyone with a Web presence. Even if your key time of year isn’t the holiday shopping season, forethought and preplanning out from key dates should be a part of your Web marketing calendar. Let’s take a look at some of the key drivers to plan into your calendar.

Code Freeze

Most online retailers know this one well. It is that point when all changes and anything beyond basic content updating stops. This may be 30, 60, or even more days out from your peak online period. The reasons for a code freeze are hard to argue with, since whether your make or break period is during the height of holiday shopping or summer vacation planning, the last thing you want is a site that isn’t functioning properly, or goes down entirely due to a major site update.

Organic Search Traffic

While I haven’t gone into depth regarding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) yet, anyone can appreciate the wonderful benefits of coming up in the top spots of the major search engines for highly relevant searches. Understand though that these positions rarely come without cost. While these natural search listings don’t carry a per-click cost, they do carry other costs – the cost of hiring and training staff or the cost of hiring a search marketing firm, not to mention the cost of time.

The financial costs are the easiest to reconcile. Compared to other forms of marketing, they quite often pay for themselves many times over, or at least cover enough to justify. Time however, as in anything we do, is the hardest challenge. The problem is when there isn’t enough time left; at that point, it’s still a sunk cost even after the fact.

Unfortunately, this is a reality that still catches far too many unexpectedly. While you may get lucky once in awhile – your site was already strong for a particular search phrase, some of your key search phrases aren’t overly competitive or are very brand focused (your brand that is) – this is a rarity that is becoming rarer every day. Ideally, you should plan three to six months out for top positioning for natural search results, and possibly more for highly competitive phrases. This of course is just the planning … how you get there is another article.

Planning for the future

  • Start planning major site changes such as redesigns, script or structural changes 6-12 months out from your code freeze.
  • Create an event calendar around your peak sales and traffic times, and then back out at least 3 months for your deadline date for any SEO related tasks.
  • Keep and maintain permanent landing page URLs for any seasonal or regularly recurring events, rather than creating new URLs. Continuing using your “Christmas” page for year-round for extra holiday clearance items or start a prediction list or pre-buy opportunity for the coming season’s predicted hits. This URL will gain age and authority over time and may rank better than creating new URLs each time.

Search To Be Found – Using Search Marketing to Reach Your Audience

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the May 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Now that you have your website up and running, are you looking to get more out of it? Your site should not only serve as a destination, but as a channel to connect you with your target audience. This month, we’re going to focus on one of the most important ways to make that happen.

It’s called search marketing. As a business, you may well be quite aware of marketing and even advertising; and I can’t imagine too many people now who aren’t at least somewhat familiar with the concept of searching online. However the combination of these two things may still be a bit foreign to many people.

So let’s start with what we know. You might view your website like a form of marketing — though your site probably does much, much more than that. But under that logic, then we can contrast search marketing against more traditional forms of advertising — TV, radio, print, outdoor, etc.

What is the fundamental difference then between traditional advertising and search marketing? Traditional advertising is macro — broad-audience, mass reach and passive in nature, whereas search marketing is micro — targeted-audience, audience determined reach, and a much more active channel.

Let’s break this down.

Targeted Audience

Search marketing is about a targeted audience in part because it comes from a completely different direction than traditional advertising. You see, traditional advertising is all about the medium — it’s about the circulation, the reach, and the eyeballs that will be exposed to your message. And to that end, hopefully a certain percentage (generally a fairly small percentage) of those exposed will be interested in or in need of what ever you are offering.

But search marketing isn’t about reaching the broadest audience based on their driving routes or favoring a particular station, it cuts past all that. And it’s less about what you have, and more about what they want. When did you last turn on the TV to watch some commercials or hop in the car to drive around looking for a particular billboard? When did you last turn to Google to search for something? That’s what search marketing is about … being there for your audience when they are looking for a solution to a problem or to meet a need.

Audience Determined

One of the most unique aspects to search marketing is that it is both a direct and mass reach channel at the same time. It connects one-on-one at the specific moment that someone is searching, but it doesn’t really matter where they are. While I launched this column back in July of last year speaking specifically about local search and that is still a huge opportunity, search isn’t constrained by geography. With search, anyone, anywhere can find you.

Active Channel

Perhaps most important, search is an active channel. You aren’t simply tossing your message up in the air, hoping that it catches someone’s interest. In fact, it is the searcher who entered in some words to search for in Yahoo who has initiated the connection. They took action and you are there to assist them.

Okay, perhaps even more important than search being an active channel is when it reaches the audience. As I mentioned, they have already expressed an interest, so search also usually connects with the audience much further down the purchase funnel, making them much more engaged and qualified.

None of this is saying that you need to drop all of your traditional advertising or marketing efforts. These are still important branding channels to keep you top-of-mind. And later, I’ll talk about how we can connect search with traditional channels to maximize your efforts, and your return. Now that you have an understanding of search marketing, going forward we’ll get into some of the specifics of using search marketing.

Search Marketing Benefits

  • Targeted Audience – connecting with those who are already looking for what you have or a solution to a problem, which hopefully you can provide.
  • Audience Reach – unlimited reach to anyone searching online.
  • Active Channel – the potential customer or client actually initiates the connection instead of the other way around.