As trick-or-treaters head home with their candy, eyes inevitably turn to the remaining 2017 holidays. And that, of course, includes the retail extravaganza that is Black Friday.
Marketers likely began their preparations long ago, but with about four weeks remaining (at least as of publication), here’s a checklist – not of who’s been naughty or nice, but how to ensure your brand is optimized for Black Friday 2017.
Step 1: Start early.
Brandon Chopp, digital marketing strategist at festival fashion brand iHeartRaves, said he’s pushing sales even earlier with what he called Black November, or sales the entire month.
“Sales don’t start on Black Friday anymore as most companies start earlier to try to top each other,” he said.
And Jason Bauman, senior SEO associate at ecommerce consulting and optimization firm Trinity Insight, noted optimizing for Black Friday should ideally start months before the event.
But even if you’re a little late this year, just be sure to mark your 2018 calendars to give yourself plenty of time next year.
Step 2: Cover the SEO basics.
Like any marketing strategy in this day and age, planning is critical to ensure visibility while search volume soars. (That’s in part why an early start is so helpful.)
You’ll want to begin with the basics, dotting your Is and crossing your Ts with keyword research and content.
Bradley Shaw of SEO Expert Brad Inc. recommended using Google Keyword Planner to find popular holiday keywords including “Black Friday + your products” and to also include modifiers like “best” or “cheapest” and then optimizing your target pages for those terms.
“By using keyword research to guide your content, retailers can provide value to stressed shoppers during the holidays and stand out from the ‘SALE, SALE, SALE’ barrage online,” added Meg Hogan, chief strategist at marketing agency Stunning Strategy.
Gabriel Shaoolian, founder of digital agency Blue Fountain Media, agreed brands should cater to specific days by including keywords like “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” to help consumers easily find your promotions and products.
“Most marketers will look to do this, so it’s important to stay competitive,” he said.
In addition, Shaoolian said to target holiday-specific keywords and product names, like, “Samsung TV Black Friday promotion,” and create a landing page or section of your website specifically for those items.
“You’ll be able to draw authority for your main domain as well as attract consumers searching for a specific product,” he said. “The more detailed the search, the more likely the consumer will make a purchase.”
“Every retailer will try to optimize for Black Friday, but customers will search by the names of popular gifts as well,” he added.
Step 3: Take shortcuts where possible.
But even if your keyword research wasn’t completed by mid-September, Kevin Sides, CMO of efulfillment services firm ShipMonk, said brands can make up ground with directory listings.
“There are a lot of them and this is the time of year that you’ll want to try your best for inclusion,” he added.
According to Luke Lynam, owner and head of paid media at digital marketing agency Haystack Digital, brands that used PPC in their 2016 strategies can also analyze performance data to see if any trends pop out that will give them an additional headstart this year.
“We recommend making sure that all of your adverts are in place and approved [well ahead of time] – the last thing you need is to waste time within a peak period waiting for Google to respond to your requests,” he added.
Step 4: Create plenty of useful content.
David Erickson, vice president of online marketing at Karwoski & Courage Public Relations, suggested creating content specifically about what consumers will want to know about your brand’s plans for Black Friday, including specials or deals, promotions, hours of operation and anything else they may want or need to know. Brands should optimize this, too, for the phrase “Black Friday 2017” followed by their company or brand name.
Step 5: Get into gift guides.
You can also capitalize on timely annual content.
That’s according to Linda Parry Murphy, CEO of marketing and PR firm Product Launchers, who suggested simply searching for 2016 gift guides to start and then reaching out to the reporters who created them.
“Also, monitor HARO and other online services that connect journalists with experts and respond to their gift guide inquiries accordingly,” she said. “Another tip is to work with Amazon and submit your products for inclusion in [its] holiday promotions and make sure that your product pages include relevant keywords, i.e. 2017 Gift of the Year.”
For an additional organic boost, you can also develop an AdWords campaign that includes gift guide keywords, she added.
Shaoolian said to use content like this that links back to your site – or specific product pages – to boost rankings as well.
“Whether it’s holiday-specific content you can offer or even a product review that includes a link, this will be a key way to increase your seasonal SEO efforts,” he added.
Brands can also create their own gift guides or sections, noted Stephanie Sharlow, chief editor at design firm DesignRush.
Step 6: Make sure Google has plenty of time to crawl your Black Friday pages.
Bauman said that while brands may want to wait to reveal their Black Friday deals, their URLs should still be visible to Google early.
“This is because it can take time for Google’s crawlers to find and index a page, which means if you wait until Black Friday to publish the page, it might not show up in search engines,” he said. “Treat the page as a landing page until you’re ready to show off your sales. Ask for a customer’s email and promise they’ll have first or exclusive access to some of the deals you’ll have.”
Step 7: Make sure your Black Friday title tags include the year.
When you are ready to publish your deals, make sure the title tag includes the year, so consumers know they’re clicking on the right link in search results, Bauman said.
“We know from Google Trends search data that people search for ‘Black Friday’ followed by the year to exclude irrelevant content from years past,” he said. “By optimizing for that phrase and including your company or brand name, you’ll have a greater chance of getting visibility for Black Friday searches specifically for your business and avoid competing with much larger retailers.”
Step 8: Don’t delete Black Friday pages after Black Friday.
And when Black Friday is over, don’t get rid of related pages, Bauman said.
“Over the course of the season, you hopefully had websites linking to you and your deals shared on social media. If you delete the page, those links are lost,” he added. “Keep the page live, but change the copy. ‘Here’s what we offered in 2017, sign up now to be the first to know what we give in 2018!’”
That means when Black Friday comes around next year, brands can either use the existing page or create a new one to redirect the previous year’s page.
“This lets you keep the visibility you earned last year instead of deleting it,” Bauman said.
Step 9: Capitalize on tech improvements.
Mike Catania, CTO of deals site PromotionCode, also recommended installing an SSL certificate as Google has made it known this is yet another ranking signal.
“It’s an easy installation for most sites, but it can take a month to get re-indexed, so it’s best to start now to be ready in November,” he said.
Sites should also make sure they’re up to speed – literally. Catania recommended using Think with Google’s mobile speed tool as a good starting place “since mobile and desktop page load times are a well-known signal of quality.”
He added, “Black Friday generates copious amounts of duplicate content, so standing out from a technical standpoint can be easier than trying to carve [out] new content in the next month.”
For his part, Stephen Gibson, founder of creative startup blog Vyteo.com, pointed to factors like location and mobile.
“Incorporating optimized Black Friday landing pages that are location-specific, responsive, rich-card-enabled and AMP-powered will be at the top of the search results,” he said.
Step 10: Take advantage of Google Shopping.
In addition, Google Shopping has a more prominent place in the SERPs this year, which brands can use to their advantage.
“Google Shopping results will now take up the right-hand side – where right-rail ads used to be – during most product searches,” Lynam said. “This now provides nine prime spots to get your product seen by consumers with much larger product images. As a result, some of our clients have seen Shopping sales increase by up to 130% year on year.”
The spike in interest means there will also be a spike in cost, so Lynam recommends bidding up by at least 25% during these periods to retain positions above the fold.
“As it’s a bidding system, you will only ever need to pay a penny over your closest competitor to keep that spot, so don’t worry about being too bold,” he added.
Step 11: Don’t forget voice search.
Erickson noted Black Friday search behavior has been pretty predictable in recent years, but increasing dependence on voice-activated devices could mark a change in holiday shopping behavior this year.
“Marketers should put themselves in the mind of their customer and envision how they are likely to talk to their search-activated devices leading up to and during Black Friday to get information and answer questions they may have,” he said.
Scott Colenutt, head of digital at digital marketing agency Site Visibility, agreed, saying he not only suspects voice-activated devices themselves will sell well this holiday season, but this, in turn, will lead consumers to use said devices for research.
“As part of your SEO content strategy, you could start planning your content around the questions that people are likely going to be…typing into search results or asking their new home devices,” he added.
Step 12: Use remarketing to reach consumers not ready to buy on Black Friday.
In addition, Colenutt said to start planning out your remarketing lists.
“The products that are popular during Black Friday are likely going to be popular throughout the holiday season. For users that make purchases on Black Friday, you could perhaps use retargeting for upsells during the holiday season – think peripherals and accessories,” he said. “For users that didn’t purchase? Well, now you have an extended period of time to try and convert them. You could retarget these users with deals, offers or maybe incorporate a sense of urgency by highlighting stock levels or product popularity.”
Step 13: Don’t forget fulfillment.
And, biased though he may be coming from a company that provides efulfillment services, Sides noted brands shouldn’t forget fulfillment of all the orders placed on a day like Black Friday.
“When you’re looking at a 300%+ spike in sales, you may find your current fulfillment situation stressed,” he added.
Any backlog could be hugely detrimental to user experience – especially in the age of Amazon Prime – so the ability to ship on time as promised is an important consideration for Black Friday, too.
Lisa Lacy is a senior reporter for The Drum, where she covers the digital and search marketing industries. She’s a graduate of Columbia’s Journalism School and has also written for CMO.com, ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal.