The holidays loom for retail marketers, making July the time to start thinking about paid search campaign planning if you want to ensure your efforts are a success. Yes, it might be painful thinking about Black Friday keywords and holiday themed landing pages when the air conditioner is blasting, but it’s important to catch the holiday wave early. Analyzing your holiday-specific keywords is the first step, while understanding what your seasonal curve looks like is equally as important and something that shouldn’t wait until November. Let’s face it, with only 100 days until Halloween and back-to-school coming soon, finding the time to do the necessary analysis will become difficult.

Analyze Your Seasonal Curve
What are the inflection points for your company’s sales cycle and therefore your paid search efforts? By analyzing the trends of your front-end metrics you can determine when upticks occur. This data coupled with your keyword checkup dictates when you should begin keyword testing and making changes. Too many online retailers pick an arbitrary date to begin tweaking how they optimize their keywords. Instead of relying on a hunch or using the same dates you’ve always used, let the data tell you when to get aggressive. By looking at past years’ data, you’ll get a good idea when the holiday wave begins. The idea is to catch that wave early so instead of climbing the cliff you’re gradually evaluating and testing your keywords based on the trend line. By bidding more aggressively earlier, where appropriate, you can find the early bird shoppers and eliminate the need to play catch-up later. Additionally, you leave no (or little) business-goal-acceptable conversions on the table. July and August are good months to do this because putting off the analysis until September may mean missing that early window that could open in in October.

Keyword Check Up
Additionally, the summer is the perfect time to analyze your holiday-specific keywords (e.g. phrases like Black Friday, free shipping, holiday gifts, etc.) because this when other marketing decisions for the holidays are being made and those decision could impact your keywords. Begin by looking at the previous year’s performance behavior to determine when these phrases start seeing more activity in the form of clicks and conversions. Knowing when activity increases makes it easier to catch shoppers early – again catching the wave first. This allows you to be proactive based on the analysis of each keyword, especially if you’ll be introducing new keywords. Beyond holiday-related terms, use non-holiday terms to determine up and down patters. Using the performance behavior of non-holiday keywords will help you pick the period when to activate the holiday words. Using performance based bidding also helps ensure that once activated, the holiday keywords drive acceptable conversions. Also, make sure to analyze these patterns against external factors that would cause variations, such as economic conditions, competitors’ activities, current events, etc. Assessing your holiday keywords now will help you determine a good starting point for bids well in advance and factor into campaign design and goals.

Use the Curve to Achieve Goals Starting Now
Goals are unique to each company’s business and advertising strategy.  The idea behind this aspect of holiday preparation isn’t about setting the goal, but instead about preparing to achieve your goal.  This is especially true if the holiday goal is different than the “normal” operational goal. Holiday planning should be about evaluating individual keyword performance against the holiday goals and then adjust bids accordingly when the season begins. Doing this evaluation will make it clear how you can attain your goals once the holiday curve takes off.

Finally, think about the other seasonal peaks (Valentines Day, Mother’s Day, etc.) that might not be as big as Christmas, but warrant careful thought and planning. A good paid search program applies this methodology throughout the entire calendar year. With these steps and considerations you’ll be better prepared for any holiday season.

It’s never too early to start that wish list after all. 

Rob Cooley, Ph.D., is chief technology officer for OptiMine Software, the online advertising optimization company. OptiMine develops technology that dramatically improves online advertising performance and helps solve complex pricing problems.