It’s Not Too Late for 2009 Holiday-Focused SEO

Many interactive marketing companies and their clients are fully immersed in 2010 planning these days, as my Outlook calendar can demonstrate. Fortunately, SEO is getting more consideration for a bigger piece of the pie (or even better, an additional whole pie to complement increased search and display advertising budgets).

Before delving too far into 2010, however, marketers should also consider what to do from an SEO perspective to push the needle further during the upcoming online holiday season.

While we’ll primarily focus on Consumer Products and Retail (CP&R) verticals, other categories (e.g., financial services and pharma) can still make an effort to improve organic visibility and traffic during November and December. CP&R sites, especially those with large e-commerce platforms, look to the holiday season for a large portion of the annual income generated online.

Although SEO is usually an ongoing consideration, some tactics should be tailored to fit the holiday season. If SEO is broken down to technical, content, and linking initiatives, marketers should have specific plans in each to help improve organic visibility.

Technical — Avoid the Grinch

When adding content to a site in order to support holiday initiatives, the location of this content within the site hierarchy is crucial to rapid visibility within organic search. No content should ever live on “an island” within a domain, as a general SEO best practice.

The same should be true for seasonal promotional pages and products. Specific holiday-focused pages should be live all year long in order to build authority and consistency within the search engines indexes. Elevating the pages to the normal navigation and providing home page call-outs during the appropriate holiday season can be tricky if not done properly, but can yield rapid visibility and associated traffic if loving care is given.

Adding new pages to the hierarchy has its own set of potential issues. In general, the pages should be made available within normal navigation so they don’t require interaction with on-page action calls as the only link to the content.

Additionally, inclusion within the standard navigation allows for the content to be perceived as equal to the rest of the pages. For strong brands with solid performance within existing category and sub-category level pages, it shouldn’t take long for the pages to rank for terms on their own, thanks to the root domain’s search engine equity.

Content — ’tis the Season

Search engines crawl and index millions of pages. Naturally, during the holiday period, many new pages are introduced that have some sort of holiday focus.

Content should be created with this in mind. Don’t assume that a search engine or a human will automatically associate the page with the holiday. Adding content specific to the event will improve the semantic association of the page with holiday themes, while also increasing the possibility of links naturally built to the pages from holiday news articles, blog posts, and forums.

Site pages shouldn’t be the only consideration when thinking about enhancing seasonal content.

Some people misunderstood my recommendation to avoid article syndication in “When to Run from an SEO Company.” To clarify, niche and category-associated content aggregators can be valuable if properly vetted and leveraged. Press releases and articles can further establish brand authority within a CP&R category, especially if picked up by major publishers.

Onsite and offsite content can still be created in time for the 2009 holidays. However, depending on the approval process, it could be getting close to being too late for the onsite enhancements. Another consideration: the common “code freeze” that occurs for many e-commerce sites during the last two months of the year.

Linking — 10 Drummers Drumming

New content and seasonal content requires relevant and timely links to be able to truly perform in time for the holidays. As with any public relations initiative, sending personalized e-mail requests and picking up the phone to pitch content to potential linkers is often the most rewarding tactic, in terms of link quality. Link quantity should be a goal for link builders as well, but the links should ideally still be relevant to both the content and the season, for best results.

Several directories are available that have holiday categories, and that would accept additional site listings for relevant pages not already in the directory. Finding links still pointed to retired pages from previous years’ holidays, and contacting the Webmasters to update the links, can yield excellent results.

Naturally, direct request and link reclamation tactics require time and resources, but the investment will typically provide a nice return in the form of some redirected authority links and some citations from holiday-themed sites. It may only take 10 drummers drumming (10 good links) for each page to succeed.

Holiday SEO performance is based on the overall performance of past ongoing optimization and the relative strength of the root domain. The better the site is positioned to be able to rank well for new pages, the better the chance of succeeding with them. The other, wiser alternative is to create static pages from a URL perspective that can be updated annually with that year’s big gift.

Frank Watson Fires Back

I always wondered why it was the season to be jolly before doing holiday geared SEO. You really need to be creative with it and also know that — as you note, Chris — it isn’t just e-commerce sites that see a huge jump during this time.

I’ve done “seasonal investment tips,” “investing in companies that make most sales during Christmas period,” “what is the strongest currency of the holidays,” and “best Christmas trips for the money” — all written in advance where possible.

I love how you get inundated with marketing tips about gearing up for the holidays, but the articles are all written for sales of items specifically geared for the season. Sometimes you can do so much better if you use the holidays to tie in to non-gift related marketing.

Don’t forget the huge influx of New Year’s lists. Make some geared around your industry and you’ll find a spike in traffic you may have missed otherwise.

Happy holidays everyone! Now go make some changes and grab that traffic.

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