How to Run a Last-Minute Holiday Campaign Using PPC

by Amanda Sibley

Date

December 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM

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It’s that time of year again. Time to rush around and find those last-minute (but perfect) gifts, bake that extra batch of cookies, and send out your last set of holiday greeting cards. It seems like just about everyone is rushing around this time of year ... including search marketers!

But let's face it: Time is a-runnin' out. And if you're a marketer who wants to give your holiday campaigns some extra oomph in the SERPs, it's probably too late to improve your organic search rankings -- at least if you want some quick holiday returns. Ranking organically for keywords can take some time, but luckily there is a way to get some quick wins in the search engines this holiday season. How? You guessed it ... PPC!

What Is PPC?

First, a quick refresher. PPC, which stands for pay-per-click, is essentially paid advertising in search engines, displayed as the ads appearing in the top and right side of your search results. For example, when you search for “holiday cookies,” these are the advertisements that appear:

holiday cookies google search highlighted resized 600

In Google, you can set up a paid advertising campaign through AdWords. AdWords functions on a bidding model, by which advertisers can bid on certain keywords, and if they are the highest bidder at a certain point, their ad will appear when someone searches for those keywords.

How Can PPC Help Me Fast?

Simple: PPC has immediate results. You can set up a campaign, and within a few hours, people will be able to see your ads and click through to your website. In addition, your PPC campaigns can be very targeted, since you can display different ads for each keyword you choose to bid on. This makes the content people see when they search for certain keywords highly relevant to their search query, and relevant content benefits search advertisers in a number of ways. First, it increases your Google Ad Rank -- and the higher your Ad Rank, the more likely your ad will get seen. Second, the more relevant your content is to a user's search query, the more likely it will appeal to that user, thus increasing your ad's clickthrough rate (CTR) -- which every search advertiser wants!

How Can I Optimize My Holiday Campaigns for Success?

This post is going to assume that you already understand how to initially set up a Google AdWords campaign, but if you're just starting out, check out this comprehensive guide to setting up your first Google AdWords campaign before you read on. Once you've got the basics down, optimizing your campaign for the holidays is the next step.

Optimizing your ads to cater to holiday shoppers can help you quickly increase the effectiveness -- and success -- of your holiday PPC campaigns. Your first step should be to get inside your target audience's head. Ask yourself, "When does my audience search?" If you're a retail brand, your users are more likely to be searching in the evenings and on the weekends, when they're not in the office. On the other hand, B2B businesses may see their highest engagement Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

Next, think about your audience's wants and needs. During the holidays, those last-minute gifts are always a hassle, right? Create ad copy that relates to exactly what they need at that very moment. For instance, a busy mother of three young children may have overlooked buying a present for her kids' school teachers, so you might consider playing off this last-minute shopping need by creating an ad that promotes your promise of fast shipping.

last minute gifts

Can I Improve My Ad Rank Now?

Remember: Your Ad Rank determines how often your ad will get seen and where it wil rank within Google's paid results. It's based on both Quality Score of your ad as well as the cost of they keywords you're bidding on. The higher the Ad Rank, the more likely Google is to show your ad, because it is more relevant to searchers and, thus, will garner more clicks.

Google ranks ads based on their Quality Score. A higher score leads to better positioning of your ad -- and again, a better CTR. Quality Score depends on the CTR of your ad from the start of your ad campaign, and it also factors in how high quality other ads for the same keywords are. Bidding up can help increase your score initially, as well as optimizing your ads and landing pages. Keep in mind that the higher the Quality Score, the less you'll have to pay for Ad Rank. Increasing the quality of your ads can be done in a number ways ...

1) Focus on Relevancy

First, make sure your ad copy is relevant to the keywords you're bidding on. Bidding on the keyword “Christmas,” for example, and serving up an ad for a restaurant that may have a Christmas day special, won’t get a very high score, and it's not just because the ad copy isn't super relevant to the search query "Christmas." You also need to consider the fact that so many other people are also bidding on a popular, in-demand keyword like “Christmas.”

So instead, look for long-tail keywords that are less popular, more relevant to your ad, and easier to nab. Using our restaurant example, for instance, you might bid on long-tail keyword phrases like “restaurants in Boston for the holidays” or “restaurants with holiday specials.”

2) Consider the User's Post-Click Experience

Once you've got relevancy down, you also need to optimize for the post-click experience. The web pages your ads direct searchers to need to relate to both the ad copy and the keywords you bid on. Think of it from the searcher's perspective. Isn’t it extremely annoying when you click on an ad promoting a great discount special, only to be sent to the company’s homepage once you click? Let's face it: Those people probably won’t take the time to sift through your site in order to find that particular promotion you advertised in your PPC ad. And even if they do, they're probably not very happy about it.

As a result, aim to make this click-to-conversion process as easy as possible for the user. Link your PPC ads to targeted, relevant landing pages made specifically for people who clicked on your ad. If you're using some kind of holiday angle to get people clicking, make sure your landing pages align with that same holiday theme and messaging. Still not convinced? The higher your quality score, the less you have to pay for each bid for the same position on Google!

Can PPC Help Me in My Organic SEO Efforts for 2013?

Why, yes it can! An added bonus of PPC is the analytics you get from it. Looking at the keyword data from your PPC campaigns, you can then identify which keywords were searched for most by the people who clicked on your ads. Seems like these keywords would be good search terms for you to work on ranking for organically, right? Once your 2012 campaigns come to a close, review the data from your campaigns, and start to optimize your web pages to organically rank for these keywords. Specifically look at keywords that have a high number of impressions and high CTRs, as these indicate ads that were seen by a lot of people -- and that a lot of people clicked on them. You might just find a brand new target audience you never knew were interested in your products or services!

When Can I See Results?

So you've set up your AdWords campaign and optimized your ads for your holiday audience. Now what? Continuously monitor your campaigns! This season is a bidding war, with so many search advertisers trying to rake in last-minute customers. Expect that bids will increase more than normal right now, so keep an eye out for your campaigns, and stay on top of them. You want to make sure your audience is still seeing your ads and you're not spending money unnecessarily. Once your ads are live and optimized, you should be seeing new traffic to your landing page(s) immediately -- and that traffic should be converting. If not, you might want to adjust some of the components of your campaigns, such as the keywords you're bidding on, your ad copy/creative, or the landing pages you're linking to.

Example: Optimizing a Holiday PPC Campaign in Action

Let's walk through an example of how you might optimize a PPC campaign for the holidays, using a hypothetical company that specializes in cat toys.

Let's assume that, for this hypothetical cat toy company, the holiday season is one of its peak times of year, because cat owners are searching for gifts for their pets. This year, however, they've been trying to use PPC ads, but it hasn't given them the holiday boost they were looking for. Their goals were to decrease the cost of each click on AdWords, generate more traffic to their website, and ultimatly convert more customers this holiday season. 

Upon investigating their AdWords campaign, we see that they're bidding on very generic terms like "cat supplies" and "cat." The competiton for these words is extremely high -- not to mention that the people searching using these keywords aren't necessarily looking for holiday gifts for their cats. 

Here is their current ad:

cattitudz 3

Upon further investigation, we notice that this ad leads to the Cattiudz.com homepage, which has no relation to the custom cat gifts or the free shipping, two things this ad specifically mentions. We also see that this particular ad has a very low Ad Rank as a result of these factors. It was also competing with ads from brands like Petco and PetSmart, which have a significantly higher budget and could spend more on each click to rank at the top of the paid search results.

Luckily, this is an easy fix! Looking at their AdWords analytics, we find that the keyword phrases with the highest clickthrough rates are the keywords "fancy cat gifts," "Christmas gifts for cats," and "holiday cat gifts." While Cattitudz wasn't actively bidding on these words, because they were bidding on the broad term "cat," their ad showed up for these keywords occasionally. But to decrease the cost of their PPC campaign and solve for their problem of high competition, bidding on these long-tail keywords instead would help. Then all they'd have to do is optimize their ads with these new long-tail keywords, and set up dedicated landing pages that align with each keyword. 

So, for the keyword phrase "fancy cat gifts," we could create the following ad:

cattitudz 2

This ad not only leverages the relevancy of a long-tail search time, but is also relates to the keyword directly (it's in the title!) and directs searchers to a landing page that's specifically about fancy cat gifts with free shipping. Because the searcher's experience -- from keyword search, to ad, to landing page -- is fluid and highly relevant, this ad will rank much higher in Google's paid search results, and will also cost a lot less. As a result, the Cattitudz website will benefit from not only more traffic, but also higher quality traffic that's more likely to convert!

Wondering how long it took to optimize a campaign like this? About as long as it took you to read this post! So start optimizing your PPC campaigns for holiday shoppers ... and happy holidays!

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