When should you start SEO activity in order to drive the most value during the peak retail season?
The answer is now.
Results from organic search activity are infamously not achieved as quickly as they might be for other channels such as social and paid. There’s a myriad of factors why this is, which this blog will explore, and it also depends on the vertical your business is in.
Predicting the level of effort required over the peak season now will help with resourcing leading up to and during Q4.
Why we must prepare now
There are a variety of challenges in SEO such as:
- Waiting for pages to be indexed
- Higher level of resource is required for SEO vs other channels
- Expertise, authority, trust (E-A-T) – getting it right
- Data – there’s a lot to sift through!
But this year, in addition to the above challenges, SEOs are also having to overcome:
- The cost of living crisis
- Changing consumer trends
- Higher competition
- Decline in branded search
Monitoring past and recent trends is a particular pain point given there have been so many changes over the course of the last two years. Using previous data to predict future trends is becoming increasingly more difficult for marketers. This, alongside real-world events, is bringing unique challenges to this year’s peak selling season.
Your SEO timeline to peak
- July: Insight gathering and planning. Gather data on the previous year’s performance and determine any prospective target keywords to aim for.
- August: Ensuring the platform is ready for growth. Ensure the website is performing from a technical SEO perspective with speed, crawlability and UX
- September: Optimising and creating content. Optimise your key existing pages and identify and create new content to fill gaps in your taxonomy compared to your competitors.
- October: Get your house in order. Make sure things like your mega nav contains key pages for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other holiday pages. Make sure this is all indexable in search.
- November and beyond: Reactive work & monitoring. Monitor commercial & traffic metrics to understand any quick opportunities or insight for next season. Continue to look at the data you’re seeing via Google Search Console or other third-party tools to identify if there are any quick wins to be made.
SEO strategy for Black Friday
Prioritise by page type
When beginning your optimisation strategy, prioritise where you start by page type. Consider starting from the bottom of the user journey first i.e. start from ‘action’ and move upwards to awareness.
The reason for this is that your product pages are the most difficult to get ranking as they are probably more competitive. So by doing this work now, by the time it comes to Q4, your pages and their ranking ability should be really in a good place.
Prioritise by activity
Once you’ve identified all of the activities you’ll complete leading up to the peak season, order them in a prioritisation matrix.
Using a prioritisation matrix, you can make a custom logic to how you formulate tasks in a sprint or throughout the year that goes beyond tech. The foundations of which are built on these initial pillars:
- Business Value – estimated impact the activity will drive based on forecasting potential revenue/user increase
- Resource – how laborious the task may be
|Missing H1 tags||6||8||14|
|URLs with no redirect||9||4||13|
|No FAQ structured data||9||3||12|
|Remove testing page||2||9||11|
|Add <width> & <height> to nav bar||5||5||10|
|Lazy loads images||5||5||10|
|Optimise image compression||5||5||10|
Forecast the business value and resource required for each activity to determine where it will fall in your list of priorities.
You could also consider adding:
- Strategic Value – business objectives beyond revenue and traffic
- Cost – potential to create a cost model for full ROI
Communicating SEO success to stakeholders
One of the most underrated skill sets in SEO is the ability to build a narrative. SEO is complicated and you want to make sure that key stakeholders & the wider team are onboard with your strategy. Educating non-SEO people at a micro-level is not sustainable in the long run and narrative, therefore, is crucial to communicating success. But with so many data points needed to form a strategy, building a narrative can be tricky. Here’s a snapshot of all the necessary data points to look at:
- Current performance & opportunities
- Keyword rankings
- Backlink profile
- Tech & crawlability
- Page experience, core web vitals & page speed
It’s difficult to determine where to start. We need to be able to quantify performance and opportunity at a top level. For example, instead of looking at individual keywords, cluster them into categories such as ‘keywords by intent’. You could do this manually (but it would take a lot of time) or you can utilise automation methods.
Automation is going to be key for SEO in the future as it will allow us to can really harness a lot of data science to allow us the opportunity to crunch the numbers a lot more quickly. Reducing the number of manual tasks SEOs perform will be the key to success and scalability.
When it comes to narrative, I always apply my very own model, SIA:
- Statistic – A summarised metric
- Insight – What this means
- Action – What we’re going to do about it
Here’s an example of how to apply SIA:
- Statistic – The baked beans page usually dips in traffic by around 50% between September to November
- Insight – The reason for this is the intent has shifted within SERP to be more informational than commercial focused
- Action – Next month we’ll look at how we can optimise the existing page and explore creating evergreen content
Traditionally, it’s very difficult to forecast organic search metrics due to the many outliers that can happen in search and the fact that data across the pandemic period is now unreliable.
If you’re an ecommerce brand that saw a big spike in revenue back in 2020 and 2021 peak season, this data isn’t valid to use for forecasting due to store closures and the sharp shift to digital during that time. A lot of forecasting is based on previous trends and the pandemic has skewed our data making it hard to compare. Take out 2020 to mid-2022 and analyse your results before this period, we’re in a new normal!
However, we can give an indication based on some sort of logic such as:
- Using a time linear method where you take the average uplift per month and apply that to traffic moving forward
- Using platforms such as SEOMonitor or more advanced techniques like machine learning
Reporting on activity
Keep a digital leger of URLs that you’ve worked on and what activity has taken place. This will allow you to monitor in real-time how each activity has performed and this will give you the opportunity to prove to key stakeholders in the business that what you’re doing is working. This allows you to report beyond top-level metrics and you can show how SEO activity has contributed to overall success. This will become more difficult to demonstrate if you’ve made multiple changes to multiple URLs.
You can monitor activity by using Google Data Studio and applying your regex knowledge to segment URLs to give you a solid base to showcase SEO performance.
Following Q4, you want to be in a position where you can articulate scalability for next time. You want to be able to look at your strategy, analyse what worked, what didn’t and use this information to shape your strategy for the next peak season.
This will help if you have to justify your proposed strategy to stakeholders. You’ll be able to present what you did, what results you achieved and what the impact was on the wider business.
So in order to plan for this year’s Black Friday and holiday season, you should first start gathering insights from previous peak seasons and setting new targets. Next, you want to make sure you’re optimising existing holiday pages and creating new content to address gaps and then ensure your key holiday pages are live and visible. At a later stage, monitor and reflect on the results you have achieved and use these to inform your ongoing strategy and your peak season strategy in 2024.
I delivered this blog post as a webinar, you can watch the recording here.