April 14, 2011
How To

Search Marketing: Capture future seasonal traffic lifts by preparing today with these 4 SEO factors

SUMMARY: When your company depends on a holiday or season for sales lifts, you have to prepare your marketing well in advance. You cannot risk having a major channel, such as natural search, suddenly plummet before the big day.

See how this shopping comparison site increased traffic and revenue on Cyber Monday by using four factors to prepare its SEO six months in advance. Find out the key factors to optimization and why it's a good idea to start working early.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

Some companies expect seasonal sales lifts. A single month, week or even day can dramatically improve revenue. Accounting firms rely on tax season. Wedding planners look to the summer. Become.com, a shopping search engine, focuses on the holiday season, particularly Cyber Monday.

"Being the online version of Black Friday, it's one of the highest days for site traffic," says Arpana Tiwari, Senior Manager, SEO, Become.com."We have to prepare for it. We want to beat the previous year."

Become.com aims to provide visitors with search tools and content to find the right products. The site generates revenue by sending cost-per-click leads to online merchants.

Natural search is an important source of traffic for Become.com. Since SEO is such a gradual process, Tiwari's team started preparing the site in June last year for Cyber Monday, which was on Nov. 29.

The six months of preparation paid off. On Cyber Monday 2010, Become.com earned:

o 7% year-over-year increase in leads sent to partners from natural search

o About 4% year-over-year increase in natural search traffic

"All that translates into close to $250,000 in gross merchandise value for our merchants," Tiwari says.

Here are the four SEO factors that Tiwari's team used to prepare Become.com for the event:

Factor #1. Site must be accessible to search engines

In June, Tiwari's team first gave the site an accessibility audit to see whether search engines could index all of its content. Using webmaster tools, the marketers identified problems with some listings, such as pages that had:

o Not been indexed
o Gone missing
o Listed nearly identical content to another page
o Listed outdated meta information

Once problems were identified, marketers worked to repair smaller problems individually and connected with Become.com's engineers to fix larger problems.

"We started looking at all the previous year's data and cleaning these up in June, because it takes some engineering time to make sure we get these projects scheduled and have the resources for them," Tiwari says.

- Prioritize new products

"Certain products may have done really well last year, and we still have those pages," Tiwari says. "But when you go back and check how they are performing compared to last year, they may not be driving as much traffic. There may be newer versions of the product that might be doing well."

In some of these cases, Tiwari's team had product pages for both older and newer versions of a product. The marketers took down pages for the older versions and worked to ensure the newer pages were well indexed by the search engines.

This ensured that searchers looking for these products would find the latest versions on Become.com and not the older, less-desirable versions. The team removed older pages even if it meant taking a hit in inbound traffic.

"There were times when we had to take a small short-term hit to make sure we were prepared for the big day," she says.

- Consistent formats

Tiwari's team also checked the site's content and architecture to ensure that URL structures and page designs were consistent, she says. The team typically follows a set of design guidelines, but practices occasionally diverged over the course of the year.

Factor #2. Content must be available for important topics

Become.com provides content throughout its site to help customers make better purchases and to attract search engines. Content includes:

o Buying guides
o Top 10 and tips articles
o Product reviews
o Product specs
o Blog posts

In preparation for Cyber Monday, the marketers analyzed search behavior on its site as well keyword data from search engines. They used this information to identify topics on which Become.com could provide more information to attract and satisfy more visitors.

The marketers looked for opportunities, such as a high number of searches for relevant content that Become.com did not provide. They then created content focusing on the searches' keywords and added it to the site's blog, product pages and other areas.

The team also conducted competitive research to identify topics on which Become.com might be able to provide more value than other websites to attract more visitors.

"Having such a large number of products and being such a large site means our keyword research is always at a very large scale...We have to pick and choose which categories to go after," Tiwari says.

- Opportunities for new products

Sometimes the marketers identified a keyword opportunity but did not have the related product. In some cases, the team reached out to merchants, showed them the data describing the trend, and suggested that they offer the product through Become.com.

- Stay in touch with the media

The team's analysis took place six months before Cyber Monday. Search trends and consumer interests were likely to shift in the meantime. The team had to stay abreast of the latest trends and products in the news to anticipate hot topics and build content around them.

Factor #3. Links must come from reputable sites

As a later part of the audit, the team analyzed Become.com's inbound links to determine whether they were helping or hurting the site's search rankings. Tiwari did not want to receive links from websites that were irrelevant or looked "spammy" (such as a site with more advertising than content).

After identifying a questionable link, Tiwari's team reached out to the site's owner and cordially asked for it to be removed. Reaching site owners can be difficult and time consuming, Tiwari says, so be persistent.

Two types of bad links Tiwari's team encountered:

- Old blogs gone bad

A website which once published high-quality, relevant content can easily become:

o Focused on a completely different topic
o Bought out by a spammer
o Neglected and stale

You may have received a link from a blog in its healthy and early days, but once the site has gone to seed, you'll want the link removed.

- Content scrapers

Some site owners will unabashedly copy your content and paste it onto their pages. A quick review of these sites often reveals that such content is the only information they offer (other than advertising). Even if the site links to you, the link is not likely to be valuable, and may even have negative value.

Factor #4. Historical data sets expectations

Aside from keyword research data, the marketers also analyzed the site's traffic and click data for the weeks before and day of Cyber Monday 2009. The data helped the team estimate when traffic spikes would occur and set benchmarks for traffic and revenue goals.

That said, do not expect your previous year's data to be an exact prediction of what will happen in future.

"One thing we did notice [in 2010] was it took a little longer for shoppers to get started...The year earlier, traffic increases were much higher in October. So it looks like shoppers were waiting."

- Give yourself plenty of time, and be patient

Whether you're targeting Cyber Monday or some other event, give the search engines plenty of time to process your changes. Tiwari's team finished its updates about one-month before the event.

"Given that we had all our ducks in a row, we were able to take advantage in the last few weeks and do additional keyword research and add more content."

Also, avoid making major changes in response to early metrics as the day approaches. SEO takes time to show results, and you might do more harm than good with last minute-changes, Tiwari says.

"All the work you have put in could go to waste."

Useful links related to this article

Search Marketing: The importance of an SEO process

Marketing Research Chart: SEO tactics for the B2B marketer

Marketing Research Chart: Efficiency of SEO objectives by primary market

Members Library -- Webinar Replay: Exploring on-site search with eTail, BabyAge.com and MarketingSherpa

Members Library -- Lift Long-Tail Search Traffic: 6 tactics to find and test niche content areas

Google Webmaster Tools

Searchmetrics -- tool the team used for competitive analysis and other natural search data


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