'Tis the Season to be Selling: A Guide to Your Best Holiday Sales Ever

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the two most crucial days of the year for online merchants, and now’s the time to start preparing your store for success.

Volusion has teamed up with PayPal for a special holiday-prep webinar where we’ll explain how to prepare your Volusion store and supercharge your marketing efforts for your most profitable holiday season ever!

In this webinar, you’ll walk away with actionable tips for:

  • Planning ahead, so the holidays become more manageable (and lucrative!)
  • Creating holiday-specific landing pages to drive sales
  • Running social and search ads to target holiday shoppers
  • Promoting holiday sales
  • Monitoring your selling success

Watch the replay above or follow the script below to learn how to get the most out of this holiday season!

(Slide 1)
Adrianne: Hello everyone! Welcome to “Tis the Season to Be Selling” and thanks so much for joining us. You’re in for some awesome tips today, and we’re joined by our special guest from PayPal; don’t forget to check out Volusion’s new integration with PayPal after the webinar.

(Slide 2)
Let’s meet our hosts for the day:
Adrianne: My name is Adrianne and I’m an SEO Team Lead here at Volusion. I’ve gotten the opportunity to help a bunch of merchants through the holiday seasons and I can’t wait to share what I learned with y’all!
Jill: My name is Jill Rose and I’m the General Manager of PayPal’s SMB business unit. I’ve been at PayPal for over 8 years. I’ve spent my time at PayPal helping small businesses run and grow their business.
Kavi: And I’m Kavi, and I’m a Senior SEO Specialist. I’ve been here at Volusion for about a year and a half, and in that time I’ve helped plenty of clients get through busy and slow seasons with SEO strategies that are proven to work.

(Slide 3)
Kavi: Today’s agenda is going to cover a timeline of activities that you need to focus on in order to ensure your store is ready to handle what we hope will be an influx of holiday orders. If you follow our timeline, you should be prepared enough so that all you will have to do on Black Friday and Cyber Monday is maintainence. At the end, we’ll leave you with some additional resources so you can jump into your holiday planning right away!

Kavi: At any time throughout this webinar, please feel free to send us your questions via GoToWebinar so that we can answer them as we go or during our live Q&A at the end.

(Slide 4)
Jill: There are a couple of digital commerce trends that are important throughout the year, but are even more important during the busy Holiday season. The trends that are transforming ecommerce are mobile, contextual and social commerce. A little later we’ll provide more information on each of these and how you can take advantage of each this Holiday season.

(Slide 5)
Adrianne: So let’s go ahead and jump in. First up, we’ll talk about what you should be doing two months away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday - which is right now. It may feel like you have plenty of time before the holidays, but they’ll be here before you know it.

(Slide 6)
Jill: For years we have been hearing about how mobile is coming. I can assure you the era of mobile is here. Across the web around ⅓ of internet traffic is from mobile devices and that percentage is growing. Many small businesses are not prepared to fully utilize this growing channel. 91% of small businesses websites are not responsive. Responsive web design is an approach to web page creation where a web page “responds to” or resizes itself depending on the type of device it is being seen through. Why is this so important? Today’s consumers are demanding seamless buying experiences wherever they shop: on their phone, tablet or desktop. More than 40% of consumers who attempt to check out on a mobile device end up abandoning the transaction due to a poor experience. Building a responsive website is just one way to improve conversions. Creating an easy checkout experience is another way to boost holiday sales. PayPal can help you streamline payments. With PayPal’s express checkout, a customer can checkout with a few clicks - without having to type in 16 digit credit card number, security code and address details. This holiday season increase conversion on your store by tapping into the 188M active PayPal consumers that look for the PayPal way to pay to speed through checkout safely and securely.

Mobile devices are not just changing the online buying experience, it is changing the offline experience, too. Today, 75% of store shoppers use their mobile devices while shopping in stores. Even more interesting, 25% of store shoppers who use their mobile devices in stores make a purchase on their mobile device in store. This further emphasizes the need for a responsive store and streamlined check-out experience.

(Slide 7)
Kavi: While we are on the subject of payments, now is the time to revisit your payment systems. Many of you probably use gateways, which is a great way to capture a wide range of people and payments. Essentially, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to get their money in your hands. Review your payment systems, make sure your SSL certificate isn’t due to expire soon and even try checking out yourself with each payment option to make sure there are as few barriers to purchase as possible.

Jill: The enhanced PayPal Express Checkout with In-Context flow gives your customers a simplified checkout experience that keeps them local to your website throughout the payment authorization process and enables them to use their PayPal balance, bank account, or credit card to pay without sharing or entering any sensitive information on your site.

Adrianne: That means it’s going to be really important to make sure you offer a wide variety of checkout options, and to make sure they work - you don’t want to prepare everything only to find a bunch of abandoned carts because people can’t figure out your checkout process.

(Slide 8)
Jill: Making the most of your social platforms is another way to provide an easy buying experience. With contextual commerce merchants can merchandise their products within a consumer’s everyday life with the right product and the right moment- which is a marketer’s dream. Consumers don’t need to stop what they are doing and go to a traditional website and then checkout to complete a transaction. Instead, anywhere a product can be placed, whether it be a blog post, an email, within a social context, users can immediately, without leaving that context, buy what they need. We have already seen great example of contextual commerce through PayPal’s Braintree platform with Pinterest's Buyable Pins. This partnership enables tens of millions of “pinners” to securely purchase products pinned from merchants like Neiman Marcus, Gardener’s Supply company and Michaels via an iphone or ipad.

(Slide 9)
Kavi: Let’s dive right into how you can implement some of these ideas on your own site. Before we get into landing pages, let’s quickly review what we mean by a landing page. This is any page that someone lands on when they reach your website. Most of the time that’s going to be your homepage, but it could also be a category or even a popular product, depending on your industry. For example, a site that sells cookie mix probably has different types of cookies as their categories. Someone who is searching for general cookie mix will land on the homepage, but someone looking for chocolate chip cookie mix will land on that category page, because it’s more relevant to exactly what they’re looking for. You can create these holiday-themed landing pages now and hide them within the Volusion software after the holidays are over, so they don’t have to appear on your site forever.

Your landing pages probably fluctuate in popularity depending on the season, and the holiday season is no different. You’ll want to create new landing pages two months before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which, again, is right about now, so that search engines have time to understand these pages and how they relate to the rest of your website. If you wait until the last minute to add new categories and products, those landing pages might not be indexed or understood well enough for them to appear in people’s search results.

Adrianne: Give a little thought into your products and how your customers shop. If they are price-conscious, they’ll probably benefit from a range of “gifts under $x amount of dollars.” If you sell grilling supplies, you might make a “gifts for husbands” category. Stocking stuffers and holiday bundles are also popular options for customers who need to pick up last-minute gifts, or who are looking to hit that free shipping threshold with a minimum purchase amount.

Before a new page goes live, ensure that it has a compelling title tag and meta description, as well as some on-page content that explains what’s on the page. For example, let’s say you sell holiday sweaters. Your title tag will be a short, keyword-heavy line of about 60 characters that precisely describes your holiday sweaters. A meta description has a 156 character length cap and should be compelling so people want to visit the site, such as “Check out these cute holiday sweaters! Stock up this holiday season and get free shipping when you spend $100.”

You should also start setting up your paid campaigns to drive traffic to that landing page; even if people aren’t converting yet, it will get the thought into people’s minds. We’ll talk a little more about paid campaigns in the next few slides.

(Slide 10)
Kavi: Once you’ve figured out your landing pages, take some time to outline the promotions you’ll run and decide what types of coupons you’ll provide to customers during these shopping holidays. You might run a special on your most popular product, or 15% off their whole order when they purchase between November 25th and November 28th. If you don’t normally offer free shipping at all, or if your free shipping minimum is relatively high, consider lowering it temporarily to encourage conversions - in 2014, 87% of all online shoppers claimed to have abandoned a cart because of the cost of shipping. 68% of shoppers that same year said that they would recommend a site to a friend if free shipping was offered. Planning strategies like these ahead of time will let you concentrate on your marketing, since you’ve already done the brainstorming.

Adrianne: If you’re on the Volusion platform, setting up coupon codes is really easy and you can even set a time limit on them, which means you won’t have to remember to enable or disable them when the promotion is over. If you need more information about how to make coupon codes, we’ve got a list of resources at the end of the presentation that you can refer back to.

(Slide 11)
Kavi: Where do your customers spend their time online? This is going to depend heavily on your industry. If you sell products that require research before purchase, you’ll probably want to spend most of your holiday budget on AdWords and Bing ads, because customers will be using search engines a lot to determine what they need. Products that require a lot of price comparison are great for shopping feeds, which are the picture ads that usually appear at the top or right-hand side of a search results page. Or, if your audience is really engaged on social media already, Facebook or Pinterest might be the perfect places to run ads instead. Just keep in mind that around this time of year, people are busy, so the easiest way to reach people is through channels where they’re already spending a lot of time.

Adrianne: Once you’ve determined the best places to run your ads, you’ll want to spend some time planning them out. Determine targeted keywords based on products you want to promote for the holidays. This could revolve around a category of products on your site or specific products. It's also a good tip to mention any promos you're running in the ad copy to entice people to come to your site to purchase. This is also a great time to retarget customers who abandoned their shopping carts with enticing offers, like a limited-time coupon. These customers were interested enough to put an item in their cart, so giving them that extra perk might be enough to push them to purchase.

(Slide 12) [note: if this gets too long, we’ll cut this section]
Kavi: Quick reminder: we’re still in the “Two Months Out” section. There’s a lot of work on the front end of this, but it’s going to make your shopping season much easier. So, let’s talk about blogger and social relationships. These are people who will be promoting your products; they might be influential bloggers, people in your affiliate network or even brand evangelists.

Either way, they’re very involved in your industry and can talk directly to your target market. Customers are also likely to trust these people more, since they’ve already established their authority within the community.

Jill: Social relationships might mean the difference between a good selling season and some truly killer sales. If you don’t already have these relationships in place, start reaching out to people. These can be mutually beneficial connections; you can offer exclusive coupons to their followings, and their viewerships will have a reason to keep coming back to their blogs or social networks. Consider taking an amount off their orders, offering free shipping or even giving away a small free item if they spend a certain amount with you.

(Slide 13)
Kavi: Once you’ve gotten your new landing pages in place, you’ve figured out your payment methods and decided to run a couple promotions, it’s time to shop your own site! You will probably need to pull in a friend or two to help you with this part. Sometimes we get too close to our own websites, and things that seem simple to us could be difficult for an average customer to figure out.

Jill: How do you shop your own site? Try to navigate around the way a customer would. Browse your categories and products to make sure you can easily reach what you’re looking for - we recommend having the products reachable within three clicks. Add something to your cart. Change your mind and remove it from the cart. Add something to your cart, then keep browsing and adding more things. What is your experience like? Get lots of notes from your friends - they’re the people who can help you improve the site experience the most.

Adrianne: You should also test the mobile experience on different operating systems - this is where a friend will come in handy. Find someone who has an iPhone and someone else who has an Android and ask both of them to shop your site from their phones. Is it easy to read? Does anything look funny or confusing? Is it easy to pay for an item?

Something that’s often overlooked is testing the shipping rates and check-out functions of your store. Double check the settings, then try selecting shipping to a variety of locations. Include locations that you don’t ship to so you can ensure they get the proper error message.

Kavi: While you’re testing your store, you may also want to look at other successful merchants to emulate ideas that you like. This goes for their checkout processes as well as their promotions and landing pages! Take a look at both successful and unsuccessful campaigns from last year, and use that research to make educated decisions about your campaigns for this season. Be careful not to copy other stores exactly; while you want to be successful, you don’t want to look like someone riding on the coattails of a unique campaign.

(Slide 14)
Adrianne: To recap: We’re about two months out from Black Friday and Cyber Monday right now, so it’s already time to roll up your sleeves and make sure you have these items covered.

Make sure your site is mobile-friendly and that checkout is easy on a variety of mobile platforms, including iPhone, Android and tablets. Ensure, through testing, that all of your payment systems are in place and fully functional. Plan and create any new seasonal landing pages you’ll need, including holiday bundles and categorized gifts. Decide what coupons and promotions you’ll offer, and make sure you know how to set these up within the Volusion software. With those promotions in mind, allocate some of your budget to online advertising like PPC, shopping feeds and social ads. Investigate your social relationships and blogger connections, contact potential promoters and offer their followers a special holiday promotion. Finally, ask family and friends to make sure it’s as easy as possible to shop your site and get what they need.

(Slide 15)
Kavi: As we mentioned earlier, it takes a lot of advanced prep to have your store in tip-top shape for the holidays. We’re about to cover what you should be thinking about six weeks out from the biggest shopping days of the year, or around mid-October. Remember, it’s better to be prepared now than to rush things at the last minute, when you won’t have enough time to test out your processes and marketing campaigns.

And again: Feel free to send us your questions!

(Slide 16)
Adrianne: If you’re already using email marketing, now is the time to capitalize on that audience. If you’re not sending out a regular newsletter, consider putting together a one-time email blast or a short series of email promotions for the holidays. By now, you should already have your coupons and promos planned, so you’ll know exactly what to highlight in your newsletter.

Start designing the look and the copy of your email blasts right away, so you’ll have time to make adjustments after you’ve run your first draft by a few trusted friends. Your newsletter should look exciting without being too visually busy, and the text should clearly state the specials you’re offering along with any important terms and conditions. If you have the time and the information readily available, personalize your newsletters as much as you can by showing each customer the products that will be most enticing to them and the promos that are most relevant to their shopping behavior.

(Slide 17)
Jill: You’ve already thought about your social media and AdWords ads, so now is the time to start getting those up and running. When you’re six weeks out from the big shopping days, focus your social media ads on building your community. This means you should spend a little more money on gaining social followers, rather than trying to push people to your website. Let people know that if they like your page, they’ll gain access to exclusive promotions and updates.

Kavi: Running your AdWords ads six weeks out is going to allow Google to become comfortable with your site and get that historical data that affects your quality score. The sooner you gather data, the better! This data can help you make those crucial decisions for your campaign before Black Friday arrives. If you want to learn more about gearing up your AdWords for the holidays, we’ve got a link to our ecommerce blog at the end of the slides. We also offer PPC management and shopping feed management as services!

Adrianne: Start directing people to the new landing pages that you’ve created to get some interest stirring up. This is going to show search engines that people are finding your new landing pages useful - and it will get people thinking about the types of gifts they are looking for. Once they are ready to purchase, they’ll know exactly how to find you!

Plus, when we’re still six weeks out, people are already in the early stages of shopping. They might be browsing and looking for ideas ahead of time. Use remarketing campaigns to catch these shoppers again once they start getting closer to the purchasing phase. You might even consider offering them a small discount if they come back to shop with you.

(Slide 18)
Kavi: Finally, keep shopping your own site and keep asking for feedback from others you’ve asked to shop for you. We can’t stress this enough. All the planning in the world won’t help you if your customers have trouble with basic navigation of your site, or if they hit a glitch while trying to check out. Get some new, fresh eyes on your store and listen to the feedback that might already be rolling in from customers on social media or your Contact Us page. The reason to gather feedback so early on is that you might discover necessary changes that will take time to implement, and again, you don’t want to be forced to change things about your site once the influx of customers has already started.

(Slide 19)
Adrianne: We’re getting closer! Late October is just one month out from the big shopping days, so it’s a good time to monitor and tweak your strategy. Don’t neglect Halloween if it’s an important holiday for your business, but remember to focus on the big picture as well.

(Slide 20)
Jill: On social media and in your email newsletters, start hinting at those promotions you brainstormed earlier. A hint might just be a quick post that says “Keep an eye on our page - we’ve got a big deal coming up!” Even if they aren’t live just yet, this is the perfect time to generate some hype about the big deals you’ll be offering on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Remember, word-of-mouth advertising is still one of the most effective ways to draw people to your store. A little social media buzz about your next big sale can go a long way.

Adrianne: When you provide links within a newsletter or social post, be sure to link directly to the relevant landing page for that product or special offer (and of course, double check that that landing page is in good shape!). Don’t just send your customers to your home page and make them guess at where to go next. For example, if you're promoting a grilling starter kit, make sure to link directly to that product, rather than a category page or the home page. Similarly, make sure customers know what to expect when they arrive at your site so they don’t encounter any surprises. If there’s a shipping threshold, mention it.

(Slide 21)
Kavi: Your brand new ad campaigns should not be a set-it-and-forget-it type of strategy. Whether you’re using Google AdWords, shopping feeds, Facebook or a combination of several advertising platforms, your campaigns need to be monitored so you can make adjustments and capitalize on the ads your customers are responding to the most. Facebook and AdWords offer really comprehensive ad management systems for businesses, and of course we always recommend taking a deep look at your Google Analytics metrics so you can see exactly where your traffic is coming from and how much of that traffic is converting. Not sure what needs to be adjusted? If any of your pay-per-click ads have an unusually high CPC, or cost per click, that’s a good place to start. A high CPC means you’re paying more each time someone clicks that ad, so the keywords you’re targeting might be too competitive or too broad.

(Slide 22) [note: remove this section if too long]
Adrianne: Another area that needs monitoring is your social and blogger outreach. If you’ve set up some relationships with industry influencers, check to see how those promotions are being run. Is the promoter following the guidelines you agreed on? Do they need any graphics from you, or perhaps more samples or giveaway items? Make sure they have the links they need to the most relevant landing pages for those promotions, and check Analytics to see how much referral traffic is coming into your site from theirs.

(Slide 23)
Kavi: Your home page slideshow or banner is a great place to advertise your Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals - it’s one of the first things people see when they come to your site, and it’s easy to adjust. Create one or several slides or banner ads to appear on your home page, and make them active as soon as you have live landing pages to link to. Check those landing pages one more time to make sure you’re sending people to the right place. Your slide or banner should be eye-catching and visually clean, and it should include a clear and compelling CTA, or call to action, like “shop now for free shipping” or “don’t miss this limited-time offer.”

(Slide 24)
Adrianne: Alright, we’re almost there! One week away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which goes from November 18th to the 25th.

(Slide 25)
Adrianne: Now is the time to let everyone know about the promotions that will be going on, even if they aren’t happening until the actual day. This will get everything out there so people will know exactly when to return to your store. It will also help gather people before the big day - if you push out promotion messaging only on the day that they happen, you might miss a bunch of customers.

Make sure you’re getting the message out on both your email and social media channels. You want to reach as many people as you can!

Once those promotions start happening, make sure the coupon codes work from a customer’s perspective. Also, keep an eye out for people who may have technical difficulties so you won’t miss out on a sale.

(Slide 26)
Kavi: It’s time to check on your ads again! Make sure everything is running properly. For social media ads, start focusing solely on leading people to the website. Now is not the time to be spending money on building your community, like earning Facebook likes - your focus needs to be on getting people to the website quickly and easily so they can make a purchase. If you’re trying to get people to buy grilling supplies, you don’t need them to Like your page first; just send them straight to the grilling supplies landing page via your ads.

Make sure there’s nothing in the way for your ads to be served to your audience, and this goes for both social ads and your ads on Google. These different ad services have different rules, so double check that you’re following them so you don’t risk losing valuable ad space.

Double check your bids now as well. Some competition has probably creeped in while you’ve been busy setting everything up, so make sure your ads will appear to the right people. One very important note, though: While you’re checking up on any pay-per-click ads, do not click on them for testing purposes. Remember that you’re paying per click, so even your own clicks will cause you to be charged. This goes for Facebook ads, AdWords and shopping feeds too. And again, if the whole pay-per-click advertising thing sounds like too much to handle, our paid search services team would be more than happy to help you manage them.

(Slide 27)
Adrianne: The beauty of many social media platforms is that you can schedule your posts ahead of time. While you will still need to leave yourself some time to double check your channels, get your posts for the next two weeks scheduled now so that you don’t have to spend time thinking of something to post when you’ve got a ton of orders to fill. Make sure you’re promoting your specials, but leave some posts for funny pictures or holiday greetings. You need to leave some room for personality so people will feel comfortable with your brand and relate to it. Lots of brands are going to be bombarding their customers with deals, so keeping some of your brand personality could be a breath of fresh air for holiday shoppers. Many social channels let you schedule posts straight from the website, but you can make things even easier by using a scheduling service like Hootsuite to keep everything in one place. Good news: It’s free!

Kavi: Scheduling your posts doesn’t mean you can ignore your social media, though! Give yourself some time each day to quickly review your channels and respond to customers in a timely fashion. I know all those alerts on your phone can be annoying, but this is going to be the best way to ensure you’re providing stellar customer service - and not missing out on any sales. Plus, it’s only for a week or so.

Also save a chunk of time for checking out the news and trending topics. You don’t have to hop on every bandwagon, and you should definitely avoid anything off-brand or that could potentially be controversial, but if you can get in on a trend early, it could mean the difference between a normal holiday season and some really stellar sales.

(Slide 28)
Adrianne: Now is the time to check on your coupon codes; make sure they’re working and they make sense during the checkout process. In Volusion, coupons are case-sensitive, so make sure all of your ads and social posts that mention the code have the correct characters. If you needed to change any of these codes to allow for something trending, you’ll want to test them out before you release them to the masses.

(Slide 29)
Kavi: You’ve definitely seen a company have to scramble after a holiday fiasco, right? Maybe a coupon code wasn’t working at the specified time, or the checkout process didn’t go through for one of their customers, or they experienced some other kind of frustration that ended up being embarrassing for the merchant. We all hope it won’t happen to us, but it’s best to be prepared for the worst. On that same note, if your company does have employees, make sure they’re debriefed and ready to respond in a unified way to any last-minute problems.

So, just in case something happens, keep a special promo or social strategy in your back pocket. You can easily turn a mistake into a great message and find a way to delight your customers. One great example of this is a Texas-based jewelry merchant we’re familiar with. They’re hugely popular, which means that on rare occasions (like big shopping days), their site has been known to go down. What they do when this happens is they’ll offer a serious discount or some other kind of offer via Instagram for every hour that they’re down. That’s a great way to turn a frustrated customer into an evangelist.

(Slide 30)
Adrianne: We made it, guys! It’s Black Friday! Or Cyber Monday. If you’ve done all this prep work, there isn’t too much to take care of on the actual holidays.

(Slide 31)
Jill: But there’s one important thing to keep in mind while you’re busy filling orders - don’t forget to frequently check on your social channels and your emails. Remind everyone of the current specials, and make sure you’re there if someone needs help. Creating that excellent customer service experience will gain you shoppers for life!

(Slide 32)
Kavi: Did you notice how a lot of our recommendations need to be taken care of within the next couple of weeks? There’s a lot that needs to be done, but you’ve got time, and the time to start is now! We’re going to leave you with some resources so you can keep everything straight.

(Slide 33)
Kavi: Remember, we’re going to send these slides out after the webinar, so you’ll be able to access all these resources soon. We also wanted to mention that our bi-weekly SEO Live webinar is coming up, where you can send in questions for our SEO and social experts and they’ll answer them! That’s coming up this Thursday, September 22nd at noon Central.

(Slide 34)
Adrianne: And if you need some help setting any of these things up, we’ve got a promotion for Volusion merchants on our SEO services. Be sure to give us a call if you’d like to learn more!

And let’s give a special thanks to Jill from PayPal for joining us today! If you want to learn more about our new PayPal integration, you can call 855-456-1320.