Have You Started Your Christmas Search Engine Campaign?
by Andy Beal


The dog days of summer are upon us and many people are looking 
forward to the beginning of football season and the onset of 
autumn. As your business settles into the third quarter of 2003 
it's tempting to believe that there is plenty of time left 
before you need to think about your company's Christmas marketing 
campaign. After all, the leaves haven't even begun to change 
colors yet, so there's plenty of time left before you need to 
think about fourth quarter revenues. Right? Wrong!

While we may still be in August, I can guarantee that within the 
next 4-6 weeks your local department stores will start showing 
signs that they are preparing for the Christmas season. September 
has become the month that many traditional "offline" businesses 
start gearing up for Santa's visit and while an early start on 
your search engine marketing efforts may not attract the jolly 
guy in the red suit, there is a lot you can do now to ensure 
many other visitors locate your website.

Avoid The Last Minute Rush

Last year, I wrote an article entitled "Last Minute SEO Christmas 
List" which was published in November. In that article I looked 
at the different last-gasp SEO efforts your company could make 
if it had not yet implemented a search engine campaign. With US 
online sales for 2003 estimated to top $100 million (up from $73 
million in 2002), letís not take any chances with our efforts 
and make sure your website is ready now.

Rather than re-hashing the same general advice regarding search 
engine marketing, letís take a look at some techniques you should 
be thinking about if you want to ensure a Merry Christmas.

If Youíve Added Content, Did You Optimize It?

Chances are, you have added or will add new content or products 
to satisfy your visitors over the Christmas period. While your 
older, established pages have probably received attention; it 
can be difficult to keep all your new pages optimized. Take time 
now to review them to ensure that they at least have unique, 
keyword-rich title and Meta tags.

Have You Checked Your Keyword Density?

Every page on your website should be focused around a theme. If 
you donít know the theme or keywords a particular page of your 
website is targeting, visit one of the many keyword density 
analyzers that are freely available. A great one can be located 
at Search Engine World
(http://www.searchengineworld.com/cgi-bin/kwda.cgi). 
Simply tell this little "spider simulator" which of your pages 
to check and it will analyze your content and let you know which 
search terms are the most repeated on that page. Make sure that 
you have between 3-5 search terms targeted on each page and aim 
for density between 5-15% (depending on the number of total words 
for that page).

Keep Up To Date With Keyword Trends

Have you checked the search frequencies for your targeted search 
terms recently? Itís amazing how quickly trends come and go. If 
you have not reviewed your targeted search terms in the past 2-3 
months, now is the perfect time to go back and review the 
numbers. You should not only use tools such as WordTracker 
(http://www.wordtracker.com/), but also read publications for 
your industry to help spot potential trends or search terms that 
might develop between now and the end of the year. If you can 
identify a potential keyword to target now, before it shows up 
on WordTracker, you can help your business stay ahead of the 
competition.

Staying Ahead Of Your Competitors

Speaking of competition, have you checked the websites of your 
top competitors recently? While making fine adjustments to your 
campaign is great, they cannot be successfully accomplished 
without reviewing the efforts of your biggest competitors. Which 
products are they targeting; what press releases have they 
issued? Knowing your competitorsí movements will not only help 
you with your SEO efforts but also prepare you for theirs.

Review Your Inbound Links

How is that all-important inbound link campaign coming along? 
Chances are, once you managed to get a couple of dozen websites 
to link to your website, you took your foot off the gas. Donít 
get complacent, especially if you want your website to be at the 
top of the search engine results come Christmas. Techniques for 
linking have been discussed exhaustively, so we won't go into 
much detail here. However, make sure you regularly go back and 
review the websites that are pointing to your company. "Are they 
still linking to you?" is the biggest question. Are they using 
keywords in their link to your website? If they are simply using 
the domain name as the link, send them a polite email asking them 
to include your most important search term in their link. If you 
are already linking back to them, take the lead and make a 
similar change on your website first. That way you can show them 
the type of format that you would like them to use in return.

Improve Usability Of Your Site

Few search engine marketers cover usability when discussing 
optimization. However, ensuring a visitor to your website not 
only sticks around longer than a few seconds, but also buys from 
you goes hand-in-hand with any SEO campaign. Make it easy for 
every visitor to your website to navigate to your products or 
services page. Use every opportunity to initiate a "call to 
action." If your biggest seller happens to be the latest MP3 
player, make sure there is a prominent link or graphic to that 
page from your index. Also make sure your website contains the 
important information most visitors are looking for when deciding 
to make a purchase online. According to eBrain Market Research, 
the features sought after by most consumers are:

90% Free Shipping 
81% Discounts to Frequent Shoppers
77% Tracking on purchases
62% Published Privacy Policy
51% Received a High Rating from an independent source

Implementing an extensive search engine marketing campaign to 
double the number of visitors to your website can take time and 
effort. However, in some instances, it can be easier to make 
some minor changes to the usability of your website to increase 
your conversion rate. Doubling your traffic while doubling your 
conversion rate can make for some great fourth quarter numbers.

Your Wake-Up Call

Although space does not allow for a comprehensive outline of 
steps to take to ensure your website is ready for Christmas, I 
hope that this message serves as a wake-up call to everyone 
responsible for marketing their company's website. While 
Christmas may well seem like a long way off, search engine 
marketing contains a lot of research, implementation and patience 
(as you wait for search engines to spider and index your site). 
By starting your search engine campaign in August, you hopefully 
wonít need my last-minute articles come November.


================================================================
Andy Beal is Vice President of Search Marketing for 
KeywordRanking.com and ProRanking.com, global leaders in 
professional search engine marketing. Highly respected as a 
source of search engine marketing advice, Andy has had articles 
published around the world and is a repeat speaker at Danny 
Sullivan's Search Engine Strategies conferences. Clients include 
Alaska Air, Peopleclick, Jos. A. Bank and NBC. You can reach Andy 
at andy@proranking.com and view his daily SEO blog at 
http://searchlowdown.blogspot.com.
================================================================