SBS Mailbag: Is it too late for holiday SEO?

Filed in MY BEST POSTS, SEO by Matt McGee on November 10, 2009 8 Comments

It’s been forever since I’ve done a mailbag post, but Christine sent in a great email that’s very timely with the holidays approaching already upon us. She’s asking about doing SEO and the timing of trying to optimize for holiday-related terms. Christine sent this email within the last week, and the clock is ticking. I haven’t seen her web site, but let’s take a shot at helping her out.


I was just put in charge of optimizing our web site mainly because I seem to know the most about SEO. We sell personalized gifts that are targeted mostly toward senior citizens, and would like to increase our sales over Christmas. I know that SEO results aren’t immediate, but is it too late now to do anything for this year? Are there things I should focus on for the fastest results? Thanks for any ideas you can give me.

My Reply

I’m almost tempted to say “yes, it’s too late” because the best time to start thinking about holiday SEO is in the spring or summer, and I don’t want to give the impression that it’s okay to wait until November to get started. But I’m obviously not going to end this blog post here, so let’s go against the grain with this answer.

Christine, this is far from an ideal situation, but let’s try to make the best of it. Yes, there are some things you can and should do now in the name of holiday SEO, but there’s no guarantee you’ll see the kind of results you want. Since time is short, let’s keep this simple and focus on the easy stuff.

Low-hanging SEO Fruit

1. Optimize your page titles. (aka Title tags) This is the strongest on-page factor, so do this first. Make sure your page titles make good use of the most appropriate keywords. (I’m assuming you guys have already done keyword research and know the terms you want to target.) Since we’re doing holiday SEO, consider adding “gift” and “holiday” and other themed words to your primary keywords. Many people shop by price during the holidays (“I’m looking for a gift under $30,” for example) so if you can, consider putting the price of each item in the page title; likewise, if you offer free shipping, consider putting that in the page title, too. These might help your listing stand out on a search results page.

2. Optimize your internal links. If it’s not too much work, make sure your site navigation uses keywords instead of saying “Products” or whatever it might say. Even if that’s too much to update this late in the game, you can still go through the page copy and optimize links there. If you have links that say “click here” or “learn more” or “buy now”, or anything generic like that, optimize the anchor text to include keywords. And don’t just stop at optimizing existing links in your page copy; look for opportunities to create and optimize new links to the deep content and product pages on your site. If you have some text on the home page about personalized stopwatches (or some such thing), make sure “personalized stopwatches” links to the product page. Optimizing internal links is a highly underrated SEO tactic.

3. Optimize your page copy/content. Along those same lines, look for opportunities to improve the copy on your current pages. Can you add some more text about the products or categories you offer? If so, be sure to include keywords — but keep it readable for humans, too. You might also have time to create some new content, like a “5 Things to Look For When Ordering Personalized Gifts” article. Done right, something like that might capture some attention online. It might get some new inbound links, or maybe get spread around a bit on Twitter or Facebook. Improve your existing copy and content, and create new content, too, if you have time.

How much will this help?

Like I said earlier, there’s no guarantee any of this will make things better between now and Christmas. Let’s look at some of the factors that will determine how much this helps in such a short timeframe.

1. Competition. Holiday/Shopping/Retail is generally pretty darn competitive, especially at this time of year. But I don’t know specifically how competitive your niche is, and I don’t know how competitive the landscape is for the specific items you offer. The less competition, the more likely you could see results sooner rather than later.

2. Crawl/Index Frequency. This refers to how often Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. visit your site to crawl it and update their indices. Companies with static, brochure-like web sites probably don’t get visited too often, so the search engines would be slower to pick up changes. As a retail site, you may get crawled more often — if so, that’s a good thing. The sooner the spiders crawl and index your new, optimized pages, the better.

3. Trust. I put trust is at the top of the SEO Success Pyramid for a reason: Sites that are trusted can generally get away more often with being late and even making some other SEO mistakes. If the search engines trust your site, there’s a better chance your updates will have some impact sooner. If you don’t have a trusted site, none of the above may help – at least not as soon as you want it to.

These are just a few of the factors that will determine your chances of success. Good luck with it!

Your turn: How would you have answered Christine’s question? Did I give bad advice? Did I forget something important? Comments are open, please share your thoughts!

Comments (8)

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  1. Gradiva says:

    GREAT post, Matt! Another item I would include in “Low Hanging Fruit” is adding their products to Google Product Search, aka Google Base. It’s free, quick, and relatively easy; many ecommerce platforms are able to automate the process.

    Also, I noticed that you mention “holiday” as a keyword. “Christmas” is much more commonly searched than “holiday”, so if there are ways for a website to include “Christmas” while remaining appropriate, I would recommend it.

    Best regards,
    Gradiva Couzin

  2. Mike Ramsey says:

    For this holiday season, one great tool that will work is twitter. It might even work better than focusing on SEO that may or may not effect rankings in time. You could bring a lot of traffic to the site and a month would give you enough time to try and get an ok following

  3. Stever says:

    At the local level the holiday and Christmas type searches probably constitute a low hanging fruit opportunity. The trick is in determining what people may actually be searching in relation to your products or services, locally, in a Christmas context.

    A small biz can’t even hope to rank for “christmas” or “christmas gifts”, but maybe “cityname christmas gifts” is attainable in some locations. There may be some people searching for specific products locally, with christmas qualifiers, like “cityname shoe store christmas sale”. That is likely very low hanging fruit that could be easy to rank for in a short period of time.

  4. Matt McGee says:

    Good feedback and ideas, folks – thank you. Gradiva, a question since I’m not too familiar with using Google Base — how quickly do the products get picked up in search results? Is it immediate?

  5. Christine might also be able to create an optimized press release and use a PR service to distribute it quickly to the widest possible audience for some quick results.

    Great ideas – the first three items can be done pretty fast if you’re really motivated and have done some up-to-the-minute keyword research that features holiday-related terms.

  6. Dan Connolly says:

    Of course there are the good old blog posts with specific, keyword rich titles. If you don’t have a blog set one up. Nothing seems to rank faster than a blog post. Drop a link in the content back to the product page and you should definitely see some traffic. They rank quickly and then fall off quickly so one strategy would be to keep on posting new product reviews daily on the blog throughout the season.

    And of course there is always pay per click with Google (for some cheap long-tails), while you are working on the other avenues.

  7. Gradiva says:

    Hi Matt,

    In Google Base there’s some processing time (maybe a few hours), and then it pops right into shopping results! About as close to instant as you get in organic, right? 🙂


  8. Stephanie says:

    SEO in plain english makes me very happy! 🙂 The concepts are so basic, but can be overwhelming for someone who’s just getting their head around optimization. Thanks for the fantastic tips about changing things up and refreshing your copy and links….and in english!

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