2013 Holiday Prep Checklist for SMBs

Getting ready for the holidays can take several months, depending on how much preparation your digital business requires. Yet most Internet professionals don't have that type of time on their hands, leaving many worried as November approaches and their holiday strategy is still incomplete.


Luckily, there is time for Web professionals to wrap up the loose ends of their holiday digital strategies - from sprucing up their websites to creating engaging social campaigns. Finish your holiday prep with this checklist:


* Editor's note: Check out Website Magazine's November "Upwardly Mobile" issue to learn more about some of the holiday prep tasks featured below.


- Test website performance to make sure your site's load time is up to speed. Get started by checking out to measure website response times.


- Incorporate customer service features into your site in order to increase conversions. This can include live chat or virtual assistants. In fact, a BoldChat study found that 21 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. prefer live chat. Look at companies like Moxie Software or BoldChat for live chat solutions, or CodeBaby and Nuance for virtual assistants.


- Test your site's navigation to make sure that customers can find what they are looking for. While implementing a live chat or virtual assistant on your site can help consumers find what they need, some visitors may not use customer service features and will instead move on to the competition's website. In addition, consider updating your product categories for the holidays. For example, adding categories like "Gifts Under $25" or "Gifts for Her" might help visitors find something that they weren't even looking for in the first place.


- Optimize your mobile site so shoppers can browse and purchase items while on the go this busy holiday season. Start by testing the performance of your current mobile site with tools like Plunk or MobiReady.


- Address your customers' needs. Holiday shopping isn't just a Western phenomenon thanks to global digital sales platforms. If you're selling to a worldwide customer base, Scott Heimes, CMO of Digital River, suggests preparing for an uptick in sales across all regions. In addition, Heimes recommends that merchants understand and accommodate local preferences, including preferred regional payment methods. Customer age groups also matter. For example, younger shoppers are more likely to use PayPal, whereas older customers typically use credit cards. 


- Plot promotions ahead of time, so you can sync up your holiday sales with your email, social and search marketing campaigns. In addition, consider giving consumers bounce back coupons for after the holidays. The goal behind this strategy is to bring consumers back into your stores after the holiday rush is over. These coupons can be sent through email or handed out to customers in-stores.


- Plan digital ad campaigns. Brick-and-mortar merchants should consider Enhanced Campaigns to turn mobile Web traffic into foot traffic. Conversely, online-only digital marketers may want to consider launching Facebook ads in addition to search ads, as a Marin Software study published last holiday season suggests that consumers flock to the world's largest social network to find deals around Thanksgiving time. 


- Assemble appealing email campaigns, as this channel tends to have higher conversion rates than search and social combined. Learn more about creating an engaging email marketing campaign with Website Magazine's 2013 Holiday Email Marketing Checklist.


- Create an engaging social strategy. While this should include promoting holiday sales and specials, it also means interacting with your fans and followers through non-promotional post, such as holiday inspired photos or giveaways. In addition, merchants can leverage social ads to reach their target audience on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp, while brick-and-mortar retailers can attract foot traffic by running specials on social sites like Foursquare.


- Consider decorating your site for the holidays. While this strategy isn't completely necessary, having your designer add some snowflakes or decorative presents to your site's design could put visitors in the gift-giving mood. That is, as long as these site "decorations" don't interrupt the user experience.


- Think about loosening up some of your policies for the holiday season. Since most people are buying items as gifts, a strict return policy could deter them from making a purchase. Plus, high shipping rates will almost certainly push visitors off your site and either onto a competitor's site or store.


- Fight fraud. With online identity theft on the rise worldwide, there's greater awareness of the risks of shopping online, so customers will be looking for signs that they can trust merchants with their confidential account information. Digital River's Heimes recommends that merchants put security measures in place to keep both customers and their business safe. Plus, displaying a security sign on your checkout page can help to improve conversion rates.