Tis the Season for Holiday Prep

Online merchants cannot afford to be scrooges during the upcoming holiday season.

If your company's Web presence is not yet in the holiday spirit, you could miss this year's share of online profits, which reached $42 billion in November and December of 2012, according to comScore. Prepare your digital properties for the year's busiest season by reviewing Website Magazine's essential holiday checklist for merchants.


Test Website Performance


Before you get to work on holiday marketing campaigns, there is a much bigger technical task at hand - site performance. Ensuring your website can handle influxes of traffic should be a top priority for every 'Net professional during the holidays, especially since shoppers are quick to move on to the competition if websites don't load quickly. In fact, Asahi Technologies reports a one-second delay could result in a 7 percent reduction in conversions for website owners. Fortunately, there are a few ways to tell if your website performance is making the grade.

"Basically, there are two things we tell customers to be looking out for," said Archie Roboostoff, director of Borland Portfolio at Micro Focus. "One is your average response time over the course of doing updates to your website. You could possibly make a slight change in the code of your website that slows things down, which will start the beginnings of a problem. Websites rarely go down because of one thing." In addition, website owners should conduct load tests that simulate real-life scenarios to ensure that every consumer, no matter what device they use or area of the globe they are coming from, has the same experience.


According to Roboostoff, realistic load testing should replicate a variety of transactions, as well as traffic from numerous device types and different network speeds. The objective is to obtain a large enough pool of empirical data so developers know what needs to be improved.




Optimize your Mobile Site


Mobile devices provide consumers with a channel where they can connect with brands and products or services at any given time or place.

This is why, unsurprisingly, more than half of the retailers surveyed in a recent Baynote study expect mobile transactions to account for a significant part of their 2013 holiday revenue. What's more, 38 percent believe mobile will drive renewed in-store interest, which will lead to increased revenue. comScore predicts that mobile commerce may top $25 billion this year, so investing in mobile should prove profitable in the short and long run. "By using mobile as a tool to drive discovery, in-store purchases and overall customer experience, retailers will increase customer connectivity and be able to provide information and incentives that will encourage customers to complete transactions and engage with the brand post-sale," said Dan Darnell, VP of marketing and product at Baynote.

For the best results, merchants should maintain fully functional mobile presences (either standalone mobile websites or mobile-friendly versions of their desktop sites) that allow consumers to make purchases or access information including store location, directions, contact data, product descriptions, prices and consumer reviews. If your company's Web presence is not yet in the holiday spirit, you could miss this year's share of online profits, which reached $42 billion in November and December of 2012, according to comScore.




Plan Ad Campaigns


The best way to begin planning this season's ad campaigns is by revisiting holidays past. Start digging through 2012 data to find standout performance insights, including which campaigns received the most clickthroughs and what keywords drove the best (highest converting) traffic. Once these questions are answered, combine some of last year's more successful tactics with new and improved strategies for 2013. Retailers in particular should pay close attention to AdWords' new Enhanced Campaigns, especially those with brick-and-mortar stores. Google rolled out Enhanced Campaigns to everyone in July, allowing an advertiser to use a single campaign to reach people with the optimal ad based on user data like location, time of day and device type. A merchant, for example, can use these campaigns to target mobile customers searching within a certain area (such as within five miles of his store location), and can increase bids for specific times of day (like during business hours) in an effort to offer more relevant ads to users and increase conversions. This can be very beneficial in reaching prospective buyers at the optimal time in the purchasing cycle, potentially increasing a retailer's holiday revenue.




Plot Promotions


If you have seen the lines outside brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday (or even on Thanksgiving night), then you know what a good promotion can do for business. On- and offline retailers have taken note (as should you), and according to Baynote's study, many are planning to offer promotions like flash sales, buy one- get-one free offers and free shipping at selective times throughout the holiday season. Another strategy to take into consideration is daily deals. Although sites like Groupon and LivingSocial aren't quite the trending topic they once were, they still receive immense Web traffic. In fact, data from Compete shows Groupon saw more than 16.8 million unique visitors in July, and this traffic is sure to increase during the holidays. Therefore, launching a deal on one of these platforms can help to not only increase conversions, but also a brand's visibility. Time is of the essence, which means getting your brand holiday ready should be a top priority. After all, an increasing number of retailers are beginning their campaigns prior to Black Friday; with Baynote's study revealing that 30 percent will actually start their promotions before October.