In the retail ad space, just the phrase “Q4” has an ominous ring to it. This is likely because we start picturing the deluge of holiday shoppers, the challenge of anticipating buying patterns each year, and ultimately, all the things that could go wrong. So, here’s your quick and dirty checklist for the holidays without burying you in numbers.

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The Rules of Holiday Spending Have Changed

It used to be that we could anticipate online shopping would mirror brick-and-mortar patterns. Not so in the last few years. According to Google, a few things have changed:

  1. Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren’t necessarily your biggest shopping days. The season really “kicks off” in the retail space with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday one-two punch, but when it comes to ad buys, the spending season has begun to radiate in both directions from that previously predictable swell. People are not only shopping earlier, sales are extending further and further toward Christmas, promising later shipping dates (not to mention Amazon Prime Now) to try to scoop up incremental gains. tl;dr? Don’t put all your eggs in one BF/CM basket.
  2. People are looking to YouTube for reviews. There’s a “realness” to YouTube influencers, and brands know this. While brands invest in prominent creators by sending them products to review for free, the video creators are typically under no obligation to give them a positive review. The sincerity rings true, and this space is blowing up in the form of pre-roll, GDN ads, and direct buys with creators. Don’t overlook YouTube as a conversion channel.
  3. People are shopping on their phones. I know, Google’s been hammering this point home for years now, but I encourage you to examine your device-level insights from the last few years. Chances are you’re looking at a real demand for easy mobile checkout and mobile-responsive landing pages. There’s an easy test Google offers to see if their crawler “likes” your site for search results. This metric influences your ad rank on desktop, as well, so definitely QA your site here.

Check Your Settings

I can hear readers saying “Duh,” out loud upon reading that, but the more bells and whistles each of our PPC channels roll out, the more opportunity there is for error. Think of that time you accidentally implemented dayparting for one day and not for the others, then wondered why all your traffic fell off. Everything is magnified in the holiday season, so a small error can become a big fire if you’re not careful.

Things to check:

  1. Pixels. Download the Google Tag Assistant, Bing UET Tag Helper, Facebook Pixel helper, and any other Chrome plugins you can dig up that can help you make absolutely certain your conversions are reporting properly. Clients don’t always know better than to onboard or rebrand in the midst of the holiday season, so it’s imperative that we close the loops to avoid collecting crucial data.
  2. Campaign Settings. Now is the time to execute on all that data from the past year. Get your geotargeting in order, check your dayparting, and probably most obviously, check and double-check your budgets. There’s no point in bidding up on keywords or placements if your budget is going to cut you off mid-day. The devil is in the details.
  3. Ads. Been running A/B tests indefinitely for a while? Sitelinks old and stale? Now would be a great time to oil the hinges on all those moving parts in your accounts – after all, they’re the actual customer-facing collateral. It doesn’t matter how fancy your bidding algorithm is if your ads aren’t compelling.

Don’t Lose Sight of Strategy

Holiday strategy is a long game made of small adjustments. It’s easy to get in the weeds and forget to glance occasionally at how your daily tasks fit into the big picture. What’s the most important thing your client wants to see post-mortem? It’s different for everyone, but you want to be prepared when they ask.

The predictions are coming to fruition: The days of in-store shopping no longer dominate the space between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and the digital arena gets more complex every year. The holiday advertising season is a delicate balance of art and science, and history teaches us that there’s no harm in checking and double-checking our work in the time of the year when it matters most.

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Kevyn Condatore
Kackie is a native Floridian who got to Austin, Texas as fast as she could after graduating from Florida State University with a degree in Fine Arts. Her experience spans from grassroots marketing, the beauty industry, and content management, all the way up to Paid Search and client relations. When she's not poring over spreadsheets, she enjoys vlogging on YouTube, running in the Texas heat, and hiking with her hound dog, Ollie.