Making Sure Your eCommerce Website Is Ready for a Holiday Sales Surge

Ruthie Careyby Ruthie Carey

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The holiday shopping season is just around the corner. For retailers, this means that it is time to gear up for the most profitable time of year.

In just a couple of months, practically everyone on earth will be busting out their wallets, ready to spend on friends, family, loved ones, and themselves.

Getting ready for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday season, in general, has a lot of moving parts. However, few (if any) are more important than preparing for a massive uptick in website visitors.

While many will interpret this to mean ensuring the site can handle the added headcount without crashing (which it does), there is a lot more to do than increasing the site’s bandwidth.

To help merchants get their stores ready for the wave of customers that are getting ready to flood online retail sites, today, we will cover the necessary steps sellers must take to make sure their eCommerce websites are prepared for the holiday sales surge.

Let’s dive right in.

Prep the Site

When it comes to preparing an eCommerce website for the holiday sales rush, there are two primary elements that merchants will want to focus on:

  • Analyzing past performance
  • Ensuring the ability to handle the increased traffic

Analyze Past Performance

The first task is to analyze the previous year’s statistics in order to harvest valuable insights that will help to optimize this year’s traffic, sales, and the like.

Understanding the successes and failures of various campaigns will help sellers to avoid the same mistakes, enhance their performance for the current year, and better meet their customers’ wants and needs.

Some things that retailers should take particular note of from the previous year include:

  • Top-performing campaigns
  • Most popular products
  • Highest traffic days
  • Top traffic sources
  • Total revenue generated for the period
  • Average order values
  • Top-performing keywords

In addition to these components, merchants should also analyze competitor strategies to learn what helped their rivals get ahead during the holidays.

Ensure the Site Can Handle Additional Traffic

It seems like not a year goes by without a major website crashing during the peak of the holiday season. For example:

This list is seemingly endless and has caused the businesses involved to lose untold sums of money.

Given how prevalent this issue is during the holiday shopping season, merchants should take extra precautions to ensure that their site remains up and running during the sales rush.

Therefore, merchants should not only stress-test their site using tools like JMeter, but they should also check with their hosting provider to ensure that the site will be capable of managing the added traffic load.

Make the Appearance Match the Holiday

When the holidays roll around, everyone gets into the spirit. Therefore, eCommerce websites should do the same.

Merchants should swap out their banners, hero images, and the like to promote the sales related to each specific event. For instance, after the Black Friday sale is over, sellers should pull down their Black Friday banner and replace it with one promoting Cyber Monday.

For those who have the resources, it is wise to dress the entire site in a holiday theme as this can help put shoppers in a spending frame of mind. However, for those who are lacking in resources, even simple changes like adding a countdown timer to the header is a great way to increase urgency and boost sales.

Tweak SEO to Serve the Holidays

Search engine optimization is a critical component of eCommerce success overall. However, during the holiday shopping season, SEO becomes increasingly vital for traffic and sales.

Additionally, as the holidays approach, paid campaigns will become increasingly expensive. Therefore, it is fiscally responsible for sellers to try and gain an organic edge.

There is a multitude of ways to achieve this aim. Outside of optimizing for profitable keywords that were uncovered in the first step, sellers should dig through their Google Analytics and Search Console data to determine popular voice searches for the site and optimize for those terms as well.

Moreover, sellers should create holiday-specific content and gear landing pages toward ranking for Black Friday and Cyber Monday (more on that later).

It is essential to start on these tasks early, as SEO takes time to produce results.

Optimize Internal Search Engines

In addition to optimizing the site to surface on destinations like Google, Bing, and others, merchants will want to ensure that their site’s internal search engines are optimized as well.

When internal search engines are left un-optimized, there is a significant chance that customers could search for an item and not find what they are looking for, despite the store carrying the product.

Moreover, even if the store doesn’t carry the thing that shoppers are looking for, they should never receive a blank results page for their query. This means that if the desired product is not available, websites should still return a list of recommended or related items that might interest the consumer.

Additionally, since misspellings are a common occurrence, retail websites should offer an autocomplete function to help customers write out their search terms correctly, thus enhancing the site’s user experience.

Optimize the Site for Mobile

While this shouldn’t need to be said in 2020, there are still tons of eCommerce websites that are un-optimized for mobile or are under-optimized.

mobile

The reason for mobile optimization during the holidays should be rather obvious. However, illustrating the importance of this, Marketing Charts reported on 2019 holiday sales, stating that:

“Mobile continues to lead the pack when it comes to retail site visits, accounting for 58 percent of total visits over the holiday period. More than one-third (36 percent) of all sales were made through smartphones for the season, up 14 percent over 2018.”

The bottom line here: If websites are not optimized for mobile when the holiday shopping season arrives, retailers will lose out on a substantial amount of sales.

Create Better Site Navigation

Sites that possess poorly crafted or unclear website navigation menus are destined to send shoppers into the arms of their competition. This is particularly true during the holidays as time is of the essence for consumers.

Therefore, it is critical that merchants make sure that their site’s navigation and structure are as streamlined as possible, allowing visitors to quickly locate the items they are seeking.

Moreover, the implementation of product filters is rapidly becoming a necessity as many stores feature this component, thereby providing shoppers with a much better user experience.

For retailers who need to overhaul their site’s structure or navigation, in conjunction with some of the aforementioned tasks, there is a monumental project ahead. Because of how much time and effort this will require, sellers should seriously consider a complete commerce transformation.

Build Holiday-Centric Category Pages

Creating holiday-focused landing pages is another fantastic strategy for elevating the site’s user experience and keeping folks in the “holiday spirit,” ready to buy gifts for their loved ones.

Additionally, by setting up these types of landing pages, customers will be able to easily find products that suit the various people for whom they are shopping.

Some ideas that merchants can use for creating dedicated landing pages include:

  • Black Friday sales
  • Cyber Monday deals
  • Christmas promos
  • Gifts for men
  • Gifts for women
  • Gifts for parents
  • Gifts for children

Focus on Quality Content

Crafting compelling content is an essential part of the sales process for many retailers. When it comes to the holidays, content is critical for helping consumers find out about certain products, compare items within the same category and other educational ends.

Therefore, retailers can generate all sorts of posts pertaining to their store’s products and how they stack up against the competition, craft themed gift guides (much like the category pages) that help consumers shop for different people in their social circles and the like.

Moreover, content serves an essential role in a retailer’s SEO strategy, meaning that content creation serves a dual purpose in preparing a merchant’s site for the holiday sales madness.

Final Thoughts

Preparing eCommerce websites for the holidays is no small feat. There is a lot that goes into ensuring that a store is well-optimized, on theme, touts a superior user experience, and earns the visibility necessary to generate sales.

For merchants to have a lucrative holiday shopping season, it is critical that they get started on these tasks immediately.

With the holidays just around the corner, there is no time to waste.

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