It’s That Time Again – Christmas in July

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the July 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Thoughts are turning to that exciting time of the year again – no, I don’t mean evenings outdoors, barbecuing, or networking on the golf course – I mean Christmas. Seems like just yesterday the last bit of snow finally melted away – come to think, it practically was yesterday.

It’s the other Christmas in July. While the online world gives the impression of instantaneous-ness, the reality isn’t always so. Sure, you can often make changes or updates to your Web site faster and with less effort than anything comparable in the offline world, but most from a marketing point of view, the online world isn’t that much different than the offline one.

Online retailers understand this fact, but the principles apply to anyone with a Web presence. Even if your key time of year isn’t the holiday shopping season, forethought and preplanning out from key dates should be a part of your Web marketing calendar. Let’s take a look at some of the key drivers to plan into your calendar.

Code Freeze

Most online retailers know this one well. It is that point when all changes and anything beyond basic content updating stops. This may be 30, 60, or even more days out from your peak online period. The reasons for a code freeze are hard to argue with, since whether your make or break period is during the height of holiday shopping or summer vacation planning, the last thing you want is a site that isn’t functioning properly, or goes down entirely due to a major site update.

Organic Search Traffic

While I haven’t gone into depth regarding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) yet, anyone can appreciate the wonderful benefits of coming up in the top spots of the major search engines for highly relevant searches. Understand though that these positions rarely come without cost. While these natural search listings don’t carry a per-click cost, they do carry other costs – the cost of hiring and training staff or the cost of hiring a search marketing firm, not to mention the cost of time.

The financial costs are the easiest to reconcile. Compared to other forms of marketing, they quite often pay for themselves many times over, or at least cover enough to justify. Time however, as in anything we do, is the hardest challenge. The problem is when there isn’t enough time left; at that point, it’s still a sunk cost even after the fact.

Unfortunately, this is a reality that still catches far too many unexpectedly. While you may get lucky once in awhile – your site was already strong for a particular search phrase, some of your key search phrases aren’t overly competitive or are very brand focused (your brand that is) – this is a rarity that is becoming rarer every day. Ideally, you should plan three to six months out for top positioning for natural search results, and possibly more for highly competitive phrases. This of course is just the planning … how you get there is another article.

Planning for the future

  • Start planning major site changes such as redesigns, script or structural changes 6-12 months out from your code freeze.
  • Create an event calendar around your peak sales and traffic times, and then back out at least 3 months for your deadline date for any SEO related tasks.
  • Keep and maintain permanent landing page URLs for any seasonal or regularly recurring events, rather than creating new URLs. Continuing using your “Christmas” page for year-round for extra holiday clearance items or start a prediction list or pre-buy opportunity for the coming season’s predicted hits. This URL will gain age and authority over time and may rank better than creating new URLs each time.