A Google Ads Strategy for Christmas and Black Friday

With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s time to make sure your Google Ads campaigns are fully prepared for what promises to be an extraordinary time for online retailers.

Whilst Black Friday and Christmas have traditionally caused a surge in online shopping, this year Google is anticipating unprecedented levels of traffic. Its recent survey found that more than a third of UK shoppers who normally shop in stores say they won’t this year, with 70% stating they will shop online more for the holidays than they did in previous seasons.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to make sure your campaigns are in the best position possible as we approach the festive season.

Budget forecasting  

It’s not usually what most business owners want to hear, but if you want to maintain your share of the pie, it’s crucial that your budgets reflect the uplift in traffic. Knowing exactly how much extra you should be investing can be tricky, but here is an insight into how old data and an underused metric can help.

Data from seasons past can be a brilliant place to start when planning future budgets. When you’re looking back at your previous years’ performance with budget in mind, some key metrics you want to take note of here are Cost (obviously!) and Search Impression Share. 

Search impression share as explained by Google is “the impressions that you’ve received on the Search Network divided by the estimated number of impressions that you were eligible to receive.” In layman’s terms, this more or less is the percentage which shows the portion of your target audience that you’re showing ads to.

So how does this tie into budget planning? 

Let’s say in 2019 your spend for October was £1,000 and your impression share was 75%, and your spend on the same campaign for November was £2,000 and impression share was 50%. This indicates your increased spend wasn’t enough to maintain your market share for the size of the growing audience, ultimately meaning your ads aren’t being seen by a large chunk of users actively searching for your services. This could give you an insight moving forward into how much extra you’ll need to invest to find that sweet spot of reaching a decent portion of your target audience, whilst staying within a reasonable budget.

In short, simply throwing money at Google during the holiday period is never a solution, but ensuring that a realistic, well-researched budget is in place and accounted for is essential for the success of your PPC campaigns.

Be discoverable 

The average user’s path to purchase is continuing to become more complex and long winded with each passing year. With Google reporting that 71% of UK holiday shoppers used three or more channels to do their shopping last year, being present and standing out across those channels at varying stages will be more important than ever. Whilst search campaigns will undoubtedly continue to play a huge role, this year relying on them alone may not be enough – so here are a couple of other areas to consider.

Shopping campaigns

If your offering is product-led then it’s likely Shopping campaigns will be something you’re already running or have at least considered. When implemented properly, these campaigns can be highly effective, particularly over the busy Black Friday/Christmas period. If it is already a part of your online marketing mix, ensure that your feeds are fully optimised – this means double checking product titles and descriptions as well as keeping images up to date. 

If Shopping is something that you’re looking to add to your marketing plan, be sure to get the campaign up and running well in advance of the ‘Black Friday surge’. This will give both you and Google’s machine learning systems plenty of time to not only iron out any kinks, but also to learn and optimise, putting your ads in the best position to succeed when interest is at its peak.

Another point to note: If you’re looking to do a specific promotion on your Shopping ads make sure you leave ample time to submit your promotions to Google, in order to ensure they’re live in time for Black Friday.

YouTube ads

If you haven’t tried YouTube ads before, why not start now? Google reported that 79% of consumers used both Search and YouTube before making a purchase during the Christmas period last year. With the fantastic range of targeting options available, you can be laser-focused on raising awareness to the right audience for your product or service, during that crucial research phase. 

Better still, this can all be achieved in a cost effective manner (we see some campaigns achieve a cost per view of 1p!). This same idea also applies to Display advertising, where you can tactically show image-based ads to users based on their interests, demographics and more – all whilst on their favourite websites!

Remarketing

Whilst the above focuses mostly on reaching new audiences at the beginning of their journey, it’s just as important to be visible to these users further down the sales funnel. 

A well-run search campaign will be picking up users in the market for your offering, but proactively putting ads in front of people who have previously visited your website can also be an extremely powerful tool. This can be achieved through building meaningful remarketing lists within Google Analytics and will give you the ability to show your products to your most engaged customers as they browse their favourite websites or YouTube channels. With competition peaking during the Black Friday / Christmas period, being able to convert the most ‘low hanging fruit’ could be essential to your success.

Make the most of your search ads

It may seem like an obvious point, but often advertisers don’t utilise every tool available to them when it comes to their search ads. With a limited amount of characters available within the ads themselves, it’s difficult to get across all the great things your business can offer, whilst also trying to tie in some sales messaging. That’s where maximising the areas around the ads (Ad Extensions) becomes essential.

Sitelinks should already be a mainstay within your search campaigns, but during the holiday season, opportunities within these are often missed. In a broad sense, Sitelinks offer you the ability to present users with relevant sections of the website to the main ad that you’re showing them – typically filled with ‘About Us’ or ‘Contact Us’ type messaging. 

During the Black Friday / Christmas period, these extensions can be used a bit more tactically, by pushing offers for similar high-demand products or services to the user’s original search. For example, if a user is searching for ‘Men’s Tennis Racket’, in an ideal world the main copy of your ad will reflect this. A sitelink gives you the opportunity to also tell the user about the fantastic 50% off sale that you have on Tennis Balls – whilst it’s not directly what the user searched for, it’s certainly something that may be of interest and can help you stand out from the crowd.

Callouts should also not be forgotten about – these provide you with short, 25 character sections which could help to concisely get across some key sales messaging. It’s also essential to make sure your price extensions are kept up to date and reflect any offers or sales.

Perhaps the most crucial extension during this period though could be the Promotion extension, which effectively does what it says on the tin. These extensions give advertisers the opportunity to reference the occasion and promote sales without taking up characters in the headline or description of the ads themselves!

Where most advertisers’ initial focus will be on ensuring the copy within their text ads is ready to go, it’s vital to ensure that the extensions that go alongside them aren’t neglected and are utilised as another sales tool.

Machine learning and smart bidding

Black Friday and the Christmas period never fail to be volatile periods for online advertisers, with constant fluctuations in volumes, new search terms popping up at an increased rate and ever-evolving search habits. Due to the events of this year, we’d anticipate seeing this to an even higher degree this holiday season, meaning that there will be a certain amount of unpredictability and uncertainty heading into it. 

What does this mean for Ads? Well, whilst there is still undoubtedly a place for ‘manual’ control of bids and adjustments in a world of automation, Google’s Smart Bidding offering could be the solution for many advertisers this festive season.

Smart bidding uses advanced machine learning algorithms, alongside a wide range of contextual signals (such as search query, time of day, device, to name a few) to optimise your bids. Simply put, if the signs point towards a potential user being likely to purchase on your site, you’ll pay more for their click and vice versa. 

What’s more – Smart bidding isn’t just restricted to search campaigns, you can use it across YouTube, Display and Shopping campaigns. In fact, Google reports that in early testing, advertisers using Smart Shopping campaigns drove over 20% more conversion value on average at a similar cost. 

“This sounds great – shall I turn to smart bidding on Black Friday?”

The short answer is… no. A misconception is that a turn to smart bidding will be a quick fix. Due to the systems being reliant on performance statistics from your account to optimise, we’ll often see gradual improvements in campaigns as they generate more data, with the early phases actually proving the most challenging. 

With this in mind, if you’re looking at utilising smart bidding over Black Friday and Christmas, ensure that there’s been an adequate testing period in the build up to it. This allows you to see which Smart Bidding system works best for you and also provides the machine more time to build up a pool of data, which will ultimately result in better optimisation and therefore results.

In summary 

More so than previous years, we will see those who have put the most effort into preparation thrive during the Black Friday/festive period. Whilst the digital marketing arena has become more unpredictable than ever, taking a measured, strategic approach towards your online advertising efforts will provide a solid foundation to build upon.

Ensuring your budgets are well thought out (and not just increased for the sake of it!), considering different channels to reach users across their purchasing journey, using all the tools available to you and taking advantage of Google’s machine learning systems should hold your campaigns in good stead and allow you to make the most of what the industry tips to be one of the most exciting times in the digital era. 

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