Triage No. 1 Where & When to Start Holiday Planning
In the first of five episodes, focusing on recovering for the ever important holiday season, Tyson Stockton, the Director of Enterprise Services with the Searchmetrics Digital Strategies Group and Ben Shapiro zero in on preparation for the holiday shopping season. Listen in to learn how to leverage the assets you have and which gaps to fill that will make the most difference.
Ben: Welcome to the Holiday Triage Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. This week, we’re going to publish an episode every day covering the topic of the season, getting ready for the holidays.
Ben: But before we get into the weeds of today’s podcast, to help you implement what you’ve learned from Position Zero Month, I’d like to invite you to Searchmetrics’ upcoming webinar, which we’re calling Zero or Bust: The Dos and Don’ts in Pursuit of Position Zero. Join Searchmetrics, Inc’s CEO, Jordan Koene, and Eli Schwartz, the Director of SEO and Growth at SurveyMonkey as they discuss the fundamentals of position zero and why it’s great for your brand, the impact of position zero on your visibility, and winning content strategies for featured snippets. This webinar is going to be held on Thursday, November 8th at 11:00 AM pacific standard time, 2:00 PM eastern standard time. To sign up, click on the link in our show notes, or head over to the news and events section of the searchmetrics.com website. Again, that’s Zero or Bust: Do’s and Don’ts in Pursuit of Position Zero webinar on November 8th, which you can sign up for by clicking on the link in our show notes or by heading over to the news and events section of the Searchmetrics website.
Ben: Okay, joining us for Holiday Triage Week is Tyson Stockton, who is the Director of Searchmetrics’ Enterprise Services Team (in our Digital Strategies Group). Outside of shepherding Searchmetrics’ largest and most strategic clients to SEO success, Tyson is an outstanding table tennis player and all around swell guy. Today, we’re going to start off Holiday Triage Week by talking about where you should start if you need a quick SEO tune up prior to the holidays. Here’s the first installment of Holiday Triage Week with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ Director of Enterprise Services. Tyson, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Tyson: Thanks, Ben. Thanks for the intro. Also appreciate the call out on ping pong. I do what I can to make sure that is up to par here in the office.
Ben: I sit right by the ping pong table. For those of you who are listening, there’s only one person who can compete with Tyson in the ping pong game, it’s Jim from sales.
Tyson: I mean, honestly, I’d give the head nod to my colleague Sebastian Edgar, though.
Ben: Sebastian’s good, too.
Tyson: Keeping the strong representation of the Enterprise Services team.
Ben: Okay, well, I think Jim’s the brick wall of the team. But let’s talk about Holiday Triage and SEO. Earlier, I believe it was last month, we launched an episode talking about what you need to do to get ready for the holidays. It’s something that your boss, Jordan, and I recorded in July, I think. We launched it in September. Now, by the time this episode goes live, it’s going to be November. The moral of the story for that episode was there’s a bunch of prep work that you need to do for the holidays. If you didn’t start in June, well, basically, you’re screwed. Is that right?
Tyson: Absolutely. Actually, I think, in your guys’ last conversation, you guys did a great job kind of outlining the framework as far as what you need to stay prepared, but in the reality of stuff getting caught up with other projects, limited resources, whatever it is, more often than not we’re joining conversations and talking with clients and companies that feel like they’re behind the mark. It’s way more common than you’d think, small businesses to large enterprise, but there are differences in approaches. If you start late, you’re not going to have as much time to do absolutely everything, so you have to pick and choose your battles to make sure that you’re still capitalizing the most.
Ben: The funny thing is I was trying to tee you up to be like, “No, you’re not screwed, there’s some things you can do, but next year start earlier,” but I’m sorry for those of you who have not started the holiday planning process yet, but these episodes we’re going to help you figure out what you can do in the holiday season to optimize for the holiday season. So let’s just start off with an overview of some of the things that we’re going to cover this week. Tyson, give me some of the basic frameworks of things you can do that are the last minute ditch efforts to get ready for the holidays if you haven’t already started.
Tyson: Yeah, not to be like the doom and gloom, but I think it is healthy to be realistic in your plans. I think that is even more critical and more important when you’re working under a shortened time-frame. So a lot of the stuff that you guys covered, you covered with Jordan, is not all of that I would say is irrelevant because you’re getting a late start, but obviously you’re not going to be able to hit all those points.
Tyson: So it’s like starting kind of like in the beginning piece of having an inventory of it, even if you’re starting an inventory of what you have today, that’s still going to be equally as important even if you’re starting late, because you need that piece to set your priorities and also make sure you’re maximizing what your output is going to be for the rush and to capitalize on it. I wouldn’t say, hey, agenda, or what you’re going after completely changes, but you still have to be realistic knowing like, “Okay, I don’t have three months prep, so therefore I’m going to need to crunch this in to a month or a couple weeks, whatever it is, to make sure you’re still capitalizing on it.
Tyson: So the first piece that I’m … regardless of when you’re starting … is you have to understand what you have, what your coverage is, where your gaps are, and then that’s going to be your foundation to then set the priorities, whether it’s a campaign, reworking pages. Whatever the element is, that’s going to be your foundation to do so.
Ben: Yeah, I think you bring up a good point, that no matter how much you need to get done, there’s still 24 hours in the day. Holiday planning is something that can take three months, six months. We’re down to the nitty gritty, less than a month to go, so you do need to ruthlessly prioritize. I think the first stage, that Tyson mentioned, is understanding what you have, and thinking about what assets have been valuable, and where you think you can make a difference. So Tyson, let’s talk about once you have your inventory done, what can you do to make sure that the pages you have are successful for the holidays.
Tyson: Yeah, and actually, just kind of like really quickly before getting into it … this is kind of playing off, too, again, the last conversation that you guys had. One thing that I would advocate, which is just a slight kind of pivot in what was discussed before, is being a little more kind of specific, is when you’re doing your audit, don’t just look at the existing URLs you have and what the keywords are ranking for it. I would recommend doing more of like a traditional keyword research than tracking those, “see where they land on the site,” then throw that into what actual URLs you have, because I think this is going to give you a more realistic outlook of what the opportunity is.
Tyson: I find sometimes, if I’m working with different companies or sites, they’re so caught up around what they have that they’re just living within that world sometimes they miss opportunities that are outside. So I think starting off, making sure that you’re not just looking within your own environment, and you’re looking at the total … if it was like we were talking Black Friday. You’re looking at all the variations and all the different keyword combinations that are, let’s say, transactional, including Black Friday. That way, you’re not just saying like, “Okay, last year, we ranked on these terms, therefore we’re going to do what we can to perform better on those terms.”
Tyson: You need to make sure that you’re not missing these glaring gaps, or your competitors don’t have these gaps that you’re not even present on. Because again, when we get into the prioritization, that’s going to be a really critical piece. If you have these big gaps, then that might have a greater opportunity or a greater kind of like payback than some of these other tweaks. Again, like that piece in the beginning is going to be really critical.
Ben: So starting off with a holistic view of the landscape of the holidays and your competition is important, not just looking at what pages you’ve historically performed well on. How do you go about looking at the entire landscape and understanding what your competitors are doing and what’s like to be an impact term or page for this year that might not be in your existing content set?
Tyson: Yeah, and it’s really not … I wouldn’t say it’s that different than kind of traditional and real good keyword research. Whereas like you can pull from the variety of ways to go about it, there’s value in the different kinds of ways of pulling keywords or doing keyword research, and it really should be a combination of that. So it’s like one, yes, one step is seeing what keywords your pages are ranking for, doing the competitive audit piece, where seeing where your competitors ranking for, what are the unique keywords, those basics. Then also just using traditional keyword research, like the keyword tool within the Searchmetrics platform, adding in Black Friday, and then using it as a phrase match, sorting by search volume instead of number of keywords, so then you’re seeing what the actual market demand is.
Tyson: Then just going through and being like … sometimes it’s going to have some manual work in there we’re you’re just going through and being like, “Relevant, not relevant, relevant, not relevant.” There’s going to be some noise in there that’s like, “Hey, this is specific to a product that maybe we don’t carry, so I’m going to throw that one out.” Then it’s also maybe going to give you ideas. “We don’t have that product, but I can replace it with this category or this product that we do have.”
Tyson: So I think the best way to go about that to get your landscape, or kind of like your whole view of what the opportunity, is to combine a few of those individual tactics. Then by bringing them together, that’s going to give you a more holistic view.
Ben: So I think we’re talking about doing an audit of your site and understanding what inventory you have, where there are potential gaps, and sort of setting the foundation for what you need to do during the holiday and understanding where you’re going to focus your efforts, because we’re in a time crunch. Talk to me about the technical perspective. What can brands do to understand how to make sure that their websites or the underlying technology they use is stable enough to handle the crunch of the holidays?
Tyson: So I mean, after you have, “This is where the opportunity is,” and, “This is where I can compete,” that’s going to also give you your forecast. As far as from that, you can then be attributing kind of high, low estimates. This is going to be helpful, because when you’re doing something like stability tests, you’re working with the IT team about being like, “Okay, is our server prepared to actually handle this high influx of users?” Because the last thing you want is your site to go down and the peak of the main event. All of a sudden the lights go out, and just every second, every minute, you’re giving up quite a bit of revenue dollars.
Tyson: So when you’re using that, you’re setting this foundation as far like, “This is what the opportunity is,” and then it’s good to have a high and a low. I mean, we can touch on that a little later, but I like to have these high and the lows, because depending on which stakeholder I’m talking to, I might select different groups.
Tyson: So like for this specific point, I would be going with the high one. I want to over commit, or over forecast what that traffic’s going to be, so then I’m playing it safer as far as like where my limitations are on the technical side. If I’m talking to an executive, I’m probably not going to be the really, really high bar. I’m probably going to want to come in a little more conservative so I can overachieve on that, but I think that’s an important piece.
Tyson: When you’re getting into that like, “Okay, are we technically equipped to handle this amount of SERP bandwidth?” that’s going to be … you want to use that most aggressive, over the top, best case scenario, all the stars will align, because if that does happen, you’re going to be prepared, and then if its’ under, it’s just going to be that much easier, that much more stable to not have that risk.
Ben: Okay. In terms of setting up the foundation, we’ve talked about sort of the understanding where you can succeed, where you can win, where you should focus, some of the technical issues. Any other foundational pieces that you want to talk about as we get ready for the rest of Holiday Triage Week?
Tyson: Yeah, I think a really important factor … that sometimes it’s taken into account, sometimes it’s neglected … is really understanding the business and what parts of the site are going to be limited as far as changes during this time. If we’re speaking e-commerce, I think that’s obviously not the only segment or the only market that has an opportunity during the holiday, but it’s kind of the most obvious one. Typically, almost all e-commerce sites will go into a code freeze. When that code freeze is, or whether they or not they have multiple tiers of what that code freeze is, that depends on the organization. So that is something that’s very critical when you are … say like you’re late to the game, what can I do in the next two weeks?
Tyson: You also have to know what’s the cadence of what you can do. Some websites are going to just have one at this specific date, maybe it’s like mid-November. Sites lock down, “We’re not making changes until the beginning of the new year.” Larger sites are going to see more kind of like a tiered approach usually, where it’s like, “Okay, from this time, this time, only critical changes go live, or only non-hard coded changes go live. Then during this period, it’s tightened down even more.” So knowing what you can actually implement is going to be absolutely critical from the technical sites code freeze, like we’re not touching anything, to, “Hey, if I want to get creative done, I need to work with X stakeholder, X group.” That’s going to be just as critical as well.
Tyson: Knowing who you’re talking to and who you need to get on board on your own organization is going to have a huge fluctuation. Some people are going to have no problems at all, some people are going to be fighting battles all along the way. But that’s another space that you have to be realistic with yourself, and more importantly, when you’re late to the game, because you have less time to fight those battles. If I know that one particular stakeholder group is going to give me a lot of pushback, and I only have a little bit of time, I may not want to sacrifice that time to fight this battle for something that I may win, maybe I don’t.
Tyson: So it’s like understanding that and being realistic of like what can I actually get live on the site is going to be, I would say, my biggest recommendation for setting plans and priorities, because you could have the best ideas in the world, but if nothing gets live to the site, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen in the past — some excellent technical audits on websites, and then nothing really gets done. It’s like how good was that audit if nothing was implemented? So I think holding yourself really accountable and being real about the situation and knowing what you can actually achieve is going to set you up.
Tyson: Because at the end of the day and after the event passes, it’s not going to matter as much as far as like, “Well, we tried to do this and this, and we got shot down.” It’s like, sure you can use that as ammunition later on, but at the end of the event or at the end of the year and stuff when the higher ups and the powers that be are looking at the numbers, that’s not what they’re going to see.
Ben: So to jump in and recap some things we talked about, first and foremost, we’re in a time crunch, people. We’ve got to hustle. The holidays are coming up. It’s time to start buying our presents and putting them under the tree, or whatever holiday you celebrate.
Ben: To recap some of the things that we talked about, I think first and foremost, you need to look at the landscape, understand what assets you have, understand whether opportunities outside of your existing keyword set, to try to prioritize what you’re going to do, because you’re going to have to streamline and pick some specific battles.
Ben: Number two, you’re going to have to set your high and your low goals. Communicate the low ones to your executive team to make sure that they understand what you’re trying to accomplish for the holidays. Set high goals for your engineering team so they understand how much bandwidth you might be able to drive.
Ben: At the end of the day, the time- crunch does not happen starting on Black Friday. You might have a code freeze that’s two weeks before, so try to be as realistic as you possibly can in terms of how much time and that will help you figure out what you want to try to accomplish with the valuable hours that you have before the holidays are truly upon us.
Ben: That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ Director of Enterprise Services. We’d love to continue this conversation with you over the internet, so if you’re interested in contacting Tyson, you can find a link to his bio in our show notes, or you can contact him on Twitter where his handle is @tyson_stockton. If you have any general questions about marketing or if you want to talk to me about the podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or tweet me at @benjshap, which is B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: Don’t forget, Searchmetrics is hosting the Zero or Bust: Dos and Don’ts in Pursuit of Position Zero webinar on November 8th at 11:00 AM pacific standard time. So click on the link in our show notes or head over to the news and events section of the Searchmetrics website to reserve your seat.
Ben: If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow to discuss how you can identify your competitive advantages during the holidays. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we would love it for you to leave a review in the Apple iTunes Store. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.