Black Friday is fast approaching. With most brick and mortar stores closed and with people avoiding visiting stores, Black Friday will mostly take place online. Read below for some of the best advice when it comes to SEO and Black Friday, or listen to our webinar on Black Friday SEO Tips & Tricks presented by Claudia Higgins, one of our in-house retail experts.

What makes Black Friday Different?

Google serves more than 5 million searches per month that are related to Black Friday. And we know this estimate from Google is averaged out across a full year. If we conservatively estimate that 85% of “Black Friday” related searches happen in November, that means of the 60 million annual searches, roughly 51 million searches take place in November, and most of those will be in the space of a few days. 

On top of that, based on a Google commissioned Ipsos study, less than 2 in 10 shoppers have decided on the brand or retailer for the items they are thinking about or actively researching as of Black Friday. What’s more, 33% of purchases that have not yet been made by Black Friday are because the shopper is waiting for a sale. All this, however, was before the pandemic took place. This year, the pandemic is likely to increase the proportion of shoppers who shop online, shifting the balance even further from brick and mortar shops. In the US for example, more than a third of US shoppers who normally shop in stores for Black Friday say they won’t this year. 

Black Friday SEO Strategy

Any good Black Friday SEO Strategy has the same 3 fundamental parts as any SEO campaign. 

  1. Research
    1. What users are searching for and the language they are using.
    2. What the results pages look like.
    3. Which results pages can be targeted.
  2. Optimisation 
    1. Which page(s) should be appearing in search results.
    2. Which pages shouldn’t.
    3. What content should be on the page.
    4. Where the page should be linked from.
    5. What to do with the page after Black Friday.
  3. Measurement
    1. What pages receive traffic.
    2. Which keywords drive traffic.
    3. How the SERPs change over the campaign.
    4. What is different year-over-year.
    5. What actions should be driven by these changes.

This process should not necessarily be linear. There is likely to be more research at the beginning of your campaign and more measurement at the end, but this should be seen as a much more flexible, integrated model, where you move between the three parts in any direction at any time.

Research

Often when we’re looking at keyword research, we’re trying to understand what people are interested in and the language they’re using to search for it most often.

We already know that there’s a ton of search volume for Black Friday terms – earlier we estimated somewhere towards 50 million searches during the days surrounding the event. So let’s imagine that this grey circle represents all of those searches. 

Of course, not all of those searches are going to be relevant to your products. Many of these will be looking for completely different sectors, or be branded searches for other companies. So we can narrow it down to only the searches that are relevant to what you are selling. 

Next, we need to narrow it down again (and this step is often overlooked, but increasingly important) ESPECIALLY for Black Friday. Just because a term seems relevant to your site, doesn’t mean Google sees it that way. If Google is serving up results that don’t feature your site or any of your competitors’ sites (for example, news or publishing results, affiliates etc.) all the optimization in the world isn’t going to convince Google to rank your site higher than its current top results. 

Within those search terms, you then need to pick some for which your site can realistically rank on Page 1. 

This means that each of the keywords you target should be assessed against these four criteria: 

  1. Search interest
  2. Relevance
  3. Intent
  4. Achievability

We will mainly focus on search interest and relevance, and then shift to intent and achievability.

Search Interest and Relevance

On-demand insights to power your search & content strategy

When you’re doing research for something as huge and complex – not to mention high stakes – as Black Friday, you’re going to want to be using some kind of keyword research tool to do it. In this case we will use Conductor’s Explorer

To start off, I’ve just entered “Black Friday” in the search bar, and Explorer has detected that I’m looking for a topic. You can investigate topics, domains, subdomains or individual URLs here and get different experiences, but to start, we are looking at “Black Friday” terms as a whole.

If you been in Explorer in some time, you’ll notice that it looks a bit different: we’ve got a graph similar to what you’d see on Google Trends showing the relative search volumes over the last 12 months, and another showing daily data for the last month of daily social mentions. This is a great extra layer of information to view, because Google can be quite slow in updating its monthly search volume estimates, and with things moving so fast in the run up to Black Friday, it’s really useful to see if there are any topics that are gathering steam in the public’s consciousness, even if Google hasn’t updated its estimates yet. If you sell tech products or toys, you’ll know how quickly things can become important out of the blue and how slowly Google’s MSV estimates catch up.

We’ve then got the top 5 keywords by Google Search Volume and by the number of social mentions, and then a live view of the current “People Also Ask” queries on the results page. At the bottom, we’ve pulled in some more context about the people talking about this topic and an indication of the breakdown of sentiment – this is great information to bear in mind when you’re creating content for your page – it’s so much easier to do when you know what kind of people you’re writing for.

Clicking onto the “Related Keywords” tab however, is where we can start really digging into the different searches people are doing that are related to Black Friday, and we can sort through these based on search volume, social metrics, cost per click, journey stage, or how competitive they are.

This is where you will start collecting a list of keywords that have interest, AND are relevant to what your site content. (If you do use Conductor, ask your Success Manager about what we call “Actions” for a really easy way to do this).

Intent and Achievability

There are a ton of different ways that people search for ‘Black Friday’ related items, and while they might seem like queries that your site could answer, Google sometimes has other ideas.

A few years ago, a head ‘black Friday’ term like black Friday deals would have looked like this: 

Several big retail sites fighting it out at the top of the page, and then, shortly before the sales results a couple of ads would show up at the top.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen things change dramatically. We started seeing weird, non-UK retailers showing up on page 1 – Amazon.com, Target, various South African and Pakistani sites … and it’s not just the UK either – I know that at least one British retailer started showing up on Page 1 in Australia. 

Then we started seeing affiliate sites pop up, including specific Black Friday affiliate sites with ‘black Friday’ in their domain name. Then we saw news sites too, mostly ranking right at the top of page 1, pushing retailers down. And then of course, nearer the event, the ads start stacking up, as well as the shopping, and news carousels expand. At one point last year I saw five news carousels on page 1 for one of the main Black Friday terms: one main one at the top and then four organic news site results each with their own nested carousel.

The next step is to understand what universal result types are ranking on a results page. Again, for anything black Friday related, you need to expect these to increase from mid-November, but by understanding what’s already there, you can identify if there are any opportunities for you to get your content into one of these SERP features. It’s a lot harder when it’s News Carousels, but image and video results could potentially be targeted if that’s something that your site does particularly well. For most sites though, I wouldn’t have high expectations for this strategy over Black Friday.

This is where we can start really drilling down into Google’s perception of intent for these terms and look at what’s realistically achievable.

In Explorer again, in that same search box, I’ve entered the URL for a retailer’s Black Friday page. As you can see here, it’s detected that I’m looking at a URL, and I’m getting a different view. Here I can see what this page is ranking for and whether or not the keywords are being tracked. We’ve got several different graph views here showing the number of keywords it ranks for, the amount of traffic modelled on search volume, and click through rates based on the ranking positions. We also get a visualization of where those keywords are ranking: top 3, rest of page 1, page 2 etc. 

Underneath we can see the actual terms this page is ranking for. You can export this, but you can do quite a lot of sorting and filtering right here – I’d be looking for anything we’re currently on page 1 for – those need protecting as long as there’s volume that’s likely to translate into clicks – and then I’d be looking for terms with good search volume, where we’re on Page 2.

The best thing about this is that we can put any page in that search bar – not only our own – so if we want to find terms that are ranking sites like ours on Page 1, rather than, say, news sites, we can plug all our closest competitors’ black Friday pages in at the top here and see what rank positions we can take from them. 

Optimisation

In most cases, you will want to have just one landing page for Black Friday related queries, which is why your chosen target terms need to be closely related. In a competitive search landscape, you’re not going to be able to optimize one page for a variety of more loosely related terms and beat the competition.

There are of course exceptions to the 1-page rule. If you sell a handful of very different categories that are not easily summarized under one overarching term, you might want to create more than one landing page. But you’ll need to balance that against the volume of branded + black Friday searches you’re expecting to make sure you give your customers the best onsite experience.

If most of the volume for your target terms is in some really specific, long tail terms, there is an argument to be made for taking an existing page and optimizing that for Black Friday, but that’s a call you’ll need to make based on what your keyword research tells you about which terms your customers will use.

In the rest of this section I’m going to assume you’re optimizing one central Black Friday landing page, but if you decide you need to approach it differently, you should still find it all relevant and applicable.

1. Check what’s indexed

You can use Google to see what’s indexed by using the [site:] prefix with your domain (use your root domain ie, without the www, so you don’t miss anything in subdomains) and then [“black friday”] in quotes. You may find some old pages in here that need redirecting to your current one or discover pages that shouldn’t have been made indexable.

You should also look back at your Search Console data for last year and see which pages were receiving clicks and impressions for ‘Black Friday’ terms.

2. Retain your position

Once you get this landing page performing well for Black Friday ahead of the event, what happens when the deals launch? You want to avoid being taken by surprise by anything that happens on the day itself.

You need to know the answers to questions like:

Can the deals launch on the same page?
Will you be able to retain the content that helped you rank in the first place?
Will they launch on their own URL?
Will that get indexed?
Will it be linked to from the main landing page?
Will it link back?

Ideally you want to keep your content on your existing page and channel traffic through that page once deals launch.

In the UK, over the last couple of years we’ve seen one particular retailer rank very well in the run up to Black Friday before ditching that landing page as their offers launch and dropping out of the first few pages entirely. Don’t do that. You either want your offers to be launched on the landing page itself, or you want to use it as a hub to link out to the pages with your products on.

3. Check your competition

Look at the pages that are ranking well for your target terms, and try to understand what Google sees in them. Crawl them or open up the source code to check their meta data, to understand whether there’s anything that high-ranking pages have in common.

4. Examine high-ranking pages for common characteristics

You can do this manually, but a new addition to Conductor, Content Guidance, will take some of the labor out of that for you, crawling the top pages to detect these areas of commonality.

5. Don’t be subtle

This is not the time to fold in your target terms gently. Your written copy shouldn’t feel keyword-stuffed, but get your primary keywords front and center in your page title and h1. Use h2s for your secondary keywords.

6. Start optimising early, and update frequently

If you want your page to rank well, you need to start getting Google’s attention early, and refresh that content several times in the run up to Black Friday to keep it interesting. Create a schedule and stick to it.

7. Make the page work for you even before deals are launched

When your optimization work starts paying off, and people start searching for your target terms, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to capture some of that interest. Link out from your page to your current sales/clearance, or into your categories, encourage them to download the app for the best Black Friday experience, suggest they use the wishlist feature to bookmark their most coveted items in case they’re included in the sale, tell them to sign up to emails early access to deals, news about other sales etc.

T.K. Maxx is doing a good job of this at the moment.

8. Link to your page from across your site

Place links on relevant pages early, and then, if possible, get a link in the global navigation a couple of weeks out.

9. Keep track of the changes you’re making and when

You can do this manually, you can crawl your page regularly and note differences, or if you’re using Searchlight, changes to the title, meta-description, and h1-h6 tags will be automatically detected.

Crawl your competitor’s Black Friday pages too. If you can see what they’re changing, you can watch to see how it affects their rankings and then either copy their homework or avoid making their mistakes.

10. Keep the same URL FOREVER

And after everything’s over for another year, keep the same URL forever, and keep it open year-round. Put some holding content on there, along the lines of “Black Friday 2020 is over! We’ll be back next year.” and then tell people what you want them to do. Get those links back up that were there in the run up to the event. Get the email sign up box back on there.

Measurement

Record everything! 

Start collecting this data daily once you get into November. Make sure you answer the following questions:

  • Where does my page rank?
  • Where do my direct competitors rank?
  • How many organic results are on Page 1?
  • What kind of domains are they?
  • How many universal results?
  • What types?
  • Is my page different today? How?
  • Are my competitors’ pages different? How
  • Which terms drive clicks to my page? In what quantities?

Keep it organized

  • Keep your data in structured Excel sheets.
  • Make Column A the date in every sheet, and keep the same date format.

Keeping the same date in column A is important if you’re just going to be cross referencing between sheets, but vital if you want to use that data to create any kind of dashboard, whether in Excel or Power BI or Tableau etc.

Make your data visual 

Making your data visual will help you to explain performance within your business, and spot challenges and victories as they happen.

It is so difficult to effectively identify patterns and anomalies by looking at tables and data – our brains just don’t work that way.

Wherever possible, use graphs to show what’s going on. You can probably do this in your SEO platform – in Conductor you’d use a Workspace – but you can also do it using Business Intelligence software or in Excel quite effectively.

Don’t try to get too much information on a single graph, and think carefully about how to visualize each data type. If you want to show the proportions, like the types of results on page 1, or the categories of domains (news/retail) etc. in organic results, pie charts or donut charts work best.

For tracking rankings, use a line graph (remembering to invert your y axis so the higher the rank, the higher the position on the graph). If you use Conductor, you’ll have seen exactly this in Rank Trends.

This is my favorite type of graph I’ve used over the last few years. Each column is a day, and each coloured part of the columns represents the number of clicks from different keywords (data from GSC). Using graphs like this is really actionable because you can see where your actual traffic challenges and victories are coming from and optimise or cheerlead respectively. If you’ve lost ranking for a keyword that was previously driving traffic, and you can’t regain that position – maybe it’s been taken over by news sites – you can also look at using paid search to capture that proven traffic potential.

In a nutshell

Research: Search Interest, Relevance, Intent, Achievability

Shortlist terms:

  • that drove traffic last year
  • where you are already on Page 1
  • where you are on Page 2, with good MSV
  • where your competitors are on Page 1

Choose a few closely related terms you can effectively target with one page.

Optimisation: Plan, Spy, Link, Monitor

  • Make sure you know where users will land on your site, during the optimization period and when deals launch
  • Do in-depth competitor research to understand what Google is responding well to.
  • Link to your page from across your site
  • Crawl your competitors’ sites regularly so you can see the changes they make and correlate them with rank changes

Measurement: Record, Organise, Visualise, Monitor 

  • Record everything that could impact your page’s rank and click-through rate
  • Keep all your data organised
  • Visualise your data using graphs
  • Observe day-to-day changes and uncover emerging trends over time
  • Communicate your observations and share key graphs with stakeholders
  • Use historic data to contextualise future campaigns

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