[Webinar Recap] Black Friday SEO: Strategies to start next week because you’re already too late

iPullRank Demand Generation Manager Garrett Sussman and Director of SEO Zach Chahalis sat down together to discuss Black Friday planning when you’re already too late. In this webinar, Garrett and Zach cover the strategies you can implement ASAP when you’re already behind.  

How the recession will impact Black Friday [3:29]

Technically speaking, we aren’t in a recession, and it’s expected that we won’t even hit a recession. That said, the media narrative for the last two months (and probably going into the holiday season) has been focused on factors like inflation, recession, layoffs, and restructuring across a variety of industries. There’s a consistent emphasis on supply chain issues, and our economy is still recovering from Covid as well, which means there may be an impact on consumer purchases. 

It’s important to note that, when it comes to the recession, economists frequently get it wrong (they don’t have a crystal ball after all). Yes, the recession narrative is there, no it’s not actually happening, yes the narrative will change the way customers behave.

Customers are still spending – parents are still going to buy their kids presents, and families are going to enjoy the holidays. 

When customers begin their holiday shopping [6:02]

Customers are starting their holiday shopping earlier this year (which has started earlier and earlier), with many shoppers hunting for deals in early August. The circumstances we’ve gone through (Covid, supply shortages, inflation, etc.) have made holiday shopping less predictable now.

Will consumers spend sooner because they’re afraid of supply shortages and an inability to buy what they want? Or will they prefer to wait for deals? What about the impact the economy has had on sales? For example, major brands are struggling to sell big-ticket items like furniture and TVs. As a result, they’re beginning to drop their prices and present offers that are more enticing to shoppers. Surprisingly, these deals are being offered to customers earlier in the holiday season.

It’s hard to tell where consumers stand on this. 

So what’s the best course of action then? You prepare for customers as usual.

How will all of Google’s Algorithm Updates impact Black Friday? [8:45]

Google’s Product Reviews and Helpful Content updates [8:53]

Google’s Product Reviews update started all the way back in April of last year. Google, didn’t automatically get it right the first time. They released iteration two in December, iteration three in March, and iteration four in July of this year. And now we see that a fifth update is on its way. 

Every time they’ve rolled out a Product Update, we’ve seen different impacts, some more severe than others. It seems like Google is continually trying to find, correct, or hone in on various levers in search. It’s almost like a mixer board, Google is trying to adjust all of the various levels and ranking factors, working to get it exactly right. Whenever we see this, there’s a notable enough impact on what we see in the search results. 

Google’s focus is on matching user intent to the precise search results searchers are looking for. 

How Google views search intent [17:14]

Google’s gotten a lot better at analyzing and understanding user intent, specifically the intent behind particular queries. It makes more sense for them to begin factoring in third-party companies or brands into their search results. 

For example, let’s say, as a gamer, I’m just searching for ‘Call of Duty.’ Does my intent mean I’d like to learn more about the game, about the series, or am I trying to buy something?

See what I mean?

So you may begin to see more brand or publisher content factoring into search results and news articles over a particular retailer. If you modify your query to say, ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops.’ at that point, you’d begin to see retailers play a more prominent role in search results as news results are downplayed or displayed less frequently. 

So looking at specific search results e.g., ‘basketball shoes’, we would see all ads at the top, right? It’s kind of what you expect. It’s a high-volume short search query, so it’s going to consist (mostly) of ads. As our queries become more branded and focused e.g., ‘Nike basketball shoes,’ we’ll see visuals in the search results. When we see these results, it’s important to remember that Google is attempting to meet searcher expectations. They’re attempting to give searchers the results they expect to see. 

How can you leverage Google Lens and Multi-Search for Black Friday? [21:48]

Google Lens allows you to search for what you see.

You can use your camera to capture images in the real world that you use to find in the digital world. So if you’re hanging out at a friend’s house or you’re walking down the street, and you see something in a store that you want to purchase, you can do that via Google Lens.

It’s an easy way to find what you see. 

If you’re on the SEO team and you’re working with your in-store retailers, sponsorships, or offline product marketing, you’ll want to make sure that your website has some kind of synchronicity with your offline, real-world displays. Synchronize your visuals, whether it’s the products or the branding. If someone uses Google Lens, make sure they actually find your site as a result. Make sure what they see in the real world matches what they see online. 

6 ways to improve your Product Pages ahead of Black Friday [24:00]

Improve product image quality [24:07]

If you’re considering making any changes to these templates moving forward, ensure that all of your product pages have higher-quality imagery.

Here’s why this is important.

When you encounter a product page that just doesn’t have a product image, the conversion rate of that particular product is notably worse than what you’re seeing for a product that customers can actually see. Image quality is important even in some situations where you can enhance images that are already high-quality images. For example, having the ability to zoom in on a particular product (e.g., See Ray-Ban product pages for an example).

Consider Augmented Reality [25:21]

The value’s not there yet.

AR is a bit more costly to integrate into your site, but the return on that value isn’t there yet. Yes, there’s certainly value to it from the user experience side, but I still don’t feel like AR has caught on enough from a usability perspective to justify doing that over enhancing the user experience on your website or checkout flows. That said, there are certainly some brands that do it quite well. Ray-Ban allows you to try on the glasses, Wayfair allows you to see products in your living room, etc. It certainly helps to add to the overall user experience, but it has to make sense for your brand. 

Keep the right content above the fold [27:07]

Another good thing is keeping your imagery and product descriptions above the fold. When they have to dig to learn about your product, it can be very difficult to kind of understand. But it’s also important because the imagery is something that just draws your eye in immediately. If it’s going to attract eyes, make sure that that’s not getting buried below the fold. 

Does it really matter?

Absolutely, SearchPilot actually ran an experiment where they found that placing product descriptions above the fold produced a 14% lift in organic traffic (desktop).

The role of first-party reviews and testimonials [29:02]

Testimonials are another big piece of the Black Friday puzzle, right? The product review update has really impacted Google’s approach to this. People want to know if the product you’re offering is actually good. User feedback guides and informs customer purchase decisions.

The other very helpful benefit is the fact that user-submitted content is extremely valuable for SEO. It’s unique to you, and it’s free crowdsourced content that improves SEO performance.

It’s an opportunity to add structured data and markup for the reviews themselves and also for FAQ content. It’s an easy way to identify the product questions your customers are asking about. If you’re marking that up with structured data, you likely have seen the ‘people also ask’ consideration within search results. That’s driven by that structured data markup and having that content available. If you add structured data, you can improve your onsite experience and potentially your search visibility within Google as well.

Improving page speed [30:49]

Page speed. This has increased in importance over the last couple of years. Is it an all-important ranking factor? No, but site speed has a dramatic impact on a site’s ability to convert and keep people on the site. So ideally, you want your site load time to be within a two-to-three second range. 

Is it easy to get there? Not always.

There’s a lot of value in essentially beating out your competitors and having a better experience than your competitors. Why? Because your conversion rate will decrease for every additional second of load time it takes for your site to render (especially on mobile devices). Your bounce rate will get worse for every additional second it takes for that page to load. 

Optimize product variants [33:00]

Make sure it’s easy for your product variants to be selected and viewed.

This is something that Amazon and a lot of other sites like this do quite well; shoppers can immediately see the different package offerings and full transparency. Make sure it’s easy to switch between them and make sure the product imagery reflects that. 

If your variants can’t stand on their own, it may not make sense to have these reflected on different URLs. If you really want these variants to exist independently, they need to be supported by unique considerations – unique metadata, unique headers, unique content, imagery, things that can actually allow these pages to stand apart from one another. The same product description across eight different color variations just leads to duplicate content. 

Another consideration is pricing and availability. Shoppers want to verify the product is available and within the price point, they’re looking for. There’s nothing more painful than visiting a product page, and there’s no clarity about whether the products are in stock or not. Even if you don’t have the product available, having that information readily available just results in a better user experience and may keep people coming back in the long run. If you do have the product available and the pricing’s right there, it can dramatically improve the conversion rate.

What to prioritize ahead of Black Friday 2022? [37:29]

Using buyer’s guides to attract visitors [37:30]

One big area of opportunity is buying guides. So obviously, with the helpful content update, you can’t just spit out junk content. There are so many educational queries that are coming in around the holidays e.g., ‘what is the best gift to buy? What is the best laptop for a kid heading off to college.’ Buying guides like these can enable you to take those educational queries and potentially turn them into transactional queries. ‘Hey, this site has done such a great job of educating me about this product. I’m now gonna go buy it from them.’

This is something that a site like Bose does a great job with

These buying guides conform to E-A-T guidelines, and they’re a straightforward way to build authority and trust with shoppers.

By building up authority and expertise on a certain topic set and talking about the benefits, and even comparing yourself to competitors (i.e., this competitor may be a better option), you’ll build up that authority within the space. This enables you to become more recognizable as a brand and helps search engines better understand your level of expertise.

Black Friday Pages [41:00]

So holiday pages are a fantastic area of opportunity for any website, especially on the ecommerce side. The question is, how can we make these pages work?

These holiday pages allow you to directly target a brand + holiday relevant query (e.g., [brand] black Friday or  [brand] + Cyber Monday)

You can use this approach for all the various holidays that exist during that time of the year.

‘I’ve worked with various e-commerce retailers who stated, ‘Hey, we don’t wanna talk about our black Friday deals.’ Okay, cool. But all these sites like Retail Me Not are talking about you, and they’re the ones getting this traffic. If they’re not sending that traffic to you, more than likely to possibly go into a competitor instead.” – Zach Chahalis

You should own your query phrases, but having an actual black Friday or holiday page can help you achieve that. It also offers a wide variety of internal linking opportunities to go back to those pages on your site. If you have products that are specifically being discounted for Black Friday, and you’re saying, “Hey, as Kohls, we’re marking up these under armor deals.” 

By being able to point directly to that, you’re again allowing the flow of authority to exist between those pages. So now you’re building up the authority on the black Fridays side of things, but you’re also sending that authority from the SEO standpoint to those products, but there’s also user experience benefit, too, right? Shoppers are coming in and realizing that they can get 30% off of these products for Black Friday.

Optimize your checkout process [46:58]

The average ecommerce shopping rate abandonment is about 65%. So there are a lot of reasons for this. The first one is a site that doesn’t have a smooth checkout. This turns shoppers away from the checkout process. If I add a product to my cart and I check out, the process should be seamless. The more difficult you make that experience, the more friction you add to the checkout process, the more revenue your shopping cart will leak. 

Optimizing your checkout process includes a variety of options (i.e., a variety of payment options).

Verify/test site stability [47:59]

So another piece to think through is site stability. 

I hate to have horror stories around Black Friday, but I feel like every SEO does as well, and I feel it’s important to ensure that your site is actually stable. 

As simple as that sounds, it’s, it’s a bit more in-depth than that. So consider using CDNs to help ensure that your sites are stable and potentially to help limit DoS attacks.

I’ve worked with some brands where the week of Black Friday, they started getting hammered hard from bots, mimicking Google bot… They decided to block Google bot from accessing their site during Black Friday week.

There’s also the idea of server capacity. If your deals are really good for a holiday, Black Friday, for example, you can expect to see double or triple the traffic that you would normally see on a regular daily basis to your site. That’s certainly another thing I’ve seen cripple ecommerce sites in the past; the inability to handle the demand that might be coming in. Especially if you have a hot product or big niche category product that everyone wants.

The other piece to consider is a code freeze for the holidays. 

If you’re actively changing code (e.g., weekly sprints, biweekly, every month, etc.), the last thing you want is instability around the holidays. If things are in a stable spot, don’t put that at risk. 

One of the biggest challenges for SEO is you take one step forward, but two steps back, you push out some code that’s meant to change A, but you inadvertently break B as a result.

“Hey, we pushed to have this code release, but we just, you know, took our staging site and made it public, but we forgot to remove the no index tag, or we forgot to update robot.txt, so we’re blocking search engines. You might have improved functionality, but you’ve basically broken your SEO and the ability for search engines to find and index your content.”

What to include in a pre-Black Friday technical SEO audit? [51:15]

Verify your site’s crawlability with XML sitemaps [51:30]

Ensure that the pages in your XML sitemap are actually crawlable and getting respected by search engines. If you’re submitting an XML sitemap that’s full of errors.

If Google says you have a ton of errors with your XML sitemap, fix them. Do your best to quickly jump in and fix a potential concern with your site, as it can help to improve the overall quality score of your domain.

Use product structured data [52:34]

If you are not using product structured data today, that’s certainly something that you should implement. This is marking up site content like your aggregate ratings, the product name, description, pricing, and availability. This information is extremely valuable to search engines in terms of understanding the products that exist on your site. But it also leads to rich snippets within search results. If you ever start to look at particular products in search, you’ll see cases where they’re showing the pricing availability and the star ratings directly there.

The other piece is the idea around FAQ and question schema. There’s so much opportunity here that if you have products that specifically talk about FAQs, markup that content.

Optimize internal linking [54:16]

Internal linking is a significant area of opportunity. This is the lifeblood of your site, allowing authority to flow through your site to those deeper pages. Another area of opportunity is to look for broken internal links, links that are truly broken (i.e., 404 errors), or links that go through a redirect. If they go through a redirect, you’re shaving off some of that authority. Authority isn’t flowing through to the next page as it should; the more redirects that you have in that chain, the more difficult it is for search engines to understand where that authority went. 

There used to be a time when Bing would just give up after a certain number of redirects in the chain. So if your internal linking is not properly pointing to a canonical URL, you’re missing out on that. If it’s going to a broken page, you’re just leaving that on the cutting room floor. It’s just not being used. 

Product Schema + Google Merchant Center + PLAs [58:21]

Optimize Google Merchant Center [58:54]

If you’re in eCommerce, the Google Merchant Center is something you need to pay attention to right now because that will potentially be a source for a lot of structured data to show up in these free listings. It’s very easy to set up, just follow the documentation. There you create these feeds, then you can basically have Google crawl your site. You’ll still need the HTML to be present for the schema for Googlebot to pick it up. But the Google merchant center has this automated process that makes it very easy.

The SEO team should assist with optimizing these product feeds, but you can also leverage the tools available at your disposal to help support these situations as well.

About Zach Chahalis, Director of SEO at iPullRank

Zach is the Director of SEO at iPullRank. He leads the agency’s day-to-day SEO strategy development and execution. He’s the co-founder of the ATL SEO Organization, helping to connect and unify SEO professionals in and around the Atlanta, GA, area.

About Garrett Sussman, Demand Gen at iPullRank

Garrett is the Demand Generation Manager at iPullRank. He’s been in content marketing and SEO game for the past 10+ years, working in various industries — SaaS, a design marketplace, digital marketing, and even Silicon Valley.

Andrew McDermott

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