SEO Alert: Optimise Now for the Christmas Buy Cycle

Today (September 10th, 2012) I'm issuing an SEO alert - because while there are still over 100 days until Christmas, it's time for the Christmas 'buy cycle' to start gearing up.

Sunday (September 16th) will mark exactly 100 days until Christmas, and I think it's worth spending at least the latter half of this month preparing your sites by launching a festive microsite, changing your logo to a snow-capped one and your colour scheme to something icy blue or festive red and green, or simply tossing a few Christmas-themed keywords into your product descriptions.

If you've been following this blog since last year, you may have already seen me discuss the Christmas buy cycle here - but another year's gone by, so it's time to test whether that theory still holds up.

The 2011 Christmas Buy Cycle

First, let's look at the 2011 Google Trends data for searches including the terms 'christmas presents' and 'christmas gifts' conducted in England:

The key characteristics of last year's cycle are as follows:
  • 'christmas presents' received 3/4 as many searches as 'christmas gifts' for the full year - similar to 2010's results
  • October marks the most likely time when both terms will rise above their year-long average (equivalent to '1' on the left-hand scale for 'christmas gifts')
  • search volumes climb rapidly throughout November, but trail off from early December - meaning it pays to get in early with your optimisation
Bagging, Tagging - and Lagging

What gives the Christmas buy cycle its distinctive shape? Well, I believe it's more than just forward planning on the part of shoppers.

Nobody wants their Christmas gifts to arrive late, so you're unlikely to see a high number of people ordering online with only a couple of days left before the big day - which introduces a slight lag between the peak of the cycle, and Christmas itself.

But it's more than that - despite e-commerce itself being instantaneous, you've still got to make sure the relevant products are in stock, package them up, and ship them to your customer. It's this crossover between the virtual and real worlds - when goods come out of that digital shopping basket, and are bagged and tagged for real - that slows the whole process down further.

So what if your products are virtual? What if, say, you sell digital gift cards, which can be sent via email, rather than being bagged and tagged?

The Virtual Christmas Buy Cycle

This time, we're looking at the terms 'amazon gift card' and 'itunes gift card' - and you'll notice the delivery lag has gone from the data.

For the most part, these virtual products continue to gain search share throughout December - they're the modern-day equivalent of petrol-station flowers for last-minute online Christmas gifts.

Remember, this data is for searches conducted in England - so you can no longer dismiss iTunes as a purely American phenomenon. Virtual gift cards are an established form of gift for people in the UK now, especially if they need to send something over a long distance (and particularly if they don't trust the postal service any more).

But again, October is when interest in virtual gift cards begins to rise, and the first time 'amazon gift card', less than a quarter as popular as 'itunes gift card' in the data, scores highly enough to even become visible on the graph.

(On a personal note, I find the difference between the two curious - give somebody an Amazon gift card, and they've got a much wider range to choose from, even including mp3 downloads. Perhaps some of the search traffic can be associated with people giving - or who have in the past given - physical Apple devices as Christmas presents, and know that a gift voucher will complement their earlier gift.)

Any SEO work you do needs time to be crawled and indexed by the search engines, which introduces one final unavoidable lag into the process, bringing the ideal date to begin forwards a little further - and that's why I think the end of September, as the Christmas countdown drops below 100 days and the sun begins to set a little earlier, is the perfect time to make a start on revising your website copy, colour scheme and logos, and generally pitching for that number-one spot in Christmas-related Google searches for your particular product or service.

Get on your buy cycle and ride!