How to Ready Your e-Commerce Website for the Holiday Season


The internet has made it fairly easy for holiday shoppers to wait until the last minute to buy gifts. But if you’re an “e-tailer” who depends on the holidays to make it through the year, procrastination is not an option. Even if you own a physical business and don’t sell much online, you’re still operating in an era when most people conduct research online before they ever walk into a store. Therefore, you have to prepare your website for the rush.

Whether you think the holidays matter to your business or not, they do. Nearly 20 percent of all sales happen during the holidays. As an e-tailer managing over a dozen e-commerce-only sites, I have noticed a sizable increase in sales starting in November. Now is the time to get the ball rolling for the holidays: Here’s what you can do to get your website holiday-ready.

1. Create holiday content now. Before they turn to the internet to buy, holiday shoppers turn to the internet for ideas. They might know that a family member or friend has an interest in what you sell, but it’s likely that their knowledge stops there. Here are a few ways you can start creating content now:

–Create content designed specifically for holiday shoppers coming from the top of the funnel. For example, for one of our brands, we created an infographic about saving money for the holidays, which was pitched and leveraged for linking and media opportunities.

–Design visual content that answers broad questions about your product or service, which are likely to be asked by people who fall outside of your typical buyer profile.

–Develop a holiday-themed logo.

If you outsource your content, send assignments to your freelancers as quickly as possible.

2. Adjust your search engine optimization. Online holiday shopping begins with a Google search. If the enticing new content you’ve created is buried in the search-ranking abyss, no one will ever see it, and it’ll be worthless.

Identify holiday-specific keywords and phrases that sync with your new content. Remember that people aren’t shopping for “camping gear,” they’re shopping for “camping gear holiday gift ideas.” For our jewelry brand, we identify searches like “holiday proposals” and “holiday marriage proposals,” which we start optimizing for early in the year.

But remember: It’s incredibly difficult to target keywords based on data from last holiday season. In the case of holiday SEO, just go with your gut. What would you be searching for if the roles were reversed and you were the shopper?

3. Tune up your website. Load time and page speed have a big impact on your bottom line 365 days a year, but never more so than during the frantic holiday rush. A single second delay can trigger a 7 percent drop in conversions. For a retailer making $100,000 a day, that’s a loss of $2.5 million per year. But luckily, increasing page speed is a relatively quick and easy fix.

You also don’t want Google or your users to discover broken pages or links, as this could reduce your credibility. To scan your site for broken links and 404 errors, use tools like Screaming Frog. Use Link Redirect Trace to make sure all of your 301 redirects are operating correctly, there are no unnecessary redirect loops, and you’re not sending Google or visitors to the incorrect pages.

Having a cheap, shared hosting company during the holiday shopping season is almost never worth the associated savings. If you’re doing everything right, it’s likely that you will see a big boost in traffic over the holidays. But if this increase in visitors results in crashes, slowdowns, or even worse, website shut-downs, then what have you gained by cutting costs? If you truly can’t afford a few dollars — or a few hundred dollars — a month for the critical service of a dedicated server, consider making room in your budget for better hosting for just a few months until the start of the new year.

4. Focus on mobile. Holiday shopping often means shopping on mobile. Google recommends considering your users’ mobile experience, as it’s important to those who visit your website.

Take time to learn the difference between how content behaves on different devices, like tablets, smartphones, multimedia phones and feature phones. Upgrade your website to a responsive web design so that it looks good on all devices.

5. Prepare your coupon codes. During the holidays, there’s intense pressure for retailers to get their promotional codes listed at the top of major coupon and discount directories. Directories want to offer the most valuable, useful coupons. For the holidays, up the stakes with extras like free shipping.

6. Double up on checkout security. As part of their “HTTPS everywhere” promotion, Google strives to make all websites more secure with the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure, or “green bar” URL strategy.

Not only does HTTPS make sites more secure during the critical holiday shopping season, but Google considers it an important search ranking signal. Better security at checkout doesn’t only benefit your customers: It also benefits you, as a single security breach can impact your website and traffic for many holidays to come.

With 20 percent of all business being done in a just a few frantic, critical weeks and months of the year, the holiday season is crucial for every website, even if a company does most of its business in a physical store. The holidays are right around the corner: Take the time to plan, prepare and prevail.