Google Ads: 2021 Holiday Planning Checklist

The global pandemic caused a massive shift in consumer behavior in 2020. With fears of sickness and health spreading, ecommerce shopping and at-home delivery saw a sudden and sustained increase in demand. And yet, despite a tumultuous year filled with upended business models, total retail sales during the 2020 holiday season rose 6.5% over the previous year. 

As the Delta variant of the Coronavirus reinforces those consumer behaviors of staying at home, online shopping and generally avoiding public spaces, we can expect to see the trends experienced in 2020 continue into the 2021 holiday season. And because online businesses and retailers have now had a year’s worth of experience under their belts, we further expect to see more advanced marketing techniques to capitalize on these demands.

In this article, we’ll explore the consumer trends for the holiday season from 2020, make some predictions for shopping behavior in 2021, and review the most important things to keep in mind when creating a marketing plan for the upcoming holiday season.

Download the PDF checklist and follow along!

2020 Holiday Season Was Huge for Ecommerce

Source: Salesforce

The holiday shopping season in 2020 experienced an unexpected increase in overall sales. Despite some statewide shutdowns and health considerations dampening the public’s eagerness to go shopping in person, total spending in the retail sector was up 6.5% during the holiday season to $1.064 trillion.

Of that total, brick-and-mortar sales grew 2.2% to $878.26 billion, while ecommerce sales increased from 32.5% to $185.88 billion. That paints a pretty clear picture of what shopping trends to expect in the future, especially if statewide shutdowns and mask mandates continue to be commonplace.

“In 2020, global holiday digital sales topped $1.1 trillion. 45% of all digital holiday spend happened by the end of Cyber Week.” 

Source: Insider Intelligence

2021 Is Predicted To Be Even Bigger

According to a study by Intelligence Insider, the market forces that shaped the 2020 holiday shopping behaviors are expected to continue into 2021. Brick-and-mortar stores may continue to grow at a slow pace, but consumers are expected to further push online sales to new heights in the upcoming holiday season. 

“We expect 2021 holiday retail sales to rise 2.7% to $1.093 trillion, with brick-and-mortar increasing 0.9% to $885.99 billion and ecommerce climbing 11.3% to $206.88 billion.”

We would also expect to see a continuation of consumer behaviors that emphasize curbside pick-up or ship to store services.

Source: Insider Intelligence

Shifting Consumer Behaviors

According to a survey by Google, there is a strong desire to head back in-store this year. 85% of holiday shoppers indicate that they plan to return to brick-and-mortar stores in some way. And yet, despite this reported desire for physical locations, 58% of holiday shoppers report that they plan on doing more online shopping than in previous years.

What does this mean? There’s a growing desire to go back to the way things were before the pandemic, but consumers are still likely to increase their online holiday shopping behavior. The convenience of ecommerce shopping appears to be driving more marketing growth.

How to Prepare Your Marketing for the Holiday Season

Mark Key Dates In Your Marketing Calendar

Make sure that your marketing portfolio is prepped and ready to capitalize on spikes in consumer interest. Flash sales, email marketing, affiliate coupons, social media promotions, etc. Your announcements and marketing language should be prepped and ready to go for the following dates:

November:

Diwali (11/4)

Singles’ Day (11/11)

Thanksgiving (11/25)

Black Friday (11/26)

Small Business Saturday (11/27)

Hanukkah (11/28 – 12/6)

Cyber Monday (11/29)

December:

Last shipping day (12/21-12/22)

Christmas (12/25)

Kwanzaa (12/26 – 1/1)

Boxing Day / Post-season (12/26-12/31)

January:

New Years’ Day (1/1)

January sales (1/1-1/31)

Budget Time and Money for the Holidays

It’s standard practice among retailers and online advertisers to plan ahead for a spike in Q4 spending. But when and how much of that marketing budget to prepare for is the question. 

According to Google, 45% of all digital holiday spending happened by the end of Cyber week. So we recommend that your online marketing budget focuses a proportional amount, (with at least 30% headroom), for the weeks leading up to the end of November. For big events like Black Friday and Cyber Week, we suggest a short, sudden burst of spending on search, shopping and display ads around 500% your normal spending levels.

In Nov-Dec 2020, global digital revenue from e-commerce saw a year-over-year growth of over 50%. And that trend is expected to continue upwards for 2021. We recommend taking a look at your business’ historical spending levels for the holiday season from past years, and extrapolating the expected growth in demand, structuring your marketing budget to anticipate these spikes in shopping behavior.

Google’s Recommendations for Holiday Advertising

Audit Your Website’s Performance Tracking

Before making any changes to your budgets or capitalizing on the expected increase in holiday shopping, we recommend performing a quick audit of your performance tracking settings. This will make sure that the performance data that your marketing mix relies on is as precise as possible.

  • Assign conversion value to all conversions – For e-commerce businesses, make sure that your data layers are functioning correctly and display the correct conversion value for any individual product sale. For online businesses that rely on more nebulous conversions such as contact form submissions or calls to the office, refer to this guide on estimating conversion values. With a specified conversion value for every goal, your online advertising can take advantage of smart bidding strategies and optimize your marketing budget.
  • Remove old goal conversions – Many Google Ads accounts that have been active for a few years will start to build up a large list of tracked goal conversions. Even if your campaigns do not include some of these conversions as goals, they may still confuse the machine learning algorithms for Smart Bidding strategies. Consider removing any goal conversions that are outdated or irrelevant for your active campaigns.
  • Implement Google Analytics 4 – As of Q3 2021, Google is still beta testing the next generation of GA, called Google Analytics 4. This will eventually become the standard for web analytics, and looking into the future, historical data will be essential to optimizing your website and marketing in 2022. You can add GA4 to a site that already has Analytics to continue tracking your current performance while collecting next gen data in the meantime.

Google Merchant Center Settings

If your business runs on e-commerce, or your Google Ads accounts rely on Shopping or Product Search ads, it is absolutely essential to make sure that your Google Merchant Center settings are up to date and optimized for success.

  • Diagnostics – In your Merchant Center account, check the “Diagnostics” section to troubleshoot any account issues, feed issues or item issues. Google provides individual errors and warnings that may be causing issues with how your product feed appears in the search results. Keep in mind that it takes up to 2 business days for any new product feed updates to be reviewed, so your Shopping campaigns won’t see any instant fixes.
  • Activate your Shopping Campaigns – In order for your products to be featured in a Shopping campaign, each product needs to meet the following criteria: The product is approved in your Merchant Center account, the product is active, and the product is in stock. Make sure that you take time to revisit and improve your titles, description, and product images to reflect any seasonal products or offerings. For out of stock products, use the excluded_destination attribute to temporarily opt items out of paid listings

Google Ads Settings

  • Stress test smart bidding – In testing, more data means more confidence. And Google Ads smart bidding technology relies on account history, so we recommend taking a closer look at campaigns that have good historical performance data. Try running an experimental split at 50% with a significantly higher budget, and then comparing the results. The Drafts and experiments will alert you when a test has reached statistical significance. 
  • Setup Google Ads Tag – Google Ads allows advertisers to import goal conversions from either a Google Analytics tag or a Google Ads tag. There are pros and cons to each, but for e-commerce businesses especially, the Google Ads tag is recommended because it provides more up to date performance data and better attribution settings. 
    • If your account currently uses Google Analytics tags for tracking conversions, consider switching over. Add the Google Ads tags for your most important goal conversions, allow them to run simultaneously (set to “Do not include as conversions” in the settings), and then after about 200 conversions on the new tags, switch the Google Ads tags to be included as conversions, and the Google Analytics tags to not be included as conversions.

Meet demand with Search & Smart Shopping Ads

According to Google, total search traffic increased during the 2020 holiday season. We expect to see the same in 2021. When using Search and Shopping ads in your marketing mix, it is important to focus on which user searches are most relevant to your brand, and what types of ads are most likely to match the user intent behind each query.

  • Shared budgets – In Google Ads, you can assign an average daily budget to each individual campaign, or use shared budgets to allocate budget across multiple campaigns. For holiday seasons especially, we’re likely to observe quick shifts in consumer behavior. Using shared budgets for Search allows advertisers to adjust quickly to shifts in demand.
  • Predict competitive positioning – It won’t just be your business that increases their marketing budgets before the holidays. It is important to try to predict what your biggest competitors will do, and factor those predictions into your spending strategies. First, evaluate your impression share metrics for the previous year’s holiday period performance. Then check the auction insights report in Google Ads to consider your competitive positioning. Use these insights to ensure that your bidding strategies are optimized.
  • Prepare for spikes in demand – The Google Performance Planner uses historical performance data to provide estimates for when the peak season occurs, and how much of your budget to put aside for each spike. Use this tool before the season starts to plan optimal budget and bid settings regularly throughout peak season.
  • Use the best Smart Bidding strategies – It is important to make sure that each of your campaigns are running optimally before the holiday spending blitz happens. Depending on your business goals, there are a number of different Smart Bidding strategies to utilize. Check out our expert’s guide to Smart Bidding strategies for which ones work best. But if you are unsure of which will work best, consider running an A/B experiment beforehand to assess the performance of each.
  • Segment your most important products for Smart Shopping campaigns – If you’re segmenting your Smart Shopping campaigns, use custom labels in your feed. For example, if you want to promote your holiday decorations at a lower target return on ad spend than the rest of your items, add a custom label to your feed and create a Smart Shopping campaign which includes those products. 

Acquire customers with Discovery Ads and Video Action Ads

Not all online shopping is done in the search results page. If you have reliable and accurate data on your target audience, consider using display and video ads to generate top-funnel interest.

  • Discovery Ads – Reach up to 3 billion people as they explore their interests and search for inspiration across their favorite Google feeds (YouTube, Gmail, and Discovery). The 2021 season is the first to feature Discovery Ads, which showcase your brand or your products in a swipeable image carousel, and include additional information to drive action.
  • Video Action Ads – Over 40% of global shoppers say they have purchased products they discovered on YouTube. Use Video Action campaigns to showcase your products, and help close the sale.

Feeling Inspired?

Do you want to know more about our Google Ads agency services at 565 Media? Have questions about search ads marketing or digital strategy in general? Don’t hesitate to contact us or call (323) 902-7439. Our experts will come up with optimized ad campaigns tailored for your business. 

If you’re looking to effectively and efficiently boost ROI with your marketing budget, 565 Media is your top choice. Simply connect with our on-demand team of full stack developers and start with a list of what problems you need solved. Our team specializes in developing customized, scaled marketing campaigns geared towards generating profitable leads and growing your business.

5 PPC Strategies To Scale B2B Advertising

There are many factors that make business-to-business (B2B) marketing a lot tougher than traditional advertising. The B2B market is much smaller, not only in the target audience but in the target search terms and ad placements as well. And many B2B sales leads have a high potential conversion value, so the existing competition is likely to be bidding much higher than for B2C ads. All of these factors add up to make B2B advertising a challenge for many businesses, especially startups and small businesses.

But where there are difficulties, so are there opportunities! From our experience as a performance-based advertising agency, we’ve identified a few key areas to keep in mind when managing a B2B targeted marketing campaign.

Understand your audience

It’s easiest to start with the basics. Who is your audience? What are they looking for? Where do they go to find the solution that your business offers them? 

Once you have a basic understanding of your core audience, you can start to formulate a strategy to market your business to them. If your product or service is in demand, search ads or shopping ads might be a good starting point. If you offer something that is new or novel, or something that your target audience may not be aware of, consider platforms like social media or display ads, which allow you to target by audience rather than intent.

Once you have your advertising platforms selected, try to whittle down your targeting to exclude general consumers. For search ads, this might entail targeting keywords that only industry insiders would use, and adding negative keywords that general consumers might use. For display or video ads, this might mean targeting niche publications that only your target audience would be interested in. For social media platforms, are there any profiles that only your target audience would follow?

Once you have an understanding of your target audience, the search terms they use, the websites they visit, or the social media accounts that they read, you’ll have a much better chance at launching a well-targeted marketing campaign.

Use advanced audience targeting to avoid general consumers

Even when you have the basic audience defined, it is important to keep your targeting as narrow as possible. The B2B market is fairly small compared to B2C, so make sure to use these tips to avoid spending your ad budget on general consumers.

For search ads campaigns, regularly check your Search Terms reports to see exactly what queries you are paying for. If you have a broad match keyword that generates a ton of impressions but has a very low conversion rate or very high cost per conversion, it may be time to retire that keyword. At the very least, consider using the Search Terms report to identify negative keywords that you can use to narrow your targeting.

For display, video and social media advertising, consider your remarketing audiences. Ads that target only a remarketing audience eliminate the possibility of your ads reaching general consumers. If you have a limited ad budget, this option should be your first and primary targeting strategy. One of the drawbacks to this approach is that your ads will only reach users that have found you by other means, so if you don’t have a robust SEO strategy or an established email list, it is unlikely that you will have a remarketing list large enough to use.

Also, in addition to using remarketing audiences for display, video or social media placements, consider adding them to your search ads campaigns as well, with a positive bidding adjustment to incentivize the ads to favor those audiences.

Just as powerful as remarketing audiences are exclusion audiences. If you have proper goal conversion tracking in place, consider creating audience lists for your current customers and add them as an exclusion audience so that you don’t continue to target them with your ads. In addition, check to see if there are targeting options that would allow you to exclude general consumers. For example, LinkedIn Ads allows you to target users based on the company size that they work at. So if your business targets large Fortune 500 companies, you can add companies smaller than 50 employees as an exclusion audience.

Separate your conversions by lead quality

Goal conversion tracking is the key to identifying the ROI of your marketing campaigns. However, not all conversions will result in the same quality of sales lead. Email newsletter signups or gated content may be good for generating initial interest from potential leads, but a contact form submission or a call to the office are likely going to generate much more valuable leads for your business. 

Once you have a list of the goal conversions that you want to track, assign a value for each one. Google has an excellent resource for calculating conversion values. We tend to use these values as a way of quantitatively prioritizing each goal conversion that you want to track. 

From there, your advertising platform can do the rest. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and other major advertising platforms allow users to set conversion values and then optimize the campaign bidding settings to favor high value conversions over others. Using these settings, you can be sure that your ad spend is being allocated towards the highest value leads.

Lead Generation Ads

Over the past few years, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn, and Google Ads platforms have been experimenting with Lead Generation Ads. These are special elements within the ads themselves that allow for pop-up contact forms. That way, users scrolling through their newsfeeds or watching videos on YouTube can submit a lead without interrupting their browsing experience and no need to visit your website. Overall, it allows for a much lower barrier to entry than traditional digital advertising.

In addition to social media lead form ads and YouTube TrueView for Action Ads, Snapchat and Quora are beta testing lead generation ads. If your business relies on contact forms as its highest value goal conversion, lead generation ads are an easy recommendation.

Research the competition

Most B2B shoppers take some time to make a decision and convert to a sale. They typically have longer conversion windows and potential buyers have a higher average window of time for comparison shopping. What does your product or service offer that the competition does not?

Looking through the search results or your social media feed, does your competition have specific price points or service benefits that they highlight? Keep in mind that your potential customers are likely to see those sales pitches as well as yours. 

Feeling Inspired?

Do you want to know more about our customer acquisition services at 565 Media? Have questions about general B2B advertising and strategy? Don’t hesitate to contact us or call (323) 902-7439. Our experts will come up with optimized ad campaigns tailored for your business. 

If you’re looking to effectively and efficiently boost ROI with your marketing budget, 565 Media is your top choice. Simply connect with our on-demand team of full stack developers and start with a list of what problems you need solved. Our team specializes in developing customized, scaled marketing campaigns geared towards generating profitable leads and growing your business.