Media Insights

The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Holiday 2019 Readiness

As we approach the holiday season, our teams do everything we can to get ahead of the planning process to help our clients get the most out of their digital media investments. This year, we’re sharing our thinking more broadly as an attempt to give retail marketers the resources and confidence needed to succeed during the holiday season.

At a Glance

1   | The Opportunity

2   | Timing

3   | Channel Checklists

The Opportunity

In 2019, eMarketer predicts healthy US retail spending growth of 3.7% to $1.035 trillion during the holiday season. While digital sales represent the fastest growing portion of this growth at 14% year-over-year, offline sales continue to drive a large majority of overall revenue.

This presents an exciting opportunity for retail marketers to double down on the importance of understanding how your digital media investments are not only impacting e-commerce but also offline sales.

Throughout the remainder of this guide, we offer our insights on what retailers should be thinking about in terms of digital media strategy, timing, and consumer shopping insights. We also include channel preparation checklists for paid search, Facebook & Instagram, website optimization, search engine optimization, and affiliate.

Holiday Timing 2019

  • 11/11 Singles’ Day – #1 global shopping day though not (yet) popular in the US
  • 11/28: Thanksgiving Day – Many stores are closed on Thanksgiving, driving demand online
  • 11/29: Black Friday – Busiest offline shopping day of the holiday weekend, 2nd busiest online shopping day
  • 11/30: Small Business Saturday – Second busiest offline shopping day of the holiday weekend
  • 12/2: Cyber Monday – #1 online shopping day of the year
  • 12/9: Green Monday – The biggest online sales day in December, typically the second Monday of December
  • 12/21: Christmas/Super Saturday – The #1 US Shopping Day of the year. The last Saturday before Christmas

Key Dates


+ Last year 38% of Thanksgiving e-commerce or online revenue came through mobile devices, up 29% to the previous year.

+ Thanksgiving day is now the #3 online shopping holiday. Last year, revenue on Thanksgiving was $3.7B.

Black Friday

+ Focus messaging on the savings and promotions that are unique to this time period.

+ Consumers research online to plan their in-store shopping. Conversion rate will be lower on mobile, but the traffic driven to

the site has an impact on in-store revenue.

+ Black Friday is the #1 in-store shopping day of the weekend.

Cyber Monday

+ Build a sense of urgency through time-sensitive promo messaging.

+ Cyber Monday revenue peaks during the last few hours of the day.

By midnight, conversion is nearly 2x the average for the day.

What You Need to Know

+ You have to run deep discounts to compete during Cyber Week

+ Free shipping is the expectation during the holiday season – and table stakes during Cyber Week

+ Shoppers expect promotions throughout the season, but they don’t know the depth while in season

+ Consider using urgency messaging around Cyber Week

Channel Recommendations

Paid Search

  • Investment Strategy
    • Optimize your spend across text and shopping ads and mobile vs desktop based on e-commerce and store revenue.
    • Heavy up store-driving tactics after shipping cut off to capitalize on last minute shoppers.
  • Focus on Mobile
    • Review LY revenue growth from mobile investment to inform forecast.
    • Utilize Local Campaigns and Local Inventory Ads to help drive in-store visits.
  • Mitigate Cost Increases
    •  Review and forecast CPC increases based on recent performance trends.
    • Pay special attention to mobile as it makes up the majority of traffic.
  • Other Considerations
    • Follow extension best practices.
    • Audit shopping feed.
    • Measure and report on offline conversions.
    • Review campaign budget caps.
    • Strategically review audience investment.
    • Don’t shy away from expensive CPCs if the conversions are there. Cost increases are offset by improvements in conversion rate and AOV – driving a higher revenue per visit

Facebook & Instagram

  • Bid Strategy
    • Set clear campaign objectives. Build out audience profiles.
    • Set up automatic bidding aligned to your business objectives to ensure best delivery.
    • Opt in to CBO (Campaign Budget Optimizer) – Facebook’s ability to direct spend to the best-performing ads.
  • Maximize Scale
    • Consider accelerated delivery for shorter 1-day promos.
    • Make sure to have 3-6 creative versions per ad set.
    • Consider audience strategies to ensure minimal / intentional overlap.
    • Opt-in to delivering more placements such as feed, stories, messenger etc.
    • Consider adjusting conversion event to drive meaningful delivery.
  • Design for Mobile
    • Customize format of creative assets based on placement.
    • Include static and motion/video.
    • Utilize instant experiences for immediate access to your catalog.
  • Tech Check
    • Ensure pixel is operating appropriately ahead of holiday.
    • Engage in conversations on how to obtain offline conversion data.
    • Make sure you have credit available thats 2x your average monthly spend.
    • Establish a product catalog to ensure data quality.

Site Optimization

  • Site Speed
    • Plan ahead to optimize site speed. Use website caching and optimize the size of images for your website.
    • Pro Tip: ensure mobile images are appropriately sized as Google prioritizes mobile-indexing for the search engine results page.
  • Site Stability
    • Great holiday deals can lead to traffic surges. Prepare for the influx of traffic by informing your web teams about expected increases due to promotions and digital ad budgets. Implementing load balancing is a great option if available, this will result in decreased site downtime when it matters.
  • Checkout Best Practices
    • Include form step progression for a multi-page checkout, this helps ground the user in the total checkout process.
    • Ensure all headlines and form labels are clear and intuitive.
    • Choose to auto-fill information whenever possible.
    • Stacked form fields are a better choice than multi-column forms.
    • Include multiple payment options to lower any potential transaction barriers.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  • Lead With Content
    • Publish Cyber Week content early (October) to grow authority and rank by holiday season.
    • Build seasonally relevant content for the customer base that is unique and valuable.
    • Maintain content throughout the year, allowing SEO value to grow instead of starting from scratch again next year.
  • Focus on Long Tail Keywords
    • Focus on long-tail, high-conversion keywords that are more relevant and specific to the business.
    • Head terms like “Black Friday” and “Holiday Gifts” are highly competitive and difficult to rank for due to affiliate sites and high authority domains.
  • Customer Journey 101
    • Help users get to their desired destination and the site’s holiday priority pages by optimizing navigation and home page internal links with seasonal and evergreen links.
    • Make it easy for customers to transact and get their products.
  • Technical Foundation
    • Ensure the technical foundation of the site is strong going into holiday by QAing site crawlability, indexation health, relevancy signals, and authority maximization.
    • Optimize site speed to increase conversion and reduce bounce rate (less than 2 second load time is ideal for e-commerce).


  • Plan Now
    • Review last year comps. In addition to high level comps, look at promotions, publisher performance, product mix, site performance and outside variables that you are up against from LY so you can plan for this year.
    • Lock in your promotional cadence as early as possible to identify gaps that your Affiliate strategy may be able to offset.
    • Develop contingency plans. Anticipate what levers you will pull if CVR is down, if AOV is down, etc.
  • Get Ahead Of Your Competition
    • Bring up promotions when possible to drive early impact.
    • Since holiday starts early, think outside the traditional Black Friday and Cyber Monday optimization.
    • Create your own moments/events through offer-messaging, exposure, cashback levers outside of these highly competitive days.
    • Leverage omni-channel and/or lean into convenience like buy online, purchase in store (BOPIS) after shipping cut-off.
  • Firm Up Your Program’s Foundation
    • Make sure your commission rates and investments are efficient prior to October. Negotiate where you see incremental value and reduce where you don’t.
    • Placements in Q4 are significantly more expensive than any other time of year. Make sure that you’re buying into placement types that align with your goals.
    • Online traffic and sales volume goes up significantly in Q4, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll see a positive return on investment. Make sure to ask publishers if they have KPI benchmarks for the placements you’re considering.
    • Maintain a consistent, open line of communication with publishers. Ensure they’re aware of your key sales and aligned with your goals.
  • New Publishers
    • If you’re in the process of building new affiliate partnerships, be sure you know when their code freeze goes into effect. If any dev work is required to partner with a publisher, you’ll want to make sure it’s possible to complete this before they go into code freeze.
    • Don’t forget to recruit and activate seasonal-only focused sites!

Get Your Channels Holiday Ready

Our audits help marketers assess how to optimize investments in digital marketing, for both paid and owned media. Our recommendations are rooted in tactical optimizations, and when implemented, regularly result in a 25% increase in incremental revenue.

  • Paid Search: Uncovering optimization opportunities to produce more scale and efficiency.
  • Paid Social: Experts in all major platforms, our paid social audits identify performance opportunities tied to your overall business goals.
  • Display: A customized and comprehensive analysis of your media activation across standard banner, online video, digital audio, and more.
  • Affiliate: Evaluating the foundation of your current affiliate program in conjunction with a future-looking incrementality analysis to identify opportunities to elevate executionally and strategically.
  • SEO: Finding ways to grow your organic search traffic and identify factors that are suppressing expansion.
  • Site Optimization: Helping you improve site performance and discovering what is preventing your customers from moving through your site as seamlessly as possible.
  • Amazon: Using our custom checklist, we evaluate every single aspect of your Amazon presence to discover gaps and opportunities for expansion on this growing platform.

Ovative is a digital-first media and measurement firm seeking to transform the measure of marketing success. At Ovative, we help brands move the needle. We are curious. We value your brand. We want to see you succeed. Connect with us to learn more!

Steve Baxter

Steve Baxter

Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives

About the Author

Steve is the Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Ovative. Steve has been with the company since 2010 and launched Ovative’s media practice in 2012. Prior to joining Ovative, Steve worked at Target for 8 years where he led development of Target’s CRM initiatives, Digital media analytics and Target’s Media Network. In 2005, Steve developed Target’s proprietary in-house... Read More >>

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