With as much as 30 percent of annual revenue on the line, now is the time for digital retailers to get their SEO in shape for the holiday shopping season.

Search statue

.takeaway { background-color: #eeeeee; float: left; margin: 5px 15px 5px 0; padding: 15px; width: 50%; } One of the most anticipated seasons in e-commerce is only a couple of months away. With as much as 30 percent of annual retail spending happening in November and December, the last two months of the year mark a make-or-break period for retailers striving to reach annual revenue and profit goals. With so much on the line, now is the time for e-commerce professionals to make the moves to ensure that their sites are in a position to deliver happy holidays. Easier said than done? Sure. But getting ready for the holiday rush is not impossible. Let’s start by laying out some of the the challenges:

  • The time lag between making changes on your site and seeing the results of those changes. Even after you make improvements to key pages, the impact doesn't happen overnight. It takes time for the bots crawling the web to recognize your brilliance.

  • A world in which consumers’ attention spans are shrinking and their lives are accelerating. Even once you and your site are ready for them, they might not be ready for you.

  • The reality of facing ongoing internal battles, fighting for project prioritization to feed the endless supply of tactics to feed incremental gains. Every gain is important, but some are more important than others.

  • Marketing teams that need to forecast organic opportunity and ROI in an ever-changing landscape. To do this, both internal marketers and external users need distinct content to interact with.

But the challenges can be overcome. Let’s take a look at what you can do in advance of the holiday season to address the issues above. The ever-changing landscape We’ll start with the ever-changing organic landscape and consumers’ interaction with it. With consumers being increasingly bombarded by content about everything under the sun, it is more important than ever to own your niche. Content is still king, however content is being consumed in many different formats. The competition for consumers’ attention is relentless. The imperative here is to have a complete understanding of the niche you’re in. I recommend working with your paid search team and requesting a detailed report on grouped keywords that are converting well at the product level. The report will yield valuable insights. Knowing your niche will help inform your content. But given the robust competition for users’ attention and the key role content plays in commerce, it is important to follow best practices when publishing content. You should make a big push toward including standardized schema markup, image handling and the inclusion or focus on related video content, provided you have the budget and resources. Making these three elements part of your publishing strategy will help your brand own your niche. These changes take time to prioritize and change; address them now so the changes can be re-crawled prior to the holiday rush. Holiday SEO webinar

Building category pages around these niche products that include the top visual elements will allow your content to have high relevancy scores and a higher likelihood of being discovered by the consumers you want to reach. Be mindful of current online trends and include the markup that can add the best utility to the user (schema and open graph protocol for example). The autonomous user As a marketer, you spend a lot of your time working on the human user experience when it comes to your holiday offerings. We often ignore the valuable autonomous user experience. E-commerce, listing and publisher sites tend to have a larger site index in search engines than any other line of business. The difficult reality here is that these types of sites create distinct issues for the search engines collecting information on them. Let’s start with the search-engine bots that crawl your pages (AKA “the autonomous user”). They visit periodically. Adding content, schema markup or optimizing your images on deeper pages may not provide an impact for days or weeks (months with sites on a slower crawl cadence) depending on the hierarchy of that page. But there are a few strategies that you can put in place now to address these issues to get the most out of your updated product offerings over the holidays. First, you need to remove duplicate content from your site, if you haven’t done so already. Duplicate content frustrates human users searching for information and products. It is also the biggest issue we see with the autonomous user experience and organic performance. To clean up duplicate content, first look at the faceted results for categories (sort by brand/price/size …) and also the faceted results for products (size, color …). If these results produce a new URL, then you need to direct the autonomous user appropriately. Often, the canonical link element is not enough to set the primary landing page. If canonical links are broken anywhere on your domain, it’s common for search engines to ignore the directive sitewide. Complementing the canonical should be the meta reference of NOINDEX/FOLLOW to assist the bots in handling the filtered results. Additionally, if your site uses query string parameters, you should be managing them individually from within Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Note: Make sure you are only adding the NOINDEX/FOLLOW attributes to pages with filtered results. Second, make sure your site search results are not indexed. You can also do this by using the meta NOINDEX element, but if you are using a clean URL path, you can include the search directory in your robots.txt file. Now that you have dealt with the two usual suspects that impact an autonomous user’s ability to crawl your site, it’s time to address crawlability. Some people downplay the importance of an XML sitemap but we have seen them play a distinct role in getting content indexed, specifically in sites using single-page applications or relying on a heavy dosage of JS/AJAX for content delivery. XML sitemaps should be clean and, if possible, include images and video for the best performance possible. If you are changing only a handful of pages, I recommend using the Fetch as Google tool and the render capabilities within the Google Search Console. This will escalate the identification of new content and also provide great insight should there be any issues with rendering the page. Focusing on the autonomous user behavior now will have a measurable impact on your organic search performance moving forward. A clean index will also mean better performance from any new category pages you generate for the upcoming holiday season. Keep in mind that these changes also take weeks or months to provide noticeable impact. Search engines won’t see any crawl-behavior modifications until they try to revisit the page. The deep pages are on a longer cadence, which is why there is a lag between implementation and measurable impact. But your patience will pay off. As will your foresight in beginning your holiday SEO preparation now. After all, there is no time like the present when it comes to putting yourself in a position to come out ahead in e-commerce’s biggest make-or-break season. Photo of searcher statue by Paul Hudson published under Creative Commons license. Brian McDowell is BloomReach’s principal digital strategist. Contact him at brian.mcdowell@bloomreach.com.