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Online Marketing for Black Friday – The Ultimate Guide

Oct 3, 2016 / by Andy Eliason


Black Friday has been the largest retail shopping day of the year in the United States since 2005. The term itself goes all the way back to the early 60s, though, when it was used in Philadelphia to describe the large crowds and traffic that happened to be out the day after Thanksgiving—putting most stores’ finances “in the black.”

Traditionally, Black Friday shoppers lined up at the stores all across town, waiting anxiously for the doors to open. People would camp out, sometimes days in advance, to have a chance at the year’s ultimate discounts. This wasn’t just the busiest shopping day of the year; it was the freaking Super Bowl of retail.

Of course, it wasn’t long until Cyber Monday spun out of the growing online environment, and it wasn’t long after that until the entire weekend became one long blur of desperate deal hunting and all the highs and lows that come with scoring or missing the best discounts on big box products.

(tl;dr: Skip the reading.  Talk to a specialist.  Get an online marketing plan.)

Let’s Look at The Trends

The trends for the holiday shopping weekend continue to point at a preference for online shopping. Sure, there’s something very traditional about camping outside your favorite stores (last year, at least one Cabela’s store in Kansas City posted signs saying: “no fires”), but more and more people aren’t seeing the point, when they could just as easily do their shopping over a nice brunch in a warm and cozy restaurant.

So a lot of the news last year was about how the numbers in brick and mortar stores had dropped off, but that the internet side of things continues to grow.

In 2011 Black Friday saw $816 million in online sales. In 2012, the growth was significant: $1.047 billion was raked in on Black Friday (up 32%). In-store retail sales the same year only saw a 2% increase. Let’s move ahead a few years. In 2014, Cyber Monday sales reached 2.68 billion, and in 2015 there was an estimated 3.07 billion in sales (up 16% according to Adobe’s Digital Index).

Sales for the five-day period (Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday) came in at $11.11 billion, according to Adobe, which was 2.4% higher than their initial predictions and 17% higher than last year. This year they also saw $799 million of that online spending come from mobile devices.

There is, of course, one more trend that businesses have to be aware of. The Black Friday weekend isn’t just a weekend anymore. Retailers – both online and in person – are pushing their deals earlier and earlier. Just a couple years ago some large retailers made news be actually opening on Thanksgiving rather than waiting until Friday. In 2015, “we saw Black Friday ads emerge before Halloween, as retailers aimed to get at the shopper's wallet early," said Kevin Kearns, ShopperTrak chief revenue officer.

He went on to say that from their data, “we saw greater retail sales generated prior to the Black Friday weekend, which is a result of retailers successfully elongating the holiday season."

In other words, there’s no time to waste. Black Friday may be a couple months away, but your competition is already considering their deals and their next marketing push.


The Unique Online Strategy for Black Friday

Marketing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday is very unique because you’re focusing so much on one specific weekend, and you’ve got such a short period of time in which to make an impression. You have to act quickly to funnel momentum and create excitement. On top of that, timing will play an extremely critical role.

Creativity and ingenuity play an even more important role in when you’re marketing to a savvy crowd with high expectations. Traditional marketing still has an effect, but digital online marketing has the speed and adaptability to do more at the end of the day.

Some companies have even taken the opportunity to do more than just get more sales over the weekend. While that is certainly a traditional retail approach, these companies realize that they can play more of a long game by catering to the expectations of their communities.

For example, REI – the outdoors products store – chose to close their doors on Black Friday to allow their employees to get, you know, outside and do things. It’s called their #OptOutside campaign, and generated more than 1.4 million tweets and better digital sales throughout the year.

The popular Cards Against Humanity (“the party game for horrible people”) has taken done something special for Black Friday for three years in a row. In 2013, they raised their prices, in 2014 they sold poop to around 30,000 people, and 2015 they just said: give us 5 bucks. And more than 11,000 people did. You can bet that tens of thousands of people will be crashing their website to see what they do this year. (The news coverage alone is worth the effort here.) CaH_Black_Friday.png

Consider some of these tactics for getting the most out of your Black Friday marketing efforts.

Marketing the Deal

With Christmas around the corner, consumers are discount hungry. The first principle Black Friday Online Marketing Principle to understand cost leadership. This is a strategy in which the business offers the product for the most affordable price. Around the holidays, cost leadership becomes extremely important because the average consumer is looking for a way to buy many gifts for loved ones while still paying all the bills.

The average consumer is looking for any opportunity to save some money. Even if they don’t mind paying a heavier price most of the year, they tend to fall into the discount-hungry mindset when Black Friday comes around.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for small businesses to compete with the national chains in this area. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on this strategy, though. You simply have to focus your marketing efforts on those products or services that you can become the cost leader.

Web Deal Ecommerce Page Development

With web deal marketing, there's no need to go in and change all of the shopping cart pages for your big weekends deals. To save time and money, you should simply create specific deal landing pages just for the Thanksgiving weekend. Companies do this all of the time with their special discounted marketing campaigns. Once the weekend is over, you can go in and kill the pages.

Every CMS is different so there's no one-size-fits-all websites in this world. Websites that only have specific deal landing pages can also face a great deal of traffic leaving without buying, if they can't find what they want within a couple clicks.

Consider all of your options with your CMS and execute the best strategy that will bring you the highest return on investment. You can also hire an agency to make all of your website changes if you don't have time.

Deal and Coupon Websites

Online consumers can jump from business to business in seconds, and deal websites or search engines like Google Shopping are giving consumers the ability to compare deals side by side. In other words, consumers can quickly and easily find and zero in on the best deals online.

Now that you’ve discounted some products to become a cost leader, you need to make sure that as many people as possible see your special offers for Black Friday.

Pushing seasonal deals out onto deal-focused – and more especially Black-Friday-focused websites – will also drive traffic and sales. These sites rank very high for valuable Black Friday related keywords. (Note that SEO.com does not endorse specific sites, we are only presenting these as examples that you can research to determine if they are right for your business.)

A list of Black Friday deal websites to consider:

Other deal and coupon websites to consider:

Deal of the Day Websites

Search Engine Marketing for Black Friday

Organic Search

A lot of keywords receive an extremely high volume of search queries in very specific months, which then drops off for the rest of the year. For example, the word ‘Superbowl’ gets around 3 million searches every February, but come June it might only receive 9 thousand searches. ‘NBA Finals’ receives 2.7 million searches in June, but in February it struggles to get 7 thousand searches.

Just like those other seasonal events, Black Friday terms turn it up in search volume throughout November, but won’t mean much the rest of the year.

A quick note on Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday keywords: Google Trends shows that Black Friday keywords will likely be more effective as they get more search traffic on average. Consumers immediately think of Black Friday when they’re hunting for deals, and then maybe search for Cyber Monday related stuff when they didn’t get the initial deals they really wanted.

Consider these keyword trends for November:

Black Friday keywords, including Black Friday, Black Friday Sales, Black Friday Deals, Black Friday Ads

In 12 months, it looks like this:


(you’re looking at more than 5 million searches at the top of the peak)

The 5-year trend shows us this:


(Note the constant upward trend here.)

Branded retail store keywords also experience major increases:

 Walmart Black Friday, Target Black Friday, Bestbuy Black Friday, etc.

What it looks like in one year:


What it looks like over five years:


(See how the trends are a little more level.)

Online Black Friday keywords:

Looking at the trends for the keyword “black Friday online deals” shows us this:


This slightly downward trend in that keyword may suggest that people are not really distinguishing between online and offline deals. They just expect something great for Black Friday.

What all these graphs really show us is how important it is to consider things like consumer behavior when doing keyword research.

There are hundreds of thousands of long-tail searches based around Black Friday that will drive significant amounts of traffic to your websites. You may not rank for ‘Black Friday,’ but you could attract a lot of new visitors that are looking for something more specific. All you have to do is provide the relevant content.

One of the most effective strategies for organic search this November is to publish really impressive and sharable content, relevant to Black Friday. Keep conversion optimization in mind as you develop this content so your customers know exactly how good your deal is, and, more importantly, how they can get it.

PPC/AdWords/Social Media Ads

When there isn’t enough time to climb the natural search engine rankings (which is to say: right around now-ish), paid listings may be the way to go. A lot of the big companies out there will be targeting those branded and general terms – and probably paying a lot for every single click – but there are still plenty of opportunities for the small business to get noticed.

The cost per click for most Black Friday keywords will likely in the $15 range, which is probably out of reach for many smaller companies, but you can tailor your efforts to fit a different niche. You could, for example, target local-based words, long-tail words, and product-discount words related to holiday keywords this November.

Local Based Keyword Examples:

  • SLC UT Black Friday
  • Black Friday Deals Utah
  • Anaheim Black Friday Discounts
  • Las Vegas Online Black Friday Deals

Product Based Keyword Examples:

  • Discounted Blenders on sale in Florida
  • Computers Black Friday discounted
  • Baseball gloves Black Friday Discount

When targeting the long tail, you can bid on more than a hundred keywords to make it a really valuable strategy. Maybe even a thousand, depending on how ambitious you feel. This may seem like too much at first, but if you set a maximum spend limit, and make sure Google/Bing/Facebook don’t go above it, you won’t have to spend too much.

A Pay-Per-Click campaign can be a little complicated, and if you really want to maximize your returns, you might consider hiring a PPC marketing company. If you set your limits pretty low, you won’t have to worry about losing too much money, but if you don’t set it high enough you may be missing some great opportunities. A pro can help you determine what will have the most impact this holiday season.

Digital Advertising for the Holidays

There are a lot of ways for even a small retail shop to sell products nationwide through their website and make a larger profit on Black Friday. Digital ad space has created a lot of opportunities and it can be an effective tool for this holiday season. Not all digital ads are expensive, and there’s a variety of digital ad networks that can help you spread your wonderful Black Friday Discounts to newer and larger audiences.

Here’s a list of most of the major ad networks:

  • Google Display Ads
  • AdBlade
  • com
  • Chitika
  • Clicksor
  • Vibrant Media
  • Tribal Fusion
  • PulsePoint
  • Kontera
  • net

Key points to digital advertising around the holidays:

  • Be sure to advertise the percentage off (40% off compared to $40 off)
  • Advertise on relevant sites, but not those owned by competitors
  • Use remarketing to make sure you stay in your customers’ minds
  • Run the ads the whole month of November. If you start Thanksgiving Day it’s too late, and you missed out on highest possible profits.
  • Keep them going through Cyber Monday

Social Media Marketing for the Holidays

Hopefully, you’ve been building an audience on at least one or two of the major social networks throughout the year. Now is the time to reward your audience with the best possible deals. They’ve been following you for a while, so offer them a special discount through a landing page that’s not open to the general public. Good marketing consists of sustaining high-value relationships, and this is a great way to show your love as a business this holiday season.

Another great strategy this holiday season is to share some of that amazing content you built that complements your search engine marketing efforts. This time of the year we see all sorts of statistics, information on products and prices, problems and answers, and your business can reach out and offer value in this ocean of information by developing and publishing really impressive and useful content.

Hashtag Marketing/Trends for November

Don’t forget to hashtag your content when it’s published. Hashtag marketing is not a fad, and your social impressions can really skyrocket if you hashtag the right words at the right time.

Recent studies have shown that there were more than 1.4 million tweets that referenced Black Friday in the seven weeks leading up to it. In other words, we’re already in October, so the conversations are already happening.

Here are some ideas you can include with your hashtags to get even more attention:

  • Post pictures in your social media posts.
  • Post your best and most impressive deals.
  • Pay attention to what the big retailers are hashtagging. They spent money researching the most effective hashtags at the most effective times, so it can’t hurt to follow the trend.
  • Be different.
  • Timing is everything. Between 6am and 8am on Black Friday the tweets will be blasting off.
  • Don’t be annoying, be effective. The 50+ hashtag post is not attractive and spam will not endear you to anyone.


Some of the most common hashtags for the weekend include:

  • #BlackFriday
  • #BlackFridayAds
  • #BlackFridayDeals
  • #Doorbusters
  • #Kohls
  • #Amazon
  • #Walmart
  • #Deals
  • #Discounts
  • #BestBuy
  • #Target
  • #Samsung

In Conclusion

Businesses of every size can take advantage of the huge potential on Black Friday through the marketing channels available on the internet. You can increase your revenues and even help build an ongoing dedication to your brand. If you’re a small business and you’re looking to take revenues to a new level this holiday season, remember to have fun and be very creative and different with your strategies.

You’ve been preparing all year for this retail Super Bowl, so use all your resources and play hard until the game is over for another year.

(Editor’s note: This post was originally written by Jonathan Goudy and published on November 13, 2013. It has been updated on October 3, 2016 for data accuracy and new developments.)



Topics: Blog Content Marketing Social Media

Andy Eliason

Written by Andy Eliason

Andy Eliason has been writing in the SEO industry longer than is technically healthy. He once considered counting all the words he has written over the years, but decided that such an endeavor could only end in tears.

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