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Optimize now so your site ranks well for the holidays

SEO for the holidays

Fewer Americans are poised to wake up early the day after Thanksgiving to brave Black Friday crowds. Instead, shoppers will wait for Cyber Monday, when businesses roll out sizzling holiday deals online.

Internet sales the Monday after Thanksgiving have nearly doubled since 2006. Last year, Cyber Monday shoppers spent more than $1 billion.

Statistics show that Cyber Monday – the day many people return to work after Thanksgiving – might surpass Black Friday in popularity, which has businesses shifting their marketing strategies to target online shoppers.

To take advantage of one of the biggest shopping days of the year, merchants are directing more of their advertising dollars toward online marketing, said Rick Hardman, a search engine optimization manager at SEO.com.

“Within the next couple years, it is expected that Cyber Monday sales will outpace Black Friday,” Hardman said.

Traditional advertising mediums like print have taken a hit as businesses turn to strategies like search engine optimization to boost their website traffic. A survey conducted by Econsultancy showed that the search marketing industry in North America will grow 16 percent in 2011 to a value of more than $19 billion.

But Cyber Monday is just the beginning.

It may seem silly discussing Christmas shopping in September, however, with a flurry of Web purchases expected this year, many businesses have already begun their online marketing efforts for December.

“Now is absolutely the time they need to be thinking and talking about this,” Hardman said.

It can take several months of aggressive search engine optimization for your website rankings to improve.

“If you wait until October or November, it’s too late for this holiday season.”

A way to increase revenue is making sure your company’s website appears on the first page of the search results when people look for your product or service online. Businesses using SEO improve their website rankings in search engines like Google.

Here are 11 tips from SEO.com for generating more holiday sales:

1. Start early and be consistent – Make sure you have momentum going into the holidays, begin an SEO campaign immediately.

2. Get your promotions in order – Prepare for sales, shipping and inventory control.

3. Prepare for large crowds – You don’t want your website crashing during holiday shopping.

4. Research your holiday keywords – Target the words customers will use to search for products or services you offer online.

5. Audit your on-site optimization – Use images and content that target specific holiday search terms.

6. Consider your design – Make sure your website is appealing and professional.

7. Prepare your navigation – Users should be able to find what they are looking for within three clicks.

8. Increase product placement throughout your site – Popular items should be displayed more prominently throughout your website.

9. Grow your social media influence – Secure your social media profiles and begin to make friends who would be interested in you and your story. Add a few links to your specials, newsletter and other social profiles. Invite your friends to participate in local holiday activities with you.

10. Review your links – Make sure you have an ever-growing portfolio of links from sites that are relevant to yours and from articles or press releases you have written or have been written about you.

11. Improve your check out – It should be easy for people to purchase items on your website. Remove any obstacles.

Client Spotlight: Boutique born on the streets

A few years ago Annie Kennedy didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. So she looked into attending culinary school in New Orleans.

At 19 years old, it was in the Big Easy where Kennedy stumbled upon the funky, eclectic clothing boutique that

Kansas City boutique

eventually influenced her to open her own shop. She was attending a midnight ghost tour in the French Quarter in 2004 when a dress displayed in the window of the Hemline boutique caught her eye.

Kennedy made a mental note to return when the store opened the next day. She liked the boutique so much that within a year of meeting Hemline’s owner, she had opened the company’s first franchise store in Kansas City, Mo., her hometown.

Today Kennedy is a partner in Hemline and oversees ShopHemline.com, the company’s online store.

“I was a baby pretty much when we started,” she said. “I feel like I have never had an adult life without Hemline.”

The Hemline story begins in New Orleans in the 1990s, when Hemline founder Brigitte Holthausen used to park a cart in the French Quarter to sell purses and other clothing accessories. Customers loved the items she imported from Brazil, her South American homeland.

“From there Holthausen opened her first actual store in the French Quarter,” Kennedy explained.

At one time there were four Hemline boutiques in New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina changed that.

“When Katrina hit, the economy was bad and they ended up moving to Baton Rouge to get away from the storm,” Kennedy said. “They combined a few of the New Orleans stores into one in Baton Rouge, and it worked.”

Today there are 10 locations. And half of the boutiques are in Louisiana. Other Hemline stores are in Houston, Dallas and Nashville, Tenn.

With products for women from more than 200 designers, Kennedy describes Hemline’s clothing as “very pretty, very bohemian and very natural.”

“The style is very sexy,” she added.

Despite the sluggish economy, Kennedy said revenue at her store has tripled since she opened seven years ago.

However, many people’s buying habits changed during the economic recession, which the inventory at Hemline needed to reflect.

When she opened in 2004, Kennedy said she didn’t carry as much lower-priced clothing as today.

“A lot of companies were set on what they were and they didn’t change. So they didn’t do as well during the recession,” she said. “We all knew that something had to change and we just made it happen.”

Visiting Kennedy’s shop you would not suspect that she caters to customers with budgets in any price range.

“It looks like a high-end store,” she said.

The shop has purple walls, hardwood floors and the racks are all handmade.

“We’re actually one of the more funky stores in Kansas City,” Kennedy said.

With talk of opening her second location, Kennedy said she is pushing to sell more merchandise online. She hired SEO.com to help improve her website rankings in search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.

“When we opened we were on the verge of people being able to shop online,” Kennedy said.

Today Kennedy stocks about a third of her inventory on her website. She hopes to make more items available to Internet shoppers once traffic to her site picks up.

“If you’re not online, you’re not a legitimate business,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”

Gain Twitter followers

SEO Tip of the Month

You’ve created a Twitter account for your business but you don’t know what to do next. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

With social media playing an important role in search engine results, you know this much: more followers help your website rank higher in Google. Senior SEO Specialist Andrew Johnson (@AJUtah) said following as many people as you can is one way to get noticed. But here are some better tips for engaging more customers on Twitter:

• Spruce up your profile page. Your profile picture should be a square version of your company logo or a professional headshot. Your bio shouldn’t be longer than 160 characters, and should contain keywords and a clear call to action. Your profile is important because Google will index the information, and users will get a better understanding of your company and what you’re all about.

• Conduct Twitter searches (http://search.twitter.com) based on the keywords you are targeting. Follow others in your industry and region. Follow profiles for local media and retweet information relevant to your company. Cite the original author or website for an almost-guaranteed follow.

• People on Twitter often respond to questions. You can gain followers by simply replying to questions and responses from others using the @reply method.

• Use keywords in your tweets, but don’t overdo it or else others may consider your tweets spam.

• Gain followers by using hashtags. Use the # symbol in front of words to draw attention to the key parts of the tweet. For example, a tweet about the latest search marketing conference could include the hashtag #SEO. Those searching for the hashtag on Twitter may find your tweet and follow you.

• Participate in chats on Twitter that are relevant to your company and industry. You will gain followers and exposure by interacting with others.

• Set up a Google Alert (http://www.google.com/alerts) to be notified whenever someone writes about your company or the industry, and use Twitter to follow the author and retweet it to your followers.

Industry Events

SMX East: New York City, Sept. 13-15

BlueGlass TPA: Tampa, Sept. 26-27

eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit: New York City, Oct. 17-21

PubCon: Las Vegas, Nov. 7-10

SEO.com Events

Webinar: Off-page optimization and link building — Sept. 8 at 9 a.m. MDT