Seasonal SEO and evergreen URLs: How to drive seasonal traffic year-round

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Now that Christmas and the New Year are well and truly behind us, it’s time to think about next year!

While it might seem like an odd time to start planning for the holidays, this time of year is the perfect occasion to reflect on what went well during the last holiday season, how to build on it, and the steps you can take to drive seasonal traffic all year round.

Why is seasonal traffic so important?

Seasonal website traffic isn’t just a gimmick or something that can be considered a few months before the event. Many companies rely on these peak buying periods to help balance their books and flatten out their averaged revenue across the year – therefore it requires a dedicated strategy.

Interest around shopping online continues to increase year on year, with a greater swing towards mobile devices and shopping ‘on the go’. Connection speeds are faster and websites are optimizing for speed.

They’re prioritizing mobile viewing in many cases and the experience is often so rapid and easy that the concerns around clunkiness and security that once plagued online sales are quickly diminishing (if not non-existent for savvy users).

A blend of great discounts, quick deliveries, press coverage, advertising buzz and good timing has meant that events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday (ironically both now dominated by online sales in the UK) are now cornerstones in many businesses’ revenue streams.

In this article, we’ll look into how some of the basics can help you slip ahead of competitors.

Permanent (evergreen) URLs

Staying active all year round plays a vital role in the success of many seasonal and time sensitive campaigns. We so often hear:

  • “Should I set up a new page for XYZ event?”
  • “We’re offering 20% off this weekend – do we need a new page?”
  • “Performance is up, so we thought… more categories!”

Well, it’s not always just a quick answer, there are plenty of factors that need to be taken into account to provide a considered (and correct) response. The trick is, this isn’t just about SEO – it rarely ever is! You have to consider all the below factors (and more) when making a new URL:

  • Time taken to manage and tag products appropriately
  • What do you hope it will rank for?
  • Will it cannibalise other keyword targeting categories?
  • Does it need to be indexed or is it for PPC/Email campaigns?
  • Will you add internal links to it – where will they go post-season?
  • Is the page going to generate backlinks?
  • Can the page be used all year (for example /clearance instead of /2018-aw-sale)?
  • Will you be printing this URL on brochures/leaflets, etc?
  • Can it be short and snappy?
What is an evergreen URL?

An evergreen URL is an address on your site that doesn’t need to change – see it as a permanent addition to your site’s internal architecture. A good example of this is a /sale page. The associated event may not always be active – but the equity of the page is not sporadically redirected to other URLs on the site throughout the year.

The dreaded dated URL

Avoid dating the URL – fashion sites are often the worst offenders for /aw16 or /ss17 (with the abbreviations standing for Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer respectively). How about just /new-arrivals, or going super short with /new-in (for example http://www.next.co.uk/women/new-in)?

But it’s not just category URLs that need attention and stability. There are a variety of pages that benefit from a carefully planned approach – next we’ll take a look at one of the most successful pieces of seasonal marketing (across multiple platforms) and how it impacts potential organic performance.

The search impact of Christmas adverts

Christmas adverts in the UK are a sign that the festive season is here… or they may just be a premature annoyance that definitely didn’t make me cry that one time!

Regardless, there are a few lone examples of where using a carefully considered (permanent) URL can be a viable source of generating natural links and help sell a story (…plus some merchandise).

John Lewis Christmas advert

The widely anticipated release of John Lewis’ Christmas advert is an annual event that is fast rivaling the Coca Cola lorries in terms of seasonal buzz. Other retailers have since latched onto its success and diluted the impact of these emotional shorts, but for the last three years John Lewis did something that really worked.

The below graph from Ahrefs shows how the URL http://www.johnlewis.com/christmas-advert received links from referring domains. Many of the links came from large influential sites including The Guardian, Huffington Post, BBC and HubSpot.

Naturally, these links occur shortly after the release of each year’s advert. This not only provided the site with authority and trust, but also provided a large amount of referral traffic.

The drop-off from these links is minimal and the pages themselves were well-crafted. What’s more, the URL itself never changed – no 404s, no redirects.

Something was missing this Christmas…

2017 saw a change to John Lewis’ approach with a separate sub-directory for content. The URL is far less marketable and the Christmas advert is less prominent. There seems to be a focus on the more commercial aspects of Christmas and event ideas, which is both a shame and a lost opportunity as the new URL has received far less buzz (as you might expect).

Competitors and other big brands have attempted a similar execution but are also being held back by inefficient URLs and a need for a little more magic. Some of the best near misses can be seen below (if any 404 or redirect to the homepage when you’re reading this, it only backs up my point!):

https://www.tkmaxx.com/uk/en/christmas/white-christmas

http://www.boots.com/christmas-inspiration/show-them-you-know-them

http://www.waitrose.com/home/christmaswithwaitrose/waitrose-christmas-advert.html

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What can we learn from this?

If you want your campaign to have real impact and more importantly retain and improve on that impact year after year, make sure you can overlay the below points with your campaign plan.

  • Identify a suitable URL structure for your seasonal content
  • Understand your target audience
  • Generate an idea that will resonate with their primary emotional connections
  • Consider how you can use it to give something to charity (not enough people do)
  • Create a bloody awesome page
  • Ensure you use content types (video/image/animation/survey/game) that your audience regularly engage with and enjoy
  • Provide internal links to important and appropriate pages
  • Produce it in as many languages as you feel necessary
  • Sing about it on social media, your blog and other people’s blogs
  • Don’t forget forums or Reddit when considering social media
  • PR the hell out of it
  • After the event, don’t keep trying to resurrect the campaign
  • Listen to all the feedback!
  • Wait till next year…
  • Archive the page’s content for nostalgia
  • Do it all again with an even better idea (and more singing!)
  • The considerations for 2018

    This year retailers will be looking to go bigger and better themselves, so aside from the above list, what are the factors that could make or break your campaign?

    Mobile

    We still see designs and campaigns being made for desktop first and then crammed into a columned approach for mobiles; it’s still a bit of an afterthought right now.

    Setting aside the potential release of the mobile-first index in 2018, your users deserve more than a few media queries to lazily compress the page. Mobiles have swipes, holds, patchy rollover support and a number of other UX considerations.

    Make sure whatever you’re creating, you consider your current mobile/desktop split and the % of mobile users in your target or emerging audience.

    Apps

    Mobile apps can provide an utterly immersive experience, whether using VR headsets or a simple side scrolling game for kids. Where budget allows, you should consider wiggling your way onto your customer’s devices to sell your story or provide a unique seasonal experience/discount.

    Speed

    “Ain’t nobody got time for… slow websites.”

    Fixing site speed issues isn’t always as easy as creating optimized content or accurately mapping keywords but it’s becoming more and more of a critical issue. People are hugely impatient and desperately need to get back on Facebook to look at videos of an Australian man narrating Blue Planet Footage.

    Whether it’s caching, compression or servers, you need to put site speed on the top of your list of organic issues for 2018.

    Stuart Shaw is head of Search and Data at Zazzle Media.

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