The Top 4 Things You Need to Do to Power Your Holiday Search Strategy


Chris Langan

September 16, 2020 | 5 min read

Last Updated: Sep 17, 2020

The term “the new normal” is widely overused, and most definitely doesn’t represent the complexities of the challenges brands have faced during the first half of 2020, yet if we have learned anything in 2020 it’s that predicting our way through the year is not possible when the population is beginning to open up their front doors, yet could still be faced with a local lockdown overnight. So perhaps “the new normal” is the only way to explain how brands approach each new day of unknowns, facing and embracing the daily economic, cultural and social challenges we face so that they can remain agile, adapt, and continue to be competitive online.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Christmas is trending two months earlier than usual across online consumer conversations – people have more time at home to plan, prepare, and purchase. Following the trend we’ve seen over the years whereby holiday shopping is now a much longer period to encompass Black Friday (or Black Month to be more precise), the Christmas rush, and an ultra-competitive January sales period, the 2020 holiday season is set to be the biggest revenue opportunity for brands yet. This is the new normal.

So how can brands ensure they are elevating their search strategy for maximum revenue throughout the peak 2020 holiday shopping season? The search landscape has changed drastically over the last 5 years and now brands need to reimagine their approach to search to come out of peak as winners.

This dynamic approach to search is what we call connected search, a strategy built to combine both organic and paid acquisition channels for maximum engagement, reach, results, and revenue.

There are 4 key aspects we must evaluate through the lens of each brand to truly build a connected holiday search strategy.

1. Understand your new landscape

The landscape of Google is no longer as binary as a couple of paid ads at the top, with organic listings below. The above-the-fold experience is richer, more dynamic, and more personalized than ever. For every individual search, we are presented with a range of information-rich features that are all designed to provide the searcher with a bespoke experience to answer the intent of the search, not the keyword.

Take the below example – the same user searching for ‘Ugg Boots’ and ‘Best Ugg Boots’ and see the variation and somewhat surprising mix of landscape features with the inclusion of the term ‘best’:

A google search for Ugg Boots A Google Search for Best Ugg Boots which shows stores near you selling the product

This shows a number of important differences:

  1. The term ‘Ugg Boots’ presents a landscape that is commercial, focussing on traditional paid ads, shopping ads and traditional organic listings, with the Ugg brand site and (an official reseller) occupying the first 3 organic listings as commercial websites.
  2. With the inclusion of the term ‘best’, Google has now presented a very different mix of landscape features – perhaps surprising that the map pack is presented as the primary feature (local intent) with People Also Ask as the secondary feature (informational intent)
  3. On the second screenshot, the first organic listing is not a brand or commercial website but a publication ( with an information content piece around the ‘best Ugg boots for 2020’.

This example shows us clearly that Google is presenting features for a user based on what Google has learned of the users’ past search behavior. Google is mapping features against personalized intent

We know that in search, a combination of reach and engagement drives results but how do we maximize reach and engagement in a world where every user could experience our brand totally differently on the search landscape? Or not at all depending on their intent? Only by understanding intent can we begin to unravel our opportunity.

2. You Need to Understand Intent

Google has recently released a report called "Decoding Decisions: Making sense of the messy middle." Affectionately known as ‘the messy middle’, Google has established that search journeys are no longer linear but in fact a loop between 2 phases: exploration (expansive search behavior) and evaluation (reductive search behavior). 

Purchases can happen at any point along this path, and users may loop between these 2 distinct behaviors many times before they purchase. By mapping intent against this model, we can understand what consumers need from brands to inform their buying decisions at any given point along the path to purchase.

Understanding customer intent is a key part of any holiday search strategy: this image highlights informational, commercial, navigational, and local intent

A search strategy mapping against intent is critical for success in the future - we know that Google is mapping features against intent in any combination determined by the user’s individual intent, therefore how do we ensure we’re visible across all intent categories and all features, in the most effective and budget-efficient way?

3. Understand Your Channel and Landscape Feature Mix

As seen in the above example we have a landscape that is a rich channel mix, all of which have a wealth of strategic tactics within to build visibility. If we want to build a search strategy that will produce maximum visibility above the fold, we cannot focus on channels in isolation as this means there’s a wealth of other channel tactics and features that competitors will be generating revenue from if you’re not present.

Every brand is different. Each brand will have an individual keyword universe, a different audience, a different business proposition and a different vision for the future. Therefore, it’s vital to understand your own landscape.

  • How are people searching in your category?
  • What split of intent is there in your keyword universe?
  • What mix of features is most prevalent across your 4 intents?
  • Do you have a strategy in place to target those features to ensure visibility for any intent combination?
  • Are you spending on the right channels and therefore landscape features?

The last question is key. If the answer is no, connected search will ensure you know how to optimize your budget for maximum effective reach, results, and revenue across both channels.

4.Understand How To Optimize Your Budget

The analysis across the landscape and intent groups, in addition to building the bespoke view of the channel and feature mix for our brand, means we can then understand where we should be investing our budget to capitalize on previously untapped landscape opportunities.

A chart showing the two stages of building a holiday search strategy: identifying opportunity, intent, and the mix of features against your budget


In summary

The 2020 digital holiday shopping season is shaping up to be the biggest we have seen. The opportunity for brands within search who power both acquisition channels in a connected way will ensure they maximize on potential revenue.

Whilst re-imaging your holiday search strategy to combine both channels could be a challenge, now is the time to start to think strategically about the landscape – the landscape has evolved dramatically over the years and the opportunities for growth are huge if you’re willing to rethink your holiday search strategy in an equally as evolved way. 

To wrap up, powering your holiday search strategy for Q4 2020 needs to start here:

  • Your New Landscape – What does your landscape look like for your brand and customer? Everyone is different and every landscape is different so start to understand how your customers’ intent is shaping the landscape for your brand
  • Mapping against intent - By understanding and optimising to intent the same way that Google does, we can maximise reach in the most efficient and effective way possible, drive engagement by matching intent to content & channel to produce a cross channel, fully integrated search strategy with user intent at its core
  • The channel & feature mix – Is your search strategy targeting all the feature opportunities on your landscape? Only by having an integrated channel view of the landscape can you begin to shape your strategy for maximum visibility above-the-fold
  • Optimize your budget – Map your current spend against your new landscape and optimize in line with where the largest, and perhaps most importantly efficient ROI-driven opportunities.

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