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PPC Strategies for the Holidays

Miriam Gillan • October 5, 2017

Q4 is now upon us – the most exciting and busy time of the year for retailers. With so much at stake, the end of the year is critical. Just like the holidays, we have to prepare and decide who we are buying for and how much we are going to spend.

Preparing for Q4 and the holiday season is incredibly important. Pay-per-click (PPC) media has a number of moving parts that can make preparing promotions incredibly complex, so let’s break down these moving pieces and build a strategy for this wonderful time of year.

In many cases, holiday season prep starts as soon as the last holiday season ends. Results are reviewed, and eCommerce folks start thinking, “That was great, but how do we top that this year?” It’s just like when your loved ones are done opening their presents, and you start thinking, “How do I top that?”

If you think about it, all the time leading up to Q4 is almost a test run for different strategies and solutions aimed at delivering holiday success. Now that the holidays are closing in, it’s time to start making decisions.

The number one PPC variable to consider: How much are we going to spend? How much return will we see? This is why you do all this testing in the time leading up to the holidays. Promotions throughout the year serve as trend indicators, and other factors such audience, traffic, calendar, competition, and cross-channel interaction all will play a role in our holiday projections.



PPC is a constant balancing act between attracting new customers and retaining old ones. During the holidays, though, you should favor attracting new customers. Of course, your competition is trying to attract those same new customers, making clicks that much more expensive, and raising non-branded and prospecting costs.



During the holidays, we need to drive tons of traffic to the site, both non-branded and branded. Branded traffic is super valuable: it converts more while (usually) costing less. But, campaigns don’t live on branded traffic alone. Promotions will increase both branded and non-branded traffic, so we must determine how to effectively support these promotions while driving lower-funnel traffic and attracting new customers. The solution? Smart pacing, cost-per-click (CPC), and keyword value management.



So, how do we figure out how to pace when we are promotion-heavy and our valuable keywords’ CPCs shoot up? The answer here is sound calendar management. We need to look at how closely these variables mirror the previous years and account for new promotions and traffic sources. We can increase pacing to support promotions, and return to baseline when not actively promoting. This is similar to our non-holiday seasons, but the baseline here is just more expensive. Understanding this, a firmly established calendar is a great defense against overspending.

The marketing calendar will also dictate some of the downtime tasks, like building out our Cyber Monday and Black Friday specific campaigns. It is also helpful in preparing promotion-specific ad copy, call-to-actions, and display creative. Testing CTAs, creative, and ad copy throughout the year makes it easy to pick a winner for our holiday promotions.

Now that we are talking about creative and ad copy, it would make sense to touch on the scope of channels and platforms involved in PPC marketing. Most programs are made up of search, display, shopping, programmatic solutions, and social components. These all make up the complex channel mix of PPC. Investing in our non-branded and prospecting channels allows remarketing channels to have a robust audience that will then convert later.

The holiday season is the time to ratchet up spending on these different programs. Since the pipeline is populated with lower-funnel traffic throughout the year, new prospecting audiences can be formed and remarketed to through shopping, search, and display programs.



Competition for traffic is at its fiercest during the holidays. This really drives up the bids on terms, and it will cost considerably more to stay above the muck in search and remain in prime locations for display and social. Bidding on competitor terms will see increased costs as well.


Your audience, traffic, marketing calendar, competition, and previous spend should all help determine holiday PPC budgets. How much more will it cost us this year to achieve what we are doing in the quarters leading up to Q4? And how much more can we spend during this time to continue to gain? The factors we laid out earlier will prepare you for holiday success.

Miriam Gillan

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Miriam Gillan

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