SEO Insights: Black Friday Industry Report - Part 2
31 December 2015 // QueryClick
In recent years, Black Friday has established itself as one of the most important days in the online retail calendar, and in 2014 passed both Boxing Day and Cyber Monday to become the most valuable shopping day of the year in the UK.
At QueryClick we understand the importance of seasonal SEO strategies.
We've put a huge emphasis on running effective Black Friday campaigns, taking advantage of the increasing popularity of the event and supporting our e-commerce clients with an effective, data-driven search marketing strategy.
Last month, QueryClick published our first industry report investigating the evolution of keyphrases, high-quality content, and inbound marketing opportunities around the Black Friday period - using our own tools to analyse SEO performance during the build-up to this year's event.
By continuing to monitor rankings, keyphrase trends, and content success throughout the duration and aftermath of Black Friday 2015, we can analyse the sites that performed. Through this investigation, we'll establish how the market has evolved in 2015, identify who came out on top in our chosen e-commerce sector - the mobile phone industry - and provide our top tips for success next year.
Black Friday Insights: Market Evolution
In the days preceding this year's event, we predicted an increase in the annual traffic spike around 'black friday' and other related keyphrases in Google's organic search results. To our surprise, Google Trends analysis revealed that we were somewhat wide of the mark:
There are in fact several reasons as to why this decreased spike in search volume may have occurred.
Online retailers, in particular major players such as Amazon, are increasingly providing their customers with price reductions earlier in November - building to a crescendo of deals and offers on Black Friday itself.
Because of this, many consumers are entering into both the research and conversion stages of their shopping earlier in the month - resulting in a smaller spike in search volume on the day itself. As on the picture below, a closer look at this year's data supports this theory, with the increase in traffic beginning earlier and growing less dramatically than in 2014.
Another factor contributing to this trend is likely to be an upsurge in consumer awareness around Black Friday. Thanks to an increase in both e-commerce focus and media coverage, 2014 was a breakthrough year for the event in the UK. As a result, it's likely that - with less research needed - a greater percentage of customers landed on retail sites directly.
Despite the apparent fall in organic search volume on Black Friday itself, Experian-IMRG has reported that total on-the-day spending rose to £1.1 billion in the UK, a 36% increase on 2014, reaffirming our belief that consumers are bypassing search engines and heading straight to e-commerce sites.
Black Friday Insights: Mobile Industry Performance
Despite the reduced spike in traffic, Black Friday 2015 was potentially the most profitable ever for e-commerce retailers. To achieve the most valuable results, a comprehensive search marketing project is crucial with a strong SEO campaign forming the foundations for success.
In order to establish some of the key contributors to ranking performance during Black Friday 2015, a keyphrase set tailored to the mobile industry was run through our in-house rankings tool, SearchLens.
Using the data provided by SearchLens, a combined content, inbound, and social media analysis was then carried out to investigate the successes and failures of various high-profile players in the mobile industry.
Case Study #1: Carphone Warehouse
From the outset of our investigation, we could see clear indications that the Carphone Warehouse website would perform well over the Black Friday period. This proved to be the case, with the site ranking in positions 1-3 for 84 of the keyphrases in our bespoke set - more than any other major phone retailer.
It's important to caveat this observation by noting that Carphone Warehouse is one of the most visible and high-authority sites within the industry, and as such was always extremely likely to excel. Of particular interest however, was the approach the website chose to take to its campaign.
Content & Inbound: A different approach
Unlike the majority of e-commerce sites within - and indeed outwith - the mobile sector, Carphone Warehouse chose to rebrand and redesign their Special Offers section just days before Black Friday.
Taking this approach meant that Carphone Warehouse took advantage of an established page that had been accumulating links for over two years, creating a landing page with instant authority and valuable external links from sites such as The Guardian and other news outlets.
While this redesign allowed the page to take advantage of its current backlink profile, the switch to Black Friday targeting happened too late in November to produce any successful results. Although Carphone Warehouse's did enjoy huge success in ranking highly for our Black Friday keyphrases, this particular page was not itself a major contributor.
While other, more established, pages on the site regularly ranked in positions 1-3, the late redesign of the Black Friday page meant that it languished outside of the first page for the vast majority of search terms analysed. In fact, out of 332 tracked keyphrases, the page ranked in positions 1-3 for only two terms.
Quite simply, the page did not have enough time to reach its full potential.
Carphone Warehouse's strategy did however have one major advantage. By redesigning the Special Offers section, the site was able to use the Black Friday page to accumulate links. When performing an inbound marketing analysis of the page, it was impossible to miss the increase in external links pointing to the page - many from high-authority sites such as independent.co.uk, techradar.com and huffingtonpost.co.uk.
Cleverly, Carphone Warehouse seem to have used the huge media interest around Black Friday as a way to accumulate links to their Special Offers page, boosting its own authority right before the other major event of the year: Christmas!
Social Media: Business as usual
In a market where social media is a powerful and growing influence, Carphone Warehouse missed a variety of opportunities to boost their campaign.
Despite creating a promotional 'Black Tag Event' on Facebook, Carphone Warehouse didn't optimise social to support their project. Posts around the event were sporadic at best, and although the use of a competition to engage with fans on Black Friday itself was successful, the lack of regular updates resulted in something of a missed opportunity.
The Black Tag Event was intended as a support campaign for a range of video adverts, but lacked content concerning any of their deals or landing pages. Therefore, despite driving views, it failed to optimally drive traffic or conversions from Facebook as a platform.
A similar pattern was noted when analysing social performance on Twitter, although initially it did appear that Carphone Warehouse's #BlackFriday tweets appeared to be connecting well with users.
However, closer inspection revealed that only one tweet truly generated a large amount of engagement, unsurprisingly a promotional post around their Black Friday competition. This echoes an almost ubiquitous trend in Carphone Warehouse's social campaigns, with competitions attracting high levels of interest and other content failing to engage with potential consumers. As a result, it could be argued that Black Friday 2015 on social media was little more than business as usual for Carphone Warehouse.
Case Study #2: Vodafone
Vodafone did not perform as strongly as Carphone Warehouse in ranking terms, but their classic approach to search marketing still resulted in an efficient and relatively successful campaign. Despite this, the presence of 92 keyphrases in the 11-50 rankings bracket suggests that the site missed some high-value opportunities to push into the upper echelons of the search results.
Content & Inbound: Low-risk marketing
Sensibly, Vodafone chose to use a dedicated landing page for their Black Friday deals.
A pre-holding version of the page itself was implemented well in advance of the event, during which time it was used to provide information about Black Friday and to point users towards other on-site deals. For a site that does not always enjoy the same visibility as some of its competitors, this was a sensible strategy, allowing Google to index the page as early as possible and to recognise the targeting of on-page content.
However, there remains a number of further steps that could have been taken to improve campaign performance - steps which may well have ensured a higher ranking for a variety of high-volume keyphrases.
While the early introduction of a landing page to the site was undoubtedly the right idea, user engagement could have been pushed even earlier by the creation of a pre-register page. Furthermore, rather than redesign the pre-holding page, Vodafone chose to 302 redirect the existing page into a new Black Friday landing page - damaging the authority gained from an established URL and any external links. In this situation, performing a 301 redirect would have been a far more practical choice, as this would have passed the page value of the pre-holding page onto the new landing page.
Similarly to Carphone Warehouse, the Vodafone site did manage to achieve high-quality links from various sites including news outlets.
Particularly noticeable was an enormous spike in referring domains in late 2014. There are several possible explanations for this, including the redirect of a previous page, but it is impossible to say this for certain without making presumptions.
What is certain is that many external links pointing to Vodafone's Black Friday page appear to have come from affiliate sites, meaning that - while they may carry referral traffic - no rankings boost is gained from their presence. This may go some way to explaining why this page failed to rank as successfully as some rivals despite its age and backlink profile.
Social Media: A Black Friday ghost-town
Despite having over 850,000 fans on Facebook and 150,000 followers on Twitter, Vodafone failed to implement a social media strategy over the Black Friday period - instead choosing to focus on promoting their own blog content.
Because of this, the site missed out on the opportunity to drive traffic through social for their Black Friday deals.
Case Study # 3: O2
Similarly to Vodafone, O2's Black Friday strategy struggled in a number of key areas, with a hugely detrimental effect on their performance throughout November. With 65 keyphrases in positions 4-10 - and a further 65 in positions 11-50 - a real opportunity existed for one of the most well-known names in the mobile industry to make a sizeable impact in the organic rankings.
Content & Inbound: Missed opportunities
O2 should have enjoyed a major advantage over Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse, the presence of a unique landing page which was redesigned rather than redirected throughout the campaign.
This page should have provided a solid base from which O2 could build external links and target keyphrases through optimised content, but for some reason these tasks never appear to have been carried out.
O2's failure to do this resulted in an absence of high-value inbound links, leading to a static page authority throughout the duration of November - their page being outperformed by many of its direct competitors.
The lack of a proper inbound strategy, partnered with basic content errors such as the lack of an optimised H1 tag within the page, meant that O2 failed to convert the advantages of a landing page into any real improvements in ranking performance.
Social Media: Crash and burn
Instead of focusing social promotion on their Black Friday deals, O2 instead elected to try to create an alternative hype around their Price Crash campaign - particularly on Facebook. While it is undoubtedly useful to differentiate yourself from other brands on social media, this strategy did mean that the site was losing out in the Black Friday discussion.
This focus on their own Price Crash campaign seems to suggest that Black Friday was not major priority for O2 on Facebook. When we did eventually see a post that mentioned the event, it was as a result of the Price Crash site somewhat ironically crashing.
From both a financial and an online PR point of view, a greater emphasis on Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals would have lessened the impact of a site crash, by continuing to drive traffic and potential sales through deals and discounts separate to the Price Crash campaign.
Over on Twitter however, things were a little more positive. While our analysis revealed that around 50% of tweets sent using the hashtag #O2PriceCrash were negative posts about the site crash, O2 did succeed in engaging users through Black Friday competitions.
Creative competitions like this are great, and have the potential to drive traffic to the O2 website. High engagement metrics usually result in more users clicking through to a site, so it's recommended to run these competitions during the build-up to Black Friday as well as on the day itself.
However, despite O2's status as a large and widely recognised brand name, the effectiveness of these competitions was diluted by not using the #BlackFriday hashtag. Many of O2's direct competitors picked up on the use of this hashtag, and by ignoring it the site missed out on its share of a voice within a massive social media event. Even in a crowded online conversation, a strong brand using the right images and short video content is sure to be strongly received.
Black Friday Insights: SEO Tips
Having analysed the successes and failures of some of the key players within the mobile phone industry, we've compiled our own selection of top tips for a successful SEO campaign next year.
Think Of Your URL Structure In Advance
Ensure your Black Friday page has a relevant and clean URL that is easily understood by both consumers and search engines (e.g. www.example.com/black-friday).
Reuse Your Black Friday Pages
By re-using your Black Friday landing page or pages, they'll accumulate authority over time - helping you to rank strongly in the future.
Leverage Deal Pages
If you have a deals / offers page on your site, leveraging this page by updating the content to target Black Friday can tap into the authority that it has built up over time giving you an advantage over competitors.
Get Your Pages Live Early
Don't be afraid to put your Black Friday page live early. Many of the most successful Black Friday landing pages are created well ahead of the event or are re-used from previous years. Providing an explanation to users to come back at a later date for the latest black Friday deals. You can add products when you're ready for discounts to go live, and in the meantime it'll be indexed and will start ranking for targeted terms.
Optimise Your Content
From page titles and meta descriptions to header tags and body text, optimised content presents a range of opportunities to help your page rank strongly and to increase conversions. Always remember to plan your content before creation, and to identify the keyphrases you wish to target on your page. Don't forget the basics.
Social Media Is Your Friend
Social media is not the place for a full-blown advertising campaign, but don't be afraid to raise awareness around a few key products. Competitions can be particularly useful and engaging tool, but be conscious of what exactly you're looking to achieve from each competition.
Listen And Learn
Report on the success of your Black Friday SEO strategy, and learn from any mistakes for next year's campaign. Performing data-informed analysis and measuring success against clear KPIs is the best way to get an accurate illustration of the success of your campaign.
Future SEO Insights
Our next industry report is scheduled for mid-January, where we'll be turning our eye to some festive e-commerce recommendations. We'll analyse some of the best SEO content from Xmas 2015, take a look at the do's and don'ts of an effective, data-led Yuletide strategy, and provide tips on optimising your site for performance next Christmas - so stay tuned for more great insights in 2016.