Online businesses need to start thinking about how they will approach their search engine marketing for this year's Christmas rush as early as October, one Google retail industry analyst has warned.
Google's Andrew Eckfords also says businesses must start educating their consumers, pointing to data that shows 32% of YouTube users are now looking for "how to" videos, and that "how to" searches for apparel have increased threefold.
"Retailers who have been able to 'educate' shoppers can steer buyers towards their particular products or store," he says.
Eckford warns businesses they may need to start thinking about Christmas as early as October, stating that this is when research and early orders start occurring.
"Domestic online orders ramp up heavily in November into December, with the final two weeks before Christmas a critical time to connect with store finders, opening hours or via mobile with shoppers on the go."
"Sophisticated marketers tweak their campaigns to shift from research to buy-online to connect-with-stores as shopper modes change."
Internet search terms used to find products are becoming both more specific and vague at the same time, and small businesses must respond by ensuring their content is optimised for both broad category-based terms and much more targeted, specific product names.
Eckfords says that while it may sound contradictory, users are now starting search strings with "broad" terms, and then filter down into much more specific terms.
He also says that while there has been substantial discussion over the past year regarding international brands, "there are still at least four local brand searches for each international query".
"There are more consumers starting with a broad term (like 'shoes' or 'dress') and letting the search results provide inspiration; while searches are also becoming extremely targeted ('Chuck Taylor Converse All Star Desert Boot'), where the purchase is essentially decided and the shopper wants to select from whom to buy."
As a result, consumers are now increasingly using Google for their entire search process, and aren't just relying on the search engine when they know specifically what they want to buy. They use it to find a product, and then research that product thoroughly.
Eckfords says businesses must respond to this by "thinking about how shoppers would naturally go about learning and researching". For instance, while a deli might want to optimise content specifically by name, he says consumers might simply search for "dessert recipes" instead.
He warns businesses that search marketing works by ignoring the traditional ethos that each search connection to the store must lead a sale.
"A new mum searching for 'buy stroller online' is looking for an eCommerce offer, 'pram store St Kilda' is trying to connect with a local store, while a searcher for 'stroller reviews' can still be influenced on what and where to buy."
"Businesses can very effectively use this consumer behaviour to filter and target their search marketing; the online seller covering all of Australia may focus on 'buy' and 'online' type words, while a local baby store may want to include 'shop', 'store location' or the various makes and models they have in store."
There is also an increase in the number of searches including locations, once again highlighting the need for businesses to target their surrounding suburbs and locations in order to maximise their reach.
"Searches for specific details such as 'store location' or 'opening hours' have been on the rise. Secondly, more than 15% of Australian shopping searches last Christmas were made on a mobile device and we are expecting this growth to continue into Christmas 2011 as more consumers turn to their smartphone on the go."
Eckford addresses a final warning to online stores – make sure you regularly change your keywords to make sure they are maximising their effectiveness.
"Terms that work well can be increased, while those that don't can be reduced. At the same time it's important to keep an eye on and refresh new keywords to add – toy retailers for example will want to catch new best-selling toys early each year."
"In turn, checking to see what shoppers do once they are on site is critical."
This article first appeared on SmartCompany.