The Skyrocket Guide to Seasonal Link Building Campaigns

1365451935_CalendarOne of our internally operated web properties at Skyrocket is a gift guide which targets the UK & US market and focuses primarily on the last minute shoppers helping them to track down retailers that offer same day or next day delivery. It’s given us quite an interesting insight into the peaks and troughs of online retailing – even just as the affiliate site that it is.

It serves as an excellent reminder for what a massive traffic driver nearly every season and calendar event can be for a business. However, as you might expect, competition is fierce around seasonal terms so how do you ensure you are top without making it a last minute sprint (and panic)?

See seasons for the business opportunity that they are

You only need to look at events such as Cyber Monday to appreciate the scale that some seasonal opportunities can offer.

The truth is that you or your client probably already know the key seasonal trends in your industry but I think it is important to think beyond the usual parameters and realise we are not just talking about special days such as Christmas but seasonal events as well for example;

  • Going back to school
  • Future students selecting college courses
  • ISA deadlines
  • Annual festivals (Glastonbury etc)
  • Spring cleaning
  • Summer time (people wanting landscaping, gardening, BBQ recipes)
  • Summer Holidays (when they feel glum in January)
  • Tax season
  • Starting a business in January because of a New Year’s Resolution (domain names, merchant accounts etc)

In a number of situations you can probably create relevance around most of the seasons for the business you are working in. Eric Ward for example found this and highlighted that opportunities can be found (for links and sales) even in situations where you might not necessarily think there are. It’s somewhat depressing (for the content snob in me) how well content that hooks into a seasonal trend flies when it comes to traffic, conversions and building links. Don’t hate the player right?! :-)

Your content calendar and link building plan are distinct but synchronised

Customers will want to read your content about a particular seasonal event much closer to the event than you need to start your link building so you need to ensure you have the lead-in times planned out correctly. You can’t sell the seats on a plane after it’s taken off.

Consumers for example feel in the Christmas spirit from start of December onwards and will probably want to consume every last morsel of even vaguely Christmassy content … but if you start building links at the start of December, you probably won’t see the kind of impact you need in time for that final Christmas push. Not only will you miss the opportunity but any budget spent will have been wasted.

In our experience, approximately 12 weeks+ is the required time for the ramp-up with activity intensifying the closer you get to the event.

Our SEOsonal Process

For us there are several stages to a seasonal campaign…

  1. Campaign kickoff
  2. Closer proximity to event
  3. Seasonal Event
  4. Post-event
  5. Post-campaign

STEP 1 – Campaign Kickoff

The very first steps involve selecting the pages that are going to be targeted. My recommendation would be to look at a number of pages (create them if necessary) so perhaps a hub page which brings all the various pages or resources you have about a season into one section to enable you to focus your promotional efforts in one direction.

We’ve seen strong results acquiring links at a category level and watching the equity flow to sub-pages of that category. This means more movement across more keywords with fewer links!

With this in mind you might choose to structure a seasonal section in the following way:

  • site.com/season
  • site.com/season/product-page
  • site.com/season/guides
  • site.com/season/special-offers

If possible avoid having a date in the URL even if you are going to include in the title tags for example. This just means you can build on this foundational URL in years to come rather than being forced to dilute equity and social shares redirecting site.com/season2013  to site.com/season2014

The way you build links for seasonal pages will evolve as you get closer to the event itself. By this I mean that you wouldn’t go pitching specifically Christmas themed guest posts to bloggers in October so you need to adjust your goals, expectations and processes accordingly, especially in the early stages.

It would be more prudent to ramp up link building to the homepage for example, with the view to then having a seasonal look to the site and links to the seasonal page from there. You could also link to products or categories that perhaps sell well in the upcoming seasonal event but aren’t necessarily just for that time of year i.e. stationery sells well just before children go back to school but it wouldn’t be all that odd, to be proactively link building to those pages most of the year round, in the way that trying to score links to artificial Christmas tree pages in the middle of summer would be.

You might also consider (if applicable) helping people “get ahead” of a seasonal trend for example “How to be super organised back to school parent”  but timing has to be just right with this otherwise it will feel a bit too much like you are forcing the subject of season X, Y or Z.

STEP 2 – Closer proximity to event

As we move closer to your seasonal event, my recommendation would be to have some link opportunities in the bank from the earlier stages of the campaign or from some other point in the year and mark out the quick responders (if you have experience with bloggers/webmasters in particular sub-niches) that you can contact to give that steady but increasing flow of links. Be sure to also identify any internal link opportunities that might help to get your seasonal content over the finish line so to speak.

Activities should intensify the closer you get to the event deadline or occurrence because not only do the opportunities increase (as interest peaks) but competitive reaction will increase…Ayima’s Jane Copland highlighted how rankings shift dramatically around a seasonal event

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We’ve seen exactly the same kinds of movements. Velocity of link acquisition in our experience plays a big part in rankings of seasonal terms (that’s logical as well) so anything you can do to send a signal to Google that a lot of people are simultaneously vouching for your site in a good way is obviously a good thing.

That being said…We’ve all seen what an overly aggressive push can do to your site, maybe it’ll tip it over the edge – hello Interflora .

As the event draws nearer the opportunities really do multiply but so do the challenges because you find more people are out there trying to do the same thing as you – not all your competitors are likely to be as organised as you but there again they’ll fight just as fiercely when the seasonal event is just around the corner.

STEP 3 – Seasonal Event

“The seasonal event” stage will vary because the climax of Christmas for businesses isn’t the 25th of course, you might consider the actual event stage to be Cyber Monday through to the final delivery day before Christmas for example.

As the seasonal event arrives, interest peaks and you can really aggressively push seasonal content. Move on those internal link opportunities that you identified for example highlighting with a featured box on the homepage or adding a link into the main navigation.

Be sure to leverage all of these opportunities to their fullest because at no other point in the year will people forgive your tenuous references to Christmas, your insistence on love and relationship references nor will you see the kind of willingness from bloggers and publishers alike to feature your interesting seasonal content.

I would be tempted (if you are so inclined) to save your very best content until these final stages because NOW is the time that people will have the greatest interest in that seasonal event.

STEP 4 – Post-event

Explore any “after event” content and link opportunities so as to give yourself a boost ready for next year.

A really current example is that of the recent ISA deadline here in the UK.

A broker Hargreaves Lansdown (HL) (that I am a customer of) did an excellent job of marketing ISAs right up to the deadline and then schooled us link builders on a text book way to get ahead for the next seasonal push – they did this by discussing the additional money that could be saved if investors sorted their affairs way ahead of time. The key lesson to be taken from this is that they are extending the season for themselves and giving themselves a head-start on next year.

HL pushed up to deadline day with this kind of thing then started pushing their Early Bird campaign immediately after and look who got the link in the FT (behind paywall) on April 6th! Granted HL have great influence amongst financial journalists in the UK (people care what the brokers think) but another reason they featured was because they extended the life of a current topic and were probably the only ones out of their competitors to actually do this.

STEP 5 – Post-campaign

As with any link building campaign you will want to review the successes and failures thinking specifically about what you can do better next time. In the past, we’ve found success and failure in everything from keyword selection to operational factors such as not getting all the links live in time. The fact is that we don’t live in a perfect world so your competitors will be facing the same challenges.

Don’t be tempted to take the shortcut mitigate that uncertainty with your wallet (hello advertorials!) unless you really know what you are doing. Properly dissecting your failures and learning from your successes this time around can be instrumental in your outranking of competitors next year.

From a practical point of view, you will also want to hibernate any hub pages from that particular seasonal event, this might mean taking down some of the special products or removing the link to “Valentine’s Offers” from your main navigation.

Notice we are talking about “hibernation” rather than killing off a page. We want to be able to build on the success of this year next time around so putting URLs into a state where they don’t 404 and still provide a positive user experience is really key. You might be able to take advantage of the trickle of traffic that comes throughout the rest of the year and get people’s email address or highlight other offers you currently have on.

How do you prepare for seasonal events? Add your thoughts below.

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