If you run an online store, there is a massive opportunity approaching with the upcoming holiday sales cycle. Is your WordPress site prepared for it?
November and December of 2016 set all sorts of new records in terms of online sales. If you’re in the business of selling physical goods, digital products, or services online, then you’ll want to pay close attention to what 108 million online shoppers did over a single Thanksgiving weekend in 2016:
- Thanksgiving: Adobe reported that online shoppers spent $1.9 billion.
- Black Friday: Online sales set a new record for Black Friday, generating $3.34 billion.
- Cyber Monday: The year-over-year difference between 2015 and 2016 online sales was 12.1% with online shoppers spending $3.45 billion.
The holiday spending sprees didn’t stop in November. All in all, the 2016 holiday season was an extremely profitable one for eCommerce companies. Between November 1 and December 31, Adobe Digital Insights and CMO reported a total of $91.7 billion in online sales.
So, what are you waiting for? As the holiday shopping season draws near, now is the perfect time to prepare your WordPress site for it.
How to Prepare Your eCommerce Site for the Holidays
You know how they start bringing out Halloween candy in August or Christmas decorations in October and you think, “It’s too gosh darn early for this”? Well, that’s not the case here. It’s never too early to plan and prepare your eCommerce site for the holidays.
1. Start with an eCommerce Plugin
Before you do anything else, make sure your WordPress site has a reliable and full-featured eCommerce plugin. The holidays will be a stressful enough time, so the more control you have over your site’s sales, the easier it’ll be to navigate it.
WPMU DEV’s MarketPress plugin is a good one to look at if you don’t already have one. In fact, if you do use this plugin, you’ll be able to knock out a number of other tips I’ve included below, like shopping cart monitoring, secure payment gateways, related product promotion, and more.
2. Use a Secure Payment Gateway
It’s no secret how profitable the holiday season has become for online retailers. So, it’s hard to imagine that hackers aren’t lying in wait, hoping to crack into as many websites—and customers’ private information—as possible while you’re busy selling. One way to fend these attacks off is by using a secure and reliable payment gateway.
3. Get an SSL Certificate
Another way to tighten up security around the holidays? Get an SSL certificate and give your site another layer of encryption to keep hackers out—and let customers know you’re doing your due diligence to keep them safe.
4. Speed up and Secure with a CDN
While you’re at it, you should probably also look into getting a CDN. This is normally something I’d recommend for websites with a global reach, but a CDN will come in handy during this time of year when your server’s going to be under a lot of strain. Extra speed and security are never a bad thing.
5. Use a Caching Plugin
A caching plugin will also help keep your site running in tip-top shape no matter how busy it gets on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or during last-minute shopping in December.
6. Stress-Test Your Site
Before November arrives, I’d strongly suggest you test the limits of your server. Even if your analytics don’t show any major surges in traffic from last year, that doesn’t mean your site won’t be spared them during this holiday season—especially if you successfully market your business for it.
7. Optimize Your Images
If you have a large number of product images on your site, one way to decrease the load on your server—at any time of year—is to compress your images. WP Smush Pro will take care of that for you.
8. Don’t Forget Mobile
The Adobe Digital Insights report from 2016 showed that:
- 50% of visitors to websites in November and December did so using a desktop computer, 41% used a smartphone, and 9% were on a tablet.
- 69% of sales made over those two months took place on a desktop, 21% were on smartphones, and 10% were on tablets.
While smart devices weren’t the leading source of sales or the tool most visitors made their purchases through, they still greatly contributed to the success of last year’s eCommerce spending. If you haven’t done so already, check your site’s mobile-friendliness with Google.
9. Test Contact Points
As web traffic increases, so too will the number of questions your visitors have and issues they potentially encounter. Rather than leave them thinking about ditching your site in favor of someone who responds in a timely fashion, equip your site with as many contact points now as you can:
- Contact forms
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Live chat support
- Knowledgebase and other self-support options
- Links to social media
Then test each of your contact methods to ensure there are no random black holes on your site.
10. Recommend Related Products
Even if your visitors and customers don’t contact you directly, you should still have a way to recommend related products or services, or make other recommendations, while they’re shopping on your site. The MarketPress plugin comes with this functionality.
11. A/B Test Your Product Pages
A/B testing is a best practice for WordPress sites, in general, as it enables you to make smart and data-backed decisions about your design, copy, and images. The holidays are not the time to be messing around with this though. Take care of A/B testing your product pages and images now so you can put your best foot forward when November rolls around.
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12. Add Conversion Boosters
People can become very scattered during the holidays. There’s just too much to think about and to stay on top of that it’s easy to get sidetracked when shopping. So, take this time to gently guide them back to your site and their shopping carts if they meander off the path. You can use plugins for exit-intent messaging, shopping cart abandonment reminders, remarketing, and more to do this.
13. Improve Your Credibility
Online shopping isn’t like shopping in person where you can wander up the electronics aisle and browse through all related products at once. In online shopping, your site is pitted against all other sites, which means visitors usually have to abandon you to check out other options. And you don’t want them to do that.
If you want to get around this, then you need to give your site a major boost in credibility with trust marks and social proof. Include customer testimonials, enable ratings and reviews, add security seals, and so on.
14. Update the Navigation
Again, this is not the time of year when you can expect visitors to stop by and take their time browsing around your inventory. If you look at last year’s sales, you’ll probably notice that there are a number of items or services that sold much more than others. It would also serve you well to research what the anticipated “hot” gifts will be this year.
By using this data to determine product popularity, you can better shape your site’s navigation to point visitors directly to what they need right away. Sure, you can do this with popup notifications and special home page header images, but creating ever-present navigation options for those holidays shoppers will likely be more effective.
15. Create New Landing Pages
If you’re planning on running any major promotions to lure in online shoppers, a landing page would go a long way in grabbing their attention. You can use this for holiday sales, new products, or even to announce special shipping offers or delivery timelines.
16. Revamp Your Keywords
Obviously, you won’t want to undo any of the work you’ve put into optimizing the content for search. That said, it wouldn’t hurt to infuse some of your copy—especially on product pages and special holiday-related landing pages—with keywords that online shoppers are looking for.
Pull up your site’s analytics to review the keywords that drove Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers to your site last year. If you’re not already using them, get them on your site ASAP.
17. Add a Festive Touch
In addition to making your site stand out with special offers and new products your customers will be dying to get their hands on, why not add a festive touch to your design?
18. Update Pricing Now
Online shoppers are going to start comparing pricing between you and the competition as soon as holiday shopping crosses their mind (so probably around early November). Rather than let them see you change your product pricing in the midst of the shopping season, take care of updating your pricing now if you want to get the biggest bang for your buck.
19. Advertise Holiday Promotions Early
Of course, the biggest draw of shopping around the Thanksgiving holiday is to cash in on special Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Since this is specifically what your visitors will be looking for, this “tip” is actually more of a non-negotiable.
Once you’ve determined what sort of special deals and promotions you can afford to offer, you can use your promotional tools like hello bars and timed popups to let visitors know when those deals will be available.
20. Create Convenient Shipping Options
Shipping plays a crucial role when it comes to the holidays. For people shopping for the November sales days, something like free shipping could make or break their decision to buy from you. For people shopping last minute before the holidays, they’re going to, at the very least, expect next-day shipping, too.
So, don’t forget to think about small ways in which you can simplify the decision-making process by changing the shipping rules during this time. And, if you’re worried about it costing you more than it’s worth, check out this article from Kissmetrics that talks about how you can make free shipping profitable for your business.
21. Offer Gift Cards
If your eCommerce site is large and popular enough where you think that gift cards would get some traction, then definitely make sure they’re clearly being advertised on your site. Put a promotion for them on your homepage and create a special section for them on your navigation bar, too.
22. Blog Regularly
As you know, blogging doesn’t always need to be about your business or on the same topic over and over again. That said, the content should always somehow be relevant to what it is you do, even if it’s to start talking about the upcoming holidays, special promotions you’ll be running, or to highlight some products or services you know are going to be hot tickets in a couple months. You don’t need to cover those topics all the time, but sprinkling them throughout your schedule would be a good idea.
23. Build Hype on Social
Although social media chatter around #BlackFriday, #CyberMonday, and #holidayshopping is pretty light right now, we’ll start to see talk around that as we move deeper into the month of October.
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) September 13, 2017
Once you see companies like iPhone talking up Cyber Monday deals for the new iPhone X, then you know it’s time for you to get in on the game too.
24. Stay in Touch by Email
To round out the marketing trinity, you should also be using your newsletter now to bring attention to the holiday shopping season. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a newsletter plugin on your eCommerce site or you’re subscribed to a platform like MailChimp. If you’re not regularly emailing your subscriber base, now is a great time to get in touch.
While it’s a great time to be doing business online in general, we’re all aware of how important the holiday sales season is for eCommerce companies. This is when online consumers are chomping at the bit to discover big sales, find better shipping deals, and simplify and remove the stress from the process of buying gifts for family, friends, and acquaintances.
By preparing your WordPress site now to handle this upcoming surge in traffic and eager shoppers, you’ll be setting your business up for a greater chunk of that nearly $100 billion sales cycle.