Holiday Sales Disappoint Optimistic Retailers

Massive retail discounts failed to rescue this holiday season and delivered the most dismal 4th quarter in nearly 40 years. Consumers spent cautiously this year worried about the U.S recession, job losses, and a sinking stock market.

This is a disappointment for companies that had hoped the holidays would offset a year when sales have been sliding steadily, draining profits and, in many instances, undermining the ability to pay down debt. No retail sector was spared. Some sectors hit the hardest were:

Luxury Items -35%

Electronics and appliances -26.7%

Women’s apparel -22.7%

Furniture -20%

E-Commerce -2%

E-commerce showed the most persistence, however it was disappointing compared with last year which showed an increase of 22.4% during the same period.

The season’s dismal results have left stores with mountains of inventory to clear, prompting many to move up their typical January clearance sales earlier to help salvage what they can of the season. Retailers like JCPenny are having door buster clearances starting at 5:30a.m with 70% discounts while luxury retailers like Neiman Marcus are trying to offset the 84% fall in its fiscal 1st quarter with 40% on already reduced merchandise.

200,000 stores are predicted to close this year, which some experts predict will be the most in 35 years, is likely to come across areas from electronics to apparel, shrinking the industry, taking advantage of the long tail of fewer niche players and suppliers. Moreover, retailers soon may face yet another blow. In recent years, they have seen a big lift in post-Christmas sales as shoppers coming back to stores to redeem gift cards often spent more than the card amount to buy full-price merchandise. This year however, shoppers expected to spend only $151 on gift cards this season, a 24% drop from last year. – IR

At Risk of Being Redundant; Google On Duplicate Content

Part of the job for the PPC or SEO analyst, consists of debunking… a large part of our job revolves around explaining rumors and misreads. For years, we’ve had to explain a particular twist of semantics that somehow has convinced people that if you have duplicate content on a web site, Google takes out a pen and puts a black mark by your name.

No, Virginia, there is no duplicate content penalty – at least not the way people think.

When faced with multiple pages that look too much alike, Google has to decide what’s what – why it’s seeing double, or whether there’s any malicious intent with what it’s finding. For the most part, the average website doesn’t practice malicious copying, nor do they usually scrape content from other sites. What happens is they end up with catalogs and parts listings that contain 80% plus duplicate wording, or end up with 16 different possible ways to land on the “same page” because there are that many different search options in their web catalog that will land you on the same exact item. This can cause confusion.

Google’s basic, and hopefully final, word on the subject is simple – when we find a bunch of pages that look really similar, we group them into a “cluster,” then we pick a single URL to represent all pages in that cluster. But then they do something else that the average webmaster probably never even notices.

“We then consolidate properties of the URLs in the cluster, such as link popularity, to the representative URL.”

Notice the absence of any pens, or black marks, or slaps, or shackles or any other form of “punishment.” They just group all “duplicated” pages and consolidate the info under one indexed URL. For the average e-commerce site, this is not a problem.

But let’s say you are one of these folks who has 854,000 items in a dynamic, database-driven catalog and all items are shown on a “shell” page that gets populated by the shopper’s query when they’re looking for their item, but because of the way your catalog is built, the ONLY thing that changes on the pages is the image file name, the price, the part number, and the name of the item. Sounds like you probably have 845,000 duplicate pages that will not be indexed individually. If you’re looking for some massive number of “pages indexed” (for whatever reason), you are quite liable to be disappointed. Until there is enough variance between items, like a longer description, or some individualized stats which also populate those pages, you stand very little chance of seeing more pages indexed – you are more than likely seeing fewer pages indexed as Google compiles it’s clusters.

In fact, catalogs that work this way violate Google’s best practices as outlined in their Webmaster Guidelines. Google doesn’t publish all this info for fun – they are trying to help us help ourselves. They say very plainly:

“Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.”

If you feel like your site is suffering from this “clustering” of pages that seem to be duplicated, work with your webmaster to rectify the situation and then use Google’s Webmaster Central tools to request a re-evaluation of your domain.

If you just have 16 different search options that all lead back to the same item, don’t worry about it – one of those URLs will be indexed, and that’s all you need. You’ll want to monitor your SERPs so you can see which pages make the cut so you know how Google “sees you, and keep your site map up to date, but other than that, most of us have very little to fear from the Duplicate Content Penalty…

How to Seduce the Cash-Strapped Shopper – adCenter Staff

How do you stand out to the ‘credit crunched’ customer? The growth of online sales has slowed down in recent months as a result of the current financial climate. The Creative Services team believes creative ads could be the saving grace for your search campaign.

Online Growth Slows Down

The IMRG Capgemini Index shows that UK shoppers spent just over £4.8 billion online in July. This meant a year-on-year financial growth of about 15.2%. A slowdown compared to the 75.6% year-on-year growth reported in January this year.

Communicate Credit Crunch Defying Deals!

As your online ads and offers are so easy to update at no extra cost, it’s worthwhile ensuring your campaigns are targeted to the current situation.

Creative, smart ad copy will boost your CTR, brand awareness and visibility at any time and will make you stand out from the competition. When growth slows down it is even more important to keep a competitive edge.

One of the reasons why online sales still are still growing in contrast to the high street where sales are down*), is that the internet is the place to be to pick up a bargain. People are looking for discounts and to compare prices to ensure they get the best deals. Shops and online services respond with attractive offers.

A 5-minute spot check on some of our advertiser’s websites shows that great offers are definitely out there: ‘free delivery on everything’, ‘2-day delivery times on electrical goods’, ‘reserve online and pick up in store against online prices’, ‘buy one get one free’ and ‘5 year interest free credit’.

The challenge is to ensure these deals are reflected in your ad copy and that the ads appeal to someone who is likely to be looking for a deal instead of indulgence and luxury.

Here’s how:

· Ensure your deal is mentioned in your ad but be careful not to sacrifice clarity for creativity. Stay clear and to the point as well as being imaginative.

· Describe your product or service in an appealing way. Think about how your product, service or deal could appeal to more shrewd searchers (if appropriate). Think of using words such as ‘affordable’, ‘low-priced’, ‘pre-season-sale’ and ‘early bird bonus’.

· Think how your offer or service may actually help your cash-strapped customer.

Save money, save time (you don’t have to rummage through racks to find a deal) or offer alternatives (self-catering cottages as opposed to opulent hotel rooms).

· Use tempting adjectives.

Here are some powerful examples:


Read adCenter’s previous blog on how to prepare your search campaign for the Christmas holiday period.


*The IMRG Capgemini Index reports high street sales are down by 0.9 % year on year compared to July 2007.

Bringing Home the Bacon – Yahoo Search Marketing

Three tips to muster, monitor and maintain your conversions

In the offline world, a “conversion” could happen in the metric system, the adoption of a new religion or an exchange of currency. But for search marketing advertisers, a conversion is a completed transaction event on a website. Apart from the most obvious conversion—a customer completes a sale—conversions can include a visitor registering at your site, requesting a price quote, or participating in some other lead-generating activity.

The battle to improve your conversion rates should never truly end. Let us arm you with the following three tips.

Optimizing your Landing Page
First impressions count, and your landing page is the first web page a user will see after clicking your ad. So don’t be generic or confusing. Whenever possible, we recommend using a “deep link” to a specific product on your site as your landing page. Tips for good landing pages include:
• Offer multiple ways for customers to contact you.
• Make sure that your online shopping engine and shopping cart, if applicable, are safe and easy to use.
• Maintain good server availability and remove any broken links from your site.

Try to see your web site through the eyes of your visitor. If it’s too confusing and messy, users may get turned off by the bad experience and leave your site. So, keep it clean and clear. Other tips include:
• Create an obvious pathway to the product or service the customer was looking for.
• Avoid too many navigation layers between the landing page and what the user is looking for—they should be two clicks away at most.
• If a sale is your primary objective, move any non-commercial content or information “below the fold” (on the lower part of the page).

Track Your Results
Tracking the performance of your online marketing will help you analyze your results and make adjustments, if needed. Our free conversion-only analytics tool is designed to show you how many conversions result from clicks on specific ads. By turning it on in your account, you can learn which ads work and which may need a little TLC. Some of the other benefits of conversion-only analytics include:
• You can track conversion data at the account, campaign, ad group and keyword levels.
• As you learn which keywords drive the most conversions, you can make informed decisions about your account, including how to allocate your budget and how to improve under-performing ads.
• Decisions like these can help you optimize the overall performance of your account, and ultimately drive more sales.

The Help Center features more information on how to use conversion-only analytics.

Optimizing your landing page, using clear and clean site navigation and tracking your results can go a long way toward achieving your conversion goals. And it’s really not that hard to keep these tips in mind and use. With just a little maintenance, hindsight and monitoring, you can more consistently turn your web site visitors into actual customers.

— Roger Park, Manager, Marketing Communications, Yahoo SM


Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

High gas prices could pump up your site traffic and sales

Pumping gasWith the cost of gas climbing and consumers looking to save money by driving less, introducing new targeted ads could not only save consumers some gas but also fuel a lot of additional sales for online advertisers this summer.

More and more consumers are looking to take the pedal off the metal and avoid getting behind the wheel when possible. According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, 40% of Americans say they’re driving less due to high gas prices, and only one in ten respondents said they planned to travel for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

Where You—and Your Ads—Come in
Decreased fuel consumption may make gas station owners frown, but it could bring a smile to the faces of online business owners, whose products all of a sudden may have greater appeal to consumers looking to eliminate unnecessary shopping trips during the current gas crunch. To reach these frustrated drivers, consider creating new campaigns with ads that specifically point out where you have the gas-guzzling alternatives beat.

For example, sites that sell home theater equipment or cooking supplies might consider writing ads that stress the savings and ease of watching movies or eating meals at home, as opposed to in theaters or restaurants.

Additionally, sites for local attractions, such as hotels, festivals or fun vacation spots, should consider geo-targeted campaigns that display their listings to users searching from within the city or state of the business. A resort in Palm Springs, California might want to target users in Southern California who would normally drive hundreds of miles to their vacation destination. By presenting themselves as an affordable alternative to expensive drives or flights, advertisers can court a local audience that they may not have been able to tap into previously.

Even non-local sites can appeal to price-conscious consumers: Rental car companies can create ads that tout gas-conserving cars to appeal to travelers who want to hit the open road without getting slapped at the pump.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to fill up your campaigns with some high-octane ads.

— Noah Belson, Content Quality Analyst, Yahoo SM

Photo courtesy of via Flickr