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How to Optimize Your E-Commerce Website for Holiday Shoppers

image for Rawpixel/Shutterstock
Rawpixel/Shutterstock

While many businesses gear up for what may be their busiest time of the year, there's a lot that goes into planning your promotions and choosing which products you want to sell.

A key part of your digital marketing strategy this holiday season needs to be optimizing your e-commerce website for search engines and consumers. Read on for our tips on how to do so.

Before you can dive into optimizing your e-commerce website, it's helpful to understand exactly what e-commerce optimization is. Crazy Egg defines it best: E-commerce optimization is a systemwide improvement of your e-commerce store to facilitate greater and faster sales.

If your website is not optimized properly, it causes issues that ultimately lead to a drop in revenue. A few of those issues include

  • Abandoned shopping carts
  • Poor user experience
  • Negative reviews and complaints from frustrated customers and prospects

To ensure you're noticed by the search engines while also providing a smooth shopping experience for consumers, optimizing your e-commerce website should be ongoing; it shouldn't be done only during the holiday season.

We briefly mentioned search engine optimization (SEO), which is critically important for all websites, especially e-commerce sites. In short, SEO evaluates where users go on the web and the queries they make to get there. When you properly optimize your website for SEO, you

  • Help targeted prospects find your products and services
  • Get a higher return on investment
  • Increase the exposure of your business on the web

Physical retail stores often set up holiday displays during the shopping season. You should take a similar approach to your website.

"Now is the time to … make your site more seasonal," said Lisa Graves, senior email marketing strategist at DEG, a full-service digital marketing agency. "Dress up your digital channel just like you do your brick and mortar [store]."

"But this doesn't necessarily mean adding Christmas trees and flashing lights to your homepage," said Richard Stevenson, head of corporate communications at e-commerce software provider ePages.com.

"Rather, revise your website content, and adapt it with encouraging, upbeat content for the most important milestone dates: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and [the] new year," he said. "Shoppers respond best to content that celebrates the products, ties these to festivities and gives a sense of why the recipient will be delighted with them."

As part of celebrating the season on your site, get festive with product images. When taking product photos, prop products up against a festive background, for example, to generate more attention. The images should be so good that users naturally want to share them on social media, especially on Pinterest.

Your product pages are the bread and butter of your e-commerce business. Improve your on-page and conversion rates by:

  • Using ALT text and relevant tags to optimize images for search engines
  • Making checkout fast and easy
  • Crafting engaging and relevant product descriptions
  • Using high-quality, engaging images as product photos

Make sure that your holiday offers are featured prominently on your homepage. Web banners spread across the top of the page are a great place to highlight your offers and discounts. You can also generate traffic by frequently posting your special offers to your social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Many online retailers focus on the design of their website, such as how pretty the page looks, how big the graphics are, how easy the buy buttons are to access, etc. The problem, however, is that large photos and interactive elements slow your site down significantly.

"All that effort spent to make a gorgeous [website] could get wasted because the page doesn't load in time for the consumer," said Deborah Szajngarten, director of public relations for Radware.

Although a well-designed homepage is important, businesses should also focus on finding web solutions and hosts that give them the necessary bandwidth and speed to support higher holiday traffic.

If your site slows down, you have a lot to lose ‒ 57% of consumers abandon a site that fails to load after three seconds, according to Radware research.

"If the site doesn't respond ... [customers think] it's not worth it and go to another website to buy [the item]," said Frank Yue, director of solution marketing and application delivery at Radware. "It's not just the [site] outage you have to worry about but also the degradation of performance and delivery to retain customers."

Optimizing your website, regardless of when it's done, can be overwhelming; luckily, there are various tools that provide assistance. A few include

It's not just shoppers who ramp up their online activity during the holidays. Hackers are waiting in the wings, ready to take advantage of the increased number of transactions. Yue recommended educating yourself and your team to recognize the signs of cyberattacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and investing in security solutions so you can handle any potential situations.

"DDoS attacks are a regular occurrence. Expect them to step up during the holiday season," Yue said. "They're getting complex. You need [to be able] to mitigate the attack appropriately."

Customer reviews are helpful for businesses. They give you insight into which products customers love and which ones need improvements. If certain products continue to generate negative reviews, remove them from your site or make improvements to them before additional complaints come in.

Great reviews can turn prospects into customers and need to be part of your user-generated content strategy. If your site has the functionality to do so, enable reviews with images; oftentimes passionate consumers love to share images in their reviews. Just look at how many photos customers submit on Amazon reviews.

Holiday shoppers want a positive customer experience, so make your contact info easy to find on all the pages of your website in case customers have questions about their orders.

"You may want to consider adding temporary help to answer the additional calls, if you think you will need it," said Debbi Lechner, vice president of product marketing and management for Web.com. "A simple answering service can ensure you don't miss a call, and it lets customers know you plan to get back to them quickly."

For additional tips on how to prep your online store for holiday sales, read our article on four holiday marketing trends that drive sales.

Marisa Sanfilippo

Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.