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Off-the-Wall Search Strategies for Q4: So Unorthodox, They Just Might Work

Published: October 1, 2019

Author: Charlotte Haab

While Q4 isn’t really the typical time to shake things up, if you’re working with a stale account, it might be the best time to try something new! The massive influx in volume paired with the highest consumer intent of the year can make for a perfect climate to try something a little unorthodox. Here are a few ideas if you’re looking to ruffle some digital feathers. (Note: some of these are so off-the-wall I might hesitate to try them myself, but they’re worth considering if you need to shake things up.)

Surrender to Google

Google has been not-so-subtly pushing their new automation features on search marketers lately. The 3Q community saw big improvements from responsive search ads and the “optimize ad” setting – so why not throw all your eggs into the Google basket?
Try a broad match modified-only MKAG strategy to give Google ample volume to work with. Set your budget, set your target CPA or ROAS, stick some seasonally appropriate RSAs in there, and let Smart Bidding do the rest. Preliminary testing of this tactic at 3Q yielded increased click volume, and a nearly 20% increase to conversion rate…maybe Google really does know best.

Get broad on Facebook

In the spirit of automation, why not give Facebook some free rein when it comes to targeting? The broad targeting strategy consists of running one ad set that targets ages 18-65+, all geographies, with no additional qualifiers or targets layered in. This strategy is great for scaling your Facebook presence efficiently. One thing to keep in mind here is that when using this broad targeting tactic, creative tends to fatigue faster than normal – so make sure you’ve got plenty in your arsenal. (We would tell you this anyway.)
In some instances at 3Q, this strategy allowed us to double scale within the same CPA over the course of a month…so if you’re feeling gutsy, give this one a try! After all, Facebook seems to know us better than we know ourselves.

It’s a bird….it’s a plane…it’s a super LAL!

In the same vein as above, but not a frequently used strategy – lumping together all your top look-a-like audiences (lovingly referred to as “Super LALs”) into one campaign on Facebook can increase the reach, give the algorithm better data density, and ultimately increase your conversion rates during the ultra-competitive holiday season.

Experiment with structure

If going full broad is way too extreme for you, you can still experiment with structure…but maybe to a lesser extent. Here are some ideas to mix things up a bit without doing a total 180.

Target not-so-obvious audience segments

Try targeting customer segments that are not necessarily directly related to your online or ecomm goals. For instance, you could ask your client for a customer list of people with high AOV order totals and target those big spenders with the goal of driving a higher amount of revenue, or increase your bids for them on big-ticket items. You can also take the data available to you in Google Analytics and target or exclude those segments of users as needed. Examples of this could be targeting users with high time on site, targeting direct site visitors, or excluding users with high bounce rate.

Segment campaigns by seasonal intent

While this isn’t totally revolutionary, Google’s new emphasis on smart bidding steers people away from segmentation in general. However, during Q4 it can be beneficial to segment in some ways. Try breaking out your holiday or sale-specific keywords into their own campaign. This will make having customized bids, targeting, and creative much more manageable! Bonus: you can just turn it off when the holidays are over and turn it back on (some refreshing required) next year!
To take this strategy to the next level, try targeting ridiculously upper-funnel keywords in an RLSA-only campaign. For example, try targeting the keyword +gifts to your high-AOV people to get in front of your big spenders without getting obliterated in auction by big box stores. It’s bold — but it just might work!

Get granular on Shopping

Over the past couple of years, Shopping has seen consistent growth on Google. Q4 is a key time to have a presence there because people are ready to buy. While you’ve probably already got your core shopping campaigns on lock, try adding what we’d call a “Gamma” campaign to the mix.
In this strategy, you’ll essentially want to break out all of your SKUs into one low-priority campaign. This essentially casts a super-wide net underneath your core medium- and high-priority campaigns to ensure nothing gets missed. It can even work to pick you up some extra traffic at a cheap CPC that your normal campaigns might not be prioritizing.
While you’re at it, find out from your client which items sell the best in-store and break those out into a separate campaign targeting radial distances around brick-and-mortar stores. This can help pick up some local traffic and save people the hassle of actually getting out of their car to go inside. Anything that decreases stress over the holidays will be a winner!

Get provocative!

Red and green, Santa, puppies, Christmas trees, family…I could go on. Sure, those seasonal concepts tug at the heartstrings and trigger nostalgia, but they’re pretty overused and (IMHO) boring. If you want to stand out and grab people’s attention, try running some provocative ad copy or images. You can still keep it seasonal, but don’t be afraid to get creative (I still remember this shirtless Santa who popped up in my SERP).

RX Bar did a great job using some reverse psychology in the example below:

People will be inundated with advertisements this holiday season; do what you can to make yours stand out!

‘Tis the season for giving

If provocative or bold content isn’t really on brand, Q4 is a great time of year to highlight or start up partnerships with a charity or non-profit. People are often more generous with their money this time of year, and showcasing your brand’s partnership can be a win-win; it gets your brand out there in a positive way and makes users more likely to choose you and feel good about helping others in need.

Increase your frequency caps

As I’ve said, people are getting inundated with ads this time of year. They might as well be yours! It’s a standard school of thought that daily frequency caps of 3-7 impressions per user makes for a more favorable ad experience. But why not throw caution to the wind and jack those caps up to 20-30? Better yet, remove frequency capping and let Google decide when and where to serve your ads. Who knows, maybe you’ll wear your customers down enough to make a purchase!

Expand everywhere you can

While Google and Facebook are a given for holiday advertisers, Q4 might be the perfect time to expand into untapped or underrated channels. The fewer advertisers in a space, generally the cheaper the advertising costs. Try tapping into seasonal threads on Reddit or Quora, or jump into the holiday planning section of Pinterest to hit people where they least expect it. People use sites like Quora, Reddit, and Pinterest to source answers to questions, entertain themselves, and look for gift inspiration. It’s the perfect place for some well targeted seasonal ads encouraging users to buy. If a direct response isn’t as strong on these channels, you’re at least fueling your remarketing lists to hit people at a later time.

If you’re reading this, it’s too late (hi Drake!)

It may sound radical, but realistically you need to start holiday planning as early as July (so now would be a lovely time to put these recommendations in play). As a marketer, you need to realize that many of your retail clients typically spend almost 30% of their yearly budget between a handful of days in November and December. Getting a head start on planning is crucial to success. Start internal planning over the summer, and start asking for Q4 goals and budgets around August to get a better idea of what you’re working with.
In terms of actual advertising content, getting your brand out there over the summer can really reap dividends when it comes time for Q4. People start buying holiday gifts as early as October. If your brand awareness is high, and your remarketing pools are well stocked from summer awareness efforts, you’ll have a much larger group of customers familiar with your brand to sell to in the last quarter of the year when purchase intent is at its highest.

Test everything before Q4 – then stop testing

With the influx in volume, it’s understandable that advertisers want to test new language and landing pages in Q4 to learn as much as they can to apply the rest of the year. However, while you may be learning which landing page experience drives the highest conversion rates, that means that half your traffic was being sent to a sub-par experience during the highest revenue driving months of the year!
It feels unnatural…but you should not be testing in Q4. Learn what works best during the other nine months of the year, and really commit to those results during October, November, and December to drive as much revenue as humanly possible.

Skip Black Friday and Cyber Monday

At the risk of sounding like a Grinch…perhaps the most radical holiday strategy of all is to simply not participate in the madness! Do an analysis of your CPCs or CPMs from Q4 over the past few years to make sure it is financially worth your while to participate on big days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In some industries, CPCs can quadruple during these days, negatively offsetting any increase in revenue volume you might see. Same thing on Facebook: if you’re not in retail, just go dark on those days. CPMs increase for everyone during this time of year. Even if you are in retail, consider going dark for the big days and re-investing your dollars more aggressively during less competitive times to drive more bang for your buck.
As I said, some of these strategies are so wild that I might not even try them myself (but would recommend testing the applicable ones after the holidays to gauge how they work for you). But if you’ve got a seasoned client who’s looking to shake things up, consider some of these ideas to break through the Q4 doldrums and maximize your holiday revenue!

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