Paid Search 16 min read

3 tips for unleashing SEM Performance during Seasonal Peaks in demand

By Carly Bell 24 January, 2024

Seasonal Peaks in demand are a fact of life for marketers across a range of sectors from retail to travel and tourism and beyond, here’s you you can maximise your SEM performance during seasonal peaks.

Taking advantage of them can have a make-or-break effect on your revenues, and SEM has a key role to play in all of this. So, how do you set yourself up in advance to make the best of spikes in search demand – and ensure you make the very most of the opportunity in Paid and Organic?

Here we consider some of the key things you might want to build into your SEM plan including:

  • Why seasonality matters
  • 3 tips for unleashing your SEM performance
  • 1. Maintain a competitive advantage
  • Utilise AI-driven competitive intelligence
  • Understand deals (and ads) competitors are pushing
  • Use the price competitiveness reports in GMC
  • Ensure you are re-using pages to drive value
  • Find your organic wins to allow paid to thrive
  • 2. Maximise upper funnel demand
  • Ensure SEM activity is not working in a vacuum
  • Build higher funnel demand on Google Ads
  • And make the most of YouTube
  • 3. Maximise conversion and revenue
  • Maximise use of audience data within GA4
  • Optimise your product feed in GMC
  • Remember customers want a quick deal
  • Make regular, simple hygiene checks

Why Seasonality Matters for Your Brand

Before we dig into how you can improve your performance during Peak seasonal periods it is worth considering why Seasonality matters.

Take the retail sector for example where, according to Statista, total Christmas Seasonal retail sales for the UK are forecast to hit £85 billion in 2023, a figure that jumps up to $966bn in the US. Not only are these huge sums that are up for grabs during a relatively short peak period, they also make up to 20% of total annual retail sales.

And figures from IMRG point to the fact that events like Black Friday (which is part of this seasonal sales window) continue to grow in participation which is evidenced by the chart below which shows the YOY increase in retailers who had Black Friday campaigns live in 2022 v 2021.

And sectors including travel, confectionery and tourism are similarly affected by seasonality with marked peaks in activity at certain parts of the year. Where demand surges for a given period of time.

So, taking advantage of Seasonality, and Seasonal search demand matters. But how do you ensure you brand is a winner in the SEM stakes when the time comes?

Here we consider our top 3 tips to help make it happen.

1. Maintain a competitive advantage

First, and foremost, you need to ensure you are positioned well in competitive terms. Here are some key areas to focus on:

Utilise AI driven competitive intelligence

Having a clear understanding of what your competition is doing during periods of peak demand is essential to enable you to assess, and react, to changes in price etc. 

AI can’t solve all of your challenges. However using tools like Google BARD[Bc4]  that can browse the web provides quick insights into product related information. And it can be really useful for rapidly finding out key pricing information or deals across competitors in real-time.

And finding gaps you can exploit in your SEM strategy.

Understand deals (and ads) competitors are pushing

Free tools can help you to understand what ads your competitors are running out there.

These include:

Google Ads Transparency Centre

This is a searchable database of all the ads which are being served across the Google Ads network including:

  • The ads an advertiser has run
  • Which ads were shown in a certain region
  • The last date an ad ran, and the format of the ad

Despite being originally developed with the end user in mind it is a useful tool for marketers too!

Meta Ad Library

This library allows you to search all ads across Meta Technologies as well as:

  • Ads about social issues, elections or politics that have run in the past seven years
  • Ads that have run anywhere regionally in the past year

Both are useful for understanding what deals and recent ads your competition is running. But it is worth adding the health warning that it does not work for every advertiser – so try it out for yourself.

Use the price competitiveness reports in GMC

Google Merchant Centre[Bc7]  (GMC) enables you to attract more customers by listing your products and services across a range of Google properties including Google Search & Shopping, Maps, YouTube, and more. It offers:

  • Enhanced Product Visibility on Google Shopping.
  • Simplified Product Data Management.
  • Advanced Performance Insights and Analytics.
  • Seamless Integration with Google Ads.
  • Access to Additional Google Marketing Tools

You can use the price competitive reports in GMC to understand price benchmarking across your key product categories.

This will give you insight into products that are too expensive or are under-priced compared to competitor products. Which is important information for you to have if you are planning discounting or promotional activity.

GMC Price Insight reports can also help identify how far off price point you are with key products. And, if you are struggling with conversions on key brands or products, you can also use it as an indication of where to apply further promotions or discounting.

Ensure you are re-using pages to drive value

The Seasonally focused web pages that you create year-on-year build up a significant amount of SEO value over time.

It is key that you retain these URLs year over year which allows their authority to build and for you to be able to maximise their performance annually. They don’t need to remain prominent outside of Peak Seasonal time periods, so you can remove them from your core navigation at other times.

However. you do want to retain them as links on your site and resurface them early in preparation for the next Seasonal Peak. This means you can get good traction on them ahead of key dates and peak periods.

Currys, the electrical retailer, are particularly adept at this. With a page that they continually resurface year on year and that ranks for both brand and non-brand terms that are relevant for them.

Find your organic wins to allow paid to thrive

And don’t forget that the relationship with your Paid advertising colleagues is key during times of peak demand.

One of the key features of periods of heavy seasonal demand is the high percentage of brand searches that take place. For example, we have a beauty retailer client and 77% of their Black Friday traffic comes from branded search – a figure that rises to 99% for an Activewear retailer we also work with.

The key here is to ensure that you are not paying for brand terms that you are likely to pick up on Organic search anyway.

So, share that data to ensure you are optimising right across your marketing mix.

2. Maximise upper funnel demand

Building upper funnel demand at this point is key, so you should:

Ensure SEM activity is not working in a vacuum

The reality is that consumers are increasingly on multi-device and multi-channel buying journeys. And your marketing approach at peak times is going to have to reflect this.

So, plan on using an omni-channel approach that works out how you can leverage activity across other channels – and avoid a single SEM channel pitch that is only going to harm effectiveness.

Cut-through is also going to be important at what is a busy time when everyone is pitching hard. Aim to rise above the noise and be really clear on why it is you should get your customers’ money.

Build higher funnel demand with Demand-Gen on Google Ads

Make sure you leverage Demand-Gen in Google Ads.

According to research by Google/IPSOS, 91% of consumers took action immediately after discovering new products or brands on Google feeds, like Discover or Gmail.

Demand Gen makes it easy to leverage your top-performing image and video assets into Google Ads to take advantage of this demand. It also enables you to move beyond existing audiences with lookalike segments based on audience lists.

This feature is available in all Google Ad accounts with all existing Discovery campaigns being moved across to Demand Gen.

Make the most of YouTube

Video plays a key role in both early gift research and last-minute scrambles.

And advertisers that run YouTube ads in addition to search ads are seeing search conversion volume that is 8% higher and search CPAs that are 4% lower.

With shoppers doing more research the journey to purchase has become longer. Make sure your present across channels and generate excitement during this period.

There are 21.8M UK gift shoppers on YouTube so testing Demand Gen (& also Performance Max) to serve across this channel is a great opportunity to connect with your target audience.

3. Maximise conversion and revenue

And once you have a potential customer’s interest getting the sale over the line is key. Here are some tips to help you influence that.

Maximise use of audience data within GA4

One of the strengths of GA4 is the ability to create audiences that bring focus to your Paid advertising activity.

So, make sure that you are set up to use GA4 effectively during times of Peak Seasonal demand by building out audiences that make sense for your objectives. For example, consider creating an audience that is made up of non-converters that can be targeted across Google Ads.

Optimise your product feed in the GMC

Preparing your product feed in the GMC is pivotal in having successful shopping campaigns that drive traffic and convert over peak periods. Shoppers during this time are looking for the best prices, offers and delivery or returns options.

In particular, things to be aware of include:

  • promotions and products can be disapproved – ensure you have alerts setup to avoid any loss in serving key products
  • be proactive and ensure your attributes are optimised properly before the peak so you can take maximum advantage when things get busy
  • ensure correct sale pricing and promotions are applied in GMC

Remember customers want a quick deal

Potential delays in your competitor’s getting products and services to customers puts doubt in the customers mind about conversion. And is a potential targeting opportunity.

Take retail, for example. The 2023 Shein and Temu delivery lead times means there are cut-off times between 8-15th December. A period while customers are still in shopping mode. This potentially opens up a window for other retailers to pick off the demand that they are missing during this period by targeted offers on Google Ads etc.

Make regular, simple hygiene checks to ensure success

There is nothing more frustrating than have a great strategy that falls down on poor implementation.

So, make sure you have a structured approach including hygiene checks. Here is our checklist for that to include:

  • URLS – check all of your ad level urls for broken links, broken tracking, 404s including all of your destination urls on Ad accounts and Product feeds
  • Ads/Creative – double check any Display, Meta and PMAX assets and make sure the correct promotional activity is being advertised
  • Tracking – ensure all of your promotional activity is being tracked and can be measured – e.g. using UTM trackers to split out Black Friday deals
  • GA4 – ensure your GA4 is tracking activity correctly and that GSC/Gads is all linked up correctly – ensuring that your tags/data streams are working with a plan to avoid any loss in data
  • Measure – Measuring the incrementality of peak will only be prevalent around 2-3 weeks after Black Friday – keep touchpoints on measurement and attribution throughout.

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