It's Christmas!

Well, not quite, but if your online business is going to take advantage of the seasonal boom, now is the time to start work on your festive side.

This article is considered outdated and remains available for archive purposes only.

It wasn't so very long ago that web designers really didn't know a whole lot about search engines. We knew they were there and how to use them, but the vast majority of us did not have the slightest clue how the results were ordered, and our entire optimization strategy was to write mammoth meta tags into our pages and submit to every engine or directory we could find.

Things have come along a lot since then. Now, an entire industry has formed with the aim being little more than to make a site appear in listings for which it is relevant. (That that is the same aim as the search engines have seems to escape most SEOs). SEO is getting easier, which means it's time to start looking at a new range of challenges.

I am a firm believer that all businesses are seasonal, to a degree. Ice cream retailers, for example, do much better in summer, in the same way that a shop selling overcoats does better in winter. I think this applies to much more than the obvious businesses though, and especially to those on the web.

Which brings me, in a roundabout, rambling way to Christmas.

Before you shout at me, I am aware it is, in fact, still September and that I run the risk of a beating at the hands of people (like me) who think that there are too many people who think it is a good thing to have their decorations up while most of us are still clearing away our wrapping paper. I am not suggesting we start plastering our sites with baubles and tinsel just yet, but bearing in mind search engine strategies take a few months to actually achieve anything, starting to work on your positioning for Christmas-oriented keywords in November would be a fruitless task.

The question, then, is this: How do you optimize a site for Christmas-related searches in September without covering it in gaudy images and replacing carefully-written front page text with season's greetings? You don't want to change your site to grab new customers if it means losing the positioning you've achieved or putting off potential customers. Fortunately, there are options, and now is the time to start working on your Christmas sales.

The first problem is getting a Christmas area put together. I personally prefer seperating out my seasonal content into its own area, with a selection of special offers and wrapping options. I usually make a big issue of ensuring that people feel comfortable knowing that when they pre-order, their deliveries will arrive on time (and usually encourage companies to allow a good week more than they could need and get the gifts to the customer early - nothing is quite as good for business as good will), and only ever offer products that are in stock (it might sound obvious, but many companies allow customers to buy products assuming that their stock will arrive when due - and that rarely happens).

It is very easy to get carried away with the design, and go overboard with everything shiny. However, if you are starting early in the year, sticking to the same theme as you have through your site may be wise. Most customers searching for early gifts are just getting it out of the way early. Just because they are in a Christmas section of a site does not mean, in any way, that they are actually in the festive spirit. They may be the complete opposite, and Christmas decorations may well put them off.

The next issue is how to link it into your site. On the one hand, links from every page do wonders for internal linking, pushing the pages of your site you'd prefer your users to land on ahead of the others. On the other hand, a link on every page to your Christmas section can look bad (especially if it's an image) and at worst obtrusive. One tactic that can work well becomes very obvious when you realise that a great many people are doing their Christmas shopping now, or likely to start soon. A simple, subtle text link on every page asking "Early Christmas shopping?" fills this gap quite nicely. It is subtle enough that users will not see it as Christmas come too early, and it is succinct enough to attract those actually doing early Christmas shopping. It also has two of the keywords you are likely to want to make use of.

And there we have it. Christmas come early, but without the violent colours. Nearer the time, of course, I'd hope you cover every available piece of space in tacky pictures, blinding colours and best wishes, but for now your site should be a homage to tastefulness, at the same time putting you in a good position to take a decent cut of the Christmas cake.