12 Tips to Get Your Web Site Prepped for the Holidays

The holiday preparations are already underway: sidewalks are being swept, doorways are being fitted with wreathes, and seasonal employees are dotting the retail floors with ear-to-ear smiles. Whether you are a retailer, not-for-profit, Fortune 500 company or beyond, similar preparations are needed at your Web site.

To get you started, here are 12 tips and techniques to add some flourish to your Web site this holiday season and ho-ho-hopefully garner happy visitors in the long run.

1. Spread the Cheer
The holiday season is the perfect time to spread a little good cheer to all your visitors and thank them for their loyalty, membership, patronage, etc. Whatever your message, place it in an up-front location for better visibility, such at the top portion of your homepage. It will add a warmer, more personalized touch to your Web site and likely make visitors feel more comfortable doing business with you.

2. Post Special Hours
Make sure to post special holiday hours or office closings on your Web site. Like in the physical world, there is nothing more off putting than tugging the door of a business you frequently patronize to find that it is closed on a day that it is normally open. Sudden, unexpected unavailability of customer service or sales personnel could frustrate customers and potentially cost you their business.

3. Offer Holiday Promotions
Whether it is a 2-for-1 special on hub caps or a discount on an annual membership, there is no better time of the year to show your holiday spirit by offering a seasonal promotion. Why? First, Internet traffic during the 4th quarter is at its most fervent. Thus, with more people on the Web, you have more plentiful chances to attract new customers. Second, a promotion can pull visitors away from competition who may offer the same product but without a promotion. Most research has shown that promotions are very persuasive in converting browsers into buyers.

4. Decorate Homepage with a Compelling Headline
Your visitors will be very busy during the holiday season and most of them will be doing plenty of site hopping. Help capture their attention with a compelling homepage headline. If you are a not-for-profit that efforts to preserve the environment, replace "Welcome to our Web site" with "Since 1953, your support has helped save nearly 500,000 trees", or something to this effect. Be clear about what the benefit of your company or organization is from the homepage. Otherwise, visitors may abandon your site for a competitor who product benefit (or service mission, for that matter) is more clearly defined.

5. Send E-mail to Current Customers
There isn’t time at this stage in the season to embark upon a full-fledged Web site marketing campaign, but you can use the customers you have already acquired for targeted email messages. If you already have a database of customer e-mail addresses, use them! E-mail is one of the most cost-effective ways to keep in touch with customers and build their loyalty. Furthermore, most Web users will open mail from vendors they have done business with previously.

And finally, remember this oft-uttered sales department maxim: 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.

6. Online Gift Certificates
If you sell gift certificates through your Web site, be certain to let everyone know about it, especially during the gift-giving months of October-December! Gift certificates are, after all, the last-minute shopper's go-to gift. You may also want to consider a shipping discount for all gift-certificate buyers. 11th-hour shoppers will be thrilled knowing that procrastination will not affect the timeliness of their gift.

7. Conjure Up Online Contests
One way to snare visitors from a competitor’s site is to offer an online contest where visitors can win prizes or discounts on goods and services. Why? Because consumers are more likely to make a purchase if a contest is used as bait. If you are a specialty cleaning service, consider offering a contest for free housecleaning for a year, or a similar promotion. Then, when the contest is over, ask the winner if he/she would be willing to put a quote on your homepage.

8. They Like You, They Really Like You….So Advertise It!
Speaking of testimonials, if you have customers who are raving fans of your services and/or products, let visitors know about it! This is, after all, an opinion-influenced society. Several Americaneagle.com clients, including Apollo Security (www.apollosecurity.com), Everclean Services (www.evercleanservices.com), and MyBrainTrainer.com (www.mybraintrainer.com), have effectively used testimonials as an advertising tool.

9. Prepare Your Online Store
Enough emphasis cannot be placed on the importance of preparation. Test all e-commerce systems to make sure that all pages are working properly and inventory has been uploaded to the corresponding product categories.

Most businesses, whether brick and mortar or virtual, rely on holiday-season income to see them through the lean months. A bit of time spent now to make sure your online ordering processes are in tip-top shape will be extremely beneficial to both your customers and your business as a whole.

10. Prepare Your Customer Service Department
The holiday season is an ideal time of the year to show off customer-service finesse through your Web site. To begin, gather associates and remind them of the traffic boost and how it will affect their workflow. Then, make sure your online customer service tools are all working properly, including online forms (do a test run yourself, if need be). Also, is it easy for visitors to access your contact information?

If you can "wow" new visitors during the holiday rush, you have a good chance of converting them into repeat customers.

11. Ship Quick, Ship Anywhere
Turn on any local news station the waning days before the holiday season and undoubtedly, you will find these three things: a news anchor, a mall, and a sea of humanity swelling aisles, parking lots, and kiosks in a frantic frenzy to buy the perfect last-minute gift. Remember: These same shoppers will be coming to your Web site to find gifts with the same pressed-for-time urgency. Make your shipping policy easily accessible and post special holiday shipping rates prominently. The benefit to offering guaranteed shipping for your 11th hour shoppers could be a healthy boost in sales.

12. Promote Your Site
As a Web developer, we are compelled to remind you that Web site promotion is an integral part of online success. Therefore, as you spread the cheer this season, spread the word about your Web site, too.

Finally… With only about 7 weeks of holiday traffic remaining, there is little time to implement a major Web site overhaul. However, incorporating a few- or all- of the aforementioned suggestions can go a long way towards preparing you for 2003's projected record-breaking rush. And the good news is that many of the tips will only require a few hours or less of your time.