From Black Friday to Christmas, the busy Q4 shopping season represents the highest sales volume period of the year for most businesses — and especially for ecommerce as consumers increasingly shift from crowded store aisles to the convenience of online shopping.
Making the most out of this opportunity requires careful planning for digital marketers, and that means adopting a Bing Shopping Strategy to capitalize on the billions of monthly searches that take place on Microsoft’s search and shopping engine.
At CPC Strategy, we work daily to drive performance marketing for retail brands using Bing Search and Shopping and are a proud Bing Elite Agency Partner.
Here’s a look at some Bing Ads best practices to set your business and clients up for success during the coming quarter with some expert insight from Josh Brisco, our Senior Manager for Bing Advertising Operations.
Marketers seeking to make the most of their Q4 initiatives will want to adopt a strategy that includes Bing Shopping campaigns, which have proven to drive performance for many of our clients.
-Josh Brisco, Senior Retail Search Manager & Bing Evangelist at CPC Strategy
Before getting into more technical best practices, let’s look at some of the basic foundations for a successful Q4 marketing campaign.
1. Reflect On Your Past Performance
To best position yourself for success this year, it’s important to reflect on your performance for Q3 and what lessons you learned from last year’s Q4.
Ask yourself the following:
- What were my top performing categories, SKUs, and terms — both for Bing and sitewide?
- Which SKUs, brands, categories, and terms saw the largest QoQ growth?
A recap of this year (and last year’s) performance should help inform your decisions to clarify and set attainable goals for Q4.
2. Build Out Your Promotional Calendars Early
With a crowded holiday schedule, it’s important to map the promotions you plan to run on your accounts ahead of time with a promotional calendar.
A detailed promotional calendar should help organize which products are being promoted and during which days.
You may also want to use this to map out your social content calendar to coordinate these promotions across social channels as well.
Don’t forget to account for the following holidays in your promotion schedule:
- Thanksgiving, Nov 22
- Black Friday, Nov 23
- Small Business Saturday, Nov 24
- Cyber Monday, Nov 26
- Green Monday, Dec 10
- Super Saturday, Dec 22
- Christmas, Dec 25
3. Optimize Your Product Feeds & Get Your Ads Approved
Make sure your product feeds are in good health before heading into the busy quarter.
This means using custom labels for SKU segmentation, uploading your promotions and marking free shipping SKUs to Bing Merchant Center, testing different titles and descriptions for holiday-specific messaging, and filling out additional product attributes to provide as much data as possible.
“It’s fine to send over your product feed from Google, but there is an additional opportunity to optimize your product feed for Bing as they prioritize data differently,” explains Brisco.
“Bing places strong emphasis on the start of the product title as it is more heavily indexed. You should also ensure that you are providing GTIN, Brand, UPCs and MPNs to improve the exposure and searchability of your products on the Shopping tab.”
It’s also important to note that newer feeds typically have longer processing times, so it’s a best practice to get them loaded earlier rather than later. It’s also advised to have your ads uploaded early as well so that you aren’t rushing for approval.
Bing Shopping Campaigns Best Practices
Optimizing your campaigns is an important part of prepping for the upcoming shopping season.
You’ll want to pay special attention to dayparting to schedule your ads for the most valuable traffic periods.
It’s also a best practice to incorporate data from your Product Dimension, Product Partition, and Search Term reports to optimize your campaigns further.
Build out your holiday-specific campaigns at least two weeks in advance, starting with low-priority until the day of and then transitioning to high priority on the actual holiday.
Promotions and Extensions
Strategic use of promotions and product extensions can help drive the visibility and performance of your Bing Shopping ads.
Merchant Promotions are particularly useful for the Q4 shopping season, enabling you to promote your product offers to improve your value proposition and edge out the holiday competition.
Bing Image Extensions for text ads is another powerful feature that can make your products stand out amongst the crowd.
“We like to use Image Extensions — they’re a feature unique to Bing and improve the visibility of your ad which can help drive traffic and differentiate yourself from competitors,” explains Brisco.
Product Ads, Dynamic Search Ads, and Audience Targeting
Bing offers an array new and improved audience targeting capabilities and ad units for digital advertisers to leverage this year. Here’s a look at some of the features we will implement for the upcoming shopping season for our retail clients at CPC Strategy.
First and foremost, Bing’s Product Ads are the staple of the Bing Shopping platform.
These ads enable you to include compelling product images as well as product extensions (such as Merchant Promotions) that are effective, especially when consumers are comparison shopping for the holidays.
Dynamic Search Ads
While Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs) are not a part of the Bing Shopping platform, they should be a part of your overall Q4 push for more exposure and traffic.
You want to make sure that customers searching relevant keywords on the Bing Network can discover your brand and products, which is exactly what DSAs offer by using machine learning to target search queries relevant to your content automatically.
“DSAs are an excellent ad unit for supporting upper funnel initiatives on the text side,” says Brisco.
You can afford to go higher funnel in Q4 because the purchase cycles are shorter and the conversion rates are higher. It’s a great opportunity to explore and expand your upper funnel initiatives with dynamic search ads, ISO shopping campaigns, and others.
Bing’s In-market audiences rolled out earlier this year, enabling advertisers the ability to target over 200 different audiences that are determined to be in-market for a particular product category.
Adding in this targeting for high-intent shoppers is key for driving conversions for your Bing Shopping campaigns.
“Bing’s in-market audiences are effective and unique in that they can be leveraged for both Search and Shopping,” says Brisco.
“You’ll find that some in-market audiences that might not be as intuitive as top performers actually perform very well. Make sure to use the bid-only setting.”
Layering In Remarketing
Targeting people that have previously been to your site, past purchasers, or audiences that have interacted with your business in one form or another is a powerful opportunity for driving lower funnel conversions and repeat purchases.
These are your most valuable audiences, and you’ll want to engage them using Bing’s remarketing lists.
Once you’ve created your remarketing lists, you’ll want to make sure you associate these audiences to your campaigns and adjust your bids accordingly.
“For Q4, you may want to use longer-term audiences that you may not typically use,” says Brisco.
“This means layering in site visitors that visited as far back as 360 days, in addition to your best-performing audiences like past-purchasers.”
Another best practice for supporting your Bing remarketing initiatives is to be sure that you are making full use of the Universal Event Tracking (UET) tag for tracking conversions and actions completed on your website.
Make sure you have your UET across the entire site because the conversion pixel doubles as a remarketing pixel.
Budgets and Bidding
The Q4 shopping season is the most competitive; expect increased traffic, higher CPCs, and higher conversion rates.
Increase Your Bids and Budgets
To cover the increased costs brought on by more competition, you’ll need to increase your budgets during Q4 so that you can afford to bid higher to ensure your ads display during peak performance times.
You’ll want to ramp up your bids on the days leading up to a major holiday so that you can capture audiences early on as they are exploring and comparison shopping, with even higher bid modifiers on the actual holidays.
“Ensure that you are inflating your bids on the bigger shopping holidays because the competition is going to increase as conversion rates go higher,” says Brisco.
It’s important to stay competitive this time of year with higher bids. Don’t leave money on the table.
Bid up on your “warm audiences,” or your remarketing lists. They’re more likely to click, spend time on your website, and convert — so make sure you have increased bid modifiers for these high intent shoppers.
Brisco notes that although it’s a best practice to bid more aggressively on your lower funnel audiences, you’ll also want to place additional emphasis at the top of the funnel.
Make Use of Automated Bidding
Automated bidding strategies can also be useful when managing many campaigns at the same time, so make use of them. However, Brisco cautions that you should test your automated bidding strategies before implementing them for Q4.
“Automated bidding strategies can also be useful for Q4,” says Brisco. “It’s best to test them out now before your promotions actually run so that you can verify they are working as intended.”
Ramp Down Bidding After Final Ship Dates
Unless you have an omnichannel presence where your products can be purchased in-store, you’ll want to ramp down your bidding modifiers after your final ship date.
On the day just before Christmas, for example, most people can no longer receive their shipments in time, so they are essentially browsing for what to purchase in-store. Lower your bids during this period to avoid wasted ad spend.
“Post final shipping date, or the days after your final shipping cutoff, you want to begin ramping down your bids,” explains Brisco. “Most people will be using online channels for exploring but will actually complete a purchase in-store.”
Ramp Up Bidding Post-Christmas to New Year’s
The Q4 shopping season doesn’t end after Christmas. There is a significant trend in traffic that takes place between Christmas day and New Year’s.
During this time, consumers search for accessories for gifts received, browse end of year sales, and spend their gift cards and holiday money online.
You can capitalize on this week of increased traffic and sales by ramping up your bids and budgets again between Christmas and New Year’s.
Q4 Bidding Optimization Best Practices Checklist
- Traffic will spike in Q4, especially in November & December.
- In addition to traffic, average CPCs will spike as competition increases.
- To capitalize on increased demand, you need to increase your budgets to cover increased costs.
- Expect clicks, spend & average CPC’s to increase 20-50%+ vs. Q3.
- Higher frequency – make bid adjustments daily/multiple times a day.
- Review search terms more frequently. Do live Bing searches to ensure you’re still showing for your top terms. Add negatives for irrelevant terms.
- Review ad scheduling. Shoppers are often doing their searches late nights and early mornings during cyber week.
- Increase daily budgets & monitor closely. Unless working with a strict budget, play it safe and increase aggressively.
- Increase budgets again prior to Black Friday / Cyber Monday.
- Ramp down your bids after final shipping dates to avoid wasting ad spend.
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