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Paid Search Holiday Budget Planning

It’s September, which means that retail paid search teams across the country have started crafting their holiday strategy to break last year’s records. There are endless options for planning a successful holiday season, and I’ve outlined three tactics for mapping out a budgeting strategy so that the lights can stay on (efficiently) all season.

Budget Calendar

An excellent way to organize holiday spending is creating a daily budget calendar. This allows you to track and analyze spend pacing vs. planned spend pacing. If executed properly, you’ll know immediately how much to increase/decrease budgets to stick to your monthly pace. During the holidays, it’s not critical to compare spend pacing vs. days to month, but it is important to allocate a specific daily plan given drastic fluctuation in holiday traffic.

Budgeting calendar for a paid search campaign
Budgeting calendar for a paid search campaign

Within this budget calendar, I recommend adding historical data for daily spend and revenue from the prior year so you can efficiently allocate this year’s budget. In doing so, you can quickly analyze Cyber Monday 2014 vs. 2013 to quickly understand how performance changes YoY. Tracking last year’s performance on a daily basis provides key metrics that can be easily formatted into a chart and shared with your client for a high-level YoY snapshot.

Account for Branded Growth and Other Trends

As is common with most advertisers, branded queries (not to mention CPCs) increase YoY. You’ll likely plan on brand-only days around December 24th and 25th, and it’s important to not cap those budgets.

To ensure full branded coverage, analyze data from the year prior to establish a baseline. Then, pull monthly branded data from January to the current month to determine a monthly branded lift. Apply the increase to what the brand historically spent the year prior.

Another growing trend that I’ve noticed YoY is the increase in traffic on days such as Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Eve. While most advertisers start ramping up spend on Black Friday, consider allocating more dollars on the days leading up to Black Friday, knowing that you can move remaining dollars from November into December (if client-approved, of course).

Budget Automation

While it’s important to monitor the numbers with your own eyes, there are also time-saving tools available to help you make spend adjustments. The Google AdWords interface contains an infinite number of automation possibilities that will adjust budgets across campaigns specified by you.


Consider setting automated rules to increase budgets across top-performing campaigns. An excellent feature is that rules only run when the campaign meets specific criterion. For example, set an automated rule to increase budgets by 15% when conversion rate is greater than 2.0%, or when cost per conversion meets your standards. In addition to setting automated rule requirements, be certain that rules don’t lead to overage in daily planned spend; AdWords provides the option to set a maximum daily budget.

While managing a retail account during the holidays certainly has a stress factor, by first planning a budget strategy, you are setting a solid foundation for an organized and strong season. 

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