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Listen closely: There are only a few weeks of shopping until Christmas (assuming that you want your holiday shipments to be delivered on time!)

And that means now IS NOT the time to start trying to do things like setting up an affiliate program or optimizing your search engine rankings. There simply isn't enough time to roll out these big strategies before the holidays.

Instead, what many online businesses need right now are some quick and easy ways to get their sites ready for the holidays. I'm talking about tips and techniques that will take you only a few hours to implement and will dramatically boost your sales.

So, because the clock is ticking, I've put together a list of 10 tips that will help you get your site on track for the holidays, optimize sales and profits, and avoid the dreaded Holiday Hangover.

Quick Tip #1: Add A Benefit To Your Headline

If the headline at your web site isn't grabbing your visitors' attention as soon as they read it, you're losing sales. That's a fact. And nothing grabs visitors' attention like a compelling headline with a clear benefit. Here's a great example from our SecretsToTheirSuccess.com archive: John Bogs' site, MyBubbleBag.com, sells novelty bags and purses. For the longest time, the headline at his site read "Looking for love?"

That's not necessarily a bad headline, but it had nothing to do with his product.

One of the first suggestions we made was that he change his headline to:

"Steal the Spotlight with these Super-Huggable, Grape Bubble-Gum Scented Handbags & Backpacks in SIX Funky, High-Gloss Metallic Colors"

You'll notice that this headline clearly states the benefit of the product. You won't just get noticed with these handbags, you'll actually steal the spotlight. We also mentioned a couple of the product's best features (grape bubble-gum scented, funky colors) in the headline.

Note: A message placed at the top of your page that reads something like "Welcome to MySite.com" is NOT a headline. Your headline MUST emphasize a clear benefit of your product. If you don't have a headline at your site, make this your holiday gift to yourself!

Quick Tip #2: Feature Seasonal Specials In The First Fold Of Your Homepage

There is never a better time of year for special offers than around the holidays. Not only are people surfing around, actively looking for products to buy, they are also very receptive to discounts and specials. After all, everyone knows it's tough to find good deals at this time of year.

It's important that your special be featured on the first fold of your homepage. (The first fold is the first screen of your homepage that is visible without scrolling.) Remember, you want to make it EASY for your visitors to find and buy your products. The best way to do this is by making sure that every single visitor to your site sees your featured specials.

And be sure to choose a product for your seasonal special that is a proven best-seller. Now is NOT the time to be trying to unload products that you haven't been able to sell during the past 10 months. Feature products that have been generating solid profits for you all year long.

Quick Tip #3: Send Out A Holiday E-Mail Promotion

Remember: The clock is ticking! You really don't have time to go out and acquire a bunch of new traffic in time for the busy holiday rush. The good news is that you don't need to. If you have a list of customers and/or subscribers, you already have an incredibly powerful database of people who are just waiting to make purchases from you.

The reason they can't wait to buy from you? It's the 80/20 Rule: 80 percent of your sales will come from 20 percent of your customers. People who have already bought from you are much more likely than anyone else to buy from you again, because you've already earned their trust.

Whenever possible, you'll want to send out two different promotions--one to your existing customers and one to your subscribers. This allows you to approach each group from a slightly different angle. Here's what I mean:

Your existing customers, who have already bought from you, will want to be rewarded for their loyalty. What better way to thank them than by giving them a great deal on one of your most popular products? They'll appreciate the fact that your offer is being sent to them and them alone because we all like to feel special! If you sell a product that people need to buy only once, you can give your customers the opportunity to purchase your product as a gift. Remind them how your product has benefited them, and then explain why it would make a wonderful gift for their friends or family. Of course, if you sell a product that people don't commonly give as a gift (fax toner, for example), you'll need to take a slightly different approach. Try something like this: "We know money can be tight around the holidays, so we've decided to offer our customers a generous discount on fax toner until the beginning of the New Year!" Your subscribers should be sent a slightly different offer. Tell them that this is a special promotion being offered only to your newsletter subscribers. Again, you'll want to make sure that you're offering a special on one of your proven best-sellers.

This little touch of personalization can go a really long way. It's been proven over and over that people like to be offered deals that few others will see. By making your customers and subscribers feel special, you can dramatically increase the number of sales that your e-mail promotions generate.

Quick Tip #4: Consider Replacing Third-Party Ads

Take a moment and think about whether or not you are using the first fold of your web site effectively, especially if you're hosting advertising for other companies.

Figure out approximately how much money you'll receive from hosting third-party advertising over the holiday season. Include all revenue from any banners ads, skyscraper ads, text ads, etc., that are located within the first fold of your site.

Now, ask yourself if you could make more by replacing these third-party ads with ads for your OWN products. For many businesses, even one sale would be worth more money than their third-party ads generate for them in a whole month!

If it turns out that you could make more money advertising your own products in place of the paid advertising, drop those banner ads NOW and replace them with ads for your own products or services. This way, visitors who click on them will be taken to a product page somewhere on YOUR site, not someone else's!

Quick Tip #5: Win Your Holiday Purchase For FREE

Anyone who tracks how many of their orders are abandoned before completion knows how frustrating it can be to lose customers at the last minute. For whatever reason, some people get "cold feet" just before finalizing a purchase.

So here's a great way to compel people to go through with their order: Tell them that they might not have to pay for it. Set up a contest where one lucky winner will receive a full refund on their holiday purchase.

Make sure you advertise this contest prominently on your site, as it's a really powerful way to get people to buy. Even more important, you'll want to mention the contest on the page where customers COMPLETE their purchase. Right beside the "Buy Now" or "Confirm Order" button, you'll want to remind them that their name will automatically be entered into your "Free Christmas Shopping Draw." Then simply select a customer at random a couple of days before the end of the holiday season and inform them that you'll be issuing a full refund to their credit card.

Ask the lucky winner if you can post their name and comments on your site for a couple of weeks after the end of the draw, too. It will add credibility for all your other visitors to see that you followed through with your contest.

Quick Tip #6: Offer Fast, Flexible Shipping

According to a report from Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive, and Nielsen/NetRatings, customer satisfaction with online purchases was at about 86% for the 2001 holiday season. Now that's pretty good, but it still means that 14% of online shoppers weren't satisfied. And do you know what one of the biggest complaints was?

You guessed it: Late delivery. There's nothing that drives customers offline and out to the shopping mall faster than the idea that their kids' Christmas presents won't arrive until the 28th of December. If you use a major nationwide delivery service, such as UPS or FedEx, you'll want to feature this information prominently on your web site and ordering pages. People will feel much more comfortable ordering from a site that uses one of these services than one that ships through the mail.

Also, be sure to tell your customers that they MUST order by a certain date in order for you to guarantee delivery by Christmas. This will save you a lot of headaches when disgruntled customers call you on Christmas morning wondering why the products they ordered on the 23rd haven't arrived yet!

Quick Tip #7: Offer To Ship Gifts Directly To Recipients

If possible, offer to ship your customer's purchase directly to the gift recipient. This saves your customer the hassle of waiting to receive the package from you, and then sending it out to someone else. This is a great way to add value to your service without any additional cost to you.

If you do offer to ship gifts directly to the recipient, I guarantee that people will ask if you offer gift-wrapping. This is another way to give your customers a little extra attention without much additional cost to you.

You can also offer your customers the option of adding a holiday card to the package you send out. Simply ask them what they want written in the card, and then include it with the package. You can charge an additional fee for this or offer it as a free service.

Quick Tip #8: Offer Online Gift Certificates

Gift certificates can be an easy way to boost sales for sites selling products and services to niche markets. If you are selling a service online, gift certificates are a great way to turn your service into a gift. No matter what you're selling--it could be spa packages or landscape design--I can guarantee that your service would make the perfect gift for somebody out there. Plus, you can remind your customers and subscribers that, since gift certificates can be delivered electronically, they make great last-minute gifts.

Quick Tip #9: Explain Why Your Product (Or Service) Would Make A Great Gift

At this time of year especially, it's important to remind people why your product would make a great gift. Of course, sites selling products like neckties or Christmas ornaments won't need to worry about this as much, but what if your site is selling something like office supplies?

Write a quick article about why your product or service would make a practical or unusual gift. You might want to tell a story about how people who received your services as a gift last year couldn't stop talking about how unique it was!

You may also want to consider putting together a quick "Holiday Buying Guide" for your visitors. This is a great resource for people who visit your site to buy a gift for someone but don't know much about the products you sell.

For example, if your site sold wetsuits, you could offer some information about how to choose the right wetsuit as a gift. That way, people who know nothing about them wouldn't end up buying a water-skiing wetsuit for someone who needed one for Scuba diving.

Quick Tip #10: Offer A "Book Now and Save" Promotion

One of the biggest problems encountered by some online businesses is that they suffer from what I call a "Holiday Hangover." Not only does business fall off in the month BEFORE the holidays, it also suffers during the month AFTER, when people don't have any money left.

Because of this, it can be a real challenge for some businesses to get revenues back on track in the New Year. One of the best ways to deal with this is to motivate your customers to purchase your product or service now for the New Year in exchange for a discounted price or value-added bonus. You'll be able to rest a lot easier over the holidays if you know that you've managed to line up a ton of business for January.

Final Thoughts:

The holiday season is a make-or-break time of year for many online businesses. And just because you haven't found the time to set up a comprehensive holiday marketing strategy doesn't mean that you can't turn a great profit over the next couple of months. And remember to keep using what works in the New Year. Sure, the holiday season may be over, but it's just a matter of putting a new slant on those promotions that worked. If you find that the "Win Your Christmas Purchase" contest causes a significant decrease in the number of abandoned orders, you'll definitely want to think about making the draw a monthly occasion.

If the value of the prize is less than the increased profit from all those completed orders, it's the perfect win-win situation!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Corey Rudl is president and founder of Internet Marketing Center www.MarketingTips.com, and is the author of Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet.