Back-to-school ad spend reached nearly $102 billion last year. With the challenges of the pandemic winding down, 2021 is delivering a huge opportunity for brands to cash in on this seasonal gold mine. A thorough omnichannel strategy is the key to unlocking your success in a post-pandemic world, ranking higher on Google and Amazon, and accelerating revenue growth this back-to-school shopping season?

Read on to uncover insights and strategies for social media, programmatic, organic and paid advertising, website optimization, and more for profitable back-to-school success.

Omnichannel Tips for Back-to-School Audience Targeting

As with any seasonal period, it pays to get in front of new back-to-school shoppers early. Plan to scale your prospecting budget about a month in advance of when you expect your customers to buy. Then, scale remarketing 2-3 weeks before.

Use custom ad copy that speaks directly to your shopper for Sponsored Brands and Sponsored Display. Teachers, students, and parents are all key audiences for the back-to-school shopping season, but they all have different motivations and purchase behaviors. Having a firm understanding of your brand’s target audience and keeping it in mind this time of year will be crucial.

If your product is oriented toward young children, choose a message that resonates with parents and teachers since they’ll be the ones scrolling through social media. If your product is more suited for teenagers, target them separately from their parents with separate social messaging.

Don’t count out the influence kids have on their parents! 74% of parents say their children have a moderate to high influence on what they spend on back-to-school items.

Having clarity around your brand’s target audience is crucial to programmatic advertising success. If you want to reach parents whose students are returning to school, you might focus your programmatic efforts on millennials who live within a certain radius of elementary schools. If your brand focuses on online education, you probably won’t care as much about geographic targets as you would about age range and interest in education. Understanding your customer is integral to programmatic’s effectiveness, and developing personas to represent your ideal customer can be helpful.

For your paid search advertising campaigns, Google’s seasonal shopping in-market audiences can help you observe back-to-school shoppers across your brand’s campaigns. Add positive bid modifiers to bid even more aggressively on users who are shopping before the school year begins.

Another way to effectively reach shoppers through your paid ads is to create a custom intent audience based on people who browse back-to-school shopping list websites and target this audience on the Google Display Network.

For your product feeds, consider adding relevant back-to-school terms to applicable items. Appending the word “school” to the product titles in your product feed is also a good way to attract more customers.

Key insight: The terminology used in the [title] and [description] attribute is valued the most by Google when matching customer searches!

Your promotions should also highlight the urgency of back-to-school shopping. Let customers know when sales are ending and when they need to order their items in order to receive them in time for school. Just be careful with this messaging, as pushing it too hard can make customers turn away. And be sure to schedule end dates or pauses for any campaigns that specifically call out back-to-school once the period has ended.

Also keep in mind that in the wake of COVID-19, at-home learning and after-school activities have completely transformed. Utilize keyword research so that your campaigns encompass all educational experiences.

Optimizing Your Website for Back-to-School

Having a website or app optimized for the back-to-school shopping season could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back to supercharge your year-over-year back-to-school growth.

Make sure you have a back-to-school landing page and create ad extensions that point users to this page as part of your campaign. Your brand’s back-to-school campaign should also include adjusting budgets for key time periods during the back-to-school season and using back-to-school language in your ad copy and creative.

On Amazon, create temporary custom Amazon Brand Store pages and schedule them in advance with back-to-school products. Use relevant images that include back-to-school related subjects. You’ll also want to be sure to update landing page banners and other content slots to feature images related to the current campaign.

In order to maintain the SEO value of your seasonal back-to-school pages and keep them ranking for relevant keywords, you can follow this process:

1. Remove the seasonal page from the main navigation when it is no longer in season.

2. Set the out-of-season back-to-school page to return a 200-status code.

3. Update the text on the page to say something to let shoppers know your back-to-school collection is no longer available and link to a page with a collection of more year-round products. (Watch out! Do not use language like “out of stock,” “discontinued,” or “no longer available” to avoid having the page flagged as a soft 404.)

You’ll also want to avoid creating new URLs for your back-to-school category pages each year. This can create duplicate content and dilute your brand’s ability to rank for keywords related to back-to-school. Instead, reuse the same URL each year and update that page with the current year’s products.

Back-to-school category pages can only provide so many insights when they are seasonal and exist on your website for just a handful of months. To glean more insights to drive your strategy this year, look back at the pages that drove high organic traffic and revenue during this time in previous years. Make sure they’re updated with meta descriptions that feature a clear call to action and on-page copy that includes relevant keywords.

Don’t Forget About Shipping

When planning your social media budget and ad schedule, make sure to consider time for shipping and delivery to ensure customers get their purchases before the first day of school.

With the rise of Amazon and expedited shipping, free shipping has become more of an expectation than a perk for customers. In fact, 90% of consumers would shop online more often if given a free shipping option, and nearly 60% of shoppers expect free shipping even on purchases under $30.

If you can, consider setting a threshold on your site for free shipping. There are other items you can set a threshold for if regular shipping is already free, such as a free add-on product or free expedited shipping.

Remarketing to Back-to-School Shoppers

Even though the back-to-school shopping season is a relatively short one, retargeting strategies can still be used to help convert more of your customers. To both help shoppers get the items they need and increase your average order value (AOV), try these strategies:

  • Prominently display recommended or “also purchased” products throughout the funnel. You can also cross-sell products that are used together in the classroom (e.g. whiteboards & dry erase markers or binders & page dividers).
  • Show back-to-school items that are commonly purchased together both after a shopper adds an item to the cart and when the shopper is in the cart.
  • Use DSP retargeting during the deal windows, with dynamic ecommerce ads for smaller product catalogs and custom images directing to your back-to-school store subpage for larger catalogs.

Product Feeds Tips for Back-to-School

Your product feeds are crucial for a foundational aspect of ecommerce selling: providing accurate information to your customers. Product feeds are data files that include specific product data used to power Shopping ads, along with categorical data about your product listing, such as the product title, product price, image URLs, coupon codes, and many more customizable attributes.

This data file contains all the necessary information you need to used to segment product groups in Shopping campaigns. As you would during any seasonal time, make sure your Merchant Promotions are planned and set up in both the Google and Microsoft Merchant Centers in advance. If the promotions apply only to a specific segment of products, make sure to accurately pass the [promotion_id] attribute in the product feed.

You’ll also need to make sure your [availability] and [price]/[sale_price] attribute information is as accurate as possible. You don’t want to waste advertising dollars on items that may not be available or lead to a poor customer experience!

Your product feeds can even empower you to take advantage of each state’s Tax Free Weekend periods (where applicable). Just be sure to diligently update and monitor your tax settings in the Google Merchant Center.