With holiday shoppers continuing to purchase gifts earlier and earlier every year, if you’re an e-commerce brand, you must start planning your holiday advertising spend months in advance.

In a survey we conducted last year, almost a quarter of brands told us that they begin planning their holiday advertising between January and June. A full 54% have their planning rolling no later than August.

Like these early birds, wouldn’t you want to go into the craziness of the holiday shopping season with a set plan and guide to ensure you succeed?

It makes sense to begin the process of planning your holiday advertising budget now.

Starting now gives you time to test, analyze, and incorporate your learnings and data so that your holiday advertising is as successful as possible.

Not to mention the highly competitive Q4 basically requires you to scale your ad spend with the marketplace primed with buyers. Since you’re going to be investing more money, don’t you want to make sure you’re spending it as effectively as possible?

I thought so. That’s why we’ve put together a guide on how to prepare, test, and budget so that your 2017 holiday season brings in your highest ROAS yet.


Let’s start this discussion by dispelling the idea that scaling spend in Q4 is scary. You may be thinking, “Why would I WANT to scale my advertising? Doesn’t that mean spending more money?”

If we’re going off of semantics, then yes, scaling does mean you’ll spend more money. But scaling during the holidays is the way to drive real, profitable growth and expand your customer base that perpetuates throughout the other 10 months of the year.

Plus, scaling for the holidays is a necessity due to the massive amounts of competition that enter the marketplace. And unless you’re willing to risk throwing away money, you’ll want to make sure you’re scaling strategically. This will ensure that you can continue meeting your KPIs while also driving growth and increasing your bottom line.

That’s why we’re here to lay out a four step strategy on how to test and budget so that you can scale effectively during the holiday season.


(1) Start With A Plan

While that date may sound far off, it will be here before you know it.

Planning now gives you enough time to test everything from creative, to value props, to audiences, so that you can enter the holiday season with a brilliant plan of attack, armed with statistical significance and proper vetting of best practices.

No matter your brand, you need a personalized plan which lays out your holiday season strategy. To create this plan, you’ll need to start by answering the following questions:

  • What are your best channels?
  • What is your best creative?
  • What are your audiences?
  • Where are your audiences?
    • Desktop?
    • Mobile?
    • Both?

Finding and understanding this information, as well as looking back at your past successes (and failures) will give you a roadmap of what worked, what didn’t, and what you may want to try and test to see if youcan do even better with it.

In addition to planning out the the who (audiences), what (ad types & creative), and where (channel) of your testing, you also need to break down the exact format of the tests you’ll perform. Mike Zappulla, another Director of Ad Optimization, suggests a week by week plan that covers (at minimum) four to six weeks worth of testing.

You’ll want to decide for the first week, you’ll be testing X, Y, and Z, and for the second week, you’ll test Z1, Z2, and Z3, and so on.

(2) Test, Test, and Test Again

Now that you’ve got the outline of what your plan should contain, you need to focus on the types of testing that you plan on doing.

Because as nice as it would be to have zero competition for your ads during the holidays, we all know that’s never going to happen. The best offense for that kind of battle is a strong defense (i.e. knowing from testing what works).

We can’t reiterate this enough, but you absolutely must test what works best before the holiday season begins.

Costs will increase along with competition during the holidays and Q4. If you wait until then to test items such as your value propositions, you’ll run the risk of spending much more than you have to just to find out if something works.

Finding out which value propositions drive the most conversions and from which audiences as well as which creative means you’ll spend more efficiently when the holiday season hits and costs increase along with competition.

While it takes planning and preparation, by staying on top of testing and costs earlier in the game, you’ll arrive at the big dance better prepared to spend more effectively than your competitors.

(3) Don’t Be A Usain Bolt in a Marathon World

Trying to be a Usain Bolt when you’re competing in a marathon won’t put you on the road to success. Obviously, Bolt’s ability to power up and sprint is crucial when you’re running 100m, but if you’re running 26.2 miles, you want to keep an even pace throughout or you will burn out.

The same theory applies to when you have to budget your ad spend as you test and plan for scaling in Q4.

Moving methodically is the only way you can learn where your most efficient ad spend is located. This pace allows you to find new audiences, test new iterations of creative, and drive incremental sales while keeping your CPA/ROI in check.

If you decide to pull a Bolt and try to sprint, you can end up completely overshooting your CPA and blowing through your budget in a single day.

As you plan to test, you’ll also want to be sure you have a set of controls (audiences, creative, etc) so that you can analyze your results accurately.

It’s best to test a new audience or new creative against a consistently winning ad or an audience that you’ve already had. If the results of your test show that something isn’t working, you’ll know it’s whatever you’re trying that’s at fault.

For example, say you test an audience of females 18-24 and you plan on using your tried and true video that always succeeds in earning conversions. Yet after showing this audience segment the awesome video, the data comes back that the campaign’s conversions were down 65% overall.

Since you know that your creative is strong (i.e. the “control” in this experiment), you’ll know here that it’s the audience and not the creative that’s at fault.

It takes these types of measured tests to pave the road towards budgeting for your holiday ad spend.

(4) Keep Calm & Carry On When It Comes To CPCs

Finally, as you prepare for Q4, don’t do what many brands do and remain hyper-focused on your CPCs when the holidays hit.

Remember that during the holiday season you’ll have more competition and it will be aggressive – this almost always equals increased CPCs.

If you’ve followed the steps we’ve laid out so far, your conversion rate should also increase.

So even if your CPCs increase by 25%, if your conversion rate increases 55%, then your CPA should align as expected.


Even though we haven’t hit the official start of summer, there’s no time like the present to begin planning your advertising budgets for Q4 and the holiday season.

By starting early, you’re able to sustainably and thoroughly test your creative, copy, value propositions, and product offerings. Analyzing this information will lay the groundwork so that your budget in Q4 is narrowly tailored to areas you know will be successful.

Taking the time to prepare and plan so you can enter the insanity of the holiday season knowledgeable will help to make sure that your Q4 of 2017 brings in your highest ROAS yet.