Holiday Season Strategy for Publishers

Brock Munro
September 26, 2023
March 20, 2024
Holiday Season Strategy for Publishers

The holiday season—renowned for its festive spirit, family gatherings, and lavish feasts—is more than just a time of celebration. For publishers and advertisers, the holiday shopping season is a golden opportunity that can make or break their annual revenue goals.

With the eCommerce sector enjoying surging seasonal sales, it’s unsurprising that advertising metrics also see a sizable jump. Beyond the tangible celebrations, there's an underlying current of preparation, planning, and purchasing that starts well before the holidays. 

By the time December rolls around, the average consumer has been browsing, researching, and purchasing for weeks, if not months. For publishers, this extended window represents an opportunity to extend their reach beyond Christmas and New Year and maximize the value of their programmatic display ads.

Publift’s own data for 2022 show that effective cost per mille (eCPM) rates in November jumped by 27% from a relatively dormant July. And the momentum didn't stop there. The week leading up to the retail frenzy that is Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw eCPMs surge nearly 40% higher than July’s weekly average.

These figures underscore the profound impact that seasonality has on advertising metrics.

Why Should This Matter to Publishers?

Every uptick in eCPMs and every percentage growth represents heightened engagement, greater advertiser interest, and improved ad revenue potential.

The season is a strategic period for publishers to recalibrate, refine, and reap benefits from savvy holiday campaigns. This is even more apparent when considering that eCPMs from October to December 2022 were 13% higher than those from July to September. 

Yet, simply being aware of these shifts isn't enough. Success requires a comprehensive strategy, which itself demands understanding changes within the content landscape, the nuances of consumer interests, and the art of blending advertising with affiliate revenue streams.

As we peel back the layers of this season, several strategic avenues emerge. The task at hand isn’t just to navigate these avenues but to master them. From reoptimizing high-traffic content to curating seasonal articles, every piece of content is a cog in the larger seasonal publishing machine.

Join us as we dive deep into these strategies in the following sections, offering publishers a roadmap to thrive during the holiday season.

Content Strategy Blueprint for the Holidays

As the holidays approach, publishers can't afford to sit back and hope for a wave of seasonal traffic to land on their site. If they do, they run the very real risk of losing out to competitors that have spent time developing a holiday marketing campaign.

Publishers need a blend of creativity and data-driven insights if they’re to cultivate a content plan that taps into audience engagement and monetization.

Reoptimize High-Traffic Content

In the archives of a publisher's content repository lies a goldmine of holiday marketing ideas

waiting to be rediscovered. Existing high-performing articles, often brimming with valuable insights and information, can be the linchpin for attracting a surge in holiday traffic.

But why is revisiting old content crucial?

  • Evergreen relevance: Some topics are perennially relevant. By updating them to mirror contemporary trends, publishers can ensure these articles remain pertinent and continue to pull in traffic.
  • SEO advancements: Search algorithms aren’t static. What ranked a year ago might slide down the ladder today. By infusing fresh keywords, optimizing meta-tags, and ensuring a mobile-friendly experience, articles can maintain or even surpass previous or existing rankings.
  • Fresh audience engagement: Reoptimizing older content allows newer audiences to discover these articles, expanding their reach.
  • Enhanced monetization potential: Updated content can better align with current advertiser requirements. Whether incorporating newer affiliate links or tailoring content to appeal to a broader range of advertisers, reoptimization can improve ad revenues.

Create New Seasonal Content

While updating existing pieces has its benefits, publishers also need to create new content during the holidays.

These new pieces help expand publishers’ reach, appealing to audiences new and old, while also boosting topical authority within a particular segment.

So, what makes seasonal content so potent?

  • Direct alignment with consumer behavior: Seasonal content resonates with the immediate interests and needs of consumers. Whether it's festive recipes, holiday decoration ideas, or winter fashion trends, such content answers reader queries.
  • Higher engagement metrics: By addressing the leading audience interests and needs, seasonal content often garners higher engagement, be it in terms of shares, comments, or average session duration.
  • Dual revenue streams: With the right strategy, seasonal content can be a source of both advertising and affiliate revenue. For instance, a holiday tech gift guide can feature affiliate links to recommended products while attracting advertisers keen on targeting tech enthusiasts.

Sites such as Wirecutter and TechRadar are great examples of how to create seasonal content. Their timely articles, whether focused on Black Friday deals or Christmas gift suggestions, not only cater to immediate consumer queries but also drive significant traffic and revenue.

Source: Wirecutter

Seasonal Content Ideas for Publishers

Having established the need for both reoptimized and new seasonal content, let’s delve into specific content types that can yield maximum returns. While the digital space is vast and varied, certain content formats have consistently proven their mettle during the holidays.

1. Gift Guides

In the whirlwind of the holiday season, many consumers turn to the internet for online shopping inspiration. "What's the best gift for a tech enthusiast?" or "Top gifts for kids this Christmas”. These are common queries, and a well-crafted gift guide can provide much-needed answers.

  • Affiliate goldmine: Gift guides are inherently product-centric, making them ideal for embedding affiliate links. When readers find your recommendations valuable and click through to make a purchase, affiliate commissions can accumulate rapidly.
  • Ad revenue booster: Due to their product-focused nature, gift guides can attract advertisers from various sectors. Whether it's tech, fashion, or home decor, these articles can have various advertisers vying for ad spots, driving eCPMs upwards.

Vice’s Black Friday Gift Guide is a great example of this strategy in action, collecting various gift suggestions and pairing them with links to the retailers.

Gift Guides
Source: Vice

2. Sales Roundups

As the holiday sales and deals begin rolling out, consumers want to find the best bargains. Roundups of both online sales and retail sales can be a beacon for audiences during the shopping frenzy. 

  • Capturing the FOMO: By curating the best deals across categories, publishers can tap into the “Fear of Missing Out” that's prevalent among shoppers during sale seasons.
  • Higher advertiser bids: Advertisers understand that during peak shopping times, consumers are in a buying mindset. As such, quality roundups of holiday promotions can attract higher bids for ad placements, boosting ad revenue.

TechRadar’s annual round up of Black Friday sales is a good example of catering to audiences beyond your obvious niche. For example, while the publisher covers obvious categories such as TVs, laptops and smartwatches, it also extends its coverage to include home and kitchen, vacuums and mattresses. 

Source: TechRadar 

3. Product Reviews

Genuine product reviews, crafted with care and insight, can elevate a publisher's brand, establishing them as a trusted voice in a sea of online content.

  • Building brand trust: Genuine reviews create a bond of trust with the readers, assuring them of the site's credibility and authenticity.
  • Diverse monetization avenues: Apart from standard ad revenue, detailed product reviews can attract direct deals with brands, affiliate commissions, and even sponsored content opportunities.

For instance, this detailed review by GoodtoKnow showcases the product's pros and cons, offering readers a balanced perspective.

Product Reviews
Source: GoodtoKnow

4. Product Comparisons

Audiences can often find themselves torn between two or more products, leading to what’s known as analysis paralysis, which is where a person struggles to make a decision because they’ve over-thought the issue.

Product comparison articles can cut through some of this noise, helping the target audience  make an informed decision.

  • Driving informed decisions: By comparing products on various parameters—be it features, pricing, or user review—publishers can offer readers the insights they need.
  • Enhanced user trust: Honest comparisons, where both the positives and negatives of products are highlighted, can further establish a site's authenticity and credibility.

A classic example is the Tom’s Guide MacBook comparison below, which offers readers a comprehensive breakdown of both the MacBook Pro and Air. It picks winners for each category where they compete—keyboard, performance, battery life, etc—and then selects an overall winner.

Tom’s Guide MacBook comparison
Source: Tom’s Guide

This approach allows readers to go with the option that wins out in most of the categories they care about.

5. Best Lists

Whether it's the "Top 10 Smartphones of the Year" or the "Best Christmas Recipes to Try", curated lists continue to engage readers. Structured, informative, and often accompanied by succinct insights, these lists can be both informative and actionable.

  • Clarity and structure: Curated lists provide readers with a structured format, making it easier for them to assimilate information and make decisions.
  • Diverse ad opportunities: Such content can span various categories, attracting a broader range of advertisers and thereby enhancing ad revenue potential.

The TechRadar Black Friday TV Deals below is a great example of a listicle that’s both informative and actionable. It provides insight into deals while also answering frequently asked questions such as “When is Black Friday 2023?” and “What Black Friday TV deals do we expect in 2023?”.

Source: TechRadar

Revisit Your Mobile Strategy

With almost 45% of consumers expected to shop on their smartphones during the holiday season, it’s vital that you ensure your site’s mobile user experience is well optimized to attract and maintain users. 

Here are a few things to consider when optimizing your users’ mobile experience:

Importance of Responsive Design

As users can visit your website on their desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones, your website needs to display well across a variety of different screen sizes. This is where having a mobile-responsive web design is important.

A responsive design ensures your content can adjust to the size of the screen it’s displayed on, ensuring that text and images designed for desktop setup are clearly visible even on mobile. This means your users won’t have to scroll endlessly or zoom in to see hidden content.

Reducing Pop-ups

Pop-ups are great at converting your users—providing them with a discount or offer in exchange for data such as an email address. While effective, pop-ups can hurt your site’s mobile user experience as they can come off as intrusive and could even violate Google’s policy.

If you need pop-ups on your mobile site, consider having them appear after a user has scrolled a certain amount of pixel depth or stayed on the page for more than 15 seconds.

Minimizing Load Time

Speed is an incredibly important factor when it comes to capturing and maintaining an engaged user. Attention spans are becoming shorter owing to frequent use of mobile phones and social media.

In fact, Google reported that 53% of visits would be abandoned if a mobile site takes more than three seconds to load. So, if your website isn’t displaying content as soon as a user lands on your site, you’re at a greater risk of losing that user.

One way to “lighten” your page weight and reduce load speeds is by using smaller images or next-gen image formats such as WebP or AVIF. This is due to their improved compression that doesn’t degrade the image quality. You’ll be able to display your image in a high quality without adding excess weight to your site.

Web Navigation

The importance of having an easy-to-navigate web system cannot be overstated. Having an easily navigable site will ensure your user sees what they want without any friction. Google has found that 79% of users were more likely to revisit and/or even share a mobile site if they found it easy to use.

Ways to optimize include ensuring your menu is always accessible no matter where the user is on your page or having a search function that obviates the need to scour the site for the desired content.

Avoiding Autoplay

Having a video or media element autoplay the moment a user lands on your site can come off as annoying, distracting, and intrusive. It also takes up bandwidth and can slow down your site, potentially delaying content and increasing bounce rates. Consider having media elements default to a muted mode if it’s absolutely necessary to autoplay something.

Content Formatting

As mentioned previously, mobile users’ decreasing attention spans means long chunks of text may not be the best way to hold attention. As mobile devices already have smaller screen real estate, you want to avoid text walls from overwhelming the users’ display.

Shorter paragraphs and proper spacing improve readability and enhance memory retention. And with 79% of readers scanning websites rather than reading, you’ll want to make sure you’re staying with your audience and not losing them to long strings of text.

Ad Ops Strategies for Publishers

While having a solid content strategy heading into the holiday period is essential, you should also give some careful thought to your ad operations during this time.

A solid ad ops plan—factoring in everything from ad formats and ad placement to floor pricing and direct deals—will give you the best chance of maximizing your ad revenue.

High Performing Ad Formats

Web Interstitials

The web interstitial, also known as vignette, is an interactive ad format that occupies the entire screen of a website or app. It’s usually displayed at transition points during app or site use such as switching between pages or activities.

These formats are highly lucrative as they are often time-based, resulting in strong conversions for advertisers. It’s also a highly viewable format with viewability ranging around 95%.

Advertisers are willing to pay more for this ad unit’s performance, with CPMs four to five times higher than those of a traditional banner. Easily implement this format with Google AdSense to start monetising your inventory.

Video Formats

Over the last few years, we’ve observed how video formats gained popularity owing to their ability to rake in impressive CPMs. To highlight this format’s potential, Publift has seen its publishers grow their CPMs by between two and fivefold after implementing video formats on their page when compared to a regular display unit.

Generally, high quality creatives are required for all video style formats which results in a more premium and high quality finish to the creatives. This is why having video ads on your site could elevate its look.


The interscroller ad is a native-style format that fits naturally within a page’s content breaks, appearing as a user scrolls through the content. As the reader scrolls down the page, they see the ad gradually revealed underneath the content and, once 85% of the ad has been revealed, it may snap out to occupy the whole screen.

We can achieve the same result of a 300 x 600 ad within a 300 x 310 viewport instead, adding more demand and sizes within a fixed 300 x 310 ad slot.

Publift has seen this unit deliver high profitability thanks to an engaging nature that naturally increases viewability. These formats also tend to lend a premium feel to the site and work really well as an in-content unit.

Scroll to Stick

Publift created the scroll to stick format to address the issue of header units’ poor viewability.  We’ve seen first-hand how users tend to scroll down a mobile page as soon as they enter a site, causing a standard header unit to lose impressions.

This ad format is placed at a header—usually close to the navigation bar—and acts as a sticky unit, staying at the top of the page as a visitor starts to scroll. It will hold its position for a user-defined set of time or pixel depth, before collapsing itself.

This behavior allows the header unit to rake in impressions even after the user has scrolled away from the top of the page.

Publift is constantly modifying and improving upon standard creatives to resolve such issues, maximize viewability and boost ad revenue.

Identify Premium Ad Placements

Before the holiday season approaches, we recommend giving your site a full review by examining your users’ behavior and traffic sources to determine premium ad placements.

This could mean looking into Google Analytics and identifying the pages on your website that get a higher number of visits or longer visit durations. You could also use heatmap tools—such as Clarity—to understand page locations users tend to interact with.

We also recommend reviewing your site with maybe a fresh pair of eyes to identify any white space that could be monetized. Then, modify your ad layout to include these locations to achieve higher viewability.

You could even set up a date-based optimization with Publift to allow a few more campaigns to show up during peak periods of your site—for example, between 8pm and 10pm—fully maximizing the extra traffic you’re getting. These ads can then be turned off during quieter periods.
Do remember, however, that premium placements can differ from site to site and there’s no one-size fits all approach. Publift has the advertising know-how and experience from working with more than 1,400 websites to understand what works best for every type of vertical. This has allowed us to fully optimize revenue to its maximum potential!

Review Inventory and Floor Price

Reviewing your floor pricing is another easy way to better optimize your site for the holiday season. Advertisers will have bigger budgets during sales such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so it’s worth increasing your floor prices so you don’t miss out on that extra advertising spend.

One tip we highly recommend here at Publift is to set dynamic target floor prices as opposed to a hard floor. A target floor is a safer route, as setting a hard floor could price you out from lower bids. If you’re not an expert with setting floor prices, talk to Publift for further insight on floor price optimization.

Get Ad Ops Expertise

If you’re looking for further expert help, specialized features, and granular customization, it might be a good idea to partner with an ad tech partner. Ad tech partners help increase your revenue through content monetization.

There are many partners that focus on different aspects of publishing with the goal of growing your site. Partners might have the expertise and resources you don’t, as opposed to only working with Google AdSense or a handful of network partners.

Such a service can ensure your site is optimized with the best technical setup, ad layout placement, back-end features, price floors, and custom ad formats to suit its look and feel.  

Publift is such a partner that can help during the holiday season. Publift is a Google Certified Publishing Partner that offers header and open bidding, ad layout optimization, A/B testing, dashboard reporting, Core Web Vitals analysis, and consent management on top of their existing offerings. Our publishers see an average ad revenue uplift of 55% and we specialize in preparing websites for the holiday season. Talk to us today to see how we can help you increase your ad revenue.

Direct Deals

Securing direct deals is a great way to capitalize upon the holiday season, as advertisers usually pay higher CPMs for them. A direct deal is when a publisher and advertiser agree upon specific price and rules of an ad campaign—that is, campaign duration, ad placement, ad serving rules, and more.

Because these rules are fixed, and you’d most likely have the advertiser’s campaign running solely on your page—or however defined within the deal, the cost for this placement is higher than your standard programmatic ads.

If your website has a high volume of traffic coming from countries such as the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand, you’ll most likely be able to leverage direct deals with advertisers. The best way to organize direct deals is to reach out to advertisers that have a similar target audience as your site traffic.

Avoid Policy Violations 

This is an obvious one, but it’s still worth mentioning! If your website receives a policy violation from Google, it’s often a tedious process to reverse. This is why we always encourage our publishers to be policy compliant.

You can breach a policy by:

  • Using bots to artificially increase the appearance of a high volume of traffic coming to your site
  • Using invalid traffic to inflate clicks and impressions on your site whether accidentally or intentionally
  • Promoting content that is illegal, derogatory, explicit, and unsafe
  • Plagiarizing content

If your site attracts a policy violation, Google will suspend monetization until you appeal for a withdrawal of a violation.

Monetize Ad Blockers

As more people download ad-blocking technologies, it’s becoming more challenging to earn revenue from all of your users. With that said, publishers can still monetize their content through adblock monetization.

Publift has the ability to show adblock users ads that are safe and approved so your content doesn't miss out on generating revenue. Adblock users have the option to opt-in to Acceptable Ads, so you can be sure that you’re not serving ads to users who don’t want to see them.

We work with the main adblock providers to ensure that your content is approved to show Acceptable Ads to ad block users. Publift’s publishers have seen this feature improve page RPM by 6-8% on average.

Optimize Page for Optimum Speed and Weight

There are a few strategies you can use to optimize your website page speed and weight. A slow-loading heavy page will make for a bad user experience, which could tank your Core Web Vitals (CWV).

This is why it’s important to continuously optimize your website, as having low CWV scores could affect your search engine results page (SERP) rankings. This is especially crucial if your site relies heavily on search traffic.

Here are some suggestions to consider for your site:

  • If you’re working with an ad provider, ensure your site is optimized for fast ad rendering by prioritizing the location of their script in your head code. This will ensure ads render as soon as your page loads, increasing chances for higher viewability.
  • Check that your images are in next-gen image formats such as WebP and AVIF, which have a smaller file size and load faster.
  • Prevent Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) by ensuring all divs and elements on your page have fixed heights and widths. 
  • Review your fonts. Font type can make a difference to your page weight, with custom fonts potentially taking longer to load compared to a Google Font. Consider switching over to a Google Font if page weight is becoming an issue for your site.

Final Thoughts

Publishers heading into the holiday season need to balance content and ad operations strategies if they’re to successfully cash in on rising levels of traffic.

Having a well-developed content strategy is key to ensuring that you can not only build an audience but ensure it keeps returning, while a comprehensive ad ops plan will ensure that you can show the highest number of ads at the best rates without compromising your site’s user experience.

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