Holiday Marketing Trends for Non-Retail Businesses (2020) | Perfect Search

Holiday Marketing Trends for Non-Retail Businesses

downward chart with wrapped present, no sign on top.
October 15, 2020

For retail or e-commerce businesses, the holiday season is often the biggest time of the year--accounting for up to 40% of annual revenue. Even with the effects of COVID-19 in 2020, holiday retail spending is estimated to increase 1-3% over 2019.  

But what will this holiday season look like if you’re not in retail? Businesses in other verticals will often see a decrease in conversions and conversion rates in late November and December. B2B businesses, for example, see a 12% decrease in conversion rates in December. 

To prepare for the upcoming season, it’s important to carefully plan your Q4 marketing strategy. To combat any dips in your goals, look for these trends and embrace the unique opportunities available to your business this winter.

Here are some holiday marketing trends to look out for this upcoming season. We'll look at:


Holiday Season 2020 Search Trends

While the specific days that observe holidays present a challenge in search volume, the days surrounding the holidays prove otherwise. Maybe you’re a business owner catching up during family time, or a parent planning your next vacation. Or perhaps you’re a student who’s out of school and searching for programs, colleges, or jobs to apply for. 

Regardless of your customer persona, these precious moments between the holidays offer a moment of me-time and productivity for potential consumers

Early November and December tend to have good Google Search performance for many businesses that are not in the retail or holiday verticals. Plus, in the week after Christmas going into January is when businesses start planning the new fiscal year. It is here, when consumers move on after the holidays, that there becomes a large increase in search volume. For many non-retail businesses, the last week of December and the month of January can have the largest search volume of the year.

With the changes to conferences and in-person meetings during 2020 due to COVID-19, more B2B businesses have had to shift their marketing strategies to digital marketing.

This trend is expected to continue through the end of the year and into early 2021. This makes a strategic approach to the holiday season even more important than ever to these companies.

Display and Social Media Trends

Campaigns on display and social media are unique in the sense that you are bidding on audiences and not specific keywords. Therefore, there will be more competition in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Christmas.

Retail and e-commerce companies spend the majority of their advertising budget from about November 10 to December 20. This pushes up prices for everyone. Cost per click tends to increase on both display and social media platforms during this time. 

Consumers tend to focus more on the holiday season during this time and click-through rates on non-holiday ads will often decrease, along with conversion rates. However, it is still important to have a presence online for your core customers if they are still interested in your products. 

We often recommend that our clients decrease their display and social media advertising budgets in November and December, focusing on their most reliable audiences around the holidays.

Similarly to search, the weeks after Christmas and the New Year offer great windows to increase spend and generate new display & social media campaigns, as businesses and consumers focus on the year ahead. During November and December, consider working on new campaigns for January and perform small budget testing before launching those campaigns on a larger scale. 

Remember: costs per click decrease dramatically starting the week of Christmas, once it is too late to ship gifts and receive them by the holiday. This opens up a great opportunity for businesses to reach their audience at a low cost.

In 2020 specifically, we can already see that Facebook & Instagram Ad CPCs have been increasing throughout the year, with January having the lowest costs per click.

Holiday Marketing Strategies

The holiday season can make or break your business, so it’s important to plan your marketing strategy based on your specific type of business.  Work to set your ads apart from your competitors. For example:

  • Use custom-designed photos, animations, illustrations, and videos in your ads instead of stock photos. 

  • Use color and animation to add “pop” to your ads. 

  • Make sure that you are including your company’s unique value propositions in your ad copy, along with promotions. 

  • Plan for more competition and costs and take advantage of higher conversion rates during the holidays to maximize your revenue. 

Here is some business-specific advice to consider:

Holiday Marketing Strategies for Business to Business (B2B) Companies

The best strategy is usually to decrease spend during the holiday season, especially on display and social media. Search campaigns should not rise in cost and should still be very relevant to your goals. Consider keeping your search campaigns running in November and December. 

However, search volume will likely decrease, so less budget may be needed to maintain the same search impression share. Be mindful of how, during this time, search volume, and also possibly competition, may decrease, which could have an effect on your lead volume and cost per lead. 

You will want to optimize your remaining display and social media advertising to focus on your best audiences, like remarketing and other audiences that traditionally perform well at other times of the year.

Consider testing new strategies or campaigns at a low budget, keeping in mind that the last week of the year and January are your biggest opportunities for reaching out to new clients

Following the holiday season, you want to be ready to ramp up ad spend and launch new campaigns. 


Google Trends shows a decrease in searches at the end of November and middle to end of December and then a rise in interest through January for “business services” searches in the United States.

Holiday Marketing Strategies for Educational Companies

Educational companies can also observe decreases in search volume around the holidays, although the impact is not as large as with B2B companies. Potential students are searching for new education programs in November and December, given that the largest application period for the U.S. is in the spring. 

Scholarships and early admissions programs sometimes require applying from November to January, so students are starting their research. However, even students are distracted by holiday celebrations and shopping.

At this point in the journey, they are just starting to research schools and programs. This is, generally speaking, not a time of year that education programs see too many applications. However, they may see a rise in people visiting their site, requesting information, or signing up for newsletters. For this reason, it is important to have a presence online over the holidays, even with the rising costs on display and social media.

Takeaway: Schools need to make sure to spend on advertising over the holiday period. Potential students are out of school and have more time to be online and consider their future plans. But schools also need to focus on making their ads stand out from the other holiday retail ads and provide valuable information to searchers.

You may want to consider having:

    • An e-mail sign-up on your website to allow you to reach out to potential students.

    • Remarketing tags (so you can show your ads later in the spring to people researching your school now)

    • A landing page with all the important info consumers need to know about your different programs, accreditations, awards, cost, and what sets you apart from your competitors (degrees, locations, admission/application requirements) 

    • Ad copy and CTA (call to action) say “Learn more” instead of “Fill out an application today”


Google Trends shows a decrease in interest around the holidays themselves but also big peaks in the middle of November, early December, and into early January.

Holiday Marketing Strategies for Non-Profit Organizations

For nonprofits, the end of the calendar year is the best time to get donations. People are reviewing their tax status and want to make sure to get deductions before the end of the tax year. Nonprofits should consider reaching out to their regular donors, as well as anyone searching to donate on search engines or interested in donating on social media or display.

Facebook offers a "Donate Now" button and allows people to run fundraisers on their pages for non-profits that have been approved. Nonprofit organizations may want to encourage this at the end of the year when people are feeling generous from the holiday spirit.

Non-profit organizations may also want to host events or other campaigns during the holiday season to promote to volunteers, as well. This may include food drives, clothing drives, gifts for people who can't afford them, or religious services.

Keep in mind, costs on social media and display will be higher during this time and there will be competition from many other nonprofits as well. Your focus should be on setting your non-profit apart from everything else on social media around the holidays and illustrate your cause creatively.

If your nonprofit is a research or professionally-focused organization, the holiday season may be less important to your company. If this is the case, the focus should be on the new year, similar to B2B companies.


Google Trends shows a spike in donation searches after Thanksgiving and at the end of December and start of January.

Know Your Audience

The strongest holiday strategy is to understand both your audience and the trends for the season. Here are some questions that might help illuminate your audience and trends:

  • Who is your best consumer? 

  • Who are you trying to reach with your advertising? 

  • What will they be doing over the holiday season? 

The best way to study this is to ask actual customers or look at your company’s historical data during the holiday season. What campaigns did you run last year on which platforms? How did they perform? Did some platforms or audiences perform better than others?

There are also some great tools online for researching trends. Google Trends lets you input specific keywords or topics and will break down trends over the past year, five years, or even as far back as 2004. 

You’ll be able to see which states or countries had the highest, lowest, or rising interests in those terms and related topics and queries with their trends. This is a great way to see holiday search volume and also what types of keyword or location targets may do best.

And finally, partner with your marketing agency or experts. They will have the experience and knowledge base of similar clients and businesses that can guide your strategy during this time.

Final Takeaways

With the rollercoaster of market conditions during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for companies to have a strategic approach to digital marketing opportunities during the holiday season. 

November and December can be challenging months for non-retail businesses to advertise, due to the heavy volume of shopping ads and rising costs on the ad platforms, but there is still an opportunity to connect with new customers. 

The most important thing to do is understand your customers and the trends in your industry. Then, you can focus on making your ads stand out from the crowd and provide valuable information for searchers. 

An expert digital marketing agency can help you craft a successful strategy through the holidays and into the new year. Contact the team at Perfect Search for a comprehensive site and strategy audit.

Senior Manager, Search & Social Strategy
Emily Lutz is from Kalispell, Montana and has been camping more times than she can count. She geeks out over musicals and the TV show Firefly (yes, she's on some chat sites). Before joining Perfect Search, Emily was a zookeeper for ten years.

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