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Capitalize on Back-to-School Shopping With These 3 Marketing Tips If you want to be found ahead of your competitors, you've got some marketing homework to do.

By Christi Olson

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The back-to-school scramble is well underway. This very day, moms, dads and college students are scouring the internet for deals on the latest shoes, fashions, dorm furnishings, devices and more. In fact, back-to-school is so big that it contributes to 17 percent of annual retail sales. That's a $75.8-billion retail opportunity for savvy retailers and small businesses.

But, if you want to be found ahead of your competitors, you've got some marketing homework to do.

Related: Intelligent Search Drives More Users to Your Business Than Your Website

As a search evangelist for Microsoft, my job is to help businesses optimize their marketing campaigns. To help get you started, here are some online search and marketing tips that will help your products stand out in the back-to-school retail rush.

Know what shoppers are searching for.

For the K-12 crowd, the average per-family spending last year hit $674. Where did that money go? Clothing, electronics, shoes and school supplies, in that order. In addition, college students spent an average of $114 on dorm furnishings.

Your first order of business is determining which of your products will appeal to back-to-school shoppers. Take stock of lessons learned by reviewing data from past back-to-school marketing campaigns. Figure out which products sold well -- and which didn't – and then focus your efforts on high performers and best bets. Be sure you have the inventory on hand to accommodate higher demand. You might consider enticing shoppers by offering special deals.

You'll also want to look at the terminology shoppers are using to search for products. Identify the keywords shoppers are searching for, and then use these terms in your online ad campaigns. Keep in mind that shoppers may or may not be searching for specific brands.

Related: July Is Just Early Enough to Start Planning for Holiday Selling

Recently, my Bing Ads colleagues compiled some helpful back-to-school insights that you can use to inform your search and marketing campaigns. Included in the deck are insights around top searched branded and unbranded terms. And some of these may surprise you.

For example, Bing data show that 71 percent of backpack searches were for brands like North Face, Herschel and Jansport. On the other hand, top searches for clothing were for unbranded terms like t-shirts, "shirts for teen girls" and "cute plus size outfits."

Explore these search terms and integrate them into your campaigns. Be sure to take note of emerging, relevant keywords.

Target your audience.

Make sure you know who you are marketing to. You'll want to go where your shoppers are spending the most time and design campaigns that appeal to your demographic.

As you might expect, parents comprise the bulk of back-to-school shoppers, with the largest group having students enrolled in preK-8 public schools. In this scenario, the primary shopper is more often female and a mom, although she is usually heavily influenced by her kids. On the other hand, for the college-bound, while freshmen are doing the shopping, they are still looking to their parents for advice.

Related: How Real-World Retailers Can Compete Better With Ecommerce

Finally, don't forget teachers. Nearly all teachers end up paying out of pocket for classroom supplies -- an average of nearly $500. (And about 10 percent shell out $1,000 or more.)

When building online campaigns, use platform tools to focus demographic targeting and to place bid adjustments that increase the likelihood that your ad displays more prominently for your target customers.

Optimize, optimize, optimize.

With marketing, there is no such thing as a set-it-and-forget-it approach. The most successful marketers try a variety of approaches to determine what works best for their product and demographic.

Start with your goals. Determine what you want to accomplish and then do some A/B testing -- running two ads simultaneously to see which one performs better. You can test ad copy wording and length, the location of your call to action, even your images. By performing A/B testing, you can determine which marketing strategies work best.

Related: 5 Rules for Staying Ahead in the Ecommerce Race

You can also optimize campaigns through task automation. Platforms like Bing Ads and Google AdWords give you the ability to automate campaign management tasks and performance checks. You can set bids in anticipation of increased competition and apply bid boosting to take advantage of key audiences. You can also set rules to save money, such as pausing keywords that are too expensive.

What are you waiting for?

Use these tips to get your back-to-school marketing moving forward. For more tips and data insights, be sure to view the full Bing Ads insights deck, which includes a marketing campaign cheat sheet and links to tools to help you increase ad clicks, target unique audiences, streamline campaign management and more.

Christi Olson

Head of Evangelism for Bing

Christi Olson leads digital marketing teams at Microsoft, Expedia, Harry & David, and Point It. Passionate about search marketing, she has spent her career helping businesses solve their marketing challenges and goals through studying and analyzing data to develop actionable insights and strategies.

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