How Major Retailers Use SEO and SEM for the Holidays

    December 14, 2004

WebTrends unveiled results from its first WebPosition Search Ranking study of how four major retailers use SEO and SEM strategies to attract online visitors.

Top-level findings, revealed at the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo, indicate that Amazon’s visibility in both organic results and sponsored search results were the highest, with an organic Visibility Percentage more than twice that of the other retailers.

Wal-Mart, Target, Sears and Amazon were analyzed using WebPosition Gold to determine the visibility these web sites have in organic and paid search results on Google, MSN, Ask Jeeves, Teoma and Yahoo! Web Results for five toys included in USA Today’s ‘Hot Dozen’ toys: “Cabbage Patch Kids”, “Bratz Tokyo-A-Go-Go Dance N’ Skate Club”, “E-L-M-O”, “Balloon Lagoon” and “Ms. Pac-Man TV Games” (Source: Toy Wishes magazine, October 2004).

Results indicate that as a group the retailers are more than twice as visible in sponsored search results (73.87%) as they are in organic search results (35.87%). Amazon was found to be the most visible among all sites in organic search engine listings for the targeted keywords with an organic Visibility Percentage of 34.67%, followed by Wal-Mart at 14%, Target at 7.33% and Sears at 3.87%. Visibility Percentage is a reflection of a site’s positions within the first three pages of search results for its targeted keywords and search engines. For example, a site that has #1 organic search positions for all of its targeted keywords in all search engines examined would have an organic Visibility Percentage of 100%.

When WebPosition analysis included sponsored search listings, visibility increased across all retailers with Amazon rising to 52%, followed by Wal-Mart at 39.73%, Sears at 16% and Target at 13.6%. The data suggests that retailers are using sponsored search listings to achieve high positions for these products, often in the absence of high organic search positions.

“It’s well known that unless your site appears within the first three pages of search results for a given term, only a small percentage of web searchers will find you,” said Fredrick Marckini, CEO and founder, search engine marketing firm, iProspect. “While organic listings are certainly the goal for many companies, sponsored search listings guarantee visibility with a position equivalent to what they are willing to pay. This is why it’s critical for marketers to understand the ROI driven by specific paid and organic search terms, and to work to increase their organic positions over time.”

According to The iProspect Search Engine User Attitudes Survey, web searchers find non-paid listings to be more relevant than paid listings on commercial searches, with 60.5% deeming organic results as more relevant versus 39.5% favoring paid listings across all search engines (March 2004).

“While this study is a snapshot of SEO and SEM performance for a handful of products, the finding of major retailers relying on paid search to augment their organic search listings holds true with what other studies have found,” said Jason Palmer, vice president of product management and product marketing, WebTrends. “Since competition for paid keywords will only increase, it’s critical for sites to utilize rankings and recommendations such as those provided by WebPosition to increase their organic visibility.”

This is merely a sampling of how these leading retailers are using SEO and SEM techniques for a small group of products. The analysis focused solely on five toys using only the official product names as keywords. WebPosition Gold produced search rankings for the five hot toys for each of the retailers examined using the manual query setting in its Reporter module. Visibility Percentage reflects a site’s overall visibility for all the keywords and all search engines examined, providing a higher-level understanding of search effectiveness than search rankings alone can provide. A data snapshot was taken on December 9, 2004, to compile these findings.

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