If you have responsibility for online product discoverability in any capacity, it is likely you’ve focused most of your efforts on improving search results. For digital marketers working in online distribution, for a long time ‘search’ has meant the dark art of search engine optimization (SEO), or in basic terms: “where do my products rank on a Google search?”

In the past few years, consumer search behavior has begun to change, and search-related sales are not coming solely from search engines like Google anymore, but from direct searches on online retailers sites. This means that you may need to start considering ‘SEO’ and ‘ecommerce search’ as two distinct areas upon which to focus.

What does this change mean for your product marketing and is there anything you can do to take advantage? In this article for our e-commerce blog, we’ll discuss the key insights to keep in mind in order to make the best possible marketing and merchandising decisions for increasing product sales - the one unquestionable metric of e-commerce success.

What drives online retail search vs. search engines?

Don’t worry: with 43% of all e-commerce traffic generated from Google organic search, it isn’t yet time to slow down your SEO efforts. But in the last few years, as consumer product search habits have begun to change, Amazon and other marketplaces have become direct and primary destinations for consumers looking to purchase. Despite 96% of online users visiting Google every month and 66% heading to Amazon, those numbers mean very little when it comes to actual sales. 41% of online shoppers search and buy items directly on Amazon, with ‘only’ 28% searching on Google before buying on Amazon.

With traffic and keyword results data for your owned sites and search engines already at your fingertips, your blind-spot is, therefore, online retailers. In a recent survey, 73% of marketers said they use more than 3 online marketplaces as part of their sales strategy and with the shift towards a direct search and purchase cycle only increasing, understanding how your products perform search-wise in these environments is crucial for your sales success. That means ensuring you are aware of your share of the digital shelf, or how you rank in onsite search results. Data from most of these platforms is tightly held by their owners though, and until recently the only means of accurately monitoring activity was to manually and systematically conduct analyses of the entire market.

Consider also categories such as luxury and beauty, where dedicated sites like Sephora and Ulta are taking increasingly large chunks of the market, and in this category, most online activity relates to pre-purchase research. Understanding this behavior and how to make sure your products are at ‘eye-level’ on the digital shelf is vital for your success, but is it possible to monitor a multitude of online retail sites with purely manual processes? Especially in a category where discoverability via social media is increasing, and image and voice-activated searches could make up to 50% of the total by 2020.

Most popular online beauty activities according to female beauty consumers in the U.S. as of August 2016
Most popular online beauty activities according to female beauty consumers in the U.S. as of August 2016

How do search results relate to sales?

Consider these three data points to understand what consumers are doing when searching for your product:

1. More than half of all e-commerce sales are made through branded stores

For products that are sold directly by their manufacturer, half of the sales come from the branded online store. This figure hides wide disparities: small brands that don't have a distribution network are close to 100%, while international brands get almost all sales from online retailers.

2. Buyers searching on Google first buy earlier than those searching on Amazon first

On average, 25.9 days spanned search-to-purchase on Amazon while for Google it was 19.6 days. Many bought an item within five days, though more (35%) purchased in this time frame when searching first via Google than Amazon (19%). A possible explanation for this is that search engines index more product pages than a specific retailer – the user is more like to find what he is looking for. Additionally, such search results are likely to have less distracting offers of related products, which is especially true on Amazon, who currently derive 35% of their revenue from their recommendation engine.

3. 1 of every 4 sales related to a brand-specific search take place on an online marketplace.

This means that even if you have an e-commerce site for your brand, and a search is conducted for your brand name… the customer may still buy from an online retailer. Consider this as a red flag, or an opportunity. Either way, this demonstrates the power over consumer behavior wielded by Amazon and other online retailers. The best strategy you can employ therefore is to understand your customers' behavior and what actions you can take to influence it.

Can you improve your e-commerce onsite search results?

The short answer is, thankfully, yes. The good news is that the search algorithms employed by online retailers are nowhere near as complex as Google as they don’t factor in as many variables. This means that figuring out what influences your search results and taking action to improve them should have an almost immediate effect.

As with other aspects of your marketing, it is vitally important to have access to reliable data. Using Google Analytics and Search Console, you can already understand which terms consumers use to find your site, and their behavior once they arrive. But accessing data from online retailers is a trickier proposition.

The best action you could probably take is to try to improve your search results on Amazon if you have products for sale there. The reasoning is that even without transparency on consumer behavior and search performance, their product listing requirements and algorithms are well understood. We recently gave some tips on actions you can take with our ‘11 factors that make (or break) Amazon product rankings’. This is a virtuous circle. Following tips such as these and tracking how sales results change is one way to test the effectiveness of your improvements specifically focused on on-site search, as search is both a factor and an indicator of performance because search results drive sales and sales boost search performance.

But what about other sites?

Other than physically monitoring all the products in your given category as mentioned previously, your best option is to use monitoring software. The more product lines, the more complex your range, the more search patterns change to incorporate image and video… the more difficult manual monitoring will become. By making use of monitoring software to view search results and your share of the digital shelf, you can begin to implement best practices to improve rankings and thus your sales.

What does a successful search strategy look like in 2019?

In summary, the current state of play is that consumer behavior has changed such that, in order to sell efficiently, marketing behavior needs to change with it. Where previously SEO and search campaigns were your focus, your strategy now needs to employ a multi-pronged approach:

  1. Maintain your current SEO strategies to push as many customers to buy from you,
  2. Gather as much data as you can from your online retailers,
  3. Employ e-commerce monitoring software and test improvements to increase your sales.

If you are targeting direct online sales, then look at all 3 of these and consider how you can begin to improve points 2 and 3 whilst maintaining point 1, which is the challenge. If you’re not selling directly to consumers, then focus all your energy on points 2 and 3 and look to improve search on your online retailer network.

To do so, consider that BlueBoard monitors thousands of products at 3000+ online retailers all over the world and can help you gather the data you need in no time! We help you make the best e-commerce decisions. Get in touch with our sales team to get your free demo today!

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