Retailers Remain Challenged By SEO

Store sites continue to experience discovery issues when it comes to consumers searching for places and products, an eMarketer analysis finds.

As all marketing categories seek to step up their search and social strategies, retailers may be finding themselves — and their stores and products — being left behind, according to a spate of recent studies cited by eMarketer.

In particular, as SMBs generally seek to shift SEO and advertising towards greater spending on social media marketing, retailers may be de-emphasizing search in the rush to expand efforts across Facebook/Instagram and Snapchat.

“Many of our clients still view social and search as totally separate marketing strategies,” Josh Markham, SVP of Digital Media Products at local marketing platform ReachLocal, has told GeoMarketing. “We believe local businesses should be viewing their marketing efforts comprehensively (not as silos) so they can understand which programs work best together. When businesses rely on only one marketing tactic, they are likely missing out on consumers in a different phases of their buying journey. In addition, consumers have different preferences for consuming information, so the combined effort is more effective than a singular effort.”

eMarketer points to a 2016 study by the Direct Marketing Association and Demand Metric, which found that despite retail still ranking among the top five users of paid search, the proportion using the format shrank from 37 percent in 2015 to 35 percent in 2016.

By itself, that modest pullback on SEO shouldn’t have much of an effect on whether consumers can find retailers’ sites and locations. But the complexity of SEO as mobile has grown has caused some difficult marketing adjustments.

According to a SearchDex survey released last month, the four top hurdles for retailers and SEO were:

  • Rapidly changing product pages—66 percent
  • Having similar titles to competitors—55 percent
  • Not updating pages based on search demand—54 percent
  • Insufficient product reviews—51 percent
  • Lack of product descriptions—43 percent

While those issues are largely tied to SEO transactions, the impact is also felt when it comes to satisfying consumers’ micro-moments, where to find a particular product at a nearby place.

Practically all marketers (99 percent) told SearchDex that “winning the SEO war” is of paramount importance; 93 percent also said it was “extremely” or “very” important for sales that their company website ranks high in search results.

“The key to building a company’s brand is freeing marketers to implement an SEO strategy they can control in real time,” said Dave Chaplin, SearchDex’s CEO. “Creating a straight path from marketing through to consumers through the power of search itself allows marketers to connect to consumers on an emotional level not previously possible.”

AI To The Rescue

SearchDex’s study held out hope that the rapid advances of artificial intelligence to take some of the complexity of running an SEO marketing program comes with high expectations for brands: 96 percent of those SearchDex talked to said their SEO strategy could benefit from AI. Top reasons include:

  • Gives marketers the ability to focus on SEO while AI analyzes data—73 percent
  • Searches for anomalies in current SEO strategy and fixes them—61 percent
  • Keeps SEO strategy current based on what competitors are doing—58 percent
  • Ability to outthink RankBrain—49 percent
  • No need for exact keyword phrases—41 percent

As we reported in February, Cosabella, a retailer that sells lingerie in its own boutique as well as in department stores and online, credited AI with boosting its Valentine’s Day sales by 60 percent.

“Our customers have to navigate a dynamic, but crowded luxury retail landscape to find a product that offers both style and comfort. It is therefore critical for us to have an intelligent marketing partner to help us cut through the noise and engage effectively with our customers across different channels,” Courtney Connell, Marketing Director at Cosabella, told GeoMarketing. “We are looking to expand our work by adding more features from the Emarsys marketing platform and realize the benefits of artificial intelligence to execute omnichannel campaigns at scale. This will, we hope, position us as the brand of choice in the luxury lingerie and intimate clothing space.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.