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Which Outdoors Retailer Won the Search Visibility Battle in Cyber Week?

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OK , I know some of you understand this ecommerce stuff, so I’ll cut to the chase - it was Go Outdoors!

For those of you that prefer a little context with your soundbite, you might like to know how that conclusion is reached ….. and that it was a marginal victory.

What is interesting is that, whilst the organic Google rankings didn’t change too much, Go Outdoors were the only major retailer to see an improvement in their search visibility for their top 50 search terms over the past week - Cotswold, AlpineTrek, Decathlon, Snow & Rock, Ellis Brigham, Blacks and Gaynors all saw some decline.

So, what filled the gap if so many were in decline? Typically, it was big-name non-specialists that were nudging into high-volume apparel terms like ‘north face jacket’ as they try to build some winter traffic. Names like Amazon, Next and Asos won’t surprise you and it’s likely that they’ll drop out of the page 1 or 2 rankings come Spring.

The reason that Go Outdoors can achieve significant improvements (or declines) in search visibility over quite short time periods is that they focus relentlessly on top rankings for high-volume generic search terms. For example, most outdoors retailers will do better on combined brand/product terms such as ‘Osprey rucksacks’ and not feature strongly for ‘rucksacks’ - Go Outdoors take the opposite approach and invest a lot of time into doing this (they don’t use paid Adwords much and only use Shopping Ads on 12 of their top 50 traffic-driving terms).

To put this in perspective, the search term ‘rucksacks’ generated 33100 searches in Google last month (and Go Outdoors rank 1). The term ‘osprey rucksacks’ and all its variants generated 2000 searches last month and the first retailer in the rankings is Blacks at No.4. Put bluntly, there are more website visitors to be gained in getting from position 3 to position 1 for ‘rucksacks’ than all the traffic for ‘osprey rucksacks’ - that’s why small changes in rankings for Go Outdoors have big visibility impact, compared to most other retailers - they’re very strong on high-volume search terms.


What is Search Visibility?

In online marketing, there is a tendency to look at rankings gains/losses in great detail, but to look at the traffic impact of those changes in general terms. You’ll often hear talk of “our key search terms” as a catch-all. Search Visibility is simply a metric that looks at each search phrase as a combination of ranking and traffic. For example, if a search term’s monthly traffic is 10000 searches and we know that a ranking of 4 typically gets 5% of the organic traffic and position 7 gets 2% of the traffic, we know that our improved ranking is worth 2.5x times more traffic (or 300 more visits). When this is aggregated across a number of search terms and tracked consistently, it’s possible to measure a website’s overall change in search visibility.


The other dynamic that helped Go Outdoors was the marginal declines that Cotswold Outdoor suffered. As another generalist retailer with a broad base of high rankings for some high-volume search terms, some of the ground Cotswold ceded went to Go Outdoors. This was despite Cotswold having had more rankings gains than losses over the week, which just shows the importance of linking traffic and rankings together.

We can illustrate this with a couple of charts. The first shows average rankings for each major retailer (apologies if you’re not in the list), based on the top 50 search terms bringing traffic to their websites i.e. each top 50 will have overlaps, but is not the same.

This seems to indicate that pretty much everyone is doing better or at least holding their own:

 Outdoors Gear Retailers Average Google Ranking

The truth is captured in the next chart, however, which shows that most of the retailers, except Go Outdoors, are seeing marginal declines in search visibility (so website visitors from organic search will fall).

 Outdoor Gear Retailers - Search Visibility Cyber Week 2018

The blue line on the chart is the average search visibility for all the data i.e. the top 50 search terms for all 8 retailers. In reality, many of the terms are the same, so the data is based on about 250 keywords when aggregated. This benchmark illustrates that Snow & Rock, Ellis Brigham and Gaynors all struggle to achieve search visibility that’s on-par with their competitors, even for the basket of search terms that are driving most of their organic traffic.

I’ll be taking another look at winners and losers as we move through the peak of the winter season. In the meantime, please get in touch if you’d like to know how to turn these general commentaries into specific actions for your business.