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How to Win the Battle for Online Store Search&Digital Shelf Placement.

5 min read

10 e-commerce channel and online store search performance tips for consumer product manufacturers.

instore_searchjpg2C1548846425-1Search results are fast becoming the measure of where your product, or brand, stands in terms of retail shelf placement. As the e-commerce channel grows in importance, online stores like Amazon, Tesco.com, and Zalando have become the platforms of choice where consumers find out about, and experience your products for the first time.

Online and off-line shoppers are bypassing your brand sites, and conventional search engines such as Google, when they want to learn about your products. Today they go straight to Amazon, Rakuten and Flipkart to research the products they want to buy.

According to a survey by BloomReach Inc., as reported in Bloomberg news, more than 50% of consumers looking for product information start on Amazon and not search engines like Google. What’s more, according to the Baymard Institute, when it comes to mobile e-commerce, most shoppers use in-store search tools, as they perceive search to be faster than category navigation. Consequently, if your products are not listed in top category keyword search results in relevant online stores you are missing immediate sales opportunities, as well as ongoing marketing impact.

Online Store versus Web Search

Google has spoiled us all when it comes to web search expectations. It delivers incredibly accurate search results, appears to understand our intentions, and even corrects our grammar and spelling when we get it wrong. Few if any online store search algorithms can replicate anything close to Google’s level of sophistication.

However, in some ways, the relative simplicity of online store search makes your job as an e-commerce director or account manager easier. Google uses more than 200 different criteria to deliver search results for a particular topic or keyword phrase, online retailers usually use far less. On the other hand, each online retailer takes a slightly different approach to how it manages search.

10 Practical Tips for Online Store Search Performance

To win the battle for online store search you need to think of both the ‘hard’ and the ‘soft’ criteria involved – Content, Availability, Price, Ratings & Reviews are all central to search performance, but so is simply knowing how your online retail partner works. Use the 10 tips below as a guide to improving your products’ online channel search performance, but keep in mind you may need to tweak your approach for different e-commerce sites. It is also worth considering the entire path to purchase taken by consumers, and understanding how effectively your products engage with consumers across all online shopper journey touch-points.

1. Measure and monitor your Search performance
Peter Drucker, the developer of the concept of management by objectives, is quoted as saying that “you can't manage what you can't measure.” Whether the quote is apocryphal or not, the sentiment holds true. If you want to improve something, you need to measure it on an ongoing basis, and your product’s online retailer Search performance is no exception. Brands can use eStoreCheck’s Search reports to measure Share of Search, and Search Rank daily to identify issues and opportunities for improvement, and benchmark against competitors.

2. Include relevant category keywords in your product descriptions.
It might seem obvious that you need to populate your product descriptions and landing page content with category search terms, but it is surprising how many product listings fail on this front. In some online retailers, you can also leverage synonyms in descriptions to boost your search performance. However, it is always best practice to use natural language that shoppers are likely to use, rather than category or company-specific jargon – e.g., shoppers tend to search for ‘perfume’, while beauty manufacturers often describe their products as ‘fragrance’.

3. Optimize your category listings coverage.
Often, online store search links queries with a specific product category and only ranks products with a corresponding listing in the relevant category menu. There may not be a physical shelf for your product in the e-commerce channel, but effective product categorization or taxonomy is essential nonetheless.

4. Build out your landing page content.
Make the most of the content capabilities of each online store. Not only will this help with shopper conversion, but it can also influence search results in some online retailers, with preference given to products that have deeper content, including bullets and body text, multiple images and product videos where possible.

5. Be loved.
Online stores often leverage shoppers’ opinions as expressed through Ratings & Reviews to understand consumer preferences. Therefore, having a high number of positive reviews can represent the popularity of a product and motivate search algorithms to rank your product higher in search results. It is important to look at Rating & Reviews at a product-level to optimize the value you get in terms of consumer perception and Search.

6. Be a best seller.
Success breeds success. A product’s conversion history and its position on ‘bestsellers lists’ are even better indicators of shopper preference. Unsurprisingly online store search algorithms give preference to products that sell! So do what you can to create the virtuous circle that will keep your products at the top of the popularity parade.

7. Make more profit for your online retail partner.
Every online store wants to make money on the items it sells – if they can’t, they will demote, or even de-list under performing products. Amazon describes these products as CRaP, or Can't Realize a Profit. In physical stores, retailers place your most profitable products at eye level on the shelf. Online this equates to better Search performance for the most profitable items in a category.

8. Always be available and in stock.
Make sure to tightly manage your product’s availability in key online stores to avoid going out of stock. A consumer can’t buy your product if it is not available when she logs in to her favorite e-commerce site. In addition, being out of stock will lead to your product rapidly losing Search rank. And, even when it’s back in stock, it can take some time to recover its previously held Search position. As such, Availability problems will negatively affect future sales as well as the immediate lost opportunity from being out of stock in the first place.

9. Know your inventory.
Inventory levels can influence search results in a number of ways, it’s not just about being in-stock and available all the time. It’s important to have a good understanding of the ongoing health of your online retailer’s inventory. If your product inventory is too low, too high, or close to expiry, for example, it can also affect Search.

10. Nurture your retail partner relationships.
In the traditional manufacturer/retailer relationship, the retailer has long held the upper hand. The situation is starting to change a little in the e-commerce world with retailers depending more on manufacturers to drive consumer traffic to their sites through a myriad of digital channels. Also, as manufacturers gain access to more and better data they can challenge retailers to prove exactly how co-marketing and trade marketing spend performs. But, e-commerce is still a business where your relationship with your online retail partner counts. A better relationship leads to a better understanding of how the retailer’s e-commerce platform works, and ultimately how to improve your product’s presence and performance where it counts.

The humble “Search Bar” is causing a revolution in retail. Eager consumers no longer need to rummage up and down retail aisles hunting for your products. A few carefully honed phrases typed on a screen is all they need – but if your product listings are not optimized for online store search, they won’t find them.

eStoreMedia’s eStoreCheck e-commerce performance analytics solution for brands delivers complete category, same-day insights, and dynamic benchmarking across thousands of online retailers in the world’s 50 largest e-commerce markets. The insights identify the gaps your product listings suffer from and points to actions you need to take to improve online store search performance. Click the button below to organize a demonstration and see how eStoreCheck could help you win the battle for online store search.


This post was originally published on September 15th, 2018 and updated on March 20th, 2019.

Łukasz Stebelski
Łukasz Stebelski
Łukasz Stebelski

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