Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Filling the retail funnel with first-page SEO

By Garry Hamilton, Chief Growth Officer and Founder, Equator

Is Google the gift that keeps on giving to your business, or does it drive you to distraction?

In retail, the search engine giant seems to have cornered the online market. Google Shopping dominates rankings for almost every search – including consumer goods.

It wasn’t always the case. PriceRunner, Kelkoo and PriceSpy were among the early aggregators leading the market at the end of the Nineties, long before Google powered to the front.

When that happened, Google was eventually forced by EU regulators to split its Search and Shopping entities. Yet to this day, even with the market open to third parties, it’s still a constant presence.

Two ingredients are key to success in this space. The first is product and bid optimisation, ensuring your site works well within Core Web Vitals parameters – a standard measure of web page performance and visibility. The second factor, of course, is budget.

However, if your brands doesn’t want to become embroiled in a race to the bottom on price but also can’t afford to slip down search rankings, there are some positive points to note.

Crucially, Google itself is working hard to improve its e-commerce Shopping offering for the benefit of the entire market. But just as important for all retailers engaged in digital marketing is the present success of mid- and upper-funnel activity.

Focus content higher up the funnel

More opportunity for discovery and success exists further up the funnel than at a product-specific level. Being visible to potential customers during their ‘window shopping’ phase is crucial. While organic still plays a role at the point of purchase, it is vital to establish a relationship before the user gets there. 

That means being able to deliver an excellent user experience (UX) further up the funnel. Brands can grow presence and sales, and climb the funnel with branded content, expert articles and a focus on UX. Capturing the user earlier in the buying journey creates new opportunities to drive brand interest and increase return buying behaviour.

Focusing on a single brand or product type, and being thorough with on-page targeting and UX, delivers awareness. So does hero content, also boosting trust and authority before the user even considers purchase. 

Rich long-form content across a relatively small number of pages is key. Remember, Google has a ‘crawl budget’ – the number of pages it will crawl on your site on a single day. 

Creating unique product pages and copy for key products is the best way to beat the dominant players; going the extra mile in ‘Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust (EAT)’ is a big part of delivering front-page product listings. 

Meanwhile, content’s reach extends far beyond SEO, offering value for paid search, PR, social media and brand activity. Rich content can therefore form the backbone of multichannel activities. When investing in content, you create reusable assets for other channels and help move SEO’s position further up the funnel.

What retail can learn from SEO in other sectors

The traditional view of using SEO for action terms such as “cheap health insurance” is a double-edged sword. Focusing on high-competition terms at the expense of building awareness means you’re less likely to experience conversion, and instead succumb to high costs and fluctuating results.

Better options are available, with a clear content strategy driven by user insights and search analytics the goal.

AXA Health was keen to see better results, but with the challenge of keeping a tight purse. Growing focus on – and value derived from – content was the only way to achieve this. By building out content that focused on user needs and ensuring it was rich in detail, it managed to: 

  • Grow traffic to key converting segments of their website by more than 120% 
  • Double the number of first position terms 
  • Grow terms on page one by 138% 

All of this was attained by using a much greater focus on audience and content. This included developing complementary offsite content through outreach to build EAT credentials, and enhance higher-funnel awareness and interest. 

The opportunities for retail organisations are similar. When budgets are tight but continued growth is required, brands can succeed by focusing on four key areas. 

First, build out as much audience-centric content – on- and offsite – as budgets allow. Don’t spread the budget too thinly, instead create a thorough programme of rich content for each audience.

Aligning product pages with user intent is the second strategy. Don’t get too tied up in keyword insertion. This will improve UX, audience-specific content and conversion.

Third, ensure PPC and SEO are integrated to determine the keyword pool with the best value versus effort trade-off. Monitor cannibalisation between channels to minimise wastage. 

Finally, ensure you maintain technical proficiency. A slow site and poor Core Web Vitals will spoil your efforts to improve elsewhere. 

For sure, SEO has no one-size-fits-all solution. But that doesn’t mean retail must cower in the face of Google’s power. A focus on marketing strategy higher up the funnel can, and does, reap rewards.