Retailers Struggle with Search Marketing Strategies

Troubles with SEO and paid search complicate ecommerce efforts

Author: Jeremy Kressmann

April 7, 2017

Retail ecommerce marketing has never been an easy discipline.

Between constant changes in consumer shopping habits and the ever-evolving marketing tools used to reach them, it can be difficult for retail executives to keep up.


Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to search marketing, a discipline that has become increasingly critical for retail marketers as consumers spend more time shopping and buying online.

One part of the challenge is that search engine optimization (SEO) for online retail businesses can be complicated. As outlined in a March 2017 study by SearchDex, US retail websites face a number of obstacles to increasing visibility for their products in consumer searches.

Rapidly changing product pages were the biggest challenge, mentioned by 66% of US marketers, while having similar titles to competitors (55%) and not updating pages based on search demand (54%) also made the top three.

Designing retail pages to maximize their discoverability in organic search is only one part of the equation. Many retail marketers also choose to supplement their SEO efforts with paid search campaigns, using tools like Google’s popular product listing ads (PLSs) to try and gain added promotional visibility in consumers’ searches.

However, some retailers are discovering that paying to promote products in search results isn’t always worth it.

According to 2016 research by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Demand Metric, the percentage of retail marketers investing in paid search ads is slightly declining. Although marketers in the retail sector still rank among the top five in their use of paid search, the proportion using the format shrank from 37% in 2015 to 35% in 2016.

What’s causing the decline in paid search spending by those in the retail sector is less clear. 

One explanation is that paid search campaigns are simply getting more competitive, with higher demand from retail marketers driving up prices and decreasing effectiveness. Another is the growing effectiveness of other “nonsearch” marketing channels like social media in identifying potential ecommerce buyers.