Do online shoppers type in different keywords to find products on Google than on retailer sites?

Lately, L2 has been investigating how consumers use different digital tools at various levels of product research and discovery. As part of this endeavor, we set out to understand how the keywords shoppers search on Google that lead them to retailer sites differ from those they search on the sites themselves.

Methodology: To test apparel retailers across different consumer segments, we studied Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Dillards, and UK-based retailers Asos and Net-A-Porter. We looked at keywords driving traffic to these sites on desktop via organic Google search results in the US in January 2018.

We then took the top trafficked pages on these sites (as reported by SimilarWeb) and narrowed them down to the search bar results pages. We parsed out the exact keyword searched from each URL by identifying patterns in the syntax. For instance, search result URLs usually include the keyword searched in the format “keyword=___.” This allowed us to identify the most-searched keywords on retailers’ desktop sites.

Share of searches

Results: With just one exception, the share of branded keywords (e.g. “gucci”) searched on the retailer sites exceeded the share of branded keywords leading to those sites via organic Google search. Google searches leading consumers to the retailer sites included more unbranded product discovery terms (e.g. “evening gowns,” “trench coat”). This suggests that on-site search bars are used more often to find specific products or brands than for broader pre-purchase exploration. This could be the result of the prominent navigation menus on most retailer homepages—shoppers may use these for high-level product browsing and turn to the search bar if they already know what item or brand they wish to buy.

The results also seem to be influenced by each retailer’s positioning and customer base. Searches on luxury retailer sites like Net-A-Porter, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom are more likely to be branded than searches on a mid-market retailer like Asos or on a discount retailer like Dillard’s. This suggests that luxury shoppers are, predictably, more brand-conscious.

Next Steps: In future investigations, we seek to expand the scope of this analysis to include more data over a larger time-period, which would indicate how seasonality and holiday shopping periods impact this trend. Expanding to a wider set of retailers spanning the price spectrum would also help confirm the initial trends observed. Further, while we’ve primarily looked at apparel retailers, expanding the analysis to include retailers from other sectors could reveal different sector-specific consumer behavior.

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