The personal care playing field is evolving. Branded terms are losing prominence in consumer searches on Google, especially in the bath & shower and oral care categories. As brand loyalty sinks, research becomes the main factor driving unbranded search.

Unbranded queries account for two-thirds of search volume across personal care categories, according to Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Personal Care, which finds that 84% of Google searches in bath & shower and oral care categories are unbranded. For example, OTC consumers are more likely to search for solutions to symptoms (e.g. “how to prevent dry skin”) rather than branded products. Searches for specific ingredients (e.g. “shea butter lotion,” “charcoal toothpaste”) also continue to grow while coupon terms have declined 7% over the same time period, indicating that online shoppers might be more willing to pay a premium to get the ingredients that they want, rather than browse for discounts.

Niche brands are exploiting this trend across categories. SheaMoisture (skincare and bath & shower) and Hello (oral care) all spotlight ingredients consistently across their sites, including on product pages and ingredient articles, as well as embedded in URLs. These efforts allow them to outpace legacy brands in Google visibility against unbranded terms. However, legacy players are not all complacent. Unilever and Procter & Gamble have been able to tap into this trend through acquisition, as Seventh Generation, SheaMoisture, Schmidt’s Naturals (Unilever), and Native (Procter & Gamble) were all acquired in the past two years. Still, building organic search equity takes time, giving an edge to new brands that put ingredients first.

With new entrants to the marketplace gaining Google search visibility through ingredient terms, the retail ecosystem is undergoing waves of change. For legacy brands to stay afloat, costly acquisitions might not cut it. For personal care brands looking to make their mark, it’s what’s inside that counts to consumers.

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