August 11, 2010, 3:15 PM

Amazon is No. 1 in natural search rankings

Amazon led in optimization in Internet Retailer’s 2011 Search Marketing Guide.

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Amazon.com Inc. tends to dominate the field when measuring key operating metrics for web retailers, and natural search is no exception. Amazon ranked No. 1 in the natural search rankings with 3,182 points in Internet Retailer’s just-published 2011 Search Marketing Guide. Amazon, also No. 1 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, ranked first in the CDs/DVDs/ music merchandise category with 502 points. The web retailing heavyweight’s 2010 point total was down 4.9% from the previous year, but it commands a whopping 20.7% share of the total points among retailers in the category.

To determine the rankings, Internet Retailer measured 14 to 18 keywords across 20 retail categories on the Google search engine and assigned points for the top five natural results in each segment. Each keyword was measured over nine weeks beginning in late 2009 and ending in early 2010. To see marketing charts regarding this story and others click here.

The study yielded some surprises regarding where other merchants placed within the top five overall across the 20 retail categories in natural search.  Not only did underwear retailer Fresh Pair place second in the apparel category after J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 16), the retailer came in first among the top three keyword search rankings with the generic term “underwear,” besting Wikipedia.org and Calvin Klein Underwear.

In the consumer electronics category, digital video service company TiVo held the top spot, even though it sells only a few models of digital video recorders and some wireless accessories along with its service. Keywords studied include “Tivo” and “DVRs” and they helped TiVo rack up double the point total of mobile phone network operator T-Mobile. Traditional consumer electronics merchants such as Sony Electronics Inc., parent of SonyStyle.com (No. 13), CircuitCity.com and Systemax Inc. (No. 22), parent of TigerDirect.com and CompUSA.com, rounded out the top five.

Data suggest there are untapped opportunities for retailers in natural search to move ahead of content sites. Of 297 keywords tested for the 2011 Search Marketing Guide, 219 of 930 top keyword positions—24%—were held by informational web sites or other non-merchants. That’s a mirror image of last year’s data: content-based sites held 24%, or 223, of 927 top positions.

The challenge for retailers is to get ahead of the content providers who show up at the top of the lists on many of the terms that users search on when they are shopping, says Larry Becker, an e-commerce marketing analyst. “Informational web sites appear so frequently in the top search results for high-value keywords in so many merchandising categories because Google believes users are best served when natural search results are devoted to editorial content,” Becker says. That doesn’t mean retailers can’t compete for strong natural search placements in those categories. “But it does emphasize the value of retailers developing abundant relevant content for their own sites,” he says.

For example, web merchants held 20 of 45 top positions among 15 keyword places in the consumer electronics merchandising category in this year’s study. The other 25 slots were held by informational web sites, such as Wikipedia.org, HowStuffWorks.com and ConsumerSearch.com. By comparison, retailers held 22 of 45 positions in last year’s study indicating there is plenty of room to improve.

Taking advantage of natural search opportunities means serving consumers. The more attention retailers pay to meeting shoppers’ needs on their sites, the more likely they will be found by search engines, says Matt Bailey, president of SiteLogic, an online marketing firm.“Retailers can do a lot more user testing, because when the site is better for the user it becomes better for search engines,” Bailey says. “It’s not just about throwing more keywords on a page, it’s about what speaks to the user. When the retailer satisfies the user, the site ranks better for the right terms.”

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