November 1, 2012, 11:35 AM

A new world order of natural search

Big retailers dominate natural search, according to the 2013 Search Marketing Guide. 

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When it comes to capturing the top spots on natural search results pages these days, it’s the biggest online retail brands that dominate, according to an analysis of the data in Internet Retailer’s just published 2013 Search Marketing Guide.

Two years ago most web retailers could improve their natural search ranking on Google and other engines simply by doing a better job of optimizing their sites with more focused content, enhanced images and tighter page design. Other niche merchants by virtue of their unique name, URL or specialized inventory also could count on appearing relatively high up in natural search results.

But in the last year the world of natural search has changed dramatically. With the implementation of Google Panda in February 2011 and Penguin in May 2012, Google changed its search engine algorithm to lower the rankings of web retailers whose sites featured static and generic content available on many other sites. Moving up under the new rules are retailers that offer detailed content, such as unique product descriptions and images, are smart at using reams of customer information to create content that appeals to shoppers looking for a specific brand or SKU, or that bring original content to their web sites in the form of consumer reviews and other content drawn from online social networks.

The biggest retailing brands tended to be the winners from these changes, and that shows up in their dominance of the natural search rankings in the new 2013 Internet Retailer Search Engine Marketing Guide. Consider these results:

Amazon.com Inc. dominates natural search. The world’s biggest online retailer finished in the top two spots in 18 of 20 categories and was the category leader in seven merchandise segments, including flowers/gifts, food/drug, hardware, health/beauty, office supplies, sporting goods and toys. In comparison Amazon in the 2011 Search Marketing Guide rankings was the top natural search retailer in only three categories: books, CDs/DVDs/musical supplies and hardware. Amazon’s overall natural point totals in the current Search Marketing Guide more than doubled to 7,823 from 3,182 points in the 2011 edition and Amazon was the highest-ranked retailer on 95 individual keywords in the latest rankings compared with 44 keywords in 2011. Ranking first for a keyword means a retailer had the highest average placement in Internet Retailer’s 8-week Google analysis of 400 popular retail search terms.

Amazon ranks as the leader in natural search rankings because of its extensive product inventory across multiple merchandising categories and the unique product content it displays, such as numerous customer reviews, brand names, and recommended items, says Ryan Mayberry, director of search engine optimization marketing at search agency iProspect. “What appears highest up in natural rankings on Google is content that’s highly personalized and unique, and that’s something Amazon is doing in spades and a lot better than many other merchants,” Mayberry says.

Other big retail brands dominate individual merchandising categories. Amazon was the top natural search leader overall, but other big chain retailers and web merchants also showed up frequently in the top spots in several merchandising categories in the 2013 Search Marketing Guide. Prime examples are the four merchants that followed Amazon in the natural search rankings—Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Overstock.com Inc., Macy’s Inc. and Best Buy Co. At least one of those four ranked either first, second or third in 15 merchandising categories, including apparel, accessories, consumer electronics and home furnishings. Wal-Mart, Overstock.com, Macy’s and Best Buy also consistently captured top positions on natural search results pages for a total of 61 keywords compared with 17 keywords in the 2011 rankings. Best Buy made the most dramatic jump, consistently appearing near the top of search results pages for 20 keywords compared with six keywords in 2011.

“The pages that optimize the best on Google and wind up higher in the natural rankings are the ones with genuine and useful content and a good user experience, and many big retailers are putting a lot of resources into making that happen,” says Khrysti Nazzaro, senior director of optimized services at MoreVisibility.

To order the 2013 Search Marketing Guide click here.

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