Watch our video interview with KPMG's Head of UK & Global Retail, Paul Martin, where we discuss the latest retail and eCommerce industry trends, COVID recovery, and consumer behaviour. Kevin and Paul share their top priorities for retail leaders right now, and discuss the biggest category movers so far this year.
Paul Martin, Head of UK & Global Retail at KPMG
We asked 7 in-house SEOs at leading retailers 9 questions about the state of the industry in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, geopolitical pressures, and changing customer behaviour. Click on the questions below to see their responses. We'd like to thank Omi Sido, Federico Rebeschini, Sam Pennington, and Carmen Dominguez, Onyi Ekebuisi, Andrew Longley, and Alina Ghost for their contributions.
It would appear so according to our experts! as eCommerce became a much more crucial revenue driver through the Covid-19 pandemic, it would seem that many businesses are placing a much higher value on SEO and organic search activities!
Within the eCommerce team, SEO has always been valued, but what has changed dramatically is the strategic value of the ecommerce as a whole.
Covid-19 has transformed the customer spending habits reprioritising what is essential and swapping the checkout line for online shopping basket so yes everybody now recognises the value that SEO brings to the business.
The temporary spike in demand for cycling actually had a negative impact on organic budgets and we moved spend to more short term paid channels to take advantage of the moment. As we come out of covid we're now looking for a more balanced approach and organic is becoming a bigger priority.
Yes and no. It was impacted heavily by covid however it is still seen as a key channel.
Working on mulitple businesses across Retail eCommerce + Finance, Covid-19 has totally changed the way that organic search is perceived internally by brands as the returns have been proportionally higher even though a tiny portion of the marketing budget is spent on Organic.
This has lead to active brands increasing the spend on SEO, but also small/medium brands taking the initial step to reserve budgets for organic search as they've realised what they've been missing out on.
Greater competition in the SERPs has been a clear change, and therefore the need for more quality and credible content is becoming even more important!
Higher dependency on the website, increased returns rates and higher focus on promotional calendar.
From an SEO POV, trends change around seasonality, weather and times of the day in comparison to pre-covid. Customers also have different "priorities" and experiences are taking a larger slice of the pie than "things".
During 2020 and 2021, the amount of people buying online, and particularly in the beauty industry doubled. We saw the entrance of a lot of audience sectors in the online business that we did not see before. In the wellness sector, we also saw a boom in 2020 that decreased a little over 2021. We are now seeing that while we have still more users than we used to 2019, the levels of purchases are more similar to 2019 than 2020/2021 - this could be linked to inflation soaring. We have definitely seen how plenty of companies that previously had a resistance to invest in Digital Marketing, have started investing more from mid last year and still at the beginning of the year, particularly in SEO, creating much bigger competition in the SERPs.
We've had the same traffic, but have seen twice the orders and revenues numbers!
I've seen a lot of websites that give credible sources of information being elevated by Google. It is now extremely important to care for content quality and user experience. Another trend that I noticed in the last 2 years is video and SEO. It started in 2021 and we will probably see this trend continue in 2022 - more and more long-tail keywords that focus on customer queries such as 'how to fix a car', or 'how to cook steak perfectly every time' produce organic video results that occupy the top of the SERPs. We should all take some time to produce high-quality video content that meets our target audience needs and brings value to the customer.
We've seen a greater emphasis on quality & price point
Huge spike in CVR, increase in new customers and lower CPA from Mar-20 to around Jul/Aug-21 and then a normalisation of metrics across Q4 21 and into this year.
Brand performance dropped and is beginning to recover, as services and travel reopen. Non brand performance across goods (particularly across Home and Garden, face masks and toilet roll) spiked in 2020, and have dropped slightly in 2022.
Within retail eCommerce, aside from the first few months of significant downfall and uncertainty, the performance across the majority of the brands have seen all time high traffic/revenue in 2020, with an even higher growth in 2021. However, the start of the year 2022, and now that we're in Q3, we can see the trends including demands falling down to pre-covid levels.
Some interesting responses here from our experts. Many have noted that forecasts have started to gradually realign with pre-covid predictions.
Not really - pretty much the same.
We did forecast 2022 assuming the online shopping habits would be similar to 2021, that were not as high as 2020, but still way higher than 2019. However, we did not count for the effect that the Ukrainian war would have in soaring prices. We have seen a decrease in purchases in beauty, wellness and even in food, as people can afford less these types of products. While forecasting has not changed drastically from H1, we have to of course changed the forecasting for H2 to consider the new situation.
After the dramatic growth we experienced in 2020 growth is - in percentage - now on par with what we were experiencing pre-covid.
Predicting organic traffic after the Covid pandemic can be tricky. Until things settle down it's probably better to be very conservative when forecasting and have a serious conversation with the business whether to use the data from the last 2 years as a benchmark or not. For a lot of business that were badly affected by Covid e.g., travel, catering etc. starting from 'ground zero' is probably the best thing to do.
Different forecasts, but the same way of forecasting - long term view has been difficult due to volatility and uncertainty in the market.
This has been a tougher excercise as the last 2 years saw even our ambitious forecasts proving to be less than what we've ended up achieving, but for the current year, a lot has changed globally and economically to warrant the decline which is why for some brands, with their mutual consultation we've reverted this back to the 2019/20 levels.
Customers have started to trade down to sellers with lower price points as the purse strings have tightened this year. There's also been a SERP reshuffled caused by a string of recent Algorithm updates!
We are seeing competitors struggle, we are seeing customers shop less (frequency of visits from an individual customer) or customers "trading down" based on price points - therefore we are gaining customers from competitors with higher price points.
Absolutely. As I touched on in previous questions, from February we have seen a steady decrease in conversions, and we've also seen search intent (average monthly searches) decrease for top keywords in most of the categories we sell. As I said, lower search intent, higher inflation and higher competition in the SERPs (more people investing in SEO) is making conversions even harder (not to mention all the Google algorithm updates that, while they have not affected our sites, have still had an impact with the imovement of rankings).
From my point of view, SEO results are more impacted by what google decides to display ahead of the first natural results, rather than any geopolitical climate.
Covid forced millions of businesses to make the online transition. The number of businesses fighting for the SERPs is growing all the time but the results page stays the same size. Businesses that were 'lucky' before to rank well in the SERPs without investing much in SEO are not that lucky anymore as everybody is upping their game - I see better content, better website structure and better UX everywhere.
we've found it increasingly more difficult to find resource
No really, a slight drop in cycling demand due to covid. We are feeling the effects of economic and geo political pressures more heavily on supply chain costs.
Our organic search performance hasn't been impacted so far, however we're anticipating seeing an impact in Q4 and Peak season.
A significantly large one! We're seeing a fair few brands going out of business as well as the general demand going significantly down. Aside from inflation, and the geo-political climate, we're confident this is due to cost of living on a rise, and the growing uncertainty in EU region.
Our experts belive that in the short term, the impact of external geopolitical and economic factos will continue to impact organic performance. However there is hope that seasonal fluctations will still provide some restbite, and that the situation will start to improve next year!
We think this will continue to grow as people's purse strings get tighter. We also see a shift of brands moving more to explain and emphasise quality & value to retain higher price points.
I believe this is going to get a bit worst before it gets better. H2 will see many budget cuts, higher inflation and less money in pockets to be invested in non essential goods - energy prices and food prices will continue to increase due to the Ukranian war and Brexit limitations and people would rather invest money on those. Probably this will affect more PPC budgets that it will do SEO budgets, and as Digital will keep been invested on, I think the market will slow down. I also predict more google updates for this year, as Google is starting to roll out MuM updates, so the majority of sites will have a lot to catch up on (and less budget to do so), but hopefully this will be reverted by H2 next year.
I expect the curve to follow the regular seaonal trends.
I’m honestly not sure it will change
We've noticed that majority of the trends tally historically, so its easy to identify peaks and drop, but with uncertainty due to external factors we anticipate demands to flatline for a while with any gains coming purely at the back of stronger organic presence. This means the competition will grow more and more as brands invest into this channel.
Any further escalations in external factors such as recession is likely to have a negative impact on majority of businesses.
Some varied responses from our experts, with reporting, content quality, understanding customer behaviour, and adjusting to Google's updates all mentioned as important challenges!
Getting accurate reporting and attribution - this leads to devalued channel performance / understanding and makes it harder to get internal business buy in.
I think it is quality content. The industry has not moved yet to follow Google's everchanging guidlines and updates and we still see a lot of non useful content all over the sites. as well as odd structures and little integration. We have seen big players, Boots for example, making a lot of changes to be on top of latest trends.
I would also say reviews are a big challenge, and understanding what type of content qualifies as a review (not just the review that people leave on your site) is crucial for ecommerce (honest review of products in your blog/youtube channel is important).
The challenge is coming from google itself, the CTR for being in the first position on both brand and generic keywords keeps decreasing every year.
Currently the biggest challenge is understanding the customer behaviour. COVID-19 has changed our lives forever. In my personal opinion the habits created over the last two years are here to stay. In response, businesses must heavily invest in a digital-ﬁrst (a digital-first approach is now fundamental) shopping experience that’s seamless, efficient, convenient, and highly personalised.
Finding talent for web development
Investment in long term growth is challenging when there is constant pressure on real time CPAs and short term payback windows for investment decisions.
Correctly anticipating trends so that the right areas are prioritised, and a decline in spending.
SEO challenges include having resource/personnel that can fulfill the implementation of organic search recommendations across tech/content.
Its also impacted by wider non-SEO challenges, which have changed since last 6-8 months, where previously order fulfillment/stock was a key challenge due to significant demand, its now changed to ensuring the existing stock is sold without significant sale/offers as they tend to take a massive cut out of profits.
The concensus from our experts is that SEO investment has either stayed at similar levels or increased over the last 12 months for most (sensible) businesses!
It's stayed the same!
It has certainly increased. We have more people in the team but with more focused projects and with heavier investment in the basics: content, internal linking and navigation structure. While we still plan on adding multimedia content to product pages and testing things, but we don't do big projects anymore without having tested that it works and having back up numbers for it.
We have more budget, because the ecommerce business grew as a whole over this year.
Companies had no choice but to increase their SEO investment in the last 2 years. For those who didn't... the future looks uncertain!
our investment has stayed the same over this period!
Stayed the same
It looks like there are lots of exciting new projects on the horizon for our experts, showing that there appears to be a fair bit of strategic variety for businesses looking to optimise their SEO activities!
We are migrating to a completely new platform - it will completely change everything and give us 10x more freedom and ability to grow.
It has changed, but not necessarily due to the economic situation, but more for the recent Google updates. We have had a integrated content strategy where we work in clusters. We plan certain category and brand focus, and we write blog content, category content, sku content and add connections with socials and influencers takeovers in the blog, with strengthened internal linking. We have also experimented with reviews.
Artificial Intelligence and automated solutions are the next big thing we are focusing on!
We all have to change our SEO strategy in 2022 as Google is constantly changing their algorithm. It's obvious now that with the introduction of the Core Web Vitals metrics UX is becoming a top ranking factor so merging UX and SEO is what I've been doing a lot in the last 12 months.
Our strategy hasn't changed significanty
Technical and Content have grown taking a fair share of any link acquistion activity as the long term impact of the former is far significant.
Money talks! Revenue certainly seems to be the metric of greatest importance for most businesses right now!
Traffic and Revenue!
Organic Revenue and Market Visibility of course, Traffic is important, as if it increases, brand awareness increases, but traffic means nothing if it does not convert.
Revenues and Order Numbers are still the two most crucial metrics for us.
In my mind - before or after Covid - success is always connected with the SEO activities that result in the greatest positive financial impact to the business. Revenue is a unifying metric that forces all digital teams (SEO, PPC, display etc.) to think bigger and to look at the whole funnel, in other words to be customer-centric and to measure what's important to the business ad not just what's important to the individual channel.
We always prioritise Revenue as the most important metric for our SEO activity
organic revenue, traffic and organic visibility
- ROI (for ever £1 spent, how much revenue does the brand generate from non-branded organic traffic)
- traffic/revenue across sections of the site where SEO activity was carried out
- brand & generic growth using awareness/informational content
This interactive table and chart displays the data for 250 different brand domains in the Ecommerce sector. Use the drop down category menu below to see how domains in industry sub-categories compare. The interactive chart displays the 10 brand domains with the highest or lowest visibility (overall or by 'Month on Month' or 'Year by Year' difference) across the past 52 weeks. Click on the arrow next to each column heading to view the data in descending or ascending order.
Click domains in the key to show/hide them
Data for the Top 250 Ecommerce SEO League Table has been provided by SISTRIX. The SISTRIX Visibility Index is a value for the visibility of a domain in Google's search results and how the domain has developed with Google. The effects of Google updates on the rankings are also shown in the Visibility Index.