Deciphering Search and Driving Relevant Optimization Part 1

Knowing your retailer is a major step towards understanding how you can drive ecommerce success. When it comes to search, different retailers use different algorithms to determine search ranking. If you can uncover the rules that govern your retailer's algorithms, you can adjust your products to maximize search placement on a retailer site. 

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The Challenge of Search

Search. Simultaneously one of the most important and most complex parts of any company's ecommerce strategy. Creating a robust search strategy is more than just understanding what makes your product marketable; it’s about working within the retailer algorithm system.

A content marketing team can optimize for critical search terms and create the perfect product pages. At the same time, their brand activation counterparts can devise a promotional plan to ensure key products have bestseller status at crucial times. But all this hard work is negated upon realizing one of their target retailers ranks products alphabetically, and the other does so wholly manually.

Therein lies the challenge of retailer search.

Amazon’s A10 algorithm variables are known to many. Still, those that determine whether your key products are visible in the search results for Carrefour in the Middle East or Jumbo in Chile may be fundamentally different. We are far from the one size fits all approach to optimizing brand sites for Google.

In this first of two blogs, we will dive into how your business should be approaching search and the steps you can take to start decoding retailer search algorithms to move from standard SEO to relevant, retailer-specific, action planning.

Actioning Search to drive Success

While we know that search is a significant driver and indicator of ecommerce success, the equivalent of your bricks and mortar “share of shelf,” it is not always clear how this success can be achieved. It is easy to set a target of gaining the top result for a critical category search term, but how do you get a product there organically, without relying on media investment, and what does that push equate to when it comes to business success?

We recently partnered with a global consumer goods brand and found that low search rankings were the reason they did not see the forecasted sales on a new launch. By directly addressing this search based issue, they increased online sales by 14% the next quarter.

Similarly, we worked with a confectionery industry manufacturer to help drive product positioning against key terms in a particular retailer. A shift from 20th to 10th position for a specific category driving term contributed directly to a 65% sales increase in a product.

A search strategy will have a tangible effect on a business’s bottom line because search is a leading source of basket-adds on any retailer site. It caters to a specific customer mission and drives traffic to a list of products to answer that particular aim. These “glance views” make up a key value in the ecommerce sales equation:

Figure 1

It is clear from the examples above that Search has the power to have a very real impact on sales performance. Given that ecommerce sales are going to account for 34% of global retail sales by 2024, it is clear that search has the potential to dictate a sizable chunk of revenue for you and your business. 

Defining an Approach to Search

Topline, the approach we have adopted at Edge can be applied to many other ecommerce optimization strategies. For organic search, it is especially important to have an all-encompassing view and strategy, and our framework below demonstrates this.

Figure 2

In retailer search, the Identification of Opportunities lies in understanding where your business’s visibility is below what you expect and which products should be driving that visibility in those areas.

Implementing Actions is an omnichannel challenge for all retailers. It's not enough to just tick the standard search optimization box; you have to ensure you are truly geared towards making a difference for each specific retailer.

Measuring the Impact of your optimizations, at a basic level, will be done by assessing whether visibility has increased and whether previously missing products are now driving share of voice.

Figure 3

The Approach to Search in Detail

While tools such as the Edge Search reports allow you to achieve points one and three, point two relies on more intricate retailer knowledge. Unfortunately, retailers are notoriously secretive about their search algorithms and rightly so. Divulging such information would give certain manufacturers an unfair advantage. So how do you, an ecommerce stakeholder, know what relevant actions to take to better drive glance views?

Thankfully, providing you know where to look and what you are looking for, observation can offer some insightful clues to help decide what actions to implement. 

Long Term vs Short Term Factors

The first step to understanding a retailer's search algorithm is to take note of what you can observe about the ordering of products within search results that are obvious to the naked eye. Are products ranked alphabetically? Do items on promotion always appear first? Does a specific status such as “Amazon’s Choice” or “Bestseller” systematically push a product to the top?

Noting these standout elements provides a base on which to build the next crucial assessment.

Using a tool such as Edge’s Share of Search metric, you can identify where a product sits within the results for a specific term over time. If you view this feature for several products within 

  1. Products maintain a similar rank for long periods - there is little to no fluctuation in positioning.
  2. Products move from one rank to another daily - there is regular fluctuation.

These are indicative of the factors an algorithm may be considering when deciding which products to position and where.

In scenario 1, an algorithm is likely to be assessing whether a product should be present in the results and not where it should be positioned. This typically means that long-term factors such as content, key-word presence, and product categorization will be at play.

In the second scenario, the algorithm is likely to be determining presence in the results but also attempting to rank products in order of relevance for the shopper. Elements such as promotional activity, daily volume sales, and even profitability will be at play.



Figure 4

Difference in Fluctuation - "Coffee" - Retailer X, Retailer Y


Understanding this behavior for the retailers you work with is a great place to start in terms of defining the group of optimizations that will work. It answers the question, “do I only need to focus on content, or is my job more complex?”

Content Always Matters

The phrasing of that question is pertinent. At its center is the notion that content will always matter for search. That is true whether you are optimizing your brand sites for google or your product pages for multiple retailers in your market.

Content, at the very least, ensures the presence of your product within the results for selected terms, often determined by whether the keyword appears somewhere within the body of the page. Whether that “somewhere” is the title or description can also have a bearing on the position of the product within the results.

Add a keyword to the description of a Sainsbury’s*** product, and it will immediately become visible for that term. Add that term to the title, and you can watch it jump to a more prominent position. On IciParisXL**** titles are split across three levels; brand, product type, as defined by the manufacturer and retailer category. The latter guarantees consideration for terms that contain the category naming (e.g., mascara or waterproof mascara), while products which also include the keyword in the second level appear to gain the top spots.

***UK Grocery Retailer
****BENELUX Beauty Retailer


Figure 5

IciParisXL - "Mascara" - Search Term featuring within the three product title levels


The same is true for Amazon, where there is a pre-defined hierarchy of influence within its A10 algorithm. This follows the order of title, bullet points, then description.

Figure 6

Hacking the Amazon A10 Algorithm 


Seeking the perfect page for all products will be a natural part of any e-content strategy, and keyword optimization is a potential facet of that. The reality is that perfect on retailer X will be different from retailer Y. Observation and the use of the Edge tools can help you tweak your actions to drive the most significant impact on search.


As an aside, it is also worth considering your capacity to modify content on the retailer sites that are key to your ecommerce performance in your market. The titles of products on a grocery retail website may be linked to the titles that appear on receipts in-store, resulting in a lengthy modification process that makes change unlikely. This can mean two things:
1. You may want to de-prioritize the retailer for content optimization.
2. Extra care should be given to new product launches as your opportunity for keyword optimizing may only come before the product goes live.

What Next?

By observing the fluctuations in the rankings of products and the key content elements for these products, businesses can set themselves up with a decent grasp of how a retailer algorithm behaves. This process helps set a baseline for understanding that can help them make decisions with greater confidence.

There are, as already alluded to, several other variables that can impact search placement, each presenting its own unique set of questions to answer. 

Join us next week for the second part of this blog where we will dive further into the nuances of search, and the other variables that can have an impact on it. 

In the meantime, be sure to register for our Webcast on Decoding Search with Digital Shelf, where we will further decipher retailer search algorithms to help drive your search visibility. 

Tom Bentley
Article by:
Tom Bentley
Senior Insight Manager
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