The power of share of search in online retailers

Share of search is a key metric that helps brand owners understand how they’re doing in search relative to others. Read on and learn how to safeguard your brand's visibility on the digital shelf.

Presented by: 
Stephanie Rubin2022

Search is the gateway to discovering and buying products online.

One of the data points we often share with CPG clients is that 35% of products added to basket come through search. What’s more, position on page is everything. A huge 60% of all adds-to-basket from search are from the first four positions, and 70% of all products added to basket from search come from the first page of results.

These stats drive home just why our digital shelf experts are always going on about the importance of optimizing for search. (And why we continue to write extensively about search strategy on this blog, most recently about how CPGs should approach retail SEO and the relationship between paid retail search and organic SEO.) It really is that simple: If you don’t get the fundamentals right on search, your products won’t be visible to consumers and your brand won’t stand a chance on the digital shelf.

Optimizing for search naturally involves a fair bit navel-gazing. Digital marketing teams end up spending hours poring over content, making sure that product titles, product descriptions, and taxonomy are up to scratch and meet the requirements of individual retailers.

But it’s important to remember that search is not a solo sport. It is always a competitive (and at times combative) endeavor, where you are jostling for position with other brands and products. This means your search performance is not entirely within your control – rival brands may deploy tactics to actively push you down the page and out of the category.

This is a common blind spot for brand owners. People get so focused on their own search strategy that they forget to pay attention to what everyone else is doing.

Enter share of search – a key metric that helps brand owners understand how they’re doing in search relative to others and take defensive action to safeguard their brands’ visibility on the digital shelf.

What is share of search and why does it matter?

In simple terms, share of search (SOS) is the percentage of search results your brand appears in for a particular search term. You can measure SOS for general online search queries (typically by examining Google search trends) and for individual retailer websites.

Share of search has risen up the agenda in marketing circles in recent years, as a growing number of marketers have embraced it as an alternative to share of voice (SOV) for measuring and predicting market share and growth. Writing in Marketing Week in September 2020, UK marketing professor Mark Ritson argued that “understanding your share of search queries is a simple and elegant alternative” to traditional SOV metrics.

In the context of digital shelf analytics, share of search is used mainly to show brand owners how their brands are performing online versus the competition, and to sense-check and refine search strategies.

Here’s how it works. The majority of customers search in one of two ways: Their searches are either very brand-specific or very product-specific. A shopper looking for toothpaste will typically search for a specific toothpaste brand or for generic search terms such as ‘toothpaste’ or ‘tartar control’ or ‘whitening’.

When we monitor and analyze share of search for our CPG clients using our ‘Easy to Buy’ fundamental, we look at the entire category’s first page results for all relevant generic search terms as well as brand names. So, if your search term is ‘toothpaste’ and you want to understand your share of search for that term for a particular retailer, we’ll look at the number of your products that show up on that retailer’s first page for ‘toothpaste’ versus your key competitors.

This gives you two important insights. Because we gather data at the entire category level, you get a more holistic and realistic view of your search performance than you get by looking at individual SKUs in isolation. Your share of search is literally your representation in the category against key competitors for that retailer.

You also get to see search from the customer’s point of view: This is how you show up when shoppers search for you, your products, and your category in the real world.

Taking defensive action on the digital shelf

Monitoring share of search also gives CPGs an early warning system against potentially damaging search tactics from competitors. Because position on page is key when it comes to search, it’s easy even for well-optimized brands to get caught out by aggressive moves from rivals.

Especially with sponsored search, your competition can buy your brand and your search terms, and they can drive you down the page and, by extension, out of the category. We often challenge our CPG clients on this: By the time you’re on page 2, 3 or 4 of search results, are you even in the category anymore?

That’s why it’s critical to keep a close eye on the competition. Use share of search to really understand what your rivals are doing in search, so you can take defensive action early to protect your visibility.

Finally, share of search helps CPGs gauge salience and anticipate changes in shopper behavior and sales by connecting the dots between search performance and the impact on sales and market share.

The CPG clients we work with will typically combine our share of search data with data on their own sales and total category sales to estimate market share, and to see how share of first page results relates to their online and brick-and-mortar sales. You’ll often get some great aha moments for brand teams that way. It’s really powerful when teams can tie share of search back to sales and see how, say, a 1% increase in their share of search relates to half of a percent increase in sales.

Once your eyes have been opened of the power of share of search, it’s a digital shelf metric you won’t want to do without.


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