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A study into the search traffic of some niche retailers in the UK finds that, while they are doing well for SEO for generic search traffic, these terms are not necessarily converting very well.

ScreenPages has been analysing the traffic to around 50 of its clients' websites, which mainly includes niche retailers and mail order companies, and has found that 25% of all traffic comes from generic organic search terms.

This is a measure of how well these websites have been optimised for the search engines, but unfortunately, this generic search traffic doesn't necessarily convert as well as the other 75% of traffic.

  • 50% of these visitors that arrived at the sample of sites via generic searches it bounced straight out without clicking onto another page, a higher bounce rate than the average of 30%.
  • Across the sample of sites, the average conversion rate for generic search terms is 0.9%, much lower than the overall average of 2.2%, and the conversion rate of 3.7% for returning customers. 
  • Overall, this 25% of traffic generates just 9% of the total sales for the sample of sites.

Screen Pages' client list contains many niche retailers, such as Smythson and Tanners Wine Merchants, which appeal to wealthier customers, and don't necessarily compete on price, which accounts in part for the lower conversion rates from generic searches.

This doesn't mean that SEO efforts are wasted though; once initial investment in SEO has been made, this can be a vital and low cost source of new business, and better  landing pages can help. Also, some of the retailers in the sample made more of this traffic than others; for 20% of the sites studied, these visitors from generic searches accounted for 20% of all sales.

According to Screen Pages' MD Roger Willcocks, the retailers that made the most of this generic search traffic were the more well known ones (Its clients include brands like Thorntons, RSPB, and Corgi), but other niche brands rely more on brand searches, offline marketing, emails, and returning visitors.

"This traffic from generic search terms shows that SEO efforts have worked, but it doesn’t always convert as you would hope, and niche retailers have to be realistic about the results they can expect from this, and you have to go into it with your eyes open.  A niche brand has to work a lot harder to convert than more well known brand, and if you are a niche brand, there may be a better strategy."

Graham Charlton

Published 11 March, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (1)


Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

If you're a retailer running Google Analytics on the site it can be very useful to set up an advanced segment to compare 'generic search' with 'brand search' performance.

In fact it's well worth setting up an extra profile which uses an include filter to only show visits which came from generic searches.

Either way the information can be frightening at first glance, because the figures are likely to be so much worse than the un-segmented averages which you are used to seeing.

Once you've got over the shock, you should also be able to spot some places where you can improve things for the generic searchers since you now have a view uncluttered by all those other visitors.

I favour the 'separate profile' approach because it gives you the segmented view everywhere, including places like the checkout funnel reports, where advanced segments cannot be used.

The 'generic search' profile also works as a useful proxy for all visitors who are new to the site and to your brand. It provides valuable insight into how persuasive your site is as a customer acquisition channel.

over 7 years ago

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