Online, good search engine optimization is a priority for many businesses. Except for those that don’t want search engines to find them. And when it comes to e-commerce, there are plenty of companies that are working against Google’s efforts to make online shopping an efficient experience.

For companies that trade in deeply discounted merchandise — like Gilt, Groupon and Living Social — avoiding the crawl of search engines is part of the business model.  Their discount deals don't last long enough for effective SEO. Furthermore, smart marketers are training consumers to be on the lookout for deals, often outside of search.

Discount sites are popping up all over the internet — offering steep discounts on everything from gym memberships to clothing and gourmet restaurants. But retailers don't want to sell most of their inventory at such deep discounts. And if a consumer searching for a product online realized it was available on any variety of discount sites, it could steeply eat into a retailer's sales.

That's why many discount sites go out of their way to make their deals private. And keep their content away from the prying eyes of search engines.

As Scott Rafer, CEO of Lookery, puts it on his blog:

"Unless you’re Google, efficient pricing is the antithesis of profit. Instant, free, ubiquitous, constant, direct comparisons to the competition drives prices towards marginal cost (i.e. profit = zero) quickly. To escape this race to the bottom, information inefficiency must exist. Before the internet became ubiquitous, information inefficiency was the natural state in which society existed. Now it must be manufactured."

And according to a new study from iVillage/SheSpeaks, women are being trained to look for good deals outside of search. The women chosen for the study (members of the SheSpeaks online community) may be more attuned to digital deals than the average consumers, but their answers are worth noting, as others may follow their habits in the digital sphere. 

The study found that "online coupons" were cited by the most respondents as the most influential source of purchasing decisions (68%). 66% used "store coupons, 61% paid attention to "consumer reviews on shopping sites" and 59% shopped according to "recommendations from family/friends." But almost half of respondents (45%) were influenced by e-mails from companies/brands." Meanwhile, many paid attention to "content on brand/company sites" (36%) and "blog recommendations" (33%).

Small, self-created inefficiencies in pricing are a highly effective method of marketing. When it comes to email, which is a main method of communication for many digital discounts, women are paying attention. The study found that 66% of those surveyed "open and read regularly" e-mail newsletters from food/beverage brands, 55% read emails from health/beauty brands and 42% from household-product brands. Meanwhile, over half (55%) consistently read e-mail newsletters they get from superstores, and 44% from grocery retailers. 40% read emails from drugstores. Jodi Kahn, iVillage's executive vice president Kahn tells AdWeek:

"We have found that women use e-mail as their own personal form of research, and it has become a valuable touch-point tool as they continue to research brands and share what they've learned."

But there's another factor at work. As SheSpeaks CEO Aliza Freud puts it:

"People feel like insiders when they get these newsletters, so they feel like they're getting the best information and the best deals."

And that's what an inclination that many e-commerce sites are exploiting. If they can offer steeply discounted deals that cannot be found elsewhere in their email communications, consumers will open them. And because the discounts are not easily picked up online, retailers don't have to worry that the majority of consumers will skip their preferred mode of selling and go directly to a discount site to make purchases.

If discount sites explicitly withhold their low prices from search engines, consumers will look elsewhere for preferential deals. Furthermore, they can have more control over who sees their products — and when. As Rafer puts it:

"Planned inefficiency, which will work a lot better than the last hundred years of accidentally inefficient advertising, is going to make a lot of money."

Image: Target

Meghan Keane

Published 17 May, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (5)


Allen - Social Marketer

Users/consumer acts differently on different platforms. A savvy user may choose e-commerce sites to purchase things still he might consider getting product reviews from search engines. That creates the necessity of search!

about 8 years ago

Michael Harris

Michael Harris, Freelance consultant at Private company

This article fails to address the midpoint between deal sites, and search engines/SEO.

This is where I've seen entire user communities spring up soely for the purpose of sharing time-sensative deals. One example from Australia would be OzBargain, where users congregate and share/receive information on deals that have come to their attention.

I recently leveraged OzBargain and similer sites for one giveaway project (native seedlings from a Government environmental agency). In terms of message penetration, this went through the roof because we leveraged these communities for communication as part of the giveaway.

We started the giveaway at 4pm on a Friday - and within 1hr of the giveaway being posted, it had already been voted up 10 times, had three comments supporting the move, and had started to spread across the internet by word of mouth. Traffic to the business site, and specifically the giveaway registration page exploded with a 3x traffic increase.

Also, due to the structure of these pages in terms of copy - we know that even the person taking a casual glance at the offer would have read at least 2 to 3 of our key environmental messages which the campaign was about raising awareness of.

If any business is going to look at platforms such as Ouffer, Living Social, etc - then they need to consider these dedicated user communities as part of their awareness and conversion strategy. Otherwise they risk missing out on a whole bunch of relevant and interested consumers.

about 8 years ago


Andrew Marshall, SEM Manager at s1

I don't see what strategy you are trying to recommend in this article. Once news of a bargain gets out then it's only a matter of time before it's on Hot UK Deals and the sales come in. So many people now check HUKD that it's one of the biggest sites in the UK with a HUGE percentage of shoppers going there before making a purchase on any site. HUKD combined with Quidco means that people are always seeking bargains before making a purchase and this is only going to get bigger.

about 8 years ago



 choose e-commerce sites to purchase things still he might consider getting product reviews from search engines.

about 8 years ago


Nat Berman

I think there will always be people out there that want to stay away from technology and where the online world is actually headed, or should I say how the world is headed online. At some point people will all have to learn search if they want to optimize their coupon capabilities. I do see the point of keeping deals quiet for these sites but they should steal be 100% open to search because it will allow more visitors to come to their site. Personally I don't see a downside. I mean you still have to join the site. But you might as well get people to FIND it.

about 8 years ago

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