Search engine optimisation for supermarkets is a tricky animal. Unlike many other online retailers, it isn’t really a case of identifying target terms and then optimising pages and building supporting content around those desired topics.

Not many people will search for 'apples' or 'bread' and then end up doing their shopping at the supermarket which comes out on top.

Lots of the more traditional methods of SEO tend to fall down, while other strategies which are only just starting to permeate the rest of the retail market have accelerated their way up the food chain to being fully embraced by some of the biggest supermarket brands.

With the help of Ruth Attwood, Advanced Search Consultant at 4Ps Marketing, I've been looking at supermarkets and SEO, with a particular focus on Morrisons. 

Who's ranking for 'supermarket'? 

Kevin Gibbons wrote on this site back in 2008 about the way that supermarkets were ignoring SEO for many major keywords and thus missing out on branding opportunities. 

In this post he pointed out that none of the top UK supermarkets ranked above number nine in Google. Six years later, not much has changed. 

The only supermarket ranking on page one is Sainsbury's, though local results ensure that local stores get some coverage. However, there are more local stores not mentioned here. Perhaps they haven't heard of Google's local results. 

You might think that they aren't interested in search visibility for these terms, but the fact that ASDA and Sainsburys are using AdWords suggests otherwise.

The supermarkets rank well for terms such as 'online grocery shopping'. Sadly, that's not what most people are searching for: 

More recently, the Guardian Media Network talked about content marketing being a critical driver with major supermarkets having “quite an affinity with food-based content, generating everything from recipes, diets and forums through to events” which seems to be a major truism in today’s post-Hummingbird world of rich content curation and outreach.

Does this mean onsite SEO is irrelevant for supermarkets? Of course not, content curation still requires intensive levels of optimisation, and even the best content in the world won’t magically outreach itself.

Plus there is still no harm at all in having category and product pages nicely optimised to ensure maximum potential traffic capture for brand purposes, something which a struggling supermarket would be well advised to examine.

Morrisons SEO

The news is full of unfortunate stories regarding Morrisons at the moment, with the BBC referencing a 5.6% like for like sales decrease and a generally 'disappointing' sales performance at the end of last year.

Morrisons has been late to the online party, and only started offering online deliveries in January this year, in limited areas too. The company's slow adoption of a proper digital strategy is very telling in the sales figures.

The structure of the website is very strange, with the main homepage at entirely image based, and the design a little old-fashioned.

All the curated content which could be put to work pulling in visitors for the brand (and earning backlinks to boost authority) is pushed into the subdomain, while the online grocery shopping section is split again on, with wine over on and the Kiddicare range over on its own domain as well.

Meanwhile, the user experience, though not absolutely disastrous, is less than optimal. I explored it here, with the help of some user tests, and it seems that customers were confused about where to start shopping. 

All of the products and discounts promoted on the homepage lead to the sub-domain rather than product pages, while the actual link to start shopping is on the top nav, not in the prominent position it should be. 

Groceries, wine and baby products are lucrative product ranges, but compare the Morrisons approach with rivals like Sainsbury’s and Tesco and we can see that the lack of subdomain unification isn’t a good way to go.  (A mistake also made by Staples). 

Aside from the technical SEO considerations such as splitting authority up, the unified shopping experience and purchase path offered on these two market leaders is an obvious improvement over Morrisons’ more piecemeal approach.

Even in terms of direct content curation Morrisons is behind the times, making some sadly elementary optimisation mistakes like wrapping the H1 around the top logo on all pages, using generic meta descriptions for recipe type listings (example from the Mains page – “Find hundreds of fantastic offers, easy recipes and entertainment products for the family at Morrisons online.”) and no ALT text on the (sometimes lacklustre) recipe images.

This is even more of a shame when looking at the search functionality for recipes, which is actually fairly solid (although some filters for refinement by ingredient would be nice), and the pages themselves which are actually nice and simple in their design with minimal scrolling. 

There’s actually another missed opportunity here. Luke Knight, head of Lifestyle at 4Ps, raises the sometimes-thorny issue of supermarket-brand integration:

It amazes me how few grocers work closely with the brands they sell in order to improve all-round performance with supporting content as well as landing/product page merchandising. A brand like Lindt, for example, could sell a lot more through supermarket stockists if it worked with them to improve optimisation, merchandising and “added value” content like exclusive recipes.

It isn’t just the recipes, either. Morrisons has a mass of brilliant content available like its healthy eating tips section (everything from achieving your 5 a day on a budget to adding more egg into your diet) and their brilliant themed product ranges like NuMe, Just for Kids and Free From.

Charlie Kay, Senior Digital Executive on the 4Ps Food and Drink team, comments that Morrisons seem to be having trouble with its unique selling proposition:

The key to online success for a brand like Morrisons is identifying the USP, what can it offer that other online retailers don't already make available to their customers? The website seems to heavily focus on price but with supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl dominating the “value for money” niche perhaps Morrisons needs to take a different approach.

It already has a good start on family-orientated content on the site, and with so much power behind the idea of families at supermarkets perhaps making the distinguishing approach the idea of “feeding the family” healthily on a budget would get the brand further than competing purely on price. 

There is so much editorial content here which could help Morrisons to cement its market share, but none of it seems to be integrated properly with a digital strategy that will grow visibility for the brand in order to attract more shoppers, long-term brand advocates and  (the ultimate and obvious goal) boost that bottom line.

I’ll leave it to the head of the 4Ps Food and Drink team, Kia McSween, to wrap up:

Brands like Morrisons have a unique opportunity to change the way customers and businesses alike interact with grocers. By understanding their audience better, grocers can put the customer experience at the forefront of their objectives. This will allow them to create an innovative platform and strategy which includes content that is tailored to suit their customers’ needs and wants.

What do you think? Are supermarkets missing out when it comes to SEO? Or is search somehow less important for these businesses? 

Graham Charlton

Published 7 May, 2014 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 (9)

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Edward Nash

The term 'supermarket' is certainly used in a different form than it used to- mainly by price comparison sites.

Clearly- Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys have realized that in order to rank well for these terms, it's going to take a significant amount of investment as they are going up against some big companies e.g money supermarket. Instead the better option would be for them to have a PPC campaign for that keyword. I'm sure the majority of people searching for 'Supermarket' are not looking for Asda,Tescos, Sainsburys etc, but the small majority that are will click on the ads, which is probably much more cost effective than investing in an seo budget for that keyword.

Interesting read though!

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Edward, a lot of this stuff is quite basic, and wouldn't require a huge budget. For example, Morrisons barely uses the word on its site, let alone in the meta-description.

about 4 years ago


Edward Nash

Hi Graham,

if you look at the search volumes, it's not really worth them chasing though, considering the traffic will be low quality as-well.

Supermarkets (low quality traffic)- 27,000 avg monthly

Tesco- 7,480,000 avg monthly searches
Asda- 6,120,000 avg monthly searches
Sainsburys- 3.350,000 avg monthly searches

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Perhaps not, though if you're looking for a local supermarket it may be worth ranking for. Also, why pay for AdWords on the term if it's not worth it?

It was more a way to indicate the general lack of attention to detail when it comes to SEO.

about 4 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

"A brand like Lindt, for example, could sell a lot more through supermarket stockists if it worked with them to improve optimisation, merchandising and “added value” content like exclusive recipes."

Excellent point. There is value to be had, as a product manager, when your retail partners do better. If they get an uptick, chances are you get an uptick. Perhaps, in this case, big name brands would be willing to lend a hand with their retailers SEO to at least ensure their own product pages are as SEO friendly as they can be.

about 4 years ago


Mike M

I agree 100% that too many retailers are leaving a lot of low hanging fruit on the trees. I don't understand why businesses do not see that local SEO and marketing can easily be tackled, and turned into a business strength that generates cash.

I just read a great analysis on the top 150 retailers and how they are addressing local marketing, a link to the report is below.

about 4 years ago


Christopher Dugdale, SEO Manager at Tesco

Many of the ideas discussed in the quotes from 4P staff aren't about SEO, they're about personalisation, audience segmentation, UX, etc. While all of this can help a brand gain greater search exposure, it is a much wider issue and is typical of traditional Bricks & Mortar businesses playing at this internet thing.

I'm surprised that Morrisons, entering the game so late, didn't learn more from the mistakes of the other supermarkets. They could have jumped into the market with a brilliant site that blew others, who struggle under legacy systems, out of the water.

PS: Please go and find out what a Top Level Domain is.

about 4 years ago


Laura | Ricemedia SEO

There's definitely some very basic improvements that can be made here, especially with local SEO and Google Places

I'd love to see the traffic breakdowns for each supermarket and just how much organic traffic they receive that isn't branded...

about 4 years ago

Jason Mills

Jason Mills, SEO Consultant at B24 0HF

I cannot think for a second that these huge companies do not employ top SEO strategies considering the amount they spend on Adwords to outdo each other for brand terms.

Having said that, clearly there is work to be done by most of them in this area and this article highlights the issues clearly.

almost 2 years ago

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