It's hunting season for back-to-school clothes retailers who want to ensure they do well online.

But what is the search opportunity and what does it take to capitalise on this growing search trend?

We've looked at analysis from search specialists Pi Datametrics which focuses on retailer search performance and site structure.

Back-to-school searches are valuable and predictable

Back-to-school search terms are enjoying like-for-like annual growth.

Pi Datametrics has ranked these terms over the course of a year by comparing search volume, competition and cost-per-click data. The product of these three metrics is a sign of 'organic value' of the keyword.

Essentially, the higher this organic value, the more in-demand rankings are for this term.

top back to school search terms

All these search terms peak in August; for example the average monthly search total for 'school bags' in 2015 was 22,000, but the figure for August 2015 was 135,000.

This peak is predictable, as is a subsequent smaller peak in January and a discernable one in April, too.

So, the challenge for retailers is how to prepare for these peaks but also to capitalise year-round on what are consistently popular search terms.

The value of ranking for these terms is amplified by consumer tendency for multiple purchases, often buying uniform, shoes and bags together.

So who is winning in the rankings?

Debenhams - top performer for 'school shoes'

Pi Datametrics analysed rankings from July 2014 to July 2015 for the term 'school shoes' and found Debenhams to have the highest average ranking over this period.

As you can see from the screenshot below, Debenhams has a non gender-specific landing page titled "Kids' school shoes", with gender and brand filters within.

debenhams school shoes page

John Lewis - top performer for 'school uniform'

A similar story explains John Lewis' consistently high rankings for the term 'school uniform'.

Though it has boys and girls pages, these sit beneath a broader 'school uniform' landing page.

john lewis school uniform page

JD Sports - top performer for 'school bags'

And finally, as Ian Fleming once wrote, 'Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is enemy action'.

JD Sports wins out with school bags through its brand-filtered "kids' school bags" landing page.

jd sports - bags page 

Back-to-school hub pages are rarer things

But what about the term 'back to school' itself? Well, it's a much less valuable term, but still a useful one.

If we look at a chart showing retailer rankings for this term, you can see company pages jumping up and down the results all year.

At point one on the chart, many retailers hit the rankings just in time for start of the new school year, but drop off again six months later.

Pi Datametrics speculates this could be down to refocusing on other campaigns or changing footer links, for example.

back to school rankings

Clothing and homeware retailer Next happens to be the brand that ranks consistently highest for the term 'back to school'.

This is surely in part down to its 'back to school' hub page.

This hub page, shown below, links to many relevant category pages, so is a tidy way of garnering some extra traffic for many different product sets.

next back to school hub page 

In conclusion

As always with SEO, it comes down to understanding your search terms and planning year-round.

A hub page and landing pages that align with top search terms are a must for back-to-school retailers.

For more detail including US sites entering the UK rankings, as well as charts showing the performance of more popular retailers, download the Pi Datametrics Back-to-School Report.

Ben Davis

Published 10 August, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (4)

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ben thanks for the insights and interesting to see low usage of hub pages.

I'd love to know what partner marketing the retailers do with local schools e.g. working with schools to provide special offers.

I've done some affinity based deals in the past to tap into higher education, works really well at university level through the various bodies. I wonder if brands extend marketing for back to school season through local school networks, and don't just rely on their website and online search?


almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Very good question. Did a small bit of reading - David Laws passed some new legislation in 2013 that prohibited schools naming a single retailer/manufacturer, hence opening the market up to big retailers even further.

But it seems the supermarket price war has been going on since the mid noughties, and was exacerbated when Woolworths copped it.

It'd be crazy if retailers don't market to schools somehow, whether through official or unofficial channels. Here's something from Warc that caught my eye

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

nb that link is over decade old, but still interesting

almost 2 years ago


MILJANA MITIC, Marketing Executive at Goodvidio

Another good example of a back-to-school hub page is the one on Best Buy's site (I mentioned them in my latest back-to-school post ). They organized products in clever sections such as "Campus living" to promote items that are not necessarily top-of-mind associations with the school season (e.g. antennas, extension cords) but will definitely be a useful reminder for shoppers.

almost 2 years ago

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