June 17, 2021

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eCommerce in 2021: Google‘s Winners and their Strategies

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eCommerce is one of the big winners of the corona pandemic, with US eCommerce sales up 44% in 2020. While Covid-19 raged, many eCommerce sites saw their Google rankings increase. This Searchmetrics analysis reveals which sites saw the biggest growth in US-based Google.com and UK-based Google.co.uk rankings and which strategies will be key to boosting Google rankings for eCommerce sites in 2021.

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Winner of the corona pandemic: eCommerce

eCommerce is the big winner of the corona pandemic. Last year many people shopped online for the first time, while seasoned online shoppers branched into new product categories and bought even more online than before. According to analyses, online sales were up 44% compared with 2019 – the equivalent to 861 billion US dollars in eCommerce revenue. While in 2019 online sales accounted for 15.8% of the overall retail market, in 2020, a year that was marked by the corona pandemic, this figure grew to 21.3%. This trend is expected to continue in 2021, as COVID-19 continues to hold the world hostage despite early signs of success from vaccination programs.

Data basis for the analysis

In our analysis, we looked at the development of SEO Visibility of all the domains in our index for the US and the UK over the course of 2020. The eCommerce domains were then filtered out of the list and arranged by total increase in the website’s visibility at the end of 2020 compared with the start of the year. The table below also shows the increase in SEO visibility as a percentage. We then take a closer look at the growth curve in selected top-performing eCommerce sites to get a better understanding of the reasons behind their success.

Top 10 eCommerce sites with the biggest increase in rankings on Google.com

The ten eCommerce sites listed below achieved the largest increases in visibility on US-based Google.com organic rankings over the course of 2020. These Top 10 hail from a variety of sectors, markets and brands.

Rank Domain SEO Visibility
Increase
(absolute)
SEO Visibility
Increase in %
Sector
1 apple.com 1914499 52% Electronics
2 amazon.com 1176625 10% Consumer Goods
3 ebay.com 919932 83% Consumer Goods
4 etsy.com 434489 55% Consumer Goods
5 verizon.com 327866 102% Electronics
6 microsoft.com 232120 15% Electronics
7 homedepot.com 189317 20% Home Improvements
8 nintendo.com 164921 85% Electronics
9 audible.com 158470 567% Personal Development
10 target.com 137706 13% Consumer Goods

In Google’s Core Updates in May and December the algorithm reacted to changes in user behaviour during the first and second lockdowns. Target won the Google May Core Update, and eBay benefitted in the Google December Core Update. Homedepot and Target made huge gains in Google Trends during the first and second lockdown which could have helped those brands also rank higher for their generic non-branded search terms:

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Key takeaways for 2021: Services like Click & Collect, which retailers quickly put in place during the corona crisis, or fast, free shipping will continue to be much in demand. Retailers will benefit if they continue developing their strategies and prepare for this online shopping trend continuing into 2021. Online retailers that were flexible and reacted quickly in 2020 successfully managing to scoop up this increased online demand can expect to be among the winners in 2021, too.

Google’s eCommerce winners: top winners in selected eCommerce industries

Selected eCommerce industries and their top-performing sites in Google’s organic search results in the US are shown below. We will also be taking a closer look at some of the winners.

Consumer Goods: Top Google winners

Domain SEO Visibility Increase (absolute) SEO Visibility Increase in %
amazon.com 1176625 10%
ebay.com 919932 83%
etsy.com 434489 55%
target.com 137706 13%
rakuten.com 124234 36%

Etsy did very well during the pandemic. Take the following familiar scenario: you go online looking for something a bit different, be it a gift or something to brighten up your home interior, and you quickly find yourself looking at the same old boring stuff. If you’re familiar with Amazon’s search results, you’ll also know that other sites will only redirect you back to the same products on Amazon. Etsy, on the other hand, offers real alternatives – unique, handmade products. For many consumers, Etsy is becoming synonymous with online “handmade” retail.

In order to give users a wide range of search results, Google likes to see variety in the SERPs. Following the update for Etsy (and for eBay), the Search Engine Journal posited the thesis that Google‘s May update may have been adjusted to bring the algorithm in line with the quarantine situation, enabling it to better meet user intent. And this can be expected to continue in 2021. As a result, the SERP results not only consist of retail platforms with identical products, but focus more on unique products – and in 2021 could include a far larger, more diverse range from regional shops and offers.

Electronics: Top Google winners

Domain SEO Visibility Increase (absolute) SEO Visibility Increase in %
apple.com 1914499 52%
verizon.com 327866 102%
microsoft.com 232120 15%
nintendo.com 164921 85%
steampowered.com 92884 15%

Home Entertainment boomed during lockdown – in the case of Nintendo this led to high demand, limited availability, and high prices. The Nintendo Switch, for example, was very often “sold out” in early 2020. And if you were lucky enough to get your hands on one, you had to pay quite a lot more. The Nintendo website was the main port of call not only for those looking to buy a Switch games console but also for those who were fortunate enough to own a Switch and had their sights set on new games. Boasting an impressive 85% increase in SEO Visibility in the US, the Nintendo website is one of the top winners of 2020:

Personal Development: Top Google winners

Domain SEO Visibility Increase (absolute) SEO Visibility Increase in %
audible.com 158470 567%
masterclass.com 90480 149%
barnesandnoble.com 87738 28%
lumenlearning.com 73486 59%
splashlearn.com 57444 506%

Another impressive example of increased visibility in Google searches, especially around the holidays, is Audible, the audiobook and podcast service owned by Amazon. Hype surrounding the podcast and audiobook industry also gave Audible a massive boost. One of the best performing URLs on Audible, which accounted for much of their growth in December, was the Free Listen of The Day feature. Sites offering free trials and discounts are a great way for online businesses to attract more traffic and new customers that may translate into revenue later. In many cases, the Customer Lifetime Value justifies any initial discounts or free trials offered. The SEO Visibility curve for Audible on Google.com can be seen here:

More eCommerce niches and winners

Other eCommerce industries and their top-performing sites on Google.com are summarized below: Apparel, home improvements, and the crisis-hit travel industry.

Apparel: Top Google winners

Domain SEO Visibility Increase (absolute) SEO Visibility Increase in %
hm.com 61709 79%
asos.com 59444 176%
lyst.com 41536 100%

Home Improvements: Top Google winners

Domain SEO Visibility Increase (absolute) SEO Visibility Increase in %
homedepot.com 189317 20%
lowes.com 75144 17%
officedepot.com 40866 28%

Travel: Top Google winners

Domain SEO Visibility Increase (absolute) SEO Visibility Increase in %
expedia.com 74682 14%
hotels.com 74121 32%
aa.com 35087 22%

Top 10 eCommerce winners in the UK

We’ve already taken a look at the top winners on Google.com in the US and the strategies that have helped make them successful. Let’s now turn to the UK. The search results on Google.co.uk are far more diverse in terms of the sectors top winners come from:

Rank Domain SEO Visibility
Increase
(absolute)
SEO Visibility
Increase in %
Sector
1 ebay.co.uk 733647 72% Consumer Goods
2 apple.com 676583 88% Electronics
3 etsy.com 131823 81% Consumer Goods
4 netflix.com 101270 78% Entertainment
5 boots.com 76815 90% Health
6 autotrader.co.uk 74374 35% Automotive
7 game.co.uk 63872 47% Electronics
8 booking.com 59154 15% Travel
9 steampowered.com 56717 25% Electronics
10 asos.com 55198 22% Apparel

The top performers in the UK are similar to those in the US, with eBay, Etsy, and Apple taking the top 3 places, although Amazon failed to make the top 10. The Amazon.co.uk domain suffered losses during the Christmas period for many keywords. The UK Top 10 come from the electronics and consumer goods industries, as well as areas such as automotive, pharmacy, travel, and entertainment.

eCommerce 2021: How to get better Google rankings in 3 steps

  1. In eCommerce, the pressure to provide a more professional service means greater user expectations when it comes to product range, order processing, shipping and returns, as well as payment methods. To live up to these new demands, companies must ensure their (online) shops have better infrastructure, logistics processes and usability. This will constitute the number one challenge for many businesses this year.
  2. Users have become accustomed to the benefits of online shopping. Plus, in eCommerce there is the added issue of competition-based pricing, with businesses battling for the top positions both in unpaid, organic search results and in paid listings. This makes it even more important to have a unique selling point. A competitive edge can be obtained through product diversity in the form of marketplaces or focusing on unique products, simple usability as well as optimized ordering, payment and shipping processes that are tailored to the needs of individual users.
  3. Having a professional online presence will be crucial this year when Google launches their new ranking factor, the Core Web Vitals scheduled in May. The Core Web Vitals include factors such as load time, interaction, and stability, which Google sees as the main performance metrics for evaluating user experience. Businesses that are geared towards the new ranking factor will be able to gain an all-important competitive edge in Google rankings.
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