Maximise yoursearch appeal

The internet has revolutionised fashion retailing. But are the big stores making the most of it? New research seen exclusively by Marketing Week shows who’s hot on SEO and who’s not.


If you are searching for a party dress for Christmas and want to avoid high street queues, you may well join the ever-growing ranks of consumers who search for “dresses” via Google.

The term “dress” is entered onto Google’s UK site an average of 1.9 million times a month, and there is fierce competition in the fashion retail sector to be found on its first page for terms such as “trousers”, “menswear” and “knitwear”. Research seen exclusively by Marketing Week shows online-only retailers are just as likely to be in the top 30 most visible brands as their bricks-and-mortar rivals.

The study, by search engine marketing agency Greenlight, looks at 1,100 of the most popular terms people use to find clothing online. It shows that half of the brands in the top 30 are online-only retailers such as Asos, Oli and Boohoo. Some even rank higher than prominent high street brands, including Next, M&S and Topman.

And while the top four places are split between online and traditional retailers, high street brands might need to look more closely at their search strategies, according to Simon Hollingsworth, lead researcher at Greenlight.

“Some brands, such as Next, are not doing so well [in the rankings]. It’s a very well-known high street brand but when it comes to online strategy it might not be focusing on the right areas. Some major brands are not gaining the visibility they are probably looking for in terms of driving sales online,” he says.

It is important to pay attention to the balance between paid-for search rankings, which appear as advertising, and natural search, says Hollingsworth. And as ad ranking on Google is based on the highest bidder, the brand that throws the most money at it will win.

He explains: “With paid search, if you invest enough you will be visible straight away, whereas with natural search it takes time to push you up to the top of the Google rankings.”

House of Fraser’s website is top of the list, with 25% visibility in natural and 43% in paid search. However, Hollingsworth says that discount retailer TK Maxx appears to have a more even strategy, having a visibility of 15% for both paid and natural search.

According to the research, people search for clothes most often on Sundays and weekday evenings, however, retailers’ bidding strategies for paid search do not always match these peaks.

“A lot of advertisers are bidding consistently throughout the day,” Hollingsworth explains. “It is important to get a happy medium between tracking how and when people search, but not to the detriment of a paid search campaign.”

Bidding during popular times might mean advertising on Google costs more, so a retailer might bid at a consistent rate across the whole day to minimise spend, says Hollingsworth.

Next, for example, appears to be bidding the most between 4am and 8am on weekdays, which isn’t when consumers tend to buy clothes.

Hollingsworth says brands that choose to bid overnight will lower their cost per click during the day.

He adds: “There are a lot of factors to take into account. Next might have bid quite high overnight to get high visibility in the morning.”

Online brand Boohoo appears to follow the times of day when people are most actively looking for new clothes. The research shows that it bids at a low rate at the beginning of the week and increases bidding during the weekend, which is reflected in its advertising visibility of 12% on a Monday, rising to 23% on Saturday and 19% on Sunday.

While brands can bid on specific words and phrases to make sure they rise in the advertising rankings on search engines, natural search is important. Debenhams, for example, says it has 800,000 keywords in its paid search account, but it bids at different rates throughout the year and, as a result, its paid visibility for this survey is low. However, it has grown its natural share of voice from 30% last year to 56% this year.

But not all brands get this right, says Hollingsworth. “In terms of keywords, it is all well and good having a great website but unless you are optimising the right words then you are missing out on opportunities.”

Brands still need to be educated in what consumers are looking for. “A lot of companies are still unaware of the opportunities available,” claims Hollingsworth. “Keyword targeting is important for both types of search. To create the right campaigns it is important to understand how your consumers search through the buying cycle.”

In future, web design and video content will also affect search rankings. Google recently introduced its Instant Preview facility, where consumers can see a preview of a brand’s website. “Usability in terms of web page design and structure will take greater precedence,” Hollingsworth predicts.

“Many consumers will scan the previews for the most relevant products in their search. They will pass greater judgement of the visual attraction of a web page,” he adds. So it seems searching for the perfect party frock is getting even easier for consumers, but increasingly complex for brands.

the frontline



Jo Stephenson
Senior search marketing manager

Paid search can be expensive so we focus our budget around sales peaks. We spread the budget throughout the year although there are some periods where we spend significantly more than others.

For paid search we have over 800,000 keywords in our account. We don’t bid on our own brand name as we have that Google search covered, but we bid on our exclusive clothing brands Jasper Conran or Red Herring.

We also include terms such as “dresses”. But it’s also about the longtail generics such as evening dresses. If you are buying the longer tail the volume isn’t as high, but the conversion can be higher. Our agency bids from about 10am to 2pm and also 6pm to 10pm which is the key conversion time. We’ll reduce bidding slightly at the other times.

We want to be there at the beginning of the generic journey. So if someone was searching in the office for dresses at lunchtime, then they might go home and buy it online. But we’ll never match that sale back to the keyword they first started searching for, so that is the challenge for us – how do we get the value out of the generic terms?


Rafael Peregrina
Marketing manager

We haven’t seen a good return on investment with our paid search campaigns but we are working on it. It is a bit frustrating because according to this report we rate highly in natural search.

Dresses being the most popular fashion search term definitely helps us, as they are our core product. It’s a huge achievement for us to be so high up on the list as our SEO is all in-house. The fact that these big brands rank lower than us is great, because I’m sure they are spending many thousands on agencies.

I wasn’t aware that brands have a bidding strategy attached to the time of day before seeing this report and it is something we’d work into our future strategy.


John Hinchcliffe
Marketing director
N Brown (owner of, and

The report infers we are heavy on paid and very light on natural. We have a different balance between natural and paid compared with some other companies because of the strategies we pursue, but to say one is a zero and one is a high number is misleading.

We do a lot of activities to push people to the web, for example TV ads. It’s different for us because we are a niche business, focusing on size and fit. We want to have a good ranking on particular terms, such as “wide-fitting shoes”, as opposed to just “shoes”.

Everyone wants to get free traffic and we have key theme areas that we work on to try to get a strong ranking on natural search. We then advertise on a paid-for basis too. We buy search terms that equate to a final customer for us. We set a cost per customer which we believe is commercially tolerable and then bid on terms at that rate during the week.

On some days we can pick up more traffic for that price per term than we can on others. Sunday is a big day for us online whereas traditionally offline it was a relatively quiet day for home shopping.


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