There are businesses from hundreds of different niches operating in the e-commerce field. From software companies to online versions of brick-and-mortar stores, when it comes to marketing, everyone is headed towards one goal: make sure the channels they are using drive maximal conversion.

However, the best practices for each niche may differ.

We at SEMrush decided to explore how exactly search marketing strategies vary across verticals. In our Annual E-Commerce Study: Trends and Predictions for 2018, we analyzed over 8,000 e-commerce websites to find out their main traffic drivers and dive deeper into their marketing tactics.

Based on the insights collected, we figured out 5 ideas you might want to test for your SEM strategy. From the use of SERP features to the most frequent banner sizes, these insights can help you launch some new A/B tests – and really help boost results.

1. Rethink Your Device Targeting

“Everyone” says we’re living in the mobile-first world, but are we? The idea of adapting your business for smartphone and tablet users makes sense without a doubt, but you shouldn’t necessarily bet your life on mobile only. Let’s look at the numbers first.

If we check how traffic from the Google Display Network is distributed among different devices, we’ll see that the proportion varies a lot across industries.

Device targeting

There are verticals heavily investing in mobile ads, including both smartphones and tablets, such as sports & recreation (94%), books (90%) and clothing (88%). At the same time, electronics and children’s products are advertised more through desktop than any other device (27% and 26% respectively).

How this data can help. Look more closely at the way your target audience is using the web. When it comes to electronics, it looks like users tend to explore more thoroughly technical characteristics, reviews, and manuals, which is easier to do from a desktop, while for books it’s not necessary at all and everything can be done from a smartphone.

2. Tweak Ad Formats

Since HTML banners became a major display advertising platform, the work of advertising specialists has become much easier. If previously you needed to manually adapt your ads for a dozen different sizes, now the platform’s artificial brain would take care of it. However, for some industries, traditional media ads are still prevalent, as we saw in our study.

Media and HTML Ad Formats

As a whole, the e-commerce industry overwhelmingly favors mobile-friendly HTML display ads over traditional media: the HTML format represents nearly 70% of all e-commerce display ads versus the approximate 30% of standard media ad types. But clothing, furniture, jewelry, and food websites still tend to leverage “traditional” media banners. What these verticals have in common is the stronger aesthetic component, compared to the other industries.

How this data can help. If your audience is sensitive to how aesthetically pleasing your brand visuals should be, it’s probably not the case to choose HTML creatives. They are obviously much easier to manage and create, but, unfortunately, an ad generated automatically by the system is more likely to look less sophisticated and harmonious. On the other hand, if the visual side is not so important to you, HTML ads are perfect for your advertising strategy. Music stores can put album covers along with the name of the singer or band represented, and this will be enough to bring relevant traffic. The same applies to bookstores.

3. Revitalize Your Ad Copy

PPC specialists who work with e-commerce are always struggling to create relevant, compelling, and appealing ads. There are hundreds or even thousands of almost identical products, and you need to write a description for each of those items. In this case, you should achieve and maintain balance between Dynamic Keyword Insertion and Single Keyword Ad Groups.

With the keyword insertion feature, you can easily and quickly customize an ad to a search query, but your ads become generic and, as a result, their relevance suffers. In the case of SKAGs, your ad creatives will be relevant and tailored to your audience, but they require a lot of time and effort. As part of the research, we investigated which emotional triggers are used most frequently and what discounts companies in different industries provide in their ads.      

We analyzed the most popular phrases not by industry but by country, comparing UK and US ads. Our goal was to discover how British or American English adaptation is important and what triggers are best at attracting customers on both sides of the ocean.

UK emotional triggers  

As we found out, for UK retailers, delivery serves as the most important unique selling proposition: four out of the ten most popular emotional triggers are related to shipping. As a comparison, in the US more attention is paid to price, product selection, and whether or not a site is official.   

USA emotional triggers

As for the most popular discounts, we compared them by industry. As you can see, the results vary significantly:

Common discounts for different industries

How this data can help. You can diversify your ad creatives with new triggers and calls to action and check if they work for your audience. Pay attention to ad localization: if your company targets both US and UK markets, whether you use “shipping” or “delivery” in your ads is important. Think over which discounts are better to offer in your ad — sometimes the bigger, the better approach doesn’t work. For example, in the health industry, a big discount is in no way a major factor; you are unlikely to get an MRI or have surgery just because there’s a 90% discount on these services.  

4. Leverage Shopping Ads

Google Shopping campaigns serve as an essential weapon in e-commerce businesses’ arsenals. Nevertheless, when we think about Shopping ads, generally we imagine smartphone, home and garden electronics, or clothes and footwear advertising. But let’s take a look at the numbers to see if these niches prevail in the Product Listing Ads results.   

Number of keywords and ads in PLA for different industries

It’s true that electronics, clothes, home & garden products, and sporting goods use Shopping ads more often than other industries. Apparently, this channel is underestimated by advertisers who work in furniture, children’s products, jewelry, music, and book sectors. Providers of the most perishable products, like flowers and food, practically ignore this channel, which can be explained by obvious reasons, such as the specificity of these products.    

How this data can help. If you work in a niche with only a few competitors using Google Shopping campaigns, it can be a great opportunity to drive traffic to your website through this channel. In this case cost per conversion may be lower than the cost per conversion for traffic from search and display ads.

However, if the competition in your industry is high, like in the electronics and clothing sectors, you may want to find ways to make your ads stand out from your competition if you are a large online store. Or, if you have a small e-commerce business, it may be worth redistributing your budget to other channels, because it’s practically pointless for small companies to compete with e-commerce giants and well-known brands in PLA results.   

5. Pay Attention to SERP Features

Google is trying to make the search landscape more diverse every year. As you probably know, SERP features are special elements on a Google SERP. In fact, they are any results on SERPs, except for the 10 blue links, a throwback to Google’s search results layout of many years ago. From one point of view, these SERP features make an SEO’s life difficult — even if you could make it to the top positions of SERPs, your website may not even be displayed on the first page, because it’s occupied by videos, reviews, ‘Instant Answers’ and many other elements. On the other hand, it can provide search marketing specialists with an ambitious goal and challenging opportunity — to get the coveted Google zero spot to increase relevant traffic.        

We studied which SERP features are most common among e-commerce websites. Reviews, images, and video proved to be the most prominent of all SERP features that we analyzed. The reviews feature is displayed in the top 20 results in more than half of the global SERPs. The search engine results pages without SERP features account for no more than 10%.  

Most common SERP features for e-commerce

How this data can help. Succeeding with the most popular SERP features, like reviews and images, can be hard, due to fierce competition, but there are some other ways to occupy more SERP space. If you have well-planned and smart SEO and social media strategies in place, it can be relatively easy to achieve other features, such as news, tweets, video and featured snippets, which will help you drive relevant organic traffic to your website.

Final thoughts on how to leverage industry data for your SEM strategy

When it comes to competitor analysis or industry benchmarks, there are always two ways to master the data you get.

One is to follow a well-trodden path. If most online electronics retailers are targeting desktops in their SEM strategy, so should you, because it seems to work. It will be harder to overcome the competitors who are already using this approach, but if you succeed, the chances of reward will be higher.

The other one is to break the rules. As for online electronics stores, only a few advertisers are targeting mobile users, which means the competition in this niche is less tough, so you might be able to get more traffic with less effort. The question is whether or not this traffic is relevant and whether or not you’ll be able to convert it properly.

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