Online Visibility In Retail: Sears, Kohl’s, Macy’s & Nordstrom Winning Critical Moments

Organ­ic search will be cru­cial­ly impor­tant to retail­ers in the upcom­ing hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son.

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Depart­ment stores depend upon win­ning healthy rev­enues dur­ing the hol­i­day peri­od, and increas­ing­ly search is becom­ing cru­cial to retail oper­a­tions. How vis­i­ble are the major U.S. depart­ment stores and how can they ensure they lever­age their search pres­ence to ensure healthy rev­enues?

Dur­ing the 2014 hol­i­day peri­od, “38.5 per­cent of online trans­ac­tions orig­i­nat­ed in a search query (either free or paid) [and] organ­ic (free) search drove 21 per­cent of orders,” accord­ing to Cus­to­ra.

Search is not just about dri­ving pur­chas­es at the point of trans­ac­tion. The chan­nel is intri­cate­ly involved through­out con­sumer pur­chase cycles; online expe­ri­ences are dri­ven by mul­ti­ple devices, mobile, and “always-on” readi­ness and con­nec­tiv­i­ty, mak­ing search the gate­way to instant con­sumer queries.

Online pur­chase jour­neys revolve around search. Cus­tomers turn to organ­ic search at var­i­ous moments. A key chal­lenge for retail­ers is to win these spe­cif­ic moments.

Under­stand­ing intent as con­sumers make search queries, and devel­op­ing the right con­tent to meet con­sumers at those moments, is crit­i­cal to dri­ving hol­i­day rev­enues.

The impor­tance of search will be a cru­cial mar­ket­ing chan­nel for U.S. depart­ment store retail­ers, which typ­i­cal­ly depend on bumper hol­i­day shop­ping rev­enues.

With top retail­ers such as Macy’s and Kohl’s report­ed­ly strug­gling to attract con­sumers just ahead of the key win­ter retail sea­son, the abil­i­ty to con­vert cus­tomers via search will be cru­cial. Retail­ers must ensure they have high vis­i­bil­i­ty and a strong brand pres­ence in search.

How Visible Are Large U.S. Department Stores Online?

Using data from Linkdex, Momen­tol­ogy’s spon­sor, we ranked the vis­i­bil­i­ty of the major U.S. depart­ment stores based on the num­ber of SERP posi­tions and rank­ing pages. The high­er the over­all vis­i­bil­i­ty of a brand, the more like­ly that con­sumers are to dis­cov­er and engage with brands as they con­sid­er and eval­u­ate their pur­chas­es when using search engines.

U.S. department store visibility:

dept store graph

(Data from Sept 23; pow­ered by Linkdex)


  • Sears has a large lead in the num­ber of win­ning SERP posi­tions (1.93 mil­lion) and rank­ing pages (513,000).
  • Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Nord­strom are close­ly matched in terms of online vis­i­bil­i­ty, in sec­ond, third, and fourth place, respec­tive­ly.
  • Behind Sears, Nord­strom has the sec­ond high­est num­ber of rank­ing pages, show­ing that they per­form well in their ratio of win­ning SERP posi­tions to rank­ing pages (813,000 / 123,000).
  • In con­trast, JCPen­ney has a low­er pro­por­tion of win­ning SERP posi­tions in com­par­i­son to rank­ing pages (628,000 / 58,600).

3 Key Takeaways

1. Understand & Respond To Consumer Intent

What real­ly sets Sears apart is their under­stand­ing and aware­ness of con­sumer intent, informed by a thor­ough com­mand of the organ­ic search chan­nel. The retail­er has respond­ed to what con­sumers are search­ing for, and have devel­oped con­tent that responds to these needs, plac­ing their brand well in con­sumer minds as they move through their pur­chase cycles.

For exam­ple, the brand is cre­at­ing dig­i­tal con­tent for spe­cif­ic nich­es to respond to con­sumer needs. Fit­Stu­dio for exam­ple, a health and fit­ness resource and rewards pro­gram, was a “per­fect solu­tion for Sears to pro­vide – free of charge – expert advice from fit­ness pro­fes­sion­als and nutri­tion­ists,” Julia Fitzger­ald, Sears’ chief dig­i­tal offi­cer, fit­ness, sports goods and toys, told Forbes.

Fit­Stu­dio went beyond super­fi­cial con­tent cre­at­ed for the ben­e­fits of rank­ings, and instead zoned in on what these con­sumers were real­ly look­ing for, accord­ing to Fitzger­ald:

We real­ized that when shop­pers come to Sears look­ing for a piece of fit­ness equip­ment, what they real­ly are look­ing for is a 15 pounds lighter, fit­ter, or health­i­er ver­sion of them­selves. And while the equip­ment is often a key com­po­nent to their goal, they also need infor­ma­tion and moti­va­tion to keep on track with a health­i­er lifestyle.”


Fit­Stu­dio is a con­tent resource, but unique­ly also offers users rewards, which they earn by con­nect­ing dig­i­tal fit­ness devices to Fit­Stu­dio, which can then be redeemed at Sears (or affil­i­at­ed brand Kmart).

While Fit­Stu­dio is one notable exam­ple of the kind of con­tent that Sears pro­vides, the brand also pro­vides con­sumers with sus­tained val­ue across a num­ber of queries, focus­ing in on intent, and as a result nur­ture pro­longed engage­ment with their audi­ence.

2. Create Landing Pages For Multiple Consumer Moments

Nord­strom also has a large num­ber of SERP posi­tions, which is served by strong rank­ing pages.

Look­ing at Nord­strom relat­ed search results reveals that one of the retail­er’s strengths is in their high­ly effi­cient land­ing pages. Specif­i­cal­ly, it shows how Nord­strom win a large num­ber of unique keyphras­es and chan­nel these to their ded­i­cat­ed land­ing pages.

A search for “swim­suits”, “bathing suits”, or “biki­ni bathing suits” (although these exam­ples aren’t like­ly relat­ed to hol­i­day shop­ping) returns the same ded­i­cat­ed Nord­strom land­ing page.

Nordstrom’s rank­ing cat­e­go­ry pages, for a num­ber of prod­ucts, cater for a range user search queries. “Biki­ni bathing suits” for instance, is a more spe­cif­ic search query sug­gest­ing a slight­ly more devel­oped moment in the pur­chase cycle, how­ev­er it is still served by con­tent on the same cat­e­go­ry land­ing page.

Using Linkdex’s Vis­i­bil­i­ty tool to look at Nordstrom’s swim­suit land­ing page, and fil­ter­ing for typ­i­cal “con­sid­er­a­tion phase” mod­i­fiers (e.g., “best”, “for”) reveals how the land­ing page caters to mul­ti­ple moments of the pur­chase jour­ney.

In this sense, Nord­strom has built their site to not only cap­ture sim­i­lar search queries, but dif­fer­ent moments of the con­sumer pur­chase cycle.

3. Ensure A Complete, Cohesive User Experience

Macy’s and Kohl’s are the lead­ing depart­ment stores in the U.S. by rev­enue, accord­ing to a 2014 study by Sta­tista. While both of these retail­ers per­form well, Sears’ online vis­i­bil­i­ty illus­trates the poten­tial of the SEO chan­nel when a retail­er com­mits to an inte­grat­ed dig­i­tal strat­e­gy based on a thor­ough under­stand­ing of their audi­ence.

The dif­fer­ence between retail­ers that per­form well, and those that per­form excep­tion­al­ly, is in cre­at­ing excel­lent user expe­ri­ences through­out con­sumer pur­chase jour­neys – from the moment they encounter your brand, to check­out. This could mean cre­at­ing infor­ma­tive dig­i­tal prop­er­ties that reward and edu­cate such as Sears’ Fit­Stu­dio, not just on indi­vid­ual domains, but across a user’s entire online expe­ri­ence.

Ulti­mate­ly, great con­tent rais­es the pro­file of a brand, which in turn leads to bet­ter online vis­i­bil­i­ty.

Final Thoughts: Omnichannel & Offline Integration

Ear­li­er this year, Momen­tol­ogy report­ed on how Nord­strom uses tech­nol­o­gy to align cus­tomer expe­ri­ence goals. The retail­er’s Insta­gram, for exam­ple, allows users to con­nect direct­ly to equiv­a­lent on-site prod­ucts. It’s no won­der that a report by L2, a busi­ness intel­li­gence and advi­so­ry firm, placed Nord­strom at num­ber one in a list of “dig­i­tal­ly savvy retail­ers” (for which only Macy’s and Sears also achieved a top score).

The same report empha­sized how omnichan­nel, and online/offline inte­gra­tion and would be a key focus for depart­ment store retail­ers in the fore­see­able future, stat­ing: “in an effort to remain rel­e­vant and to cap­i­tal­ize on their phys­i­cal pres­ence, Depart­ment Stores are merg­ing clicks and bricks. The largest con­cen­tra­tion of invest­ments is in bridg­ing online and offline expe­ri­ences.”

Organ­ic search will no doubt be a cru­cial chan­nel for retail­ers dur­ing the upcom­ing hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son. One of the most effec­tive ways for retail­ers to lever­age gains in online vis­i­bil­i­ty is to pro­vide an inte­grat­ed cus­tomer-cen­tric expe­ri­ence.

How will you win over con­sumers at key moments through­out the upcom­ing hol­i­day sea­son?

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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