Brands, foods, recipes, clothes, household, information, finance, banking. While it might say Tesco on the domain, evaluating search marketing success across supermarket brands is difficult. You can take a high level domain vs domain comparative approach, or, for a better view of the competitive environment, use a targeted basket of searches. In this article we expose the real competitors. Spoiler alert: The Big Four aren’t what you think they are.
What is the ‘supermarket sector’?
As with many ‘sector’ categorisations, it isn’t optimal to group the traditional supermarket brands together. Not only do their offerings change over time, but in the online world there are niche and non-UK competitors that you must consider in the digital high-street. You will see this clearly in the report below.
While Sainsburys have a bank, Nectar points and other retail operations, the main domain is well-focused on food, clothing and home products. Marks and Spencer, on the other hand, don’t deal directly with groceries. The Co-Op hosts their Funeralcare services on their main and at Tesco there’s a range of services including Clubcard, recipes, a monthly magazine and a mobile phone service provider.
The BBC brand, US-owned Good Housekeeping and other informative domains are vying for your research clicks too so whatever anyone says about bricks-and-mortar, remember that it doesn’t apply in the eCommerce world.
Having said that, the trade press still (mostly) gathers around a core set of brands and for the first part of this report we’ll do the same. Later in the report we’ll take a more revealing view.
18 supermarket brands listed by Visibility Index
Here are 18 supermarket brand domains listed along with their digital footprint size in search – the Visibility Index.
|Domain||VI - 24th July 2023|
One might question the inclusion of BM Stores but by leaving it out you would be missing the important overlap in keyword rankings for food and household goods. In fact, in the online world, BM Stores has more to do with Supermarkets than Marks and Spencer, who’s domain belongs in the fashion sector, not the supermarket sector.
One might also question why Amazon are not included. They are indeed the elephant in the room and we’ll see Amazon later in this report when we look at a basket of keywords.
The last 12 months has been relatively stable and this can be seen in the aggregate VI value over 52 weeks.
Winning and losing supermarket domains over 12 months
Within the sector, two domains have shown very significant growth over the last 12 months.
Tesco increases visibility by 33%
Tesco has shown that informative content, namely recipes, can attract clicks. This soft brand-building strategy has been used by the main supermarkets for many years with their magazines and their VIP ambassadors and Tesco has one of the most visible recipe offerings in the sector. They are dwarfed by BBC Good Food, the tax-payers brand used under license, but continue to grow.
There’s a new step-by-step ‘how-to’ recipe section in the domain too, which has started to grow its informative footprint and is now bigger than the total footprint of spar.co.uk.
The /groceries sub-directory also continues to grow with one URL responsible for an average of 35 thousand clicks per month. Long URLs can work, even with just one known external link.
With 0.84% of the total visibility and click potential and a Google Ad value of £28K, this URL is worth watching. [Link to live data in SISTRIX – account required]
Marks and Spencer increases visibility by 35%
While remaining flat in the previous four months, the domain has grown steadily since September 2020. The domain ranks mostly for men’s and women’s clothing but there’s an interesting intersection with the other supermarkets:
M&S are consistently in the top 3 rankings for birthday cake but the competitors aren’t all supermarkets. The current “birthday cake” SERP today shows M&S at #1 but at #2 you’ll find cakebox.com. At #3 you’ll find a series of images from various sources, followed by Asda, Tesco and BBC Good Food.
To think that supermarkets only fight against each other is a big mistake. Every niche is a different fight, with different competitors.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the URL [View in SISTRIX]. The top 10 competitors for the non-brand keywords for which the M&S URL ranks in the Top 20 in Google Search UK are shown below. (229 keywords with search volume above 100 average MSV.)
|Domain||Keywords Top 100||Keywords Top 10|
It is very clear that niche operators compete directly with M&S in this environment, with Google also appearing with their search features in many cases. (Images, local search, related questions, Google Shopping.)
Ocado and M&S Food
In a new and developing sub-sector of food shopping we’re now seeing delivery agents appearing with their brands, their logistics and their potential SEO skills, as a platform for other brands. A prime example of this is M&S food at Ocado.
Previously a delivery agent for Waitrose, Marks and Spencer have made strategic investments into Ocado and made it the primary shop for Marks and Spencer online delivery. This mixed-brand SEO strategy hasn’t had much success to date.
The domain Visibility Index has been flat since 2020, when we reported on a slide in Visibility Index – Ocado Slides as Tesco Rises – Report July 2020.
As with most of the supermarkets, there’s a recipe section. This is a growing area within the domain where M&S products are appearing. Also of note is the sudden growth of the /webshop directory, in the last month, which might be the result of changes in the eCommerce setup.
Of 1.25 million estimated clicks per month on the domain, 584K – 46% of estimated clicks are for generic terms. 28% of clicks are for Marks and Spencer brand terms and 32% are for Ocado brand searches. M&S and Ocado terms sometimes appear together in search.
Winners and Losers – Supermarket Visibility over 12 months
The table below shows the current share of search of 18 supermarkets in Google UK Search, based on the Visibility Index.
|Domain||2023-07-24||2022-08-01||VI change||Percent change|
Search terms often have an implied intent, which Google uses to present what it thinks are the most useful links and features in the search result. Google mentions 5 major intent types which include the important ‘Do’, a users that is close to buying, downloading or closing some sort of action. That action might have been started by in ‘Know’ intent search – the users’ first journey into a topic where information, reviews and opinions might play an important role. User intent can be used to evaluate competitors.
In a previous SectorWatch, our regular dive into eCommerce sectors, we covered the retail price index and the ‘basket of goods’ used to calculate it. These keywords were modified and analysed to produce a list of domains leading in the share of search results. We have updated this Online Grocery Analysis below. 75 results are included below but a full analysis using SISTRIX keyword lists can lead to hundreds of competitors.
User intent 1: The generic ‘no intent’ basket
A generic keyword list based on the UK retail price index, this list of 145 products was analysed to reveal the following 25 domains.
The elephants are in the building! Big information providers compete too but there’s one type of information provider missing – the manufacturer.
There’s no evidence of Nestle, Unilever, Danone, Kellogs or any other food brand in the top 25.
User intent 2: The online basket
By modifying the search to include the common search modifier “online”, we move towards a different searcher intent. Here are the top 25 domains.
Only seven of the 18 ‘supermarket’ domains we listed above are to be seen in the top 25.
User intent 3: The delivery basket
Again, we modify the search to include the word “delivery” which is a clear desire to find a supplier able to deliver the products. Here are the top 25 domains for users searching for delivery of 146 retail products.
As we focus the intent, the domain landscape changes with it. The first of the 18 supermarket domains appears at position six. Only six of the 8 supermarket domains appear in the top 25.
What do people in the UK really want delivered?
We used the top domains and harvested the tens of thousands of ranking keywords ranking with them. After filtering down to keywords with “delivery” in them. After sorting by search volume (monthly average over 12 months) we see a keyword set that is very different to the retail index. Processing this keyword set reveals the true desires of the users.
Brands reveled include KFC, Lidl, Greggs, M&S and Taco Bell. In terms of products you’ll find gifts, flowers and chocolate. At the top though, we end up back at the intersection of our supermarket domains…birthday cakes!
Measuring competition using the Visibility Index is a critical part of digital marketing that exposes the true competitors for content projects in the important Google Search channel.
These highly visible competitors will expose keywords, content strategies and brands that you can learn from.
Despite the advantages of the customer-and-keyword-first approach it appears that sector analyses by research and media companies remain largely biased towards real-world shops.
SectorWatch is a regular monthly report focusing on a single sector. It uses the customer-first approach with keyword buckets to expose leading content and domains. You can see all SectorWatch reports here.
Bonus: Search volume history for the keyword basket
Thanks to new search history data available in the toolbox we have been able to calculate the search volume history for the basket of keywords used above. It’s clear to see the changes in volume through the UK lock-down period, and the slightly falling trend over the last two years. This is the search volume for the ‘delivery’ variant of the keyword basket.
More information about keyword search volume history in SISTRIX is available.