Why Debenhams needs to protect their domain asset.

Steve Paine
Steve Paine
12. April 2019
Steve Paine
Steve Paine
Steve 'Chippy' Paine is the UK country manager for SISTRIX. "I've been working with the Internet for over 30 years. From copper, to Chrome."

Many people in the UK will have heard that a big high-street department store, Debenhams, was taken over by lenders this week. Stores are likely to close and there’ll be plenty of bricks-and-mortar analysis in the press. But what about the digital market value? The debenhams.com domain is strong and it should be given proper consideration and due care. In this report we look at the health of the domain, find the real competitors and compare data.

Debenhams.com visibility (mobile and desktop search) history.

When we took a close look at the UK retail sector last September, Debenhams had a 159 point SISTRIX Visibility Index. In comparison with the biggest comparable retail brand, Argos, it was relatively small but in terms of the high street competitors, only John Lewis was bigger. This is a very visible domain across Google UK search results. Today, at 117 points, Debenhams.com still commands a good presence in the Google UK search space.

Take a look at the curve on the visibility graph above too. There are no major, or repeat-reactions to Google’s algorithm changes.. These, as we saw in a recent study, can often indicate that a domain is at risk of being affected by future algorithm changes.

The domain appears to be healthy in terms of rankings, with a strong 32.49% of all ranking keywords appearing on page 1 of the search results.

Recent distribution of ranking keywords is healthy. (Animated GIF)

When you take a look at the backlink profile, it looks very organic. We fed our LinkRating tool 20,235 links to debenhams.com and it came out with very few major issues.

SISTRIX doesn’t measure traffic but when a domain has this much visibility, you know that it has huge potential for commercial, convertible traffic.  But how much?

Debenhams.com Competitor Analysis

Debenhams and its competitors.

By analysing some of the financial data available for the competitor domains, you can get a feel for the potential value of the debenhams.com domain.

Let’s start with some facts.

  • Total online retail sales in the UK: 59bn (.gov.uk, 2017)
  • Internet sales 17-22% of total retail sales (.gov.uk 2017) .
  • Amazon.co.uk has approximately the same visibility in Google UK search as all major retail brands added together. (Sistrix UK retail rank tracking. 53 retail brands)

Debenhams vs Argos

debenhams.com vs argos.co.uk since 2015

Argos, owned by the supermarket company Sainsburys, is the biggest of the retail domains by search visibility and currently represents 15% of the total visibility of popular retail brand domains in the UK. [15.6% of 53 retail brands not including Amazon.] The company was bought for over £2bn by Sainsburys and with 60% of all sales starting online, it gives some indication of the importance of their digital sales channel.

argos.com has a Visibility Index of 337 points. (debenhams.com: 117 =  34% as visible.)

A comparison of some of the key indicators shows that Debanhams have many more pages indexed, but less visibility.

Indexed pages Visibility ratio: Debenhams: 7154:1 vs Argos: 1821:1

Debenhams vs Dunelm

debenhams.com vs dunelm.com (including dunelm-mill.com) since 2015

Dunelm.com (formerly at dunelm-mill.com) is a homeware superstore (160 branches) and online sales and information portal. From revenue of £955m, mobile ‘penetration’ is 17.3% (2018 company forecast.)  Net profit for the company was £73m in 2017 and they state in their Annual Report that the homewares market is worth £13bn per year.

dunelm.com has a Visibility Index of 65.35 (debenhams.com: 117 = 179% as visible.)

A comparison of the key indicators shows that while Dunelm have a smaller visibility, they have a fraction of the indexed pages at Debenhams.

Indexed pages Visibility ratio: Debenhams: 7154:1 vs Dunelm 549:1

Debenhams vs John Lewis

Debenhams.com compared to johnlewis.com visibility since 2015.

John Lewis is probably the closest match to Debenhams in terms of business. One could argue that John Lewis targets a higher-end of the market but both are department stores with a long high-street history. Net profit for the company last year was £74m. According to the annual report, 42% of online sales are via mobile. (60% if you include tablets.) It is not clear what percentage of sales or profits are from the online business as John Lewis tends to talk about an ‘omnichannel’ experience where there’s a huge, 60% , crossover of people that use online and stores to research, order and pick up products.

johnlewis.com has a Visibility Index of 163 (debenhams.com: 117 = 71% as visible.)

A comparison of the key indicators shows, again, more visibility per indexed page.

Indexed pages Visibility ratio: Debenhams: 7154:1 vs John Lewis 4975:1

Debenhams vs Next

Debenhams.com compared to next.co.uk visibility since 2015

In recent years Next have moved into Debenhams’ market and while they don’t have the long high-street history of John Lewis, they are, in fact, the closest match to Debenhams in terms of online market. From online sales of £1.9b, Next generated £353m profit. (Source: nextplc.co.uk) which is perhaps the best indicator yet, of the potential that the Debenhams domain has.

next.co.uk has a Visibility Index of 131 (debenhams.com: 117 = 89% as visible.)

The two domains are close in terms of indexed pages / visibility ratio.

Indexed pages Visibility ratio: Debenhams: 7154:1 vs Next: 5869:1

Debenhams online competitors Top 10

Top 10 domains that have a common ranking keyword set.

Two web-only domains in that list should not be a surprise. Amazon.co.uk and Ebay command position 3 and 4 in the list of most-visible domains. Etsy has a strong domain and a fresh brand with a very different business model but they are still close competitors in the search results.


Organic search visibility is the starting point for profits in the huge marketplace that is Google Search. Debenhams’ domain has a very good profile and lots of potential but it’s only one part of the chain that leads to profits.

Conversion and fulfilment (see the Tesco Direct story) has proven to be an issue and brand value must preserved. Negative press could reduce Debenhams brand searches and even lead to signals that reach Google’s algorithm and affect non-brand rankings. Newspaper headlines urging shoppers to “SPEND gift cards NOW” won’t help at all.

As the lenders and administrators take over Debenhams, maybe it’s more important than ever to understand the value of the domain’s visibility. At this time it would also make sense to strengthen the SEO team in order to try and preserve that value as changes to the business take place.

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