The Search Monitor Releases Retail Vertical Snapshot on Back-to-School PPC Trends

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The monthly industry analysis provides PPC advertisers with insights on popular offers, ad copy, and market share.

Backpack Market Visibilty Macy's vs. JCPenney's

PPC Market Visibility is a crucial metric for PPC advertisers to trend for themselves, their competitors, and industry leaders as it often signals important shifts in SEM strategy.

The Search Monitor just completed its most recent industry snapshot of SEM trends, this time focusing on back-to-school trends in retail during July 2014. While everyone else may still be in vacation mode, marketers are already gearing up for the back-to-school rush.

The industry snapshot incorporates findings from Search Engine Watch on important behaviors of online back-to-school shoppers, such as:

  • Nearly 50% of back-to-school shoppers begin shopping three to four weeks before school actually starts.
  • 78% of smartphone owners used their phones to perform back-to-school searches in 2013, a big jump from the previous year. That trend is expected to continue in 2014.

The Search Monitor’s insights come from its vertical-focused Lighthouse tool. Lighthouse looked at searches using “back to school” during July 1-8, 2014 in Apparel (Clothing, Footwear, Accessories, and Jewelry), Computers, Consumer Electronics, and Office. Once Lighthouse found ads running for these keywords, it analyzed the ad copy and calculated market share versus other top advertisers.

Most Popular Offers on Back-to-School Ads

Here are the findings from The Search Monitor’s analysis of the most popular offers run:

  • In the first week of July, the most popular retail offer used by back-to-school-advertisers was a sale.
  • After advertising a sale, the next most popular offer was free shipping. In past analyses of PPC offers, such as for Black Friday and after-New-Years sales, Free Shipping offers were by far the dominant tactic. Shipping offers don’t appear to be as crucial for the back-to-school season
  • Ads highlighting in-store promotions or free products were the least popular offers for back-to-school keywords in early July. This is consistent with past analyses but does represent an opportunity for advertisers to stand out from the crowd.

Comparison of PPC Market Visibility: Macy’s vs. JC Penney

Next, The Search Monitor looked at the PPC market visibility of two major back-to-school advertisers: Macy’s and JC Penney. The analysis was performed on two popular keywords: backpack and backpacks.

The Search Monitor’s PPC market visibility metric is relative to the individual advertiser, not all advertisers on these two keywords. It represents the likelihood that an advertiser will get a click based on their reach, rank, and ad frequency. It’s a crucial metric for PPC advertisers to trend for themselves, their competitors, and industry leaders as it often signals important shifts in SEM strategy.

Here is what The Search Monitor found:

  • Macy’s had zero market visibility for these two keywords until June 23, 2014 when, in two short days, it jumped into the search marketing field for backpacks. Then, it maintained a very consistent presence of around 60%.
  • JC Penney had been maintaining a strong presence for these two keywords before Macy’s joined. Two days after the 4th of July, however, JC Penney boosted their PPC presence to 100% for one day only. This likely occurred to provide PPC marketing support for a final 4th of July weekend promotion.

Analysis of Back-To-School Ad Copy

Lastly, The Search Monitor looked at the specific copy that back-to-school advertisers used. We were curious how various leading back-to-school advertisers were using the back-to-school phrase. Here are just a few examples of what we found:

  • HP was one of the leading advertisers for the back-to-school phrase in the backpack category. They ran this ad 48 times during the week that was monitored: “Head Back to School with the Latest in HP Laptops. Shop Now and Save!”
  • was another one of the leading advertisers in the analysis. They ran this ad 45 times: “Brilliant & Bright – Shop New Back to School Styles Online Now!”
  • Only one advertiser, Macy’s, included a promo code in their ad copy, which was a surprising finding given how much online shoppers rely on promo codes for conversion.

Want to learn more about SEM trends in retail or another vertical? Visit to learn more.

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Amanda Holliday
The Search Monitor
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