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The State of Online Retail in 2018: Insights from SEMrush Web Traffic Study



E-commerce in India is scaling new heights with every passing day, powered by increasing disposable incomes, conducive investment regulations, and the world’s youngest demographic with access to 4G networks on their smartphones.An industry worth $39 billion in 2017 is forecasted to hit $50 billion by the end of this year and a staggering $200 billion less than a decade from now.


While most notable retailers in the country are still a far cry from being profitable, it’s clear that the industry itself has much to look forward to. We are still in the early days of 2018, and it’s the best time to dig into the numbers – both business metrics and web analytics.

Granted, retailers have ditched “vanity metrics” like GMV in favour of “sanity metrics” like revenue, but they do need to see how online traffic sources, brand recognition, devices used by customers, advertising trends, as well as website structures influence their customers’ ability to shop.

Digital marketing tool suite SEMrush has the answers; they’ve come out with a timely study of web traffic to e-commerce sites, with comprehensive data on the digital channels that drive traffic, search terms, search engine optimization issues, and device-wise traffic distribution.

SEMrush looked at web traffic to 8,000+ e-commerce sites spanning 13 different product categories as part of their annual E-commerce Trends Report.

The findings will have some wide-ranging implications on the way retailers handle consumer-website interaction and devise their branding and marketing strategies moving forward in 2018.

Read on for the most important takeaways from the study in different areas of organic and paid digital marketing:


E-commerce Traffic Sources

Here’s a quick list of the ways shoppers find websites:

  • Direct (customers type the site’s URL in their browser or click a bookmark)
  • Referral (they click through to the site from another site, or an email)
  • Search (they come from Google)
  • Social (they find the site from a social network like Facebook or Instagram)
  • Paid (they click on a Google AdWords ad)

SEMrush found that for 8 of the 13 categories studied, direct traffic topped the charts, followed by organic search. This clearly points to the fact that brand awareness is critical when convincing shoppers to come in the door.This in no way implies that retailers can ignore other channels. In fact, some of the quickest ways to build brand loyalty and encourage repeat business is to consistently match customers’ intent (by targeting the right keywords), track brand conversations (by monitoring mentions on social media) and increase online referrals (by building backlinks).

The Desktop Vs. Mobile Divide

In India, 80% of all internet access is through mobile phones. So, it might surprise some people that desktop still sent over half of all traffic to e-commerce websites globally.

This breakdown shows precisely why it is important to stay on top of your web analytics. Having a WhatsApp conversation with friends or forwarding videos is pretty simple using a mobile phone. However, researching products, brands and sellers, and placing an order sometimes warrants a bigger screen and convenience of a desktop or laptop.

Having said that, retailers should note that the number of mobile searches is already more than desktop. And Google has begun rolling out it’s mobile-first index. Therefore, it’s safe to claim that mobile phones will soon overtake PCs as the device of choice for making purchases online.

Country Distribution of Traffic

Yes, the e-commerce industry in India is growing exponentially, but it will be 15 more years by the time it overtakes the US, as per IBEF data. When it comes to organic visits to e-commerce sites, traffic from the US dwarfs India (and pretty much every other country). It’s worth mentioning here that the SEMrush study didn’t include China, Korea and other countries where Google isn’t the primary search engine.

There are multiple lessons here for store owners. One, English continues to be the most significant language of communication preferred by shoppers. Two, you’re not confined by boundaries while selling online, but you need international SEO implementation, multinational competitive analysis, and understanding of global customers’ intent if you want to be successful outside your home country.

Types of Search Results

The Google SERPs (search engine result pages) are an ever-changing mix of instant answers, carousels, local packs, images, videos, news items, ratings and reviews, knowledge panels, and of course ads at the top and bottom.Across the world, reviews and images emerged as the top two e-commerce site features to show up in the first two pages of Google. This reinforces the fact that consumers are doing their research thoroughly before opening their wallets. You need to have an ideal mix of ratings, product photos and ads in the SERPs if you want shoppers to click through to your store.

Display Advertising

There are some very, very interesting finds in the study with respect to how retailers use Google AdWords for advertising:

  • Half of all stores spend less than $1,000 a month on ads (including text and display).
  • The clothing industry spends the maximum, far ahead of the others.
  • 70% of all display ads are in the HTML format as opposed to static or animated images.
  • The 728×90-pixel leaderboard is the most popular image ad format.
  • Less than 15% of ads are geared towards desktop. Smartphones and tablets split up mobile targeting pretty much evenly.
  • The electronics industry is the heaviest user of Google Shopping ads (PLA).
  • “Free delivery” is the most used phrase in ad copy.
  • “Shop now” is the most frequently used call to action (CTA) in buttons and banners.

These stats are consistent with SEMrush’s Display Advertising Report for all industries.

Link Building

Links are the mainstay of organic traffic from search results as well as referrals. An e-commerce site simply cannot hope to build brand visibility or traffic without earning valuable links from high authority sites in their industry.

Of course, you should always keep users in mind when building links; all content should adequately address customer intent, without worrying about technicalities such as follow vs. nofollow links. A healthy mix of links to the home page, category, product and blog pages (with branded and non-branded anchor text) works to augment the site’s domain authority in the eyes of Google.



Over to You

Data is the new oil, they say. If you’re an e-commerce retailer, you cannot hope to beat your competition without gathering – and using – more information. This is even more important for small-to-medium players who risk being made irrelevant by giants like Amazon and Flipkart.

Fortunately, data on web traffic and consumer behavior is available at low or no cost, and data-driven digital marketing campaigns can deliver more conversions and sales for you. Here’s your winner’s manual – the full e-commerce trends report from SEMrush.

Nisha Pandey, the visionary force behind SEOTechyworld, is a luminary in the realms of SEO, technology, and cloud infrastructure. With an unwavering passion for staying at the forefront of digital advancements, Nisha has been an influential figure in the blogging sphere since 2014. Her journey as a blogger reflects not just a timeline, but a narrative of expertise and dedication. Nisha's in-depth knowledge of SEO intricacies and her ability to decode the complexities of evolving technology have made her a trusted source in the digital marketing community. Through SEOTechyworld, she endeavors to bridge the gap between technological innovation and its practical applications, providing her audience with insights that are both cutting-edge and actionable. As a seasoned professional, Nisha continues to inspire and guide, leaving an indelible mark on the ever-evolving community of SEO and technology.

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