PPCHoliday Season Search Trends of Top U.S. Retail Brands

Holiday Season Search Trends of Top U.S. Retail Brands

With the holiday shopping season upon us, retailers will begin shifting their budgets to correspond to the change in the outlandish, sale-fueled shopping habits of society. Here’s a look at bidding habits, budgets, and trends of top retailers.

The holiday shopping season happens inevitably every year, drawing the public into the appeal of the top retail brands within the United States. Evaluating the Internet marketing efforts, trends, and budgets of these brands proves to be quite revealing.

Stores are always altering their budgets, offerings, and other aspects of their establishments, which plays a significant factor in their performance overall and their standings as the cream of the crop in retail. With the holiday shopping season upon us, retailers are also going to begin shifting their budgets to correspond to the change in the outlandish, sale-fueled shopping habits of society.

Apparel Retailers: Macy’s vs. Kohl’s

These two renowned stores may seem to be extremely similar especially to those who aren’t avid shoppers (Macy’s? Kohl’s? Who?) Both of these brands are well-known by society and unquestionably, well-shopped. They carry similar types of items ranging from home decor to clothing and accessories.


The quantity of ads between Macy’s and Kohl’s are almost identical with Macy’s only having an approximate 10 percent lead, acknowledging that their budgets are relatively similar. Additionally the ads increase during the holiday season each year and have been progressively doing so for 4 years.

Macy’s receives more search engine traffic than Kohl’s, and peaks in searches seem to be in the same place, specifically around holiday shopping time when they have an increase in ads. Could it be that there is no winner in this comparison?

The ads keywords for Macy’s are standard words for what their store supplies such as “handbags”, “fashion star” (seemingly Macy’s is cross-promoting with the NBC “Fashion Star” reality show by way of a clothing collection), “earrings”, “beds”, and “shoes”. The keywords on which Macy’s bids produce an extremely high volume, for instance “shoes” with a volume of 450,000 searches per month, so it seems that they have no trouble with their budget.

In contrast, Kohl’s is taking a much different approach and bidding on their own keyword (“kohls”), and even capitalizing on misspellings of their name such as “kohl s” and “khols”. Perhaps they realized that misspelling their store name is a commonality and therefore decided to bid upon it, saving their budget for other strategies, but maybe consumers should learn the correct spelling of their preferred shopping outlets.

Walmart vs. Target


Walmart and Target are incredibly popular among the public today. Honestly, where else can you buy an HDTV, food, a pair of socks, and pick up your prescription all in one place? Talk about one-stop shopping.

The two massive chains are constantly challenging one another and the results of their Internet marketing strategies are somewhat surprising.

Overall, Target is displaying the use of many more ads than Walmart, and there was a significant increase in December 2010 (with slight spikes around the holiday season of each subsequent year as well). Walmart doesn’t seem to be utilizing many ads at all making them the outsider in this case with a mere 15.5 percent in contrast to Target’s 84.5 percent.

The ads keywords bid on by Walmart are varied in their purpose. They are bidding on their own keyword of “walmart.com”, but they also bid on more precise keywords such as “hp touchpad” and “gears of war 3”, directing the consumer to view ads for something in particular that Walmart carries.

In comparison, Target doesn’t bid on their own keyword but rather focuses on specific items that they are most likely attempting to move within their stores such as “Nintendo ds”, “Polaroid”, and “keurig”. Target has a focus that is a bit wider than that of Walmart, and has ads relative to a variety of keywords. Target seems to be the budgetary leader in this contest, with their finances significantly higher for Internet promotion than their distinguished rival.

In terms of search engine traffic, it started off slow for both retailers in 2009, and progressively increased as time went on. Target holds onto 37.1 percent of searches while Walmart comes in with 62.9 percent.

In 2009 Wal-Mart had a significant upsurge in their business overall as this is when they began to increase significantly as a worldwide business. Similarly, Target expanded outside of the U.S. in 2009 and to the further reaches of the country such as Hawaii and Alaska.

Supermarkets: Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods

Interestingly enough, neither Trader Joe’s nor Whole Foods bid on any keywords. Could it be that their health-conscious product lines are too good for Internet advertising, or they just don’t allocate any budget to Internet marketing? Regardless, these competitors are incredibly popular (and growing) among society.

Search engine traffic is much higher for Trader Joe’s with a massive 97.2 percent compared to Whole Foods’ measly 2.8 percent. But do these two use any other sort of method of Internet advertising?

As can be seen below, Facebook is a means of advertising for Whole Foods, but not Trader Joe’s. Maybe they are trying to make up for their lack of Internet searches by promoting their stores to Facebook users:


Whole Foods has only nine advertisements on Facebook total with average monthly impressions at 108,000. However, it can be perceived clearly that they are advertising toward a very direct market and location, focusing their ads on new stores that have opened up and more than likely trying to increase awareness.

Electronics: Best Buy vs. Apple


It may seem that Best Buy and Apple are two very different electronics providers, but they offer many of the same items and most of us would likely assume that Apple is the leader in this match-up.

Best Buy purchases more ads than Apple (61.9 percent vs. 38.1 percent), honing in significantly during the holiday shopping season. Apple doesn’t spike all that much during any particular time, but just a miniscule amount in December of each year.

Search engine traffic, on the other hand, is very different. In 2009 Best Buy and Apple were very similar, but beginning in March of 2010 Apple received a significant jump in their searches while Best Buy increased a little bit and remained stagnant to this day. Apple encompasses 81.1 percent of searches while Best Buy takes in 18.9 percent.

Seemingly, searches for Apple increased greatly upon the release of the iPhone 4s in October of 2011, perhaps due to this being the first iPhone to include Siri. From there, searches have been somewhat wavering but overall consistent. Best Buy obviously has some work to do to keep up with the all-knowing, all-seeing, and ever-so-popular Apple despite that they do carry their products.

When it comes to ad keywords, Best Buy is taking the route of bidding on their own keyword which has a massive search volume of over 9 million per month. Additionally, Best Buy is bidding on some specific items that they carry such as “ipad 3”, “wii u”, and “gta 5” (“Grand Theft Auto 5” – apparently some searchers are too lazy to type the entire video game title out), and directing users to their homepage.

Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t bid on their own keyword but rather focuses on certain aspects of what they provide to the consumer such as “itunes”, “ipad”, “icloud”, and “siri”, directing users to varied areas of their website. Best Buy allocates more of their budget to ads than Apple does (61.9 percent vs. 38.1 percent).

Home Improvement: Home Depot vs. Lowe’s


Home improvement stores are on the rise as society makes enhancements on their homes themselves to ultimately save dollars and cents and increase resale value. Two of the largest home improvement competitors out there are, of course, Home Depot and Lowe’s.

The trend in the number of ads for each competitor shows us that they have remained consistent with one another for the most part, with Lowe’s spending a bit more of their budget on their ads keywords. Both companies tend to increase their spending on ads around the beginning of springtime when people begin to escape the cusp of winter and start thinking about their home improvement projects for the year ahead.

Similarly, search engine traffic for these hammer-wielding companies is similar. Home Depot is somewhat ahead of Lowe’s with 61.9 percent vs. 38.1 percent, but Home Depot had a significant increase in traffic in December 2010 (so they must be doing something right), while they both suffered a decrease in searches around September 2011.

Specific ads keywords for each of these competitors are extremely similar. Both are bidding on their own keywords of “home depot” and “lowes”, and they are both also bidding on misspellings of their company names.

Additionally, they also focus on specific items such as “vanity”, “windows”, “uhaul”, and “weber grills”. It seems as though these two are replicating the Internet tactics of one another in order to keep up with the success, or lack thereof that the other is having; copy cats.

Drug Stores: CVS vs. Rite Aid


CVS and Rite Aid are common household names, whether it is for their pharmaceutical services or retail items. Although they are very close in the number of ads, CVS had an extreme spike in their ads in early 2011 which may have had something to do with their launch of the Pharmacy Advisor for Diabetes at that time. Thereafter they significantly decreased their number of ads while Rite Aid remained rather level.

In terms of search traffic, CVS as a whole is generally searched for more than Rite Aid with 70.4 percent of searches compared to Rite Aid’s 29.6 percent. Searches for CVS jumped in December 2010, remained steady, and jumped again around December 2011. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue into 2012, but something is being done to increase their searches during the holiday season. It seems that there is generally more interest in CVS, which corresponds with their place as a retailer that is closer to the top than Rite Aid is.

In ad keywords, CVS is bidding on keywords such as “drug store”, “generic drugs”, “cvs minute clinic”, and even “cvs gift card selection” (CVS gift card designs are of dire importance, apparently). These keywords direct the clicker to different landing pages dependent upon the keyword such as their diabetes or flu section, and even to the corresponding gift card page.

On the other hand, Rite Aid bids on their own keyword of “rite aid” and those alike in addition to keywords such as “pharmacy law”. Funny enough, every single one of these keywords directs the user to the Flu Shot section of their website. That’s just a little bit deceiving; maybe Rite Aid stores aren’t meeting their flu shot quotas?

Fast Food: McDonald’s vs. Subway

Finally, it’s the Mac Daddy of them all (no pun intended). Why not going about comparing one of the most unhealthy fast food chains with one of the healthiest?

Strangely enough, these two chains do have quite the competition going on. The number of ads that McDonald’s and Subway are bidding on is extremely similar with Subway maintaining 52.3 percent and McDonald’s with 47.7 percent. Additionally, their sporadic jumps are somewhat aligned with drastic increases and decreases in ad purchases around March of this year.


In overall search traffic, McDonald’s and Subway are neck-in-neck, with a bit more interest going to the cheeseburger-providing, calorie-infested kingpin. Interest is basically even when it comes to months and years, but McDonald’s takes 61.4 percent of searches while Subway is at 38.6 percent. The holiday season doesn’t do much for the fast food industry, it seems.

Ads keywords purchased by these unlikely competitors are also somewhat similar. Both are bidding on their own keyword, and McDonald’s is bidding on misspellings such as “macdonalds” while Subway is focusing more on the nutritional aspect of their brand, purchasing keywords such as “subway nutrition facts”. I wonder why McDonald’s doesn’t bid on “mcdonald’s nutrition facts”?

All of Subway’s AdWords direct the user to their homepage, while some of McDonald’s AdWords are directed to the career section of their webpage. Budgets and trends seem to be pretty level for these two.

Additionally, while Subway doesn’t allocate any of their advertising funds to Facebook, McDonald’s has put some of their focus into the social media marketing avenue.

With 33 advertisements total and eight landing pages, the two McDonald’s advertisements below focus on both the career aspect of the company once again as well as an ad that states “McDonald’s will bring about 100 million cups of fruit to the diets of our customers yearly.” Clicking on this ad directs the user to their homepage where there is no mention of fruit cups but rather a sub-site geared toward making their food more nutritional. Maybe McDonald’s is finally beginning to re-think their calorie-ridden menu items?


Top Retail Competitors and Their Facebook Ads:


Facebook isn’t only a social media website, but it is also becoming known as an effective place to advertise, so some retailers are beginning to re-distribute their budgets. Look at the numbers above – the Facebook ads for the retailers discussed are extremely varying, and therefore the budgets for social media advertising is differing greatly for these stores.

Apple is putting an immense focus into Facebook ads with 5,049 total current ads while Trader Joe’s has none and CVS only has two, but for the most part competition seems relatively balanced with some retailers focusing a bit more on Facebook. As this is the first year that Facebook ads can be tracked, we will be anxiously waiting to see what ads the holiday season brings.


Based on these findings, it’s obvious that many top retailers work to keep up with their competitors but may have unalike methods of doing so as can be seen in their bidding habits, budgets, and trends, whether it is the holiday season.

Make sure to remember that it’s not just a popularity contest, boys and girls. If you want to be at the top, you have to work to get there.


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