Nike’s explosive online growth



Updated on December 2, 2020
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7 min well spent

In September, Nike’s stock price jumped about 10% as a result of explosive online sales amid the pandemic (source). Even though many offline retail stores opened, digital sales jumped over 80% from quarter to quarter. How does a company of Nike’s size do that?

Nike’s Growth is fueled by SEO

Nike’s SEO traffic over time in SEMrush

According to SEMrush, Nike gets about 180,000,000 visitors per month, of which the vast majority comes from mobile devices. As you can see in the screenshot above, growth has been good over the last couple of months.

June 2019 was a pivotal month in Nike’s traffic. It started growing faster than before and set the foundation that Nike is benefitting from today. See, you don’t just wait for a significant event like the Covid pandemic to happen and then invest in your digital business. You set yourself up for success before and then reap the rewards when it comes.

So, the big question is actually how Nike was able to grow their organic traffic so well in the last 15 months. I looked at which keywords gained a lot of rankings between June 2019 and November 2020 and compared Nike’s site with the Wayback Machine to understand how Nike propelled their SEO growth over the last 15 months. I found four things.

Site architecture

In June 2019, Nike migrated its store from store.nike.com to nike.com. That migration took a bit but eventually came in. That, by the way, reminds me a lot of how the migration from g2crowd.com to g2.com went (I wrote an article about it).

nike.com vs. store.nike.com SEO visibility in Sistrix
nike.com vs. store.nike.com SEO visibility in Sistrix

Homepages themselves don’t carry a lot of organic traffic value and pull mostly direct traffic. However, they do provide a lot of value for internal linking because they usually get the most and strongest backlinks and distribute the PageRank throughout the site.

Nike put some work into expanding its homepage footer, an internal link module that only exists at the bottom of the homepage. I made good experiences with using such footers myself (take a look at G2’s homepage).

Nike’s homepage footer

Launch pages

The next smart investment Nike made is in launch pages. Such pages bridge the gap between the announcement of a new product and when it’s available to buy. Most ecommerce sites don’t set up launch pages. If they do, they create one page for the launch and one for the product. But not Nike.

Nike's splash page for new launches
Nike’s splash page for new launches

Nike has a splash page for launches on https://www.nike.com/launch, but

When a new product is announced, it gets a URL structure like https://www.nike.com/launch/t/air-jordan-4-fire-red. Once it’s available, it’s redirected to a URL like https://www.nike.com/t/air-zoom-tempo-next-womens-running-shoe-ZWMnV0/CI9924-800 (notice how the /launch/ subdirectory doesn’t exist in the second URL).

An example of a product launch
An example of a product launch

You can set an automatic notification when the product is available.

When clicking on "notify me", Nike prompts you to download its app
When clicking on “notify me”, Nike prompts you to download its app

This is a nice driver of app-installs for Nike.

Unique product landing pages

Nike has several splash pages similar to /launch but for product lines, like

This goes back to site architecture and taxonomy, but I wanted to call it out specifically because these products gain tons of traffic for brand searches and provide a better experience than a category or product page.

Those product splash pages create a lot of hype: history, male/female versions, way more product pictures, etc. Just as an example, https://www.nike.com/air-force-1 pull over 50,000 visitors a month. That’s a single page.

Also, note how they help Nike gain more real estate in the very cluttered search results with double rankings.

Nike's double rankings with product splash pages
Nike’s double rankings with product splash pages

Better targeting of generic keywords

Nike’s products live in the nike.com/t/ directory, categories live under nike.com/w/. These category pages don’t just rank for brand keywords but also generic terms like “sneakers”, “mens basketball shoes”, or “running shoes”.

Note that these categories have no textual content. The user experience, large images, key information, and good internal linking help the page stand on its own.

A Nike category page

Not only are category pages lacking content, their titles also aren’t well optimized. Nike’s brand alone can carry the page all the way to the top of the search results.

Search results for “running shoes”

A lesson in user intent can be learned when looking at how Google tries out different Nike page for the keyword “running shoes” (see screenshot below). In the end, the main category page https://www.nike.com/w/running-shoes-37v7jzy7ok dominates, but Google tries out different pages for types of running shoes to see if users like them better.

Nike’s category page for running shoes in Ahrefs

Conclusion: strong brand + good site architecture + innovative page types

Nike’s SEO growth is the result of a well-crafted SEO strategy. Built on the foundation of a strong brand but refined with innovative page types like product splash pages and good choices like migrating the store to the root domain.

NIKE is recovering faster based on accelerating brand momentum and digital growth, as well as our relentless focus on normalizing marketplace supply and demand,” said Matt Friend, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, NIKE, Inc. “We continue to drive investment in capabilities that will fuel our consumer-led digital transformation, catalyzing long-term growth and profitability for NIKE.

Matt Friend, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, NIKE, Inc (source)

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