Is BFCM the SEO highlight of the year for e-commerce?

Is Black Friday/Cyber Monday the SEO highlight of the year for e-commerce? I looked up the search volume of the four top sellers in 2020 to find out.

Is BFCM the SEO highlight of the year for e-commerce?

Black Friday already started in the early 1950s, but in the last two decades, it turned into the Superbowl of e-commerce.

Based on Census data, e-commerce generates only 12% of the sales of Brick & Mortar. We often forget how powerful Brick & Mortar still is, even though e-commerce grows at a much faster rate. [link]

E-commerce vs. Brick & Mortar growth by quarter

As we all know by know, the Covid Pandemic accelerated online retail to a level never seen before, at least in 2020. The OECD reported a +16% increase in e-commerce share of total retail in Q2 2020.

Source: OECD

Comscore reported a +25% Y/Y increase in total spend for Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM) in 2020 compared to 20219. Total spend came close to $10b, though year-over-year growth slowed down from +31% in 2019 to +24% in 2020. [link]

That’s why it’s even more surprising to see that the demand for the search term “black friday” in 2020 was way lower than in 2019, and 2021 is projected to be even lower than that.

Google Trends for "black friday", "cyber monday", and "singles day"

We see the same trend for “cyber monday”.

Google Trends for "cyber monday"

How does the decline in searches for BFCM fit into the rise of e-commerce? How important is search traffic over the BFCM weekend actually for merchants? To better understand this, I analyzed the search volumes of the 4 top sellers in BFCM 2021.

Black Friday search volumes

The search volume of a product can tell us more about its demand. It’s not a perfect correlation, keyword search volume is the closest proxy to sales we have access to.

I exported the search volume for four top sellers over BFCM in 2020:

  • "Airpods"
  • "Revlon one step hair dryer"
  • "lego star wars mandalorian battle pack"
  • "nintendo switch"

The goal was to catch the shorthead curve of products that have a huge sales volume. It won’t cover all sales over BFCM and Christmas, of course, and it’s a small sample size. Take this analysis with a grain of salt.

To make the chart more digestible, I added “airpods” and “nintendo switch” to the 2nd y-axis.

Search volume of the top four Black Friday sellers in 2020

The search volume for most products shown is flat for most of the year but shows spikes around the end of the year.

Some products spiked in March-May 2020 due to the pandemic, but not all of them. Toys stayed flat, but the Nintendo Switch saw its biggest increase in search volume ever because people wanted to play (virtual) games during the pandemic lockdowns.

Some products’ search volume ramps up slowly, as for Airpods and the Revlon one-step hairdryer. For others, it’s a sudden increase followed by stability as for the Nintendo Switch.

The big question is now whether we see larger spikes for November as a proxy for BFCM or in December to represent the Christmas shopping season. Comparing the monthly growth rate for November with December over the last four years, I found three interesting trends.

First, the difference between BFCM and Christmas has become smaller. Whereas a product like Apple’s Airpods jumped about +75% in search volume from November to December in 2017 and 2018, they only showed an increase of +3.85% in December 2019 and +23.94% in December 2020.

Second, November and December are without a doubt the e-commerce highlights of the year with search increases of +100% for products like the Nintendo Switch.

However, and this is the third observation, compared the total search volume of the first 10 months of the year, November and December (BFCM + Christmas) are small. In other words, merchants shouldn’t focus their SEO efforts on BFCM and Christmas but aim for consistently high performance throughout the year.

Digging even deeper, I found that the share of search volume from BFCM + Christmas in comparison to the rest of the year got smaller from 2017 to 2020!

Conclusion

To answer the question we started with, BFCM is not the SEO highlight of the year for e-commerce. Compared to the rest of the year it’s a nice spike but doesn’t compete with consistent performance, even when adding the search volume from Christmas on top of it. As merchants, you want to get your ducks in a row for November to December, but not at the cost of January to October.