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November 21, 2017   |   8 min read

Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday: Keyword Trends

While a few brands have chosen to optoutside of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, most are still fully engrossed in the fine art of post-Thanksgiving sales.

And with all this interest and participation, comes data!

So, while brands have been hard at work prepping for the two biggest shopping days of 2017, we have taken a step back to analyze the Black Friday and Cyber Monday [organic search] trends of 2016. We've uncovered six Black Friday and Cyber Monday keyword search trends from the past,* that may serve to impact brands’ holiday-sale SEO in the future:

Trend #1: Black Friday won the popularity contest, but was not overly competitive about it.

While comparing popularity levels is not a polite social practice, it’s totally acceptable in the realm of keywords. So, who got invited to the most post-Thanksgiving search parties last year? Black Friday – by a landslide.

Looking at each keyword in its natural state, Black Friday (BF) showed more than double the amount of search volume as Cyber Monday (CM) in November 2016 (3,350,000 searches vs. 1,500,000 searches, respectively).

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Even after accessorizing itself with modifiers, CM was not able to bridge the popularity gap. In fact, that gap got larger. Summing search volume for the top three-hundred terms related to each event, BF ended up with almost 5X the amount of search volume as CM (~4,100,000 searches vs. ~790,000 searches, respectively).    

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But although BF was voted “most popular,” it was not overly competitive. Surprisingly, about 67% of the keywords in its assessed set had a low-level of competition. Terms with high-levels of competition – making up only 21% of the full list - tended to align with TVs, phones and laptops.

In a nutshell? Sites should expect to derive more organic traffic via Black Friday related searches as compared to Cyber Monday.

Trend #2: Customers were all about the deals, not doorbusters.

“Let’s Make a Deal” might be the name of the game on CBS, but Black Friday and Cyber Monday participants were playing to “Find a Deal.” That is to say, “deal” was by far the most common general modifier paired with Black Friday and Cyber Monday search terms. Beyond this top modifier, the search trends began to differ:

  • While “ads” was next in line for BF searches, it was “sales” that took this spot for CM.
  • “Coupons” made top-five list for BF, while a similar term, “codes,” was present in CM’s list.
  • “Online” made the top-five list for BF, but not for CM.
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These three trends seemed to align with the nature of each event. Terms like ads,” and “coupons” are tangible items, more likely to be associated with the in-store BF experience. But, many retailers now offer BF deals via their websites, too. This has made online” a logical modifier for customers seeking to clarify their options – a clarification that is unnecessary for CM. But, “codes” are more likely to be associated with this digital shopping day – acting as the equivalent of an in-store coupon.

You might also have noticed that doorbusters did not make the BF list. This is perhaps one of the more surprising modifier-based finds of 2016.

The takeaway? Use “deals” when optimizing but don’t fall for the allure of doorbusters – it’s just a buzzword. If you feel the need to get more specific, add “coupons” or “online” for Black Friday and “codes” for Cyber Monday.

Trend #3: TVs, laptops and shoes – one of these items is not like the others.

With major gift-giving holidays right around the corner, it was surprising that specific items made up only a small percentage of search volume for both Black Friday (9%) and Cyber Monday (18%). When looking at general categories that contributed to these percentages, gaming/electronics took top spots for both BF and CM.

Getting more granular though, a difference emerged. Although the top-five searched-for BF items were all gadgets, CM showed a bit more variety. “Shoes,” specifically, “Jordans” appeared within CM’s list, as did “flights.”

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The bottom, itemized-line? If you’re offering a way to travel or treat-your-feet, you are more likely to connect with customers via a Cyber Monday sale.

Trend #4: Cyber Monday shoppers cared more about deals than the brands offering them.

Who needs to limit themselves to a specific brand when seeking out holiday deals? Apparently not Cyber Monday shoppers.

To start, it was obvious that each event had its favorite retailer of 2016. Walmart stole the majority of Black Friday’s search volume, and unsurprisingly, it was Amazon that captured the hearts of Cyber Monday shoppers. However, while branded Black Friday keywords made up 65% of the event’s total search volume, branded Cyber Monday keywords only accounted for 36%. To help illustrate this, below is the top search term in 2016 for each event:

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In lieu of a branded reference like walmart, the top CM search was inclusive of all deals – as long as they were the best.

Are we that surprised? If you factor in the reduction in [logistical] hassle from Cyber Monday, it makes sense that shoppers felt free to be loose with their searches – opening themselves up to the possibility of multiple online retailers rather than limiting themselves to a small handful of pre-chosen brick-and-mortar stores. After all, who wants to spend all day in those long lines and crazy crowds?

Speaking of crowds…

Trend #5: A small amount of safety searches highlighted a BIG Black Friday concern.

Because Black Friday has built a dangerous reputation for itself over the years, customers are now searching for more than deals, items, and brands.

Concern-based keywords may have made up less than one percent of the set’s total search volume, but it was an important <1%. The following searches should not be taken lightly. It’s so important, that we decided to highlight a few other examples that just missed making the list of top three-hundred terms:

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As Cyber Monday eradicates the need to leave home, safety-based searches were not present for this event. Retailers who offer Black Friday online (in addition to in-store) should take care to highlight this feature, as it may recoup shoppers who are not willing to risk their safety. It could also help capitalize on comparative searches like “black friday vs. cyber monday.”

Safety first – but what is second? These types of searches represent an opportunity for brands to speak to their safety policies while capitalizing on search volume. But beware, that with this opportunity also comes the potential need for reputation monitoring. While a well optimized “Black Friday Safety Tips” page might end up ranking reasonably well, a tale of misconduct is almost certain to appear at the top of the search results as a YouTube video or news story.

Trend #6: Black Friday brought out customers' inner history-buff.

It may not be a tale like the Boston Tea Party, but Black Friday shoppers are interested in the history behind the sales. Cyber Monday enthusiasts are a different story…

About 3% of Black Friday keywords lent themselves to general questions about the day. “When is Black Friday” and “When do Black Friday ads come out” were two to be expected. However, there were a handful of queries aimed at the origin of BF:

  • Why is it called Black Friday?
  • Where did Black Friday come from?
  • Black Friday origin

Inquiring minds wanted to know. But before brands jump to creating a history page or infographic, it’s important to call out that these searches are well covered by some heavy-hitters (e.g. Wikipedia & History.com).

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Looking at Cyber Monday, about 15% of searches were dedicated to general questions, many of which had to do with where to find the “best cyber monday deals.” Nothing surprising, and certainly nothing historical!

So, how should these search terms be handled? Rather than speaking to the general history of Black Friday, brands should perhaps try taking a more explicit approach. Sharing the history of BF specific to a brand could be a fun way to uniquely answer this question.

Recap of Black Friday and Cyber Monday Search Trends

Looking to have all this data-based information wrapped up in a neat package? Here it is, our gift to you.

BF-CM-Keyword-Recap-Chart

Will these trends and data-points remain the same for 2017 and 2018, or will we see shifts such as:

  • Cyber Monday bridging the keyword popularity gap or more usage of “online” as a modifier, as consumers look for excuses to avoid in-store shopping?
  • A higher/lower percentage of item-based searches for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday queries?
  • A differently yet equally stylish piece of footwear de-throning “Jordans” as the most searched-for shoe?
  • Amazon making an effort to oust Walmart as the go-to Black Friday retailer – thereby capturing top spots for both events?
  • Cyber Monday shoppers taking more/less of an interest in branded searches?
  • More safety-related searches making the top three-hundred list?
  • The Cyber Monday crowd taking more of an interest in history?

* The data within this blog post came from a list of three-hundred Black Friday keywords and three-hundred Cyber Monday keywords that were assessed based on modifiers, items, brands, etc. Keywords were pulled from comprehensive lists that originally included 3,000+ terms – those with the most search volume were chosen for further assessment. Competition level was used to break ties between terms with the same amount of search volume.

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