Top 10 Beauty Brands in Digital

This year’s Digital IQ Index: Beauty is the first to rank an independently owned brand in the Genius class. Indie brands continue to chip away at the market share of large beauty enterprises while legacy players are funneling investment into digital channels to stanch the bleeding. Out of 108 tracked brands, here are the ones boasting top 10 status in an increasingly competitive beauty landscape.

Maybelline employs best-in-class site content, a smooth mobile experience, and strong merchandising on Amazon, where it appears on first-page results for 37% of color cosmetics keywords. A leader on Instagram, the brand worked with three different influencers with varying community sizes to implement a cost-effective strategy. The brand uses clean visuals including consolidated videos, tutorials, and user-generated content to achieve high organic visibility.

The first non-major enterprise brand to break into the Genius class, Tarte debuted a notable site relaunch that prioritized mobile-specific optimizations including short, shoppable videos and a new loyalty program. It secured high visibility on Sephora and Ulta’s websites, receiving more traffic than most brands owned by major beauty enterprises. The brand was one of the first to adopt Instagram Stories, boosting its already strong presence on the social media platform.

Urban Decay used the launch of its Naked Heat Palette to garner a high volume of mentions both in editorials and by beauty influencers across Instagram and YouTube. The brand also consistently leverages top influencer partnerships for product launches and optimizes commerce for mobile sites with single-page checkout, swipeable content, and ubiquitous Add to Cart buttons.

NYX boasts a strong and colorful presence on Instagram, where it depicts highly curated influencer and user-generated content for 12 million followers. The company also sees high visibility on Amazon as well as Ulta and Target’s sites. On the latter, it’s one of the top three most visible color cosmetics brands.

Along with high visibility on the Nordstrom and Macy’s sites, MAC maintains firm ownership over paid search for branded terms, indicating a strong SEM strategy. It’s the top mentioned brand by influencers on YouTube and Instagram and employs shoppable videos in the form of 30-second lip tutorials on YouTube that link back to the brand site.

Benefit’s short, concern-oriented concealer diagnostic reflects its mobile- and visual-first prioritization. The brand also achieves high organic visibility through second-order search effects from Ulta and capitalized on the “lip kit” trend by bundling together previously released lip kits into “bundles”, responding relatively quickly to the trend compared to its peers.

A leader on Sephora, Ulta, and Nordstrom, Clinique maintains relevance and high product visibility by leveraging sampling through retailers and remaining active on social media. In the skincare category, Clinique’s products are the most visible on both Sephora and Ulta, compensating for the structural decline of department stores, which it’s more exposed to than other brands.

High organic and unbranded visibility on YouTube contribute to large subscriber growth on L’Oréal’s channel, while the brand also maintains strong visibility and merchandising on Amazon. As a part of the L’Oréal Group, L’Oréal Paris enjoys first-page results for 28% of color cosmetics keywords and contributes to more display advertising impressions on than any other beauty brand tracked by L2.

Lancôme is the most visible color cosmetics brand on Sephora Smart Sampling and boasts best-in-class account functionality on site. It scores high in skincare category visibility on Nordstrom and is making strides in bidding for branded keywords.

An SEO leader for unbranded terms, e.l.f. achieves 5% visibility compared to 0.5% average visibility of brands tracked by L2, specifically on Walmart, Amazon, and Target. The brand also began distributing through Macy’s in the past year and is one of only two brands able to achieve considerable organic visibility without significant spend, thanks in part to persistent image tagging and integrated content.

Too Faced excels in earned media through mentions by Instagram influencers and YouTube vloggers and remains a leader across all social platforms. Following its acquisition by Estee Lauder, Too Faced increased its investment in mobile web advertising considerably, surpassing other prestige brands and resulting in 39% of its impressions being gleaned on mobile as compared to an average of just 17% for other prestige color brands.


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