Can Big Brands Benefit from Search Marketing?

Can big companies like Walmart, Burger King and Victoria’s Secret benefit from search marketing? This question arose during a conversation in reference to an SEM proposal I was working on for a very well-known company who everyone has heard of. The company advertises via traditional media, such as TV and print, and they dominate the market share in their particular vertical. “So why,” my colleague asked me, “should they even bother with search?” Good question.

The short answer to my first question is: yes, big brands can benefit from search marketing. Everyone can benefit from search marketing. That’s because search marketing is driven by the consumer, not the advertiser. It truly puts consumers in a proactive role in terms of what they are looking for and what companies/products/brands, they choose to read about, exchange information with and ultimately buy from.

These are not people flipping through a parenting magazine who see an ad for Huggies, but don’t have kids in diapers. In this scenario the consumer is the passive bystander and they aren’t looking for information on diapers. They are looking for information on parenting. This is why an ad when it’s not wanted, needed, or expected can be ineffective. Not that this is news to anyone, but bear with me.

So getting back to my colleague’s question, “why should big brands even bother with search?” There are several very good reasons.

Search marketing is cheap (relatively speaking)

Search marketing is cheap compared with other forms of advertising such as TV commercials, direct mail and print advertising. “Cheap” is relative. If you are a small company, then I am not speaking to you. If you are a big brand with millions to spend on advertising, then shame on you if you are not using search to its absolute maximum potential. Paid search ad impressions are FREE, and organic search listings that appear in search results are also FREE.

Yes, it costs money to hire agencies, consultants or in-house staffers to perform SEO and manage PPC, but this is still a fairly low cost compared with one prime time television spot. Click charges can be as low as $0.05 each on Google and $0.10 each on Overture for certain keywords, and search volumes are getting larger each day as more people turn to the Internet for products, services and information.

People are looking for you, man. Be there for them.

Search marketing can support a well-known brand by associating top product-specific keywords and/or products with the brand.

This can apply to both business-to-bussiness (BtoB) and Business-to-Consumeer (BtoC) companies. For example, a search for “grill” on Froogle brings up a wealth of grills, but none of them are from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Both chains sell grills and should absolutely be there (in the search results of Froogle) for generic terms like “grill” and “grill accessories” and brand names like “Jenn-Air grill” and “Char-Broil.”

Search engine results can support the message that Lowe’s is a resource for all things having to do with grills by being there at the point of search. But don’t look just at Froogle, but also paid search ads on Google, Overture and other shopping engines and also in the natural search results. The best part is, consumers are looking for information on grills, grilling and grill accessories. This isn’t a hit or miss ad. It’s always a hit because it’s always targeted and (even better) impressions are free, unlike banners, commercial spots or magazine insertions.

Keeping the above in mind, you can start to see how search marketing can impact a company’s bottom line by featuring big brands in ways that consumers may not be aware of.

Let’s pick a big brand out of the hat. IBM is a good one. As a consumer, I think of IBM as a computer manufacturer of notebooks, desktops, peripheral supplies, and that sort of thing. However, after browsing through their website, I discovered that IBM offers a lot of technical and computer training aimed at businesses.

I may be a consumer, but I also work full-time at a company that uses computers, a company that may benefit from any one of the many computer and IT services that IBM offers. However, I never connected IBM with the types of services that they present on their website such as application development/systems integration, technical and IT training, networking, hosting and much more. IBM does not come up in the first 100 results in Google for “computer networking,” a term that received over 33,000 searches on the Yahoo/Overture network in April 2005 (this translates to about 80,000 searches across all major search engines). IBM could benefit from a lot of incremental traffic if they showed up for a host of keywords such as “computer networking,” “XML training,” and a wealth of other terms related to their service offerings. Showing up for these terms would help people associate these IBM services with the IBM brand.

Search provides yet another venue for big brands to demonstrate their bigness.

It’s a huge missed opportunity for a big company when they don’t show up in search results (either natural or paid) for products and services that they offer, but consumers may not know they offer. But it’s downright shocking to see how many top brands do not show up in the top 100 search results in Google for even their key product or service. Here are a few examples:

  • Pepsi.com for “soda”
  • BK.com for “hamburger”
  • McDonalds.com for “cheeseburger”
  • Bicworld.com for “pen”
  • Huggies.com for “diaper”
  • Menswarehouse.com for “suits” and “men’s suits”
  • Samash.com for “instruments”
  • Coors.com for “beer”
  • JCPenney.com for “clothes”
  • Aquafina for “water”
  • Victoria’s Secret for “underwear” and “panties”
  • Kia.com for “cars”
  • Pfizer.com for “medicine” or “medication”
  • HomeDepot.com for “home repair”

This is a fun game, isn’t it? Try some of your own favorite brands and see what you come up with. Clearly the above companies are missing out not only on a tremendous opportunity to obtain additional search engine traffic from their top brand-related keywords, but they are really failing their brand by not showing up in the search results for products that essentially define who they are and what they do. One of the advantages you have if you are a big brand is that you have enough money to properly optimize your website for competitive keywords such as “beer,” “clothes” and “pen,” all three of which received hundreds of thousands of searches in April 2005 ALONE.

All of these companies are missing out in paid search traffic (at least on Google) as well. Coors, for example, has an ecommerce website that sells beer and drinking-related products. They could optimize this site for the term “beer” and/or buy some Google Adwords and simultaneously increase traffic and sales while also supporting their brand. The Internet is obviously not the main driving force behind sales of Pepsi, Coors or Huggies. That doesn’t mean these companies or brands should not show up in the search results for terms relating to their products. However, e-commerce websites like Victoriassecret.com and JCPenney.com are at a huge disadvantage when they do not show up for their brand-defining product related keywords. They are definitely missing out on sales, and lots of them.

So now that you’re just as horrified as I am about some of the big brands that are missing the mark when it comes to search, I want to name a couple of companies that are going about things the right way. Godiva is #1 and #2 in Google for the keyword “chocolate,” a term that received 161,000 searches in Overture in April 2005. Godiva products also show up in Froogle when you search for “chocolate” and they are present in the Chocolate & Sweets section of Yahoo! Shopping. Another top brand that’s clearly benefiting from search marketing is Starbucks.com, which is #1 in Google, #2 in Yahoo and #7 in MSN for the term “coffee.” A Google ad for StarbucksStore.com also shows up in the search results for “coffee.”

There are other examples of top brands that show up in search results for the generic terms that they’re well known for, but it is difficult to find a big name company that truly takes advantage of all the possibilities of search. Since new search marketing opportunities crop up practically every day, it seems, this can be a difficult undertaking.

In addition to search engines, directories and shopping engines, there are other search marketing opportunities that are fairly low-cost and provide excellent exposure to a company, brand or product. Different types of search such as local search and international search, press release distribution, link placement and article syndication are all closely related to search in that they either directly show up in the search results in one way or another, or they help boost organic search ranking. Contextual ads placed through Google or other channels such as Quigo.com distributes text ads on topically-relevant websites (e.g., a Godiva ad might show up on a cooking website or blog) is another venue that falls within the scope of search marketing.

Conclusion

Big brands can benefit from the increasing number of search marketing opportunities by employing a cohesive search engine marketing strategy and simply paying attention to opportunities that are both obvious (e.g., Godiva for “chocolate”) and not so obvious (e.g., Godiva for “sugar free candy”). Your brand can also demonstrate leadership in the market by appearing each and every time someone searches for what you are known for (Pepsi SHOULD be there for “soda”, Bic SHOULD be there for “pen”).

The beauty of search for a big brand is that, in most cases, the very popular generic terms are attainable because you have the money to spend on SEO and link placement. Even so, search budgets are relatively small compared with other marketing channels. Whether you’re peddling underwear, computer networking or soda, it just doesn’t make sense not to be there when someone is searching for something you’re selling.

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