Stephen Logan

How Important is Search Engine Visibility for Major Brands?

9th Apr 2010 SEO Blog 6 minutes to read

Should major global brands like Adidas, Sony and Mars be more committed to their search engine visibility? Have they missed a trick by allowing competitors to steal in and take their rankings?

Two, brand-search related news stories caught my eye this week. The first of these appeared in The Guardian on Tuesday. This piece suggested that World Cup sponsors were failing to exploit Google search terms. It found that a number of specific World Cup related phrases aren’t returning results for those companies who have paid millions to sponsor.

The second was featured today on Econsultancy. Entitled ‘Superbrands need to improve search visibility‘, the subject was reasonably evident from the outset: top companies aren’t doing enough to gain search engine exposure.

Both of these articles took the view that businesses were being ignorant of their search status. That major brands had foregone their opportunity to assert dominance for terms that they should be at the top for. However, this got me wondering; just how important is it for major brands to be on top of Google?

Big Brand, Big Exposure
If we were to do a poll of what you believed were the top 10 brands in the world, I’m sure there would be a clear pattern; something a little like:

1. Google
2. Microsoft
3. Nike
4. McDonalds
5. Adidas
6. Sony
7. Samsung
8. Apple
9. Coca Cola
10. Ford

That’s a rough outline, you can swap in as many as you want, but fundamentally we can all put together a list of brand leaders. This reputation management has been done for decades. Their brand name and what it means to consumers is carefully groomed and becomes embedded within the fabric of society itself.

So is it arrogance that these self same brands are overlooking the potential to develop this reputation online? Well, yes and no.

Yes, because we all know how effective search engines are in gaining traffic and visibility. Google channels millions of searches to websites every day. It is the most popularly used search engine and most used website in the world. When it comes to an online forum to showcase your brand, there’s nothing that comes close.

No, because, well, why do they need to do any more promotion?

I’ll take one example that features in both articles, Coca Cola. With over 120 years of heritage to lean on and on of the most commonly seen symbols in modern culture, the Coca Cola Company, or Coke, is a truly global brand.

Measuring Brand Search Engine Visibility

Econsultancy uses the Epiphany BrandSearch rankings as the guide for their post. This tracks the search visibility of 100 superbrands, using a variety of keywords to see how they appear in organic and paid search results. An extremely useful tool for measuring comparative online optimisation, but perhaps in no way is this finite.

Let’s go back to Coca Cola. If you were searching for one of their products, is it more likely that you would be in purchase or research mode? You can walk down to your local store to pick up a can of Coke, you’re not going to go online to purchase it. As a result, their website is pretty basic. It provides an overview of the company, a few flash based images and their promotions.

As a consequence, Coca Cola isn’t going to get any more money from their website, or from over investing in online marketing. Does it matter that they don’t appear for some World Cup sponsorship terms or for the keyword ‘lemonade’? Probably not.

Brands offering products online through their own estore surely have most to gain. Not only can they promote their own identity, but they can get some products shifted. This is why the top three superbrands in the BrandSearch ratings are Thorntons, Dulux and Dyson. All sell on the Internet and all have deliberately developed their as a consequence.

Small Brand, Big Competition

The smaller your business, the more competitive the market, the more you should be doing online. What Guinness or Monopoly get out of their online visibility is anybody’s guess. Of course these superbrands need to have somewhere for interested parties to go. However, their sites are often just a repository of information, press releases and employment opportunities.

If you have a midsized ecommerce store it goes without saying that you need to develop your brand identity. Your business is primarily online and therefore it is in your best interests to outrank competitors and gain some branding leverage as a consequence.

The crux of the Guardian’s piece on World Cup sponsorship is centred on the fact that these big global brands have paid millions for exclusive rights and are now surrendering them to opponents. True enough. If they have spent huge volumes on getting noticed in the real world, why not make it count online too? Well, as foolish as this is, it is a pattern copied right around the business world.

Focussed Campaigns for Special Events
Traffic comes in peaks and troughs. Many estores can expect to see a spike in business around Christmas when consumers are on the lookout for last minute bargains. The same is true of specialist events such as the World Cup or anything more specific to your business.

Websites should do more to make sure that they are optimised for their main keywords. Doubling up with paid search and SEO work will see you gain maximum search engine visibility; but that does come at a cost.

If you don’t have a brand name that is recognised everywhere from Thailand to Tunisia or Bolivia to Bulgaria, you’re at an immediate disadvantage. But this is why the Internet is seen as a great leveller. If you work hard, invest sensibly and optimise your site for the most effective terms, you can succeed. Open your eyes to opportunities (unlike the World Cup sponsors) and plan your focussed work early in order to get the most benefit.

We don’t all have the luxury of the endless marketing budgets that are enjoyed by the likes of Nike, Coca Cola or Sony, but we can learn from their mistakes. We also don’t have their brand power, which means we can’t be lethargic about how we promote ourselves online.

Both articles make very interesting points, but both needed to be grounded with a little context. Big brands care more about earning money. Dominating the search rankings is all well and good, but if that isn’t going to help them make direct sales, or show off their consumer might (take a massive World Cup television advertising campaign as opposed to a Google AdWords PPC ad), then it probably isn’t worthwhile.

Most of these brands have grown up in the old school of advertising, which is focused primarily on saturation through billboards, television and print media. Clearly most are still taking their time to do the same online, but this won’t be through ignorance.  Why overspend and under perform?

Whilst they don’t need to have an impeccably optimised website, smaller sites do. They have the benefit of old domains, millions of organic backlinks and immediate authority with the search engines, most don’t.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it is important for big brands to use search engines to further improve their reputations, or is it just throwing good money after bad?

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