Scoring Super Bowl 2010 Commercials: How’s the Search Visibility?

After the 2009 Super Bowl, I monitored how the commercials drove searches and reported back on how well the brands did at ensuring visibility in organic search results. It didn’t go so well. The primary problems were:

  • Microsites – Microsites aren’t inherently a bad idea, but too many of them can cause brand confusion, external link dilution, and require that all search-related relevance and authority build from scratch with each new microsite.
  • Display issues – Many of the advertising brands last year ranked well, but due to technical issues had poor titles and descriptions in the search results.
  • Lack of consistency - In some cases, the brand bought AdWords for commercial taglines, but then didn’t display that tagline in the ad. Searchers likely skipped right past those ads as they were looking for a match to the phrase they typed in.

Have things gotten any better in 2010? Generally, yes they have. The use of microsites was greatly reduced this year, with most brands opting to simply display their primary domain name. This made ranking much more straightforward. However, overall there was less integration between the commercials and the web.  GoDaddy was one of the few advertisers that encouraged viewers to visit their web site (which surely viewers did, to see the “too hot for TV” commercial sequels).

Why does this matter? 57 percent of us are sometimes online at the same time we watch TV, and that often translates into searches. A comScore study found that 32 percent of those surveyed planned to be online during the game — 14 percent to watch commercials and 13 percent to visit advertiser web sites. Not surprisingly, Google noted search spikes for several advertisers during and after the game.

So, could the estimated 13 million viewers (13 percent of 100 million) looking for advertiser web sites find them? Let’s take a look.

Group 1 — brands that didn’t advertise a domain

Superbowl Ads: Search Part 1

In nearly all cases, these commercials were for existing brands and taglines. The new ones didn’t fare quite as well. Bud Light’s new “here we go” tagline for instance, has no visibility.

Acura ZDX: AJAX workarounds gone wrong

Searching for the Acura ZDX returns the page for the TSX. Why, you might ask? Well, even though the ZDX does in fact have its own URL (, the TSX page (which likely has been around longer and has accrued more links) appears to be hiding a whole bunch of text via CSS.

Acura CSS

So while the page on the left is what visitors see, the page on the right is what search engines see:

Acura Page Differences

Normally, I recommend against hiding text like this because it’s against the Google webmaster guidelines and can get a site penalized, but in this case, I’d recommend against it because they’re not really even doing it right. They repeat the same text about all cars on every car page. It looks like they may have originally done it to get around AJAX issues (the ranking page 302 redirects to a a URL that includes a #), but this is a prime example of why showing things differently to search engines and visitors can cause problems with diagnosing what’s gone wrong with search visibility.

Group 2 – brands that advertised a domain

Super Bowl Ads

As I noted last year, advertisers likely expect that if they display a URL in their ad, viewers will type that URL in their browser address bar. But often, viewers search for the URL (or portions of it or the brand name) instead, so it’s important to rank well for anything you’re advertising to maximize the ad’s effectiveness.

Bridgestone Tire – An overabundance of domains

Bridgestone ranks number one for both [bridgestone] and [bridgestone tire]. Unfortunately, the domain that ranks isn’t the one advertised. The advertised domain does a great job of engaging Super Bowl viewers. But how many of those viewers found it? Bridgestone Query

You can see that Bridgestone did buy AdWords for the correct URL, but that domain appears nowhere in the organic top ten, as it’s crowded out by other Bridgestone properties. This situation can be difficult to fix, as the umbrella brand (Bridgestone) includes many sub-brands (including Bridgestone Tire), and each is likely managed separately. But even excluding SEO concerns, the current structure is likely causing consumer confusion. And it’s undoubtedly hindered the effectiveness of the Super Bowl ads. The domain that ranks first ( could at the very least include a large call to action that leads visitors to the correct site. In the graphic below, you can see the site that ranks on the left and the site Bridgestone would like visitors to go to on the right (which includes Twitter and Facebook engagement, along with videos of the ads). As a sidenote, the twirly graphics that require you to chase them around with your mouse to go anywhere on the page on the left isn’t necessarily the more enjoyable experience for a bunch of people who may be a bit tipsy from Super Bowl refreshments.

Bridgestone Tire Home Page

What about the Honda Crosstour?

Honda did pretty well here. They rank in both paid and organic and their display of both is great (the ad even includes sitelinks). This query is one of the only I saw where a competitor tried to get in on the action (see the Chevy ad below).

Honda Crosstour

You’ll notice that the advertised URL  isn’t the one that ranks. In this case, the advertised URL redirects correctly with a 301 and both URLs contain the same keywords (Honda and Crosstour), so searchers aren’t likely to get confused. You may remember that I took issue with Hyundai’s use of a redirected vanity URL last year, but that was in part because the advertised URL was and the “real” URL was Anyone looking for “edit your own” couldn’t find it. The only improvement I would recommend to Honda would be to ditch the extra parameters. currently redirects to Is the from parameter really needed in this case? Diving further into the site, it appears that primary navigation uses a folder URL structure and secondary navigation uses a parameter-based URL structure. This makes it difficult for the bots to know when parameters are required vs. optional. Which leads to URLs such as this being indexed:



At the very least, Honda should get to know and love the meta canonical attribute.

Boost Mobile – triggering related searches

Google Trends only shows 20 spiking queries, so it doesn’t provide full visibility into surging spike interest. But here’s how you can know an ad is driving search interest: when you do a brand search, and the related searches are about your commercial, you know you’ve caused viewers to search for it.

Boost Mobile Shuffle

Sadly, Boost Mobile doesn’t actually rank for these related searches. It appears that their microsite,, does rank for [boost mobile shuffle], only the domain is indexed by its IP address.

Boost Shuffle

Oh Boost Mobile, just get rid of the weird microsite domain name altogether and host your crazy shuffle flashback somewhere on your main site.

Group 3 – the interesting ones

Super Bowl Ads

Hyundai – either they’ve learned or they’ve given up

I really gave Hyundai a hard time last year. They had such a great idea of integrating offline and online media. They created an interactive, social experience online and drove an amazing amount of search interest via their Super Bowl ad. The trouble was that they drove interest in the query [edit your own], but that site was nowhere to be found in the search results since redirected elsewhere.

Hyundia Super Bowl 2009

This year? No microsite. No offline/online integration. No social, viral, online experience. The ads simply showed their domain name: I’m sad this might mean they think their idea of engaging an audience with offline/online integration was a failure, when really it just could have used a better execution.

They do rank #1 for their brand, although they’re still advertising a domain that redirects elsewhere. But at least both domains have “Hyundai” in them.

Focus On The Family – the search-related risk of famous people

Using famous people in ads can be great for several reasons, but can be problematic from a search perspective. If the famous person already has a solid set of results, it may be difficult for the brand to rank for that person’s name. And viewers are just as likely to search for the person as for the brand. You can see this scenario with the Focus On The Family commercial, which featured football player Tim Tebow.

Super Bowl: Tebow Trends

Clearly the commercial caused people to search for the Tebow family in much greater numbers than for Focus On The Family. Could Focus On the Family done anything to be found for those [tebow] searches? Well, sure. After all, the Huffington Post article about the commercial ranks number two, so it managed to break through all of the legacy content. But site doesn’t seem to have a full article of content that shows it’s relevant for the query. It does feature a video and image, but very little that search engines can actually do anything with.

This is a cautionary tale of online reputation management as well. Lots of negative articles about the commercial are ranking for these queries and the brand’s positive spin is nowhere to be found.

Doritos – ranking despite themselves

Doritos. Their commercials caused search spikes for their brand, and they do indeed rank. I would call this success despite adversity, since and are duplicates, and they seem to love creating microsites for every campaign ( ranks second for their brand name). According to Google’s cache, the word “Doritos” isn’t even on the page and the text is:

“snack strong productions logo (8K) – no flash page Snack Strong Productions requires Macromedia Flash, version 8 or greater. Please click here to download. “

So go them for managing to show up anyway (likely through links).

Go Daddy – integrating media

You can’t fault Go Daddy. Their commercials get your attention and they drive people right to their web site. Last year, I questioned the quality of that traffic. Do people looking for video that’s “too hot for TV” really then buy domain names? As I found last year, apparently the answer is yes. This year, Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons said, “We had a tremendous surge in Web traffic, sustained the spike, converted new customers and shot overall sales off the chart.”

Dockers – everyone wants free pants

Looking at Google Trends during and after the game, the dominating search was related to those free Dockers pants. Everyone loves pants. Especially if they’re free.

Dockers Free Pants

And here’s the fascinating thing: two of the top searches were to the URL, which was was never mentioned in the ad (and doesn’t exist). Yet enough people typed that in to a search box that it had “volcanic” hotness. Fortunately, Dockers either saw this coming or watched it happening and set up a redirect from that URL to its home page. Although they would have done even better by redirecting to the free pants page: Or on second thought, maybe they could redirect THAT crazy URL to Sadly, as with Boost Mobile’s spiking searches, Dockers is nowhere to be found for what the commercial caused people to search for. The Dockers site doesn’t appear for any of the four searches listed in Google Trends, although lots of other sites are taking advantage of the surge.

Why? Probably a combination of reasons that begin with its poor URL structure that includes lots of duplication and makes the content difficult to access. Also, the URL for sharing the video? If I might make a suggestion? What about instead using

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Search & Society: General | SEO: General | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.

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  • Stupidscript

    Great article! Filled with technical details and insider stuff, relevant, and a good read. It really brings home the points being made about big marketing campaigns, and what might be done to help capitalize on them. Well done!

  • Sarah

    Hi Vanessa, I would kindly like to point out that on all Dockers searches that I personally performed during and after the Super Bowl for their free pants giveaway that they appeared in top positioning for those keywords that are listed on Google Trends, which makes this article rather confusing.

    Being that the information in the article above, specifically “The Dockers site doesn’t appear for any of the four searches listed in Google Trends, although lots of other sites are taking advantage of the surge,” is inaccurate (perform the searches) it makes sense to revise the article to reflect the true accuracy.

  • Vanessa Fox

    Hi Sarah,

    The four searches that appear in Google Trends for Dockers are:

    dockers free pants
    dockers super bowl ad

    I did all four searches after the Super Bowl and the Dockers web site didn’t appear for any of them, although it did rank #1 for a search for [dockers]. It’s true that everyone sees different results at this point, so it’s possible some searchers did see in the results for these, but I did not.

    I just performed the search again and the dockers site does appear on the first page (although not the first result) for three of the searchers (but not for [dockers super bowl ad]). Which makes sense as between the game and now, lots of links have likely accrued to the site with that anchor text. But my point in the article was that a brand wants that visibility immediately when the commercial airs. And when I searched that evening, Monday, and Tuesday morning, the brand didn’t show up on the first page for any of the four.

  • Sarah


    Ah – In reading your comment, it appears that I mistakenly interpreted your article as a Super Bowl vs. Search (as in PAID Search, not Organic Search) recap.

    My comments were solely based on the brand’s strong command/coverage specifically in the Paid Search/Adwords arena; not organic search. In knowing now that your article is geared directly re: organic, it makes sense.

    I assume that I am not the only one who interpreted the article in this manner as the title stated “Scoring Super Bowl 2010 Advertising: How’s the Search Visibility?” which to me in my profession automatically means SEM, not SEO. Any way to adjust the title to make it more clear to the masses? ;)

    Apologies for the confusion – my point being that Dockers did a great job at ensuring Paid Search coverage for their Super Bowl spot… and now I realize that your article is specifically regarding ORGANIC search visibility.


  • Vanessa Fox

    Ah yes. I was scoring the Super Bowl advertisers on how well they did in organic search. I did mention a few instances where they had bought AdWords, but the article was solely focused on organic. I’ll see if I can brainstorm a modified title.

  • AndyBeard

    Vanessa I am going to respectfully disagree

    Take SEL for example

    You have nice alt text with the logo on every page, but Google ignores it because you also have a text link “home” which it uses as a preference.

    I know maybe 15 different ways to get the text link first in the source code, but one of those ways is negative offset as the site highlighted has done, and another is using display invisible.
    Many of the methods would have the text totally outside the visible DOM, others would have it hidden in some manner, or appearing in a different section of the page.

    SEL for the main menu is using invisible text, using overflow hidden and a healthy amount of padding.
    That isn’t really any more legitimate than any other method as if you switch off images, the navigation is invisible in exactly the same way.

    John Mu and Matt Cutts seem to be in disagreement over this
    Joost has some layout problems and still uses -9999

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