Scoring the 2011 Super Bowl Commercials For Search Visibility and Visitor Engagement

Every year, advertisers pay millions to air commercials during the Super Bowl. (The price this year is around three million dollars for a thirty second slot.) Advertisers are looking not only for conversions (sure, Hyundia would love for you to run out and buy that new Elantra tomorrow) but also heightened awareness and engagement. The more you engage with a brand and have a positive association with it, the more likely you’ll buy that brand in the future, so conventional wisdom goes.

Why should advertisers care about showing up in search results? More and more, we’re using the internet and watching TV at the same time, and we’ve not just on Facebook. Even as our use of social media increases, so does our use of search. In the United States alone, we did 18.2 billion searches in December 2010, up 3% from the previous month and up from 14.7 billion in December 2009. And if you read my analysis of searcher behavior during the 2009 and 2010 Super Bowls, then you know that TV commercials cause us to search. Whether we want more information about a product or just want to watch the ad again, many of us turn to the search box after we’ve seen a commercial. Take a look, for instance, at the searcher behavior when the Chrysler 200 commercial aired:

Chrysler 200 Searches

Advertisers looking to engage with audiences past the initial commercial should make sure they’re visible in search results and provide content on their web sites that make searchers want to stick around.

Some advertisers do buy paid search ads for the taglines in their commercials, but historically, many of them have not been visible in the unpaid, or organic results. And that could mean a lot of wasted opportunity. Hitwise data that came out just a few days ago, for instance, showed that searches for Super Bowl recipes were up 239% last week over the previous week and that 76% of the clicks were to organic results.

And we know that engaging viewers of commercials on your web site pays off by, as much as I hate to admit it, watching Go Daddy. Every year, they show racy ads during the Super Bowl that entice viewers back to their web site. Audiences flock there for the bonus footage (and promise of “unrated content”) and, as crazy as it sounds, register domains.

Advertisers have a captive audience during the game, searching for commercials. How many of those brands and commercials show up in search results? And how many really take advantage of that interest? Every year, I keep track of the commercials and take note of which cause search spikes (check back over the next few days for a report on that) and which brands show up in search results. How did things go this year?


  • 100% of brands had at least some search visibility (other than movies). This is significantly better than in past years.
  • When URLs were included in commercials, those URLs were almost always visible in search. This is starkly different from previous years, when use of vanity URLs and promotional microsites often kept advertised URLs from showing up at all.


  • Many brands didn’t include mention the Super Bowl ads at all on their home pages, which likely prevented engagement with key audiences searching for them.
  • Several brands required actions such as registration or Facebook “like” to see ads or to interact with brand.

New This Year

  • Advertising Facebook URLs rather than owned domains – on the one hand, these advertisers gave all of their Super Bowl traffic to Facebook and lost some control. They likely also excluded some of their potential audience as fewer than half of Americans are on Facebook. However, Facebook does provide an easy platform for content creation that might have been prohibitive in the advertisers’ internal environments.
  • Advertising Twitter hashtags - I didn’t see any Twitter accounts shown in commercials (although I did see Twitter icons), but several movie ads included hashtags, no doubt intended to encourage conversation about the movie.

Search Scorecard

Below is a summary of how visible the Super Bowl advertisers were to searchers. I noted the key elements highlighted in the commercial (brand, product name, tagline, URL), whether those elements showed up in organic or paid search, and if the brand site engaged visitors who came to the site after viewing the commercials. The first chart shows the results by industry and the second set of charts shows details for each brand (you’ll have to click the image and then click again to expand it so you can read the data). The red indicates when things failed; the orange indicates when I gave the brand a point, but they really just barely made it. I show a couple of examples of that below the scoring. Some scoring isn’t black and white. I generally gave the brand the point if they did some paid search, for instance, even if they didn’t have paid ads for both brand and product searches. And every searcher can see different results, so my number one ranking may not be the same as your number one ranking. Note also that I used Google in scoring since it has dominant market share. This scorecard is based on a typical searcher’s experience. So, if an organization did paid search but I didn’t see any paid search ads in the searches I did, then my scorecard doesn’t provide that organization with a point.

Super Bowl and Search

Internet Brands

You’d expect internet brands to score well in all areas, and for the most part, they did. Surprisingly, Go Daddy, which tends to do well with search visibility, on-site engagement, and visibility, faltered a bit this year, particularly with their new promotion. Saleforce’s also suffered from some of the search issues acquiring a new domain can bring (see a future article for more on this), and most surprisingly, not all brands had clear online engagement paths. Some didn’t provide a way to watch the ads at all, and others required registration in order to view the ads. Businesses should always weigh the benefits of registration against the high abandonment rates such obstacles are likely to cause.

Internet Brands: Super Bowl Search Score


The car brands were out in force, and for the most part, they faired well in search. Only two failed to include URLs in their ads (Audi opted for the #progressis hashtag instead, which apparently is tied to a promotion they are running for a free car, but the commercial didn’t mention this). Their search visibility was significantly better than in past years. Their biggest weakness was compelling engagement with visitors on site. Volkswagen, for instance, has been running a successful social media campaign on Facebook and YouTube leading up to the Super Bowl, but you’d never know it from the home page.

Super Bowl: Car Search Visibility


Not many technology brands advertised during the Super Bowl and those that did had mixed results in search. None of the four I looked at were running paid search campaigns and only Best Buy (which one could argue is a consumer brand, rather than a technology brand) had a Super Bowl tie in on their home page. Motorola advertised rather than their own domain and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play ad simply said “join us on Facebook.” Join who? The Sony Ericsson page? The Xperia page? Is there a specific Xperia Play page? Google isn’t much help, ranking an event page (of the launch?), a UK page with no activity, and a forum post. Searching Facebook itself for the right page requires me to be logged in (there goes over half the audience who either don’t have accounts or can’t be bothered to log in) and once I do, I don’t get any of the results I found from Google, but instead two other results that don’t appear to be owned by Sony Ericsson. Searching for just “Sony Ericsson” does seem to get me to the right place. But let’s be honest. I’ve only gotten that far because I’m writing an article about it.

Super Bowl: Tech Search Score

Consumer Goods

These brands don’t like letting their audiences knew that they even have web sites. Fortunately for them, those web sites mostly show up in searches for their brand names anyway.

Super Bowl: Consumer Search Visibility


Ah, the motion picture industry. You sure want us to talk up your movies on Twitter. But it doesn’t always cross you mind we might want to search for more information about them.

Super Bowl Movies

Examples of Success and Missteps

Below are just a few examples to help make sense of the charts.

Hyundai: Good Visibility and Engagement

Hyundai has tried to tie together Super Bowl advertising and online engagement before. In 2009, they prominently featured but despite significant search interest, didn’t show up in search results at all. In 2010, it seemed seemed to have given up on the online world. This year, they got things mostly right. They advertised their main domain, in their ad, and ranked well for their brand and other related searches. Their home page featured several engaging elements that tied back to the Super Bowl ads.

Hyundai Home Page

Interestingly, one of the ads mentioned a different site,, and unlike the microsite of 2009, this site ranks number one for searches for [compact conspiracy]. That site links to several others (,, Possibly someone is bored at the ad agency and has gone a little crazy with the underground viral sites.

Compact Conspiracy Issues With the Search Results Display

One of Go Daddy’s ads revealed the new girl (er, Joan Rivers) and urged everyone to remake themselves at But if you search for, you’re presented with some unfriendly results. Network Solutions has bought a paid search ad for the query though, and is happy to both give you a special price on your .co domain and provide a GoGranny ad as an alternative to the Go Daddy girls.

What’s the problem with the and display? Mostly technical problems that are preventing search engines from fully crawling the content (and as a web site hosting company, they should know better!). Brian Ussery has a bit more on that.

Pepsi Max: What if I Don’t Want To Click the “Like” Button?

I see this trend a lot lately. Advertisers get caught up in metrics and forget why they set those metrics up in the first place. Everyone wants people to “like” their pages on Facebook. This shows that their audience is engaging with the brand in a positive way. You know what else shows that your audience is engaging with your brand in a positive way? Views of your Super Bowl commercials! In fact, the more consumers watch your ads, the more likely they are to buy your products (and maybe even click that like button). Requiring consumers to click the button before you’ll let them watch the ad? A lot of them are going to bail.

Pepsi Facebook

Groupon went one step farther, requiring you to register for the site before you could view the ads.

Groupon Home Page

How about I watch your ad and then decide whether or not I want to sign up for your service?

An Integrated Strategy Is Key

Am I saying that brands should abandon Facebook and focus solely on search? That the film industry should stop encouraging discussion on Twitter? Of course not. But I do think that marketing needs to continue to evolve towards a more integrated strategy. Marketing should be about “and” rather than “or”. When I looked for the Coca Cola ad, for instance I landed on the home page, saw no mention of the Super Bowl, and then just happened to notice an embedded Twitter feed that was scrolling tweets by Coke with links to their commercials.

Coke Home Page

Don’t make your audiences search every online nook and cranny for you. If your customers are looking for you, let yourself be found.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: General | Google: Trends | Search & Society: General | SEO - Search Engine Optimization | 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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  • mike_thesearchagent

    Great post Vanessa. I too was keeping track of the Super Bowl commercials yesterday, but I was using my iPhone vs. a laptop. This is probably more in line with what the masses would be doing. The big winner on Mobile Search yesterday was Chevrolet, which I detailed in this blog post:

    Interested how this looks next year at this time as I imagine mobile search literacy will grow by leaps and bounds in 2011.

  • Julio Fernandez

    Hi Vanessa, I was looking for Facebook URLs during the Super Bowl and here are the ones I found:

    I think it was clever that Pepsi promoted and it took you to a different tab vs if you just go to (their default tab Cooking with Snoop)

    By the way, is their UK page. FB has a big problem with global brands that need similar vanity URLs

    All of the pages I found had a welcome tab reminding people to click \like.\ I think that is the proper approach. I would love to test the number of people that leave the page because they do not want to click \like\. I do not think it is a big number as you think.

    Carmax had the FB and Twitter icons but no URL. If you visited right after the ad, their site was down.

    Chewy did not have a Facebook vanity URL, cause is a different person!

    It was hard to find the URL for the movie as the type was very small in the ad and I had to stop my DVR to see it. Their FB page is live, with over 12k \likes\ yesterday… same number today… sounds like they do not care about promoting the URL

  • Floyd McMillin

    Thanks Vanessa for the extensive post! Your point about Pepsi Max and getting caught up with the metrics definitely rings a bell with some advertisers that I have come across.

    They should focus more on their entertainment and engagement value rather than stats!

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