For the 13+ years that our SEO company has been in the biz, we’ve consulted with businesses of varying sizes and types. From one-person professional practices–to huge, globally branded corporations–and just about everything in between. While SEO best practices are nearly the same for most websites, there are different tactics and strategies you need to keep in mind when SEOing big brand sites.
Historically, big brands have not put much thought into SEO, as it never seemed necessary. Typically, as long they were found in Google for their brand names, they (and their C-level execs) were happy. However, the level-playing field of the Internet and seeing what smaller companies are able to do with SEO have caused many big brands to start taking notice. The problem is that SEOing a big brand site is not the same thing as optimizing an ecommerce site.
Getting over some SEO hurdles
One of the main hurdles is trying to figure out which keywords these large companies (who often don’t sell directly to consumers) should target in their SEO campaigns. Obviously, they need to rank for their brand name, but typically that will happen without flexing any SEO muscle. But what about specific, generic products for which the brand may be known? For example, a search for the generic keyword “butter” does not bring up the Land O’Lakes website even though they are the brand that many think of when they think of butter. Instead Google shows a bunch of small companies/restaurants with the word butter in their name, as well as some informational sites about butter. Even a search for “dairy products” does not bring up Land O’Lakes.
Does it matter?
Since Land O’Lakes isn’t selling butter or dairy products on their website, this may not matter. However, if their branding goal is for the LO’L name to be synonymous with butter and/or dairy products, then yeah, it does matter. Let’s say that they were running cross-media campaigns like TV, radio, magazine and newspaper ads with the goal of branding LO’L = Butter into people’s minds. In that situation, they would also want to integrate a search marketing campaign accordingly — both paid and organic.
While typically with SEO we recommend against optimizing for a one-word general keyword such as “butter,” in the case of LO’L, it should be obtainable. This is because big brand websites tend to have scads of natural links pointing to them, as well as a lot of trust equity built into their domain. In addition, they have the resources to create something worth linking to, if necessary. So for big brands, the usual SEO rules of thumb, don’t always apply.
Beyond using SEO to aid in the branding of specific keywords or phrases into the minds of consumers, many manufacturers these days are attempting to gain back their competitive advantage and un-level the SEO playing field by optimizing for their products and models. This task is often surprisingly more difficult than the butter branding exercise previously mentioned, because there aren’t many (if any) websites that have put much thought into optimizing for words like butter; but there can be fierce competition for specific models and types of products.
Letting ego get in the way
While searches at Google using brand names (e.g. Sony) usually return the manufacturer first in the results, and so do searches with “sub-brands” (e.g. Sony Bravia) more specific product searches, (e.g. Sony Bravia KDL-V40XBR1) often return product reviews, comparison shopping sites and ecommerce sites where you can actually purchase the product.
From a consumer point of view, Google’s got it right. If someone is searching for a specific product by its make and model, they probably have already spec’d it out and don’t need to read the manufacturer details. It makes sense that they’re either ready to buy or might be seeking out a review. This doesn’t mean that brand manufacturers shouldn’t optimize for their specific product names, but they need to understand that their website may not be the ideal one to be found under those circumstances. While that’s okay, it doesn’t usually sit well with the competitive company presidents and CEOs!
General keywords and determining intent
Where it gets even dicier is for extremely general keywords such as “TV.” While a manufacturer can make a good case for showing up in the search results for their specific product makes and models, should they expect to also show up for very general words? Surely they would love to, but the problem is that general words mean different things to different people. One person typing TV into Google might be looking for TV show listings, and another for the history of television. Sure, some are probably looking to buy a TV, but it’s difficult for search engines to determine the intent of the search (although they do have their ways, such as through previous searches that were made by the user).
The same thing goes for a generic word like “soda.” Would you expect Coke and Pepsi to be #1 and #2 for that word? They’re not. Neither brands were in the top 100 for that word. On the other hand, a search for “cola”–which is more specific to what Coke and Pepsi offer–does show both brands on the first page of the Google results, with Coke at #2 and #3 and Pepsi at #9. Coke was using their full company name, Coca-Cola, in their title tag, while Pepsi’s simply said “Pepsi”-a missed opportunity perhaps? (As an aside, at the time I checked, Google was actually showing more than 10 results, with some additional ones stuck in the middle of the search results displaying info for “Cost of Living Allowance.”)
Use your SEO resources wisely
It’s clear that big brands should be doing some form of SEO, but they need to be sure to research where their best opportunities lie. It’s critical for their SEO team to work closely with their brand and communications managers so that they can optimize accordingly and not waste time and resources on keyword phrases that are simply ego-driven or not actually relevant to who they are and what they offer.
Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings, a search marketing firm outside of Boston, and co-founder of SEMNE, a New England search marketing networking organization, has been performing SEO since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.