When will they learn? How big "lifestyle" brands screw up search!

Wake up big brands. You are NOT leveraging one of your greatest assets when it comes to making yourselves more visible on search engines! Having started my SEO career working with companies like Barnes & Noble, Mercedes Benz, WWF, De Beers, and the like, I often found myself going up head-to-head with web site managers and brand police that shot down every small tweak to help our client rank well. Brand managers need to understand something has changed a bit and a recent Iprospect study indicates what that “something” is:

36% of search engine users believe that the companies whose websites are returned at the top of the search results are the top brands in their field. This represents a modest increase over the 2002 figure of 33% but still reinforces the increasing importance search can have on brand lift.

Big brands like Nike, New Balance, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, A Diamond is Forever, Tiffany, Lunesta, Ambien, and others typically miss out on positioning their brand at the top of search results because someone in charge of the brand doesn’t understand search and the unrealized potential or opportunity cost of not ranking well. They want to keep the integrity of their flashy site at the expense of ranking highly, which as we see above only helps them position themselves as leaders in their space.

The reason why I mention not leveraging their greatest assets at the onset of this post is quite simply because most of these brands have owned their domains FOREVER (on the web forever is usually about 10 years). Many of these big brands have tens of thousands of links pointing to their web sites, which would significantly push them into contention for top spots on search engines for terms like running shoes, luxury cars, luxury convertibles, diamonds, or engagement rings. If you spoke with the marketing managers or CEOs of these companies and illustrated how often these terms are typed in on search engines every month, then combined that with the understanding that ranking highly for unbranded terms helps build how their brands are perceived by customers, do you think that they would say who cares? I don’t think so.

Remember above we stated that 36% of search engine users associate high rankings with being a top brand.
Prescription Sleep Aids
Take the media blitz between Lunesta & Ambien, two major prescription sleep aids (then along comes Rozerem as well). You’d have to be in a coma (no pun intended) not to have seen a TV spot, radio spot, banner ad, etc. from one of these brands. However, when you type in “prescription sleep aids,” Lunesta has the top position on Google. As for Ambien, well not so much. I didn’t find them on the first 3 pages of Google’s organic results and wouldn’t go further.

Let’s go back to the beginning — based on Iprospect’s study, 1/3rd of web site visitors may consider Lunesta to be a better drug because they rank highly for the term. So for the millions spent by these players on TV and print, only one (Lunesta) takes advantage of the brand lift that search can have.

Hey Ambien — here’s a quickie: your homepage is mostly all images. Search engines don’t read images very well. Get some text on that bad boy and maybe you’ll start showing up as well.

Hey Rozerem — thanks for making me wait through the flash video that showed your commercial after it took 20 seconds to load on my broadband connection and I couldn’t turn the sound off; thanks for the annoyance. Here’s a tip — MUTE BUTTON! If I did find your site when searching for prescription sleep aids (which I wouldn’t because you don’t rank well), making me see videos and people talking on every page gets old quickly. I was listening to my own music, thank you!

Luxury Automakers
Hey, you guys are next. While I’ve seen Jaguar, Infiniti, Volvo, Volkswagen, and Lexus all use paid search for the term “luxury cars,” not one of them is ranking well organically for that term, and it seems to be searched well over 200,000 times per month. Type in “BMW convertible” and BMW’s site doesn’t show up in the first 50 results! Don’t even get me started on the long tail of search that these guys are missing out on.

Ahem. Remember that 36% rule above? I did notice that Cadillac and Saab were ranking in the top 10 for “luxury cars” — congrats.

After the BMW German web site used unscrupulous methods to rank highly on Google and got banned, the story was covered by major media outlets like the New York Times BBC, Financial Times, and CNN. I thought that these players would have learned to just go ahead and get some old fashioned text on their flash-heavy pages — maybe just a sentence or two, below that lovely flash that mentions all of their models.

Instead most automakers go with the all flash site, leaving searchers unable find their site when searching for unbranded terms like “luxury convertible” or even long tail terms like “Mercedes concept cars” or “MBW convertible.”

But before we congratulate SAAB, they are teetering on breaking the rules (disable your JavaScript to see their little trick to rank well for “luxury cars”). You know, it wouldn’t be so hard to get a little text on these luxury car sites. After all, these big branded luxury automakers all have ridiculously great link popularity. With a little bit of text on a few pages, their brand could come to the top of the search results for tons of terms.

In conclusion, big brands — wake up! The little SEO companies aren’t asking you to make an ugly site with nothing but text, but how about you help us help you by giving us a little text to play with. Trust me. We’ll get you ranked in the top pages of major search engines if you do, but oh, that probably doesn’t matter much, right? I mean, who uses Google or Yahoo to find things on the web these days?