Super Bowl SEO: Who Had the Best Organic Gameplan?

The Super Bowl has long been the premiere event for TV advertisers, but more and more it is also becoming a prime opportunity for search marketers as well. A growing number of viewers, more than 70 million this year, will go online to find out more about the commercials and companies they saw online, and a majority of them will begin at a search engine.

Yesterday at the Search Engine Watch Blog, we discussed the “URL visibility factor” of advertisers in this year’s Super Bowl. Additionally, Reprise Media released their annual report, the Super Bowl Scorecard for SEM, which looks at the search ad performance of advertisers in the Super Bowl when rated for search engine presence. This is an annual report put out by Reprise, and they plan to once again make available a full white paper later this week.

For today’s Search Day, we are going to discuss the Super Bowl advertisers that included a URL in their TV ad, and grade them purely on the basis of their search engine optimization (SEO) -- or more specifically, their positioning within organic search results at Google for terms related to their campaign.

Readers will find that some sites fared pretty well, but many would have been better off had they seeded their marketing campaigns with some better online content, as well as all-important links pointing to the content.

It Starts With College Football

I started thinking about SEO and televised sporting events back in January for the college football Bowl Championship Series, but I decided to hold off until after the Super Bowl to write about it, in order to get a better sample. So let’s start with a quick look back at the 2007 National Championship game’s Web-focused advertising.

From my notes, I see only one advertiser that actually purchased time for both the National Championship and the Super Bowl: Cadillac. However, the Mycadillacstory.com Web site was much more aggressively pushed in the college game than in the pros. At the time, although Cadillac did hold a number one position organically at Google for the term “Cadillac,” it was nowhere to be found for the search “my Cadillac story.”

It’s amazing what a few weeks, and a few good links, can do, as the mini-site is now ranking #1 at Google for the same search. Additionally, the site also holds the top spot in the sponsored listing provided through AdWords, which doubles its exposure. This shows how easy it is to get a site ranked quickly for a marketing slogan, but begs the question of why Cadillac did not build some momentum for this site prior to launching the full campaign.

By contrast, Texas Instruments (TI) had already launched its ads and mini-site for its DLP high-def TV technology, using the slogan “It’s the mirrors” for several months and building interest, traffic, and all-important links to the itsthemirrors.com domain prior to the game. As a result, TI was #1 at Google for the search “it’s the mirrors” during the college game, as it is now for the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the site does not rank for terms such as “DLP,” “Texas Instruments DLP,” or even “DLP television,” although another TI site does: DLP.com. In fact, they're also using a sub-domain, search.dlp.com, as a landing page for their paid search efforts.

Although TI can claim to have achieved visibility for all these terms via different Web sites, from an SEO standpoint they have watered themselves down by using so many different URLs and sub-domains. It is very likely that someone with long term SEO strategy in mind, as well as a strong influence over the brand managers (who each insist on their own Web site), could have persuaded TI to choose one Web site to strengthen its overall rankings. It isn’t too late, as they could theoretically redirect the Itsthemirrors.com domain to a new area at DLP.com.

On to the Super Bowl -- SEO Ratings for the Sodas

Pepsi seemed to do very well with its sponsorship of the big game, getting full billing on the official Super Bowl XLI site. Oddly, the television coverage focused on Pepsi, while the site seems to focus on Diet Pepsi. A search for “Pepsi Super Bowl” returns the official Superbowl.com site, but nowhere in the top ten is the actual Pepsi.com domain. Pepsi would have been smart to set up a page on their domain also related to their promotion of the Super Bowl, in order to gain some traction and appear within those results as well.

Additionally, the links on the upper- and bottom-right side of the Superbowl.com domain would lead me to believe they pointed to a Diet Pepsi page, instead of leading to a page at NFL.com presenting the Rookie of the Year, which Pepsi sponsored. Were I in charge of the whole deal, I would have hopefully secured at least one link to my domain from the Superbowl.com home page. This may have even helped me make the first page for the (admittedly unimportant) term “Pepsi Super Bowl,” and given me a nice inbound link to my domain. Just something to think about.

Speaking of Pepsi, Coca-Cola actually advertised in the Super Bowl for the first time in 9 years, which was very important if you consider how much airtime Pepsi was getting. Yet they also failed to drive people to their Web site, never once mentioning their own domain. This made me wonder who does better for the search at Google for “cola"? The first page leads to only one of the “big two,” and it is in fact Coca-Cola, sandwiched between a .org and the ever-present Wikipedia, along with some Google testing of results of “cost of living allowance.”

Sure some may wonder who the heck would search for "cola," but chances are if Pepsi started including the “cola” part more often in its name and links, it may rise up to that page as well. This is an example of how a multi-word longer-tailed search phrase can sometimes include lucrative one-word terms within that phrase, and lead to better rankings for a brand using those short terms. In case anyone is wondering, the Pepsi/Coca-Cola Googlefight is about even.

Sierra Mist, another Pepsi product, also ran some ads, and did lead visitors to SierraMist.com. Looks like that site needs one of the very basic SEO deliverables, however: a META description tag. Their #1 listing for the search “Sierra Mist” provides the following description: “Sierra Mist. Oops! Looks like your JavaScript is turned off. You must enable JavaScript to visit our site. Once you have enabled it, click here to refresh ...”

This is a situation that's not unusual for large brands, many of which don’t seem to care about SEO yet, feeling that their position at the top is enough to get people to the site.

As a side note, the “beard comb-over” commercial was in my opinion one of the funnier ads aired. However, should I want to find it I will be forced to find it within the Sierra Mist site, tucked away in an image. It may be nice to have an HTML page which leads to videos of the ads, should I search “Sierra Mist beard comb over.” I can still find it with that search, but not at the Sierra Mist site.

On to the Snacks

Doritos made a big deal about its contest, co-sponsored by Yahoo, to allow “regular people” to submit 30-second videos for consideration as Super Bowl commercials. Barry covered this last October. The site seems to have had a bit of an identity crisis, first using the crashthesuperbowl.com domain to drive traffic to the actual page, hosted at a Yahoo subdomain instead of Doritos: promotions.yahoo.com/doritos/. During the Super Bowl, however, they promoted the snackstrongproductions.com URL, which is actually a viral site started by Doritos.

The interesting thing about this is that a search for “snack strong productions” in Google leads to the number one listing being Doritos.com. It seems that they have switched their entire domain over to the same content found at snackstrongproductions.com, which until January 6, the last Google cache of the site, was a “Coming Soon” page at Register.com.

Doritos may be wise to do a couple of things here: one to redirect snackstrongproductions.com to Doritos.com, if they plan on hosting that content there for a while. A second option would be to offer people who may want to learn more about Doritos’ nutritional value, for example, the option of going to the viral site or choosing a more informational site.

One of the most acclaimed ads of the Super Bowl was the Emerald Nuts (EN) “Robert Goulet” campaign, which featured Robert sneaking into an office manned by tired individuals and generally wreaking havoc, only to be foiled by someone eating Emerald Nuts. Fun! However a search for “Emerald Nuts Robert Goulet” leads to zero listings for the EN domain on the top page.

This is likely because all the EN site content is completely invisible to search engines. Again, not even a META description is used. In this unfortunate circumstance, the entire EN listing for a brand search at Google leads only to the domain, without any description at all. I suppose they should be thankful that they at least are #1 for the term.

Taco Bell promoted its “Think Outside the Bun” slogan at the end of their ad. Fortunately for them, the Taco Bell Web site does appear at #3 for the slogan search at Google without the quotes, and #1 when searched with quotes. This is one of those examples where prior marketing has driven this ranking, with anchor text using that term leading the way to the site. This is obvious because, as seems to be the norm with large brands, a quick look at the site shows that SEO has been left out of the picture when the site was created, and no true content is available for the Google spiders to index. The only reason they have a somewhat decent description in the Google listings is due to their DMOZ listing.

Snickers raised the ire of some viewers with their ad featuring two men “accidentally” kissing. The goal was to drive traffic to the URL “Dosomethingmanly.com.” However, if I search “Snickers Super Bowl ad” at Google I am led to a #1 listing for snickerssatifies.com, which now conveniently doesn’t seem to mention the Super Bowl ad, even though the Google listing title is “Watch the Snickers Super Bowl Ad.” Something fishy going on here, and Snickers should address the situation in whatever way they want to on that domain, since it is ranking #1 for that term.

Meanwhile, a search for “do something manly” reveals no Snickers sites, let alone dosomethingmanly.com. As with the Mycadillacstory.com domain, however, that should change within a few weeks, as social Web sites and blogs begin linking to that domain.

The Others -- In Brief

A few other SEO failures were evident for marketers that did promote their Web sites during the Super Bowl, along with some clear winners. As mentioned at the SEW Blog, one of the better promotions of a URL was by King Pharmaceuticals, the lead pharma company along with Omron and Schering Plough.

King Pharmaceuticals used its Super Bowl ad to promote the “BeatYourRisk.com” domain, which provides advice on how to maintain a healthy heart. A search for “beat your risk” lists that domain as number one, but it may be nice to get some content on the promoters’ sites that announce the partnership, in order to get some of the additional first page listings. Of course, as with all things pharma, legal issue may prevent this from happening.

A few sites earned “good SEO thinking” grades for choosing to drive traffic to pages on their main domains, including Sprint, which pushed sprint.com/broadband. Sprint seems to have thought about SEO in the past, as a search for “Sprint broadband” leads to the Sprint domain with additional “sitelinks” below the top listings, directly followed by 2 listings for Sprintbroadband.com. I am a little curious, however why they didn’t push this domain instead of a sub-directory of the Sprint site. Perhaps they want to drive more links and traffic to the main domain, which is A-OK from an SEO standpoint.

Some onlookers (Video Link) didn’t like the Salesgenie.com ad, claiming it was a little “cheesy.” However for the business development audience it was directed at, it was likely a winner, promising 100 free leads. The site does show up for all “Salesgenie” inclusive searches, but not yet for “100 free leads,” which may be a nice target for SEO through the use of linking efforts. Note that they are bidding #1 for the term “100 free leads” in AdWords -- which is nice, so they have that going for them (apologies to CaddyShack for stealing that line).

Comcast’s “TheSlowskys.com” campaign has been going long enough to drive #1 listings for the terms “slowskys” and “slowskis,” but it is unclear if the result is actually the one being sought or not. This is a shame because the META description on the page clears things up, describing the DSL-loving turtles, but is not being used by Google as the search result description. Work needs to be done, however, for the site/blog to show up for the more likely search “DSL turtle(s).”

Chevy.com did receive a lot of display time, but search for “join the revolution” at Google and no Chevys are even in the rear view mirror. This term is dominated currently by a .net and a .org by the same name, so some SEO work needs to take place on the part of Chevrolet should they wish to rank organically. Too bad they don’t buy the sponsored listing, at least.

Bud Light had lots of airtime and seemingly doesn’t care about driving anyone to a Web site, which is probably fine. However they did feature a Budweiser ad which tried to send people to Bud.TV. This effort was previewed at MediaPost last week. It looks like they are on their way to good ranking for terms like “bud tv” and “Budweiser TV,” but please, add a META description and maybe some HTML content!

The Clear SEO Winner

Although Garmin’s “Mapasaurus” ad was already voted by many as being the most entertaining of the bunch, I felt a little annoyed by the font they used to display their URL (so much so, that I made a note to mention that in this article). However, a simple search for “Garmin,” “GPS,” or even “global positioning system” cured my SEO heart as I found Garmin to occupy two out of three top spots for “Garmin” and “GPS,” and to fall in as the first non-educational listing for “global positioning system” at number 4. That's the kind of performance that warms the heart of any marketer attuned to SEO.

As previewed in the Waterlog Blog, this is the story of a company that started with military work and moved into the consumer sector with force, now occupying “60 percent of the domestic market for personal navigation products.”

They chose the Super Bowl to let people know that, but prepared well in advance and got top organic listings prior to their “debut.” Kudos to Garmin for their SEO efforts and it seems that they are fairly happy with the organic positioning, since their main site cannot be found for any of the above searches in the sponsored listings section. Of course who would want to compete with all those distributors for paid position?

Final Thoughts

Congratulations to anyone that made it all the way through this tirade. The main takeaway that I was hoping to convey is that SEO should be considered as a part of any advertising campaign. Search engines can no longer be ignored, especially as there are people out there that are likely to create content that will rank for the particular search terms associated with the brand in questions, and not all of that content will be “desirable.” Google does an excellent job at trying to ensure that the proper brands get listed for their branded and trademarked slogan-related terms, providing that there is content that is indexable by a spider.

So, if you are a brand considering your marketing focus this year or beyond, never forget that there are more and more people searching the Googles of the world every day. If you want to control your message, you have to say it in a way that is understandable to search engine spiders.

One added bonus: a lot of content found on many of these main brand sites each day is completely illegible to disability software which provides “translations” of images for some users. By considering these users, you will likely provide more content to the search engines as well.

Chris Boggs is a Search Strategist for Avenue A | Razorfish. He is a contributor to the SEW Blog, primarily focusing on SEO-related issues. Chris also is a moderator within the SEW forums, the Associate Editor of the Search Engine Roundtable Blog, and co-host of the weekly “Search Pulse” podcast at WebmasterRadio.FM.

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About the author

Chris has been a digital marketer since 2000, starting in-house in the insurance space and subsequently assuming growing leadership roles across large agencies and SEM firms. He recently founded Web Traffic Advisors, LLC, in upstate New York. Chris consults with and coaches business and agency teams ranging from senior executives to technical, brand, content, and legal groups; helping to improve validation, efficiency, internal acumen, and implementation. Chris has diverse experience across major e-commerce platforms, pharma, retail, and other industries.

Since 2004 he has been a highly rated speaker and moderator at conferences and partner events all over the world, covering search engine marketing, social media, analytics, and evolving tactics including the promotion of better SEO integration across marketing channels. He has served on the Global Board of Directors of SEMPO since 2006, and co-hosts the weekly podcast SEO Rockstars from Webmasterradio.fm. Chris blogs for various industry publications, but most of his writing involves analysis and recommendations for clients, while promoting integrated online marketing and branding to a qualified target audience.