Reservation Road: Getting Search-Worthy in Three Days or Less

As some SEW readers know, our editors challenged us to implement a best practices marketing campaign for Reservation Road, a movie released October 19. We decided to push all the search optimization buttons possible – even with a limited time frame and zero dollars.

In an ideal world, we would have spent a minimal amount to buy a domain and set up a destination site. We also would have done a targeted search ad campaign. These are best practices that would likely have proven successful, had the time and dollar investment been there. Last week, Carrie suggested many best practices for setting up an online PR campaign.

For Reservation Road, however, we operated with our own sweat equity and worked quickly. While we were mindful of best practices, our purpose was to set up a “live lab” to demonstrate these marketing efforts. It's time to share exactly what we did and what results we achieved (or didn't achieve) online.

Marketing Goal

We were assigned our primary, mission-impossible goal: to drive traffic to a movie studio destination that wasn't all about the movie. Without much discussion, we migrated towards a more achievable, secondary goal: to optimize and drive traffic to destinations where we could create and control fan-based messages. We also developed a third and experimental goal: to see how buzz-worthy we could make the movie in the few days before its release.

What are you trying to achieve? Even if you're the biggest brand advertiser, a bit of focus goes a long way. Your goals could be destination traffic, contest participation, response rates for discounts/promotions, or even online sales if appropriate. All of these goals translate to getting traffic somewhere on the web, though how you measure success varies among them.

The Preparations

Search online – Learn as much as possible about your brand or product category. In our case, movie information was also available, due to previews at film festivals earlier this year. We had the luxury of “trying out” the product based on movie clips, movie stills or photos, actor interviews and red-carpet appearances. We also skimmed the book, and Carrie even listened to part of it on tape. That way, we were able to understand what to communicate in our promotions.

Create keywords – Don't stop with the brand name; think about the important related keywords too. For us, this meant Reservation Road plus...movie, book, author, director and actors. If we were doing SEM buys, these would all come in handy. For SEO purposes, we had to think about what could be promoted in a short time with the biggest return.

Define silos – Focus on specific silos of content or information. We decided to work with two silos: the book and the movie. These seemed like reasonable concentrations where there would be enough existing and emerging interest. We avoided silos about the actors as they are extremely prolific and popular; heading in this direction would be difficult because of competition and a dilution of mentions across the web.

Develop sites and blogs – Set up sites that support your silos. Without a central destination site for this movie, we had to develop alternative destinations or there would be nowhere for our additional traffic to go. We set up several sites covering: the book and reviews; the movie and reviews; the movie and its actors; key movie photos; the connection between the book and movie. They were all very simple and took about five hours from start to finish.

Try free hosted services – Take advantage of the services out there! We set up two blogs with WordPress, though we're sure that Blogger would work fine too. One was for the Reservation Road movie, the other was for the Reservation Road book. Also we revisited some of the early free web hosting sites, and set up destinations at Freeservers, Tripod, Angelfire and Geocities. Some of these were technically blogs, while others were regular Web pages.

Perform SEO 1-2-3 – Make sure you set up and optimize these new sites and blogs. For each of our destinations, we ensured the title would include Reservation Road. We tagged sites or blog entries with the movie name plus other keywords. Of course, we also linked to the studio site and to other relevant sites about the movie or book.

Get social – Reach others online through social networks and tools. We set up a My Space page for Reservation Road. We told our Facebook buddies about the efforts and encouraged linking to our sites. Then we went to the social bookmarking services, Del.icio.us and Furl.net to save URLs from the studio site (Focus Features) as well as the sites and blogs we set up. We went to Digg and “dugg” a few pages. Also we “stumbled” a few pages on StumbleUpon. Our main advantage was being able to ask SEW readers for help, to save pages too.

The Results

We didn't achieve the kinds of search results that we're used to delivering, typically page one! However, we quickly got traction for the newly-created fan sites and blogs. When googling [Reservation Road”, results were scattered between pages 3-9. The MySpace page showed up on page 3 as well. Our two SEW postings about marketing the movie did the best, showing up on Google and Yahoo. Admittedly, anything beyond the first page of results isn't successful – although given the time constraint, lack of budget and the lack of a central Web site to focus upon, we did pretty well.

What happened with the Focus Features studio site? We did link to it and tried to push forward with little success. It appeared in later pages on Google and MSN. Based on our requests for help, likely from our SEW readers, we did notice that Focus Features was saved more than 60 times at Technorati too. We were pleased to see that Focus Features punched up its ad promotions before the launch, and bought PPC ads on Google and Ask that were present whenever anyone searched for the movie.

Don't let our performance take away from the preparations above. Try out new sites and blogs, and follow the other steps above as well. The number one take-away from this experiment? Make sure you have some URL destination to focus upon. A site that is solely intended to handle traffic dedicated to your purpose or cause. Our other steps should serve you well, as long as all roads lead to a focused end result and the traffic is not diluted across the web.

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