One thing I’ve found to be true in my years of working in search marketing is that virtually every company has a good idea of who their top overall competitors are, but very few can say who their biggest competitors are on the search engines.
This is a critical distinction for search marketers, since from a search perspective, it only matters which companies are showing up on the search engines, how often they show up, and what they say in their ad copy.
Quite often, those companies are not who you might expect.
I was reminded of this by a study we recently conducted on the top Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) advertisers in Paid Search.
In several dramatic examples, we found CPG brands whose top keywords seemed to have little if anything to do with the product itself and would actually put the brand in competition with advertisers outside of its CPG category on the search engines.
For instance, while other brands in the Snacks category sponsored keywords around recipes and party food ideas, the top keywords of popcorn brand Pop Secret were focused not on food or snacking but on a lifestyle activity: watching free movies online. Examples include “free movies”, “free movie streaming” and “free movie websites.”
In fact, of the 857 total keywords AdGooroo found for PopSecretLabs.com during the 12-month period we studied, more than 43 percent were related to movies. And while this strategy may be perfectly in line with the brand’s tagline “The secret to movie night,” it is unexpected that a snack brand would be sponsoring many of the same keywords as Netflix.
Similarly, there’s the example of Colgate, whose top keyword by far was “diabetes” – generating more than 60 percent more impressions than even its own brand name. What’s more, Colgate also included two other such terms in its Top 10: “symptoms of diabetes” and “diabetes symptoms.” While the reasoning behind this strategy may be solid (diabetes sufferers may be prone to oral hygiene issues, for instance), it is nonetheless surprising to find that an everyday toothpaste brand is competing with pharmaceutical manufacturers to reach such a specialized audience.
Still other examples of this phenomenon include baby-friendly detergent Dreft sponsoring “baby shower” terms, chewing gum brand Eclipse sponsoring “stress management” terms and rum brand Bacardi sponsoring the term “zombie games,” apparently targeted at online gamers.
So what’s going on here? Why are household brands such as these bidding on seemingly unrelated keyword terms?
The answer is that CPG brands often structure their keyword strategies using a variation of the practice of ‘brand laddering.’
Through a brand laddering model, CPG marketers will layer their keywords with terms that span different stages in a consumer’s awareness and usage of the brand, including: brand terms (“Special K”), product terms (“breakfast cereal”), problem/need terms (“healthy recipes”), and finally, occasion terms where the product would be used (“how to lose weight”).
It’s in the problem/need terms and occasion terms that we find such diverse themes as “diabetes symptoms” and “watching movies online.”
Boiled down to its essence, the purpose of this strategy is to increase share of voice by engaging a wide range of consumers who are or should be your brand’s users.
Lessons for the Rest of Us
CPG manufacturers are different than most companies who conduct paid search campaigns in that they focus on brand marketing rather than driving direct sales. Moreover, they primarily rely on third parties to sell their products, most often in a physical store.
Even so, there are key lessons to learn from examining the keyword strategies of CPG search marketers.
The first is to consider utilizing brand laddering in your own keyword selection strategy. For one thing, using a structured model to reach a variety of potential customers can help greatly increase your own share of voice. In addition, brand laddering and other such methodologies can be highly beneficial in helping to align your keywords, offer and creative, resulting in both more relevant and cost-efficient paid search campaigns.
The second lesson is more fundamental: know who your competitors are on the search engines. That means understanding exactly who else is bidding on your top keywords, what their ad copy says, and how your campaign stacks up on key metrics such as coverage (the frequency your ads appear) and cost per click.
Doing so will help you understand what your competitors are doing that is affecting your own performance, which in turn will enable you to identify problem areas and make adjustments that can result in material improvements to your campaigns.
Then again, you could also simply concentrate on your own program without regard to your true search competitors. However, you may find yourself in need of a whole lot of Eclipse gum—for stress management, of course.