Hey SEO Community, Adapt or Die! Google Branding Update

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It’s time to reconsider a lot of what we do.  In the wake of Vince, the recent Google update that rewards big brands with better rankings for competitive keywords, we all need to think about the future of SEO.

Sure, it wasn’t as big as Florida, but it showed that Google is hellbent on making our jobs redundant.  Between the near constant algorithm changes (Not just Google… Yahoo recently became much more sensitive to internal linking) and the expansive growth of what Eric Schmidt called a “cesspool” of spam, rankings for money keywords are becoming more and more difficult, if not near impossible, to achieve.  Generally, gaining and maintaining a #1 ranking for one of these uber-competitive keywords is no longer cost-effective.

The future of SEO is not in developing rankings for keywords based on traffic, but creating traffic for keywords.  SEO as a means, not an end.

Two Cases of Integration

Here are two examples from 2008 that I think illustrate the most obvious and the most ingenious uses of search engines as part of an integrated ad campaign.

The National Guard’s campaign featuring a Kid Rock music video and a call to action to search for “National Guard Warrior” on Yahoo to download the track is the most obvious extension of search to a traditional ad campaign.  The ads played predominantly in movie theatres and giving people an easy-to-remember search term seems a much better strategy than providing a url.

This method is easily replicated for nearly any product.  All it takes is a brand name and long tail modifier.  I’m surprised more people aren’t using it.  However, it’s a relatively simple strategy and doesn’t utilize search to its fullest potential.

To promote their new scent Swagger, Old Spice created a microsite where users could input their interests, upload a picture and give their email address and the system would generate fake blog articles about how manly they are. These articles would populate search results for users’ names within a week or so.  The system would also dynamically create paid search ads for users while their blog content was being indexed.

This truly integrated campaign was cross-promoted using television ads and standard online media buys.  Search technology played an integral part, but wasn’t the end goal.

What Happens When You Don’t Integrate

Burger King (c/o Crispin Porter + Bogusky) learned the hard way that search trend analysis, keyword research and on-page optimization should be a part of any new product/campaign launch online.  After launching the Whopper Virgins campaign online they realized that roughly half of searchers were omitting the plural… the microsite was on page 3 for “Whopper Virgin”.

When working on a new product/campaign launch, it’s important to look at keyword trends and traffic within the market.  If you can anticipate keyword demand, you’ll be able to establish rankings before the market catches on.  You should also collaborate with copywriters to create copy that will inform people about how they should search for your product.  This tactic is particularly effective if you are working with a competitive keyword set.

The Future

I’m not saying SEO as we know it is going to disappear anytime soon, but we need to start thinking ahead.  I like to think that SEO’s future lies in redefining the traditional advertising team of art director and copywriter to include a digital strategist.

The digital strategist’s role is exploring fully the potential of search, both paid and organic, and social media marketing integration. In most agencies, SEO is an afterthought or a panicked solution to a problem, but some are starting to get on the right page.

If we all step up and present novel strategies that utilize our skills in a more global sense, clients and agencies will start to realize our value, which means more work and more creative work at that.

The guest article is by Josh Millrod who is a New York City based SEO consultant and blogger.  He blogs whenever he can about SEO strategy and theory on Positive Vibes SEO. You can keep up with Josh on his personal site, Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.  Also, if you’re looking for fresh SEO/SEM/SMO talent, you can check out his SEO resume… he would love to talk to you.

Josh Millrod
Josh Millrod is a digital strategist at Wieden+Kennedy, a full-service, creatively driven advertising agency based in Portland, Oregon with offices in Amsterdam, London, New York,... Read Full Bio
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  • John Clark

    Interesting twist on SEO ideas. Thanks for kicking off some thought in my brain!

  • doug

    Josh –

    Great article!

    I seem to have daily discussions with business owners over the importance of social media and just how much of a role it should take in the bigger picture for the direction they would like to take. Bringing in the strategist role (or even adapting an existing role) is essential to help develop & map out the necessary steps.

    I’ve found that even in this day and age, many firms are still just beginning to realize the advantages of a truly integrated SEO plan.

    Thanks again – great article


  • Yuka

    Branding, branding and again branding. Build trust and respect with your customers if you want long-time relationship. You can earn $1 quickly and ruin your reputation.

  • Make Money with Keywords

    Hi Josh,

    Most of these Big Brands have enough money to buy whatever results they want. The way which Google responds to them, will influence the way anyone doing SEO goes about trying to make better campaigns for much smaller clients.


  • Jim Gaudet

    This is too true. I think you need to own a term. One that is yours and then you make sure that is how you are found on the internet.

  • Josh Millrod

    @Make$ I think small brands have the upper hand when it comes to SEO. There’s more room for experimentation because Matt Cutts isn’t looking. Small brands also don’t have to deal with the stigmas that the big guys can’t seem to shake.

  • rishil

    I agree, we have to sontsntly adapt and keep moving in order to succeed. However, its businesses that are in dire need of integrating search into their full marketing plans, not as sidelines. See for example this piece I did on Orange (UK mobile company) – where they ran a massive campaign to encourage search, but forgot to clean up negative SEO elements on the site, or wait till they actually ranked well for their advertised keyphrase. http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/url-tagging-clean-up-your-act

  • Eric Pender

    Great post Josh.

    Integration is going to be key. Anyone who has worked for a big brand knows that in most cases, your highest trafficked keywords are your branded terms. If we can use an integrated approach with the online and offline channels, we can drive significant amounts of traffic. That’s not to say that the non-branded terms are not important, but many large companies still are not taking full advantage of driving traffic from offline to online. The gains from integration are probably larger for a lot of big companies versus chasing long-tail terms.

  • Josh Millrod


    I couldn’t agree more. I’m amazed that there are BIG brands that don’t have control of their SERPS. They have no problem making $1mil commercials with unmeasurable results, but can’t invest in the most basic search campaign.

    If you haven’t checked out Conductor’s white paper on big brand SEO, you really should. It’s amazing how few of them get it.

  • Suthnautr

    Ok, so branding is what happens through publicity and fame, not advertising. When I buy Coca Cola and not the other colas it’s because of branding done over the years, articles in magazines about how it used to contain Cocaine, Norman Rockwell’s famous Santa Clause drinking a Coke, and the image of Coca-Cola placed in tons of movies – Ford, the inventor of the assembly line, and so many more. They advertise to keep the branding alive, not to create the brand.

    Oddly enough, Google adding extra weight to brands seems to make it impossible to rank as if to say “Hey, famous people and celebrities up front, the rest of you peon wanna be’s take a back seat and let the big boys thrive. Glitz and glamor first, great content, copywriting and relevancy second.

    Sounds like a lousy deal to me – So when the local flower shop wants to sell, no matter how good the local flower shop is, it’s FTD Florists first, foremost, and now – seemingly – forever too.

    Goodbye yellow brick road.

  • PM.Payment System

    I think it is better to creating traffic for keywords with integrations of long tail keyword s and article submission or press release.long tail is resulted from the “filter of present traffic and “predictions algorithm that birth completely “new keywords that is less searched for today but has “potential as Search reverence for the future

  • Traffic Geyser

    SEO are under SEM and generating traffic from keywords is a must, nowadays PR isn’t credited that much like it was before, more and more people are aiming to increase traffic rather than increasing their page rank, but still it’s much better to have both don’t you think?

    by the way I really enjoyed your post, you explained the future twist on SEO..

  • Rafael Montilla

    This is a great one! “The future of SEO is not in developing rankings for keywords based on traffic, but creating traffic for keywords. SEO as a means, not an end.”

  • Crystal

    Thanks for an excellent article. You really made my brain twist and turn with new ideas.


  • Loyan

    Dear Google,

    As a web consumer I want HEO. Human Experience Optimization. Please give me results that will maximize my experience.

    I don’t care about who is optimized for search. I care about who is optimized for me.

    Thank you.

  • Josh Millrod


    Thank you sooooo much. If humans like your site, search engines will soon follow! Sometimes we get so caught up in the technical aspects of SEO that we forget why we do all this.

  • Afzal Khan

    Hi Josh,

    I agree with you, SEO is not going to be just based on rankings, SEO in future will demand more creativity and more ROI for client’s investment.

    Your article really open’s up many thought provoking ideas and m sure in future we all from SEO industry work in this direction.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Boston SEO

    “SEO as a means and not an end”. Great point. Really intuitive post. Keep it up.