Tastes Great! Less Filling! Balancing Brand and SEO

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Feb 22, 2007
More Articles by Janet


There’s a major argument going on in marketing today, and it’s creating a divide between marketing communications professionals and their interactive marketing peers — which is more important? Preserving the brand or getting higher rankings and more traffic?

The argument reminds me of the classic Miller Lite beer argument. Does it taste great? Or is it less filling? As someone who drank more than my fair share of Miller Lite in college, I say it can be both!

Preserving a brand and getting higher rankings and traffic do not have to be exclusive of each other. But there are many times when brand terms and SEO terms might clash. Take for instance the whole “pre-owned” craze in branding used cars. Originally, just the high end manufacturers, such as Lexus, used the “pre-owned” label on its used cars. The brand term “pre-owned” denotes that it is somehow “better” than a “used” car — it was just owned by someone else once. Now, even mid-range car manufacturers, such as Ford, use this brand moniker to describe their used car lines.

While “pre-owned” sounds less used and abused than a “used” car, how many searches for “pre-owned car” were there last month in Yahoo!? 1,821. Now how many searches were there for the same time period for “used car”? 694,272 — a whopping 38,025% over pre-owned.

In a quick check of Ford’s certified pre-owned vehicle website, I could not find the term “used” anywhere. And while that may be great for promoting the brand term and ideal of “pre-owned”, it does little for Ford to rank in the top search results for those looking for a good, reliable, used car, truck or minivan. In a search on Google for “certified pre-owned vehicles”, Ford ranked 8th. But for the term “used cars”, Ford didn’t rank in the top 100 results. In fact, on the term “used Ford truck” (4577 searches), Ford USA doesn’t rank in the top ten results in Google — but some of its dealerships do rank in the top ten. (Ford doesn’t even advertise correctly on this term in the PPC — showing instead the NEW truck website link instead of the certified pre-owned trucks — but don’t get me started down that path and tangent. I digress…)

While Ford may want to preserve that brand term, not being ranked on such a popular term (or other similar terms) automatically begins to erode Ford’s chances for consideration in the used car market.

I think there’s a balance to be struck here. It’s OK to preserve brand. It’s OK to want to elicit a certain feeling or perception about your product. BUT… It’s not OK to ignore your search ranks and how you can get the most targeted traffic to your website. So strike a balance. Call the cars “pre-owned”, but discuss how a “certified pre-owned” vehicle differs from just any old “used car”. Use the words to your advantage! Turn the negative “used” into the positive “pre-owned”.

Here’s an example Ford should consider using (adapted from a paragraph on their website):

Ford Quality Checked Certified Pre-Owned (but you can call us Ford CPO) is a program designed to help you find the right Ford used car. As part of the program, you’ll not only drive away with a Ford vehicle that meets your needs, you’ll also get the peace of mind of buying a used car that has passed a rigorous inspection and a comprehensive certification process.

See, it can taste great AND be less filling.

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