The Keyword / Brand Timeline for Companies and Ideas

Growing Irrelevant with Each Passing Day:

Easier access to information and new technologies force many companies unwilling to change to focus heavily on silencing pieces of the market which claim they are growing irrelevant. Many individuals, systems and organizations evolve slower than the market to where their purpose becomes nothing more than causing a need for their own existence. I tend to think that many lawyers are born with this train of thought in mind. Rarely has one ever contacted me without an immediate threat at hello and offer to escalate the issue, even if the issue is only caused by (and a symptom of) poor customer service to their customers. The lack of investigating the root causes of the problems, and instead offering immediate escalation, is a sign of piss poor customer service on the part of the clown lawyers who tried to scare me. Especially if it is blog related and a simple search for my name would already show that the last company that sued me got featured in the Wall Street Journal.

When Being a Market Leader is Good:

Sometimes being the leader in a market is a great thing. You can't see a person write about search without comparing them to Google. The launch of any new information product requires people to ask about how it compares to Google. Google takes hits for many of the things they do, but when push comes to shove, and stories really blow up they usually play the media and market much smarter than competing companies do.

When Being a Market Leader is Bad:

In certain markets growing in scale or being #1 means you have lost touch with your customers or you get a documentary about how you destroy your customers health. Meanwhile some of your competitors jockey for position and enjoy marketshare growth at your cost and smaller regional firms find it easier to tap into their local culture.

If you are in an industry that is found questionable by many, then being at the top means that toys about killing babies (or other bad things) may look similar to your brand. And they will likely look progressively more and more like your brand until you change your business model or eventually you threaten or sue somebody. When you finally sue or threaten the story spreads through the media and the world is reminded of things like

The design of the package of toy cigarettes--which are actually unscented incense--is intended to "evoke an unsavory association with Philip Morris," alleges the letter, a copy of which you can find below. The company also claims that a "Li'l Smokes" refill pack also infringes its Marlboro trademark. Along with leaning on Toy Lounge, Philip Morris also apparently contacted the novelty doll's manufacturer and was told that the offending products would be altered to address the tobacco company's concerns. Commendably, Philip Morris has never been shown to market its products to newborns. However, the company has previously tracked Marlboro's "market penetration" with smokers as young as 15, since the teenage years are when crucial "initial brand selections" are made, according to one internal company memo.

This is the web though, and we all get to be good dirt diggers, so after reading one story like that people dig up stories about how their company argues things like

Dead Smokers Are Good for Government Budgets

In making the threat to sue Marlboro increased the authority and mindshare of most any negative piece of information about them.

Initiatives That Focus on End Goals Without Tuning Into the Market are a Lost Cause:

Not surprisingly, these "let's clear up our brand" and "lets care about our customer" lawyer based initiatives go in waves or phases, and a lawyer claiming to represent Marlboro recently sent me a cease and desist too. Nice email subject BTW, "see attached". Assholes.

They stated that one of my pages might aid and abet identity theft because some of their customers were posting personal information on it. Sometimes I wonder if companies post that stuff themselves, and then claim identity theft or defamation.

I decided to pull the content they cared about because I after just ending my first lawsuit I don't want another. I want to spend more time learning about things that interest me, dealing with trying to create useful ideas and helping people.

The big irony is that the market for my idea was well created and well branded by them. I will discuss it in a bit though.

Keyword Markets are Just Like Companies:

Just like how companies grow and then lose touch with their customers then fade away the same thing happens with keyword markets. Keyword markets are nothing more than a reflection of our thoughts.

While the core terms may have decent volume and competition, if you really target your messages and go deeper than most competing sites you will find it easy to rank.

Where to Start:

It is hard to create a consumer generated media site or even solid traffic streams if you only focus on what other people are already doing.

If you want to focus on ranking for well established markets or brands you are probably not going to do well unless you do one or more of the following:

  • are working off an aged well trusted idea

  • are good at creating controversy, causes, or making people talk about you
  • are focused on solving problems that the market currently does not easily solve
  • are going after niche phrases
  • are focused on phrases late in the buying cycle.

Keyword Modifier Love:

If you add on modifiers, say [McDonalds health] or [McDonalds Unhealthy] then it is easier to get exposure, and the people are more receptive to the ads for other ideas when they add a specific modifier. A few good ideas to focus on would be calories, nutrition facts, fries, and nutritional information.

An Example Keyword Market:

Online markets are best create value when they solve problems that are not already easily solved.

For example, if you did basic keyword research for Marlboro, based on search volume, they push the Marlboro Miles concept rather hard. Their customers want it, need it, can't get enough of it. It makes sense since it is strongly tied into the brand and they promote it on most every pack of cigarettes.

However, if you search for that query no official site shows up in the search results, so one of the following must be true

  • they intentionally do not care to solve that issue (ie: they don't give a shit about their customers)

  • they do not know anything about online search / SEO (they are ignorant)
  • they hired an exceptionally sub standard SEO (they hired someone who is ignorant)

Imagine that, some of their most loyal customers not being served AT ALL. They don't make it easy for consumers to solve the Marlboro Miles Catalog problem.

Errors They Could Fix:

  • Create a page about the topic, or at least mention the topic on a page on their website

  • the domain they are using ( sounds generic, and they are missing out on the plural versions of the domains
  • most of the domain they own that handles the Marlboro Miles Catalog stuff is all secured so you can't see any of it in the search results
  • even if they couldn't promote the catalog actively on their site and make that accessible to search engines (maybe there is some weird legal issue that stops them) it wouldn't be hard to point a few links at the smokerservice site that had Marlboro Miles Catalog in the anchor text so engines knew what to rank and people knew where to go
  • if they were too lazy to do the above they could at least find one result that answers the query and then work to point a few links at that page

By not addressing a strong offline brand points anywhere online they have pretty much created a marketplace where nothing but scraper sites, competing merchants, or customer complaints about their brand show up whenever their best customers search to continue the offline dialog started by their product packaging and branding.

Why I Got a C&D:

One of my sorta spammy sites (2nd site I ever made, and it was so bad that people bookmarked it on social sites for being so pathetic) had content that solved they query better than most other sites. A single page focused on that single query which gets hundreds of real searches every day.

Given enough time and a few links that page ranked. Given enough exposure I started getting a ton of email from their customers (which easily could have been set up to autorespond with affiliate deals and offers from various merchants which sold the same, related or competing products) but I didn't do that.

The emails I got from Marlboro customers were growing in volume and aggressively more bizzare so I then made a blog post about how bizzare they were and how I thought the people were crazy. Then hundreds of people started pouring in ON THAT PAGE leaving their names, addresses, social security numbers, and one even put in their credit card number and security code.

Many Seemingly Competitive Markets Are Not Competitive, at All:

The page i created about Marlboro Miles was so ugly that it got referenced on social bookmarking sites for being ugly. It had 0 high quality links and ranks #1 in Google, largely for the following reasons

  • it was a whole page / document focused on something most scraper sites just mentioned in a page

  • most competing sites are exceptionally spammy and do not actually solve the customers problems
  • after it started to rank well it picked up scraper links, which sorta helped reinforce its market position

Including automated scraper junk sites there are only 400 pages competing for [Marlboro Miles Catalog]

Given that many of the searchers landing on my page were customers addicted to a drug and focused on a single brand it would be an easy market to make a ton of money from if I was a bit less lazy on it.

Now that I took my pages down likely the search results will not answer the needs and wants of Marlboro's customers. I wouldn't be surprised if that customer relationship remained poor because they solved symptoms instead of problems. 100's of customers per day are finding it hard to get their questions answered.

There is a Shitload of Traffic There!

If you look at this screenshot you will see that after the #3 organic search result for Marlboro searches that Google suggests Marlboro Miles inline.

That page has 34 junky links and is ranking #4 in Google for Marlboro right now.

Article summary:

  • scaling often means becoming less efficient, more stuck in your ways, and/or less in touch with your customers

  • being a leader in a sketchy field opens you up to tons of negative plublicy
  • search makes it easy to view many of your customer's needs and wants
  • keyword markets rise and fall with offline market brands, companies, ideas, and news
  • your customers want to talk about you. if you do not participate in the market or make it easy to contact you then your customers will look elsewhere.
  • immediately offering escalation during confrontation (especially when it is without considering the root problems) is generally an ignorant business policy across the board
  • once you start trying to control who talks about you and what they say you are long on the way to irrelevancy
  • in the long run it is usually far cheaper to solve problems instead of symptoms
  • even competitive keyword markets are not that competitive if you create even somewhat decent content and focus on longer search queries
Published: April 15, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


April 18, 2006 - 7:12pm

Wow. What a post. It's Joycean in its complexity. Great stuff - if one wades through the subtle brew of philosophy and repressed outrage, there's a ton of great SEO information!

Actually, that's not Joycean, that's Goodman-ian...

Thanks for the most interesting post I've read in a while.

April 18, 2006 - 7:19pm

In a future post or email could you explain why your #1 result now leads to a different URL -

And how that works?

PS. In firefox, your comment form has odd tab ordering. When I tab out of "Your Blog URL", the page scrolls up to the top, hiding the comment form, so that I need to scroll down to type... Odd.

May 10, 2006 - 6:34am

All of your posts about branding and viewing things from the customer's point of view are absolutely astounding. Thanks for all of the great advice.

April 19, 2006 - 11:26am

I will work on the comment ordering.

That post intentionally had a rant feel to it, but there were a couple posts worth of decent ideas in it if one were to look past the rants ;)

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