SEO (Usually) Does Not Create Demand

At a recent SEO conference there was a question asked about getting a geo-local page to rank better for their own specific brand + the location (where they were competing against resellers & aggregators in that vertical). I was a bit tired at the end of the day, so I am not sure if I got my point across well enough I figured it would make sense to follow up here. :)

When the above question was sussed out more fully it turns out that the core issue was not that of rank, but rather one of demand. Even with them + all the aggregators that particular branch was simply not profitable, especially when compared against other branches in neighboring towns.

The core issue here is this: SEO fulfills demand, but SEO doesn't create demand.*

* There are some exceptions to that, like in complex long B2B purchase cycles & people selling abstract products & services like art, but generally its true for most businesses.

Where SEO is Exceptionally Valuable

If you are selling a commodity product that is similar to other commodity products (or you are 1 of 1,000 similar reviews on the web - like an affiliate) then ranking a bit better for the brand you are targeting will lead to more conversions for you the affiliate.

But all of that opportunity is built on the back of arbitraging existing brand equity & consumer demand, it doesn't really create new demand in and of itself. Sure some sorts of reviews can make certain products seem more compelling than others, but the sort of demand creation needed by the above organization has to come from broader generic search queries and/or arbitraging competing brands.

How to Create Demand

If someone ranked just below us in the search results for "seo book tools" with reviews of our exclusive domain finder tool, our competitive research tool, and a few other tools we offer then they might make a limited number of incremental sales for us, but if we wanted to create significant incremental sales we have 3 options

  • build our brand
  • cross market
  • try to gain exposure on broader related generic keywords

Brand Building

There are many ways to build brand, from public relations to offering additional products and features to interacting at more events to writing more frequently on our blog to advertising, etc. etc. etc. The good thing about building brand exposure is that branded keywords tend to be the keywords with the highest conversion when you build your brand you create a surge in traffic and a surge in conversion rates.

When I lived in State College, Pennsylvania the guy who owned mentioned that at one point he put a huge blimp up in the parking lot of the football stadium advertising his domain name. He was fined for doing it, but it was just a cost of doing marketing...a cheap source of exposure.

As a regional office you might not be able to do that much with brand though: you may lack the budget for branded advertising & there might be some types of restrictions on the types of things you can do to gain awareness.

Cross Marketing

This is an area where the people asking the question at the conference could have done well. They could have done more aggressive cross marketing within their organization and with other organizations.

Part of what created demand for this whole region / area was a huge theme park of sorts. So in theory they could have also ran special promotions with that theme park offering discounts to frequent visitors. Perhaps they could have found out who went to that theme park and sent them mailers with seasonal discount offers.

If neighboring branches were frequently sold out and this branch was not then what they could have done is find out who amongst there customers are frequent customers and who amongst those people are budget conscious...promote the concept of saving a lot by being a bit further away amongst those who value money more than time.

Further segmentation could be done separating out business functions from tourists. Offer businesses that are holding meetings a discount on meeting room rentals at the cheaper spot that is further away & try to load most of the tourists into the venue with higher demand. Beyond that, demographic targeting can be a strong option. Some areas hold yearly festivals for certain alternative lifestyles.

In the online sense of cross-marketing, both SEOmoz and Raven have been aggressive at running conference discounts and/or offering free conference passes when you set up at one of their higher tiered account levels.

Coupons and loyalty programs can also help on this front. One could also petition the local chamber of commerce to create some sort of seasonal celebration or promotional hook for the town, which would help almost all the local businesses. Is your town the home of the cranberry? There has to be some type of hook or angle.

The world is full of unique places & there is something interesting in your back yard if you look close enough.

Exposure on Broader Related Keywords

The above company which thought they needed to rank better for "their brand name" + "their location" could have driven some additional incremental volume by ranking better for the related query stream, like:

  • "their product category" + "their location" (putting themselves in front of more of the generic related traffic stream ... they can also run direct ads on other sites that rank well and have relevant traffic streams)
  • creating a page focused on "their product category" + "near popular local attraction" (coming up with alternate ways people search with the same intent ... there are boatloads of options on this front for those who create content focused on solving specific business problems)
  • running ads on competing local brands stating things like "free ___ feature" or "up to _% cheaper than brand x" (arbitraging competing brands ... this can be effective, but can easily be misplayed & lead to blood + tears)
Published: October 11, 2010 by Aaron Wall in marketing


October 13, 2010 - 9:51pm

Sometimes the web visitors are researching your brand but "refuse" to do it on your web site.
i have a client where Google Webmasters tools shows the following:
Brand name 379 searches - Visits 76.
over 300 web visitors "refused" to do the home-work on our web site.
This is why it is so important to "control" the top 10 for your brand name.

October 14, 2010 - 12:31am

I agree 100% with the importance of leaving a solid trail of goodies offsite as well.

A lot of people do not convert because they do not want to be embarrassed or make a mistake. Giving more social cues & more signals of trust lowers the perceived risk & increases conversion rates.

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