Saturday, May 30, 2009

'Search online for...' - The return of keywords in advertising

Hands up who remembers AOL keywords? Back in the late-90s / early naughties (when AOL was still spamming the world's letterboxes with CD-ROMs) it was commonplace to see an AOL keyword alongside, or occasionally in lieu of, a regular URL on marketing materials. Movie trailers and posters, in particular, would often carry them (see posters for 2001 box office stinkers Swordfish and 15 Minutes).

Fast forward to 2009 and search keywords in advertising seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance, although this time it's Google rather than AOL who are the go-to guys for finding stuff online. However, where AOL keywords were tightly controlled (check out the official Keyword Guidelines), keywords input into Google will return results entirely at the mercy of Google's special sauce search algorithms.

This presents a bit of a dilemma for marketeers; whilst inviting users to Google for your brand more closely mirrors online behaviours (80+ percent of online journeys start with a search), you don't have control over what appears on that results page.

The first URL-free ad I noticed recently encouraging users to search for a keyword was the Orange 'I Am Everyone' campaign, which boldly invited users to "search online for 'I am'", complete with magnifying glass icon (which seems to have inexplicably become the universally recognised symbol for search - I guessing either Microsoft or Apple is to blame...)

The problem was that the newly-created campaign site was decidedly short on Googlejuice (the top organic search result for 'I am' was on Google and on MSN), forcing Orange to shell out for Sponsored Links (still live at the time of writing). Whether the additional cost of the Sponsored Links was offset by a greater response rate to the search-based call-to-action (or the insight they got from being able to more easily track the response rate) would be interesting to know (although the figures from Compete don't speak of a unqualified success).

The decision to promote keywords over a URL is probably easier when you feel confident of getting and retaining the top spot in organic search results. Tamlyn Rhodes points to More4 and Act On CO2 both using the 'search online for...' CTA; both having sufficiently distinctive names and Googled-up parent domains ( and to ensure they secure the top spot. Warner Brothers also recently adopted the 'search for keyword' approach for elements of their Watchmen marketing campaign, banking on keeping the mighty IMDb off the top spot. Dyson went for belt and braces after its TV ad invited users to "Search online for dyson ball", taking a Sponsored Link as well as the top two organic search results.

Another example which recently caught my eye was the TV and poster campaign for Dido's forthcoming album, 'Safe Trip Home', which makes no mention of Dido and looks more like a movie campaign, inviting users to "view trailer now" by Googling for enigmatic keywords such as 'Lady Landfill', 'Mother Lay-By' and 'Blackeye Lashes'. What's interesting about this one is that the top matches are all YouTube videos which - YouTube being a Google property - get a thumbnail and visible rating; far more eye catching and inviting than your average search result. The video then directs users onwards to the official album site.

Despite the potential pitfalls of promoting search keywords in advertising, it seems likely to increase as marketers seek to respond to how users actually navigate to content online and counter the URL blindness which I'm certainly starting to suffer from. Just watch out for a resurgence of Google bombing/washing...


Martin Belam said...

One thing that bugs me though is that even when the Government has top spot organically for campaigns like 'Act on CO2', they appear to be spending additional taxpayers money on PPC advertising as well.

Robin M said...

AOL keywords! How about Compuserve's GO this that and the other...