Which SEO Campaigns Won (or Lost) in 2013?

2013 saw a wide variety of SEO campaigns, each vying for the attention of American audiences. Some of these campaigns were able to successfully utilize SEO best practices to connect with their consumer base, but many campaigns missed the mark. By studying these hits and misses, we can learn several lessons about the current state of SEO and identify which tactics are still effective going into 2014.

Winner: ASOS

E-commerce did particularly well with SEO campaigns in 2013. ASOS was arguably the most successful company in the e-commerce world in developing a solid, sustainable approach to SEO, but there were many others who succeeded as well.

SEO is an undeniable challenge for big department stores. There are so many moving parts that it is hard to ensure that good SEO practices are followed throughout a site. For instance, companies like ASOS have to consider how to develop engaging landing pages, write unique product descriptions, avoid any duplicate content, emphasize important keywords, and maintain a streamlined site structure.

ASOS did a great job in 2013 of focusing on the basics. The company didn’t need a huge SEO campaign to gain an advantage over the competition – they simply got their onsite basics in order so that Google did the work for them. For example, ASOS’s landing pages use H1 tags to effectively highlight the most relevant keywords without seeming spammy. For example, in the image below, the keyword “Women’s Sweaters & Cardigans” acts as the H1 tag.

ASOS grab - H1 tag example

The lesson for 2014? Make sure that your basic SEO practices are in good order before moving on to a complicated, wide reaching SEO campaign. Attracting new clients and customers to your site won’t do you much good if the site isn’t prepared to offer a smooth, user-friendly experience!

Loser: Chipotle

As much as I love Chipotle, I have to admit that this campaign was a loser in 2013. The three-minute long “Scarecrow” video depicts a likeable scarecrow that is shocked at the habits of the food processing industry. Consequently, he decides create fresh, appealing food out of homegrown vegetables, ostensibly like Chipotle.

Although I personally saw this ad passed around quite a bit on social media, the message contradicts the Chipotle brand. Chipotle definitely isn’t vegetarian, but this video leaves viewers feeling like they should probably quit eating meat immediately. As a vegetarian myself, I’m inclined to like that message, but it doesn’t work with the Chipotle brand. Even though Chipotle developed a nice little short, they completely failed to market their actual brand. Using vegetarian imagery to promote meat doesn’t really work!

The lesson for 2014 is clear – make sure that your campaign’s message is relevant to your brand! If people are confused about your branding after seeing promotional material, they probably aren’t going to be interested in investing much more time into the brand.

Winner: Sears

Although Sears is clearly not exclusively an e-commerce business, this campaign was another e-commerce win in 2013. The strength of Sears’ SEO strategy was its dedication to great content marketing. Through FitStudio, Sears built a community that focused on allowing fitness experts to act as the content creators. Since visitors to the site felt that they could trust those experts, they were much more inclined to share the content and thus promote Sears.

Fitstudio grab

Sears’s SEO campaign clearly demonstrates the importance of having a cohesive, concerted approach to content. Whether you are generating blogs yourself or asking other experts or consumers to weigh in, there has to be a consistent strategy. In addition, Sears’s content strategy was able to succeed because the company was willing to devote an entire team to the project as well as a generous budget.

Following Sears’s lead, make sure that your SEO campaign has an intentional approach to content marketing in 2014! Willy-nilly content marketing strategies aren’t going to stand up to the competition.

Loser: Interflora

It was hard to miss this debacle in 2013. Essentially, Interflora, a major online florist, decided to send complimentary flowers to a number of bloggers and influencers in the industry in hopes of getting some extra mentions and links as Valentine’s Day approached. Unfortunately, Google got wind of their strategy and issued heavy penalties. At one point, Interflora wasn’t even showing up in the SERPs for their own branded terms.

The lesson for SEOs in 2014 is undeniable – underhanded link-building strategies are far too dangerous! Google is not going to tolerate companies that don’t respect their link building guidelines. Instead, focus on natural, organic link building strategies. Quality is now the name of the game for SEOs.

Winner: REI

Again, REI’s online success indicates the strength of the SEO going into e-commerce. The forte of REI’s SEO is that it uses impeccable design to ensure that the entire site loads incredibly quickly. As an outdoor sporting goods company, images are an integral part of the REI site, but the site is so well designed that they are still able to load immediately. In fact, Pingdom shows that REI’s site loads in about 1.07 seconds.

So what’s the lesson for 2014? Even if images are an important part of your brand, make sure that your site is able to load speedily. Users now expect sites to load in under 2 seconds, so any sites that are taking longer are likely to lose customers. Don’t use this issue as an excuse to get rid of images, however – especially for companies that have any kind of visual component, those images are your chance to really sell products!

Loser: Pepsi

Even though Pepsi has millions of dollars to throw into marketing campaigns, they had at least one huge flop in 2013. In trying to promote a partnership with the Japanese clothing company Aape, Pepsi released posters that read, “Pepsi x Aape.” Unfortunately, the font used in the posters makes that first “a” look like an “r,” causing the sign to say, “Pepsi x Rape.” Not exactly the message Pepsi was trying to get across.

Pepsi grab

The lesson here is simple – double check your marketing material. This campaign didn’t have to be an embarrassment. Picking the wrong font made this campaign go horribly awry. Take the time to get a second opinion to make sure that your company doesn’t make thoughtless mistakes like this one.

Winner: Oreo Cookies

To put it simply, Oreo capitalized on the power outage at the Super Bowl in 2013 for a moment of social media glory. With buzzy lines such as “No power? No Problem!” and “You can still dunk in the dark,” Oreo was able to take advantage of a current trending topic in order to gain laughs from fans and, of course, to remind people to eat more Oreos. Clever and relevant, this social media campaign was a brilliant move.

Oreos grab

Moving into 2014, social media is going to continue to become more and more important as a component of SEO campaigns. Make sure that your brand has a distinct identity and voice so that when those golden moments like the power outage at the Super Bowl pop up, you can immediately find ways to connect with your audience.

Which brands did you think were winners or losers in 2013? What lessons did you learn from their SEO campaigns?

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Sarah Beth

Sarah Beth Wiltse earned her BA in English at Boston University. Though she currently lives in Dallas, TX, she spent a year in Paris, France after college, cultivating her love of the French language and a passion for travelling. She has spent much of her life developing her skills in the arts, primarily as a ballerina, violinist, and pianist - and now, a writer! Follow her on Twitter!

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