After posting a blog entry on our site titled "How big brands screw up search," I got to thinking... let me pick out one such company and give a live example. Today, I am picking on Nike (sorry, guys).

I did a search on Nike as a keyword, and just that word alone came back with over 2.5 million searches performed last month according to the tool, which uses Overture's keyword suggestion tool. This does not include the long-tail terms like Nike football cleats, Nike air force one, Nike sports bra, Nike golf balls and the millions of other searches done with the word Nike in it somehow. I wouldn't be surprised if the branded Nike search volume were in the 15 million range.

Then think about all the unbranded search terms where Nike could get people to consider its brand... terms like golf shoes, golf gifts, golf clubs, footballs, football cleats, off-road running shoes, running shoes. You can just imagine that the number of searches done for these terms could dwarf the search volume for Nike's branded terms. (Not to mention that an iProspect study found that roughly 36% of people associate ranking higher with being a better brand.)

OK, so now we know the potential, let's uncover how Nike is missing the boat and how it could right the ship with a slightly more focused effort on SEO and by improving the customer experience of customers coming from search engines.

Overall, big brands typically screw up search in two big ways, and Nike is no different:

  1. Missing out on long-tail terms: If you are not familiar with the term "Long Tail" as it relates to search, you can get the basic idea from a blog post by the search Granddaddy himself, Danny Sullivan.

    Typically, big brands want to target the big unbranded terms like "tennis rackets," "golf clubs," or "running shoes." I do recommend that they target such terms as a way to position their brand in the minds of people who are searching. But they often miss terms like "golf club reviews" or "women's trail running shoes." Typically, these long-tail terms are the ones that convert best.

    Even worse, in Nike's case, it doesn't show up in the top 10 for the term "Nike trail shoes." That is a term that includes its brand name. This happens a lot with Nike branded search terms... If I were Nike, I would start on the branded terms, because they are the easiest to rank well for given its existing Web assets; they are most definitely the low-hanging fruit, just waiting to be plucked. People searching for products using the word Nike in their search are already familiar with the brand and are probably calling out for you to show up—but there's Nike, hiding from them on page 80!

  2. All-Flash sites with no alternative version: Does it make sense to spend significant amounts of money on heavily Flashed branded sites—but not on driving people who know the brand to the branded site using organic (natural) search engine optimization... AKA free clicks?

So maybe you are saying... "Hey Wil, maybe Nike doesn't want to use search at all in their marketing." I thought about that.

When I did a search on Google for "Air Max," I got this page:

Click to enlarge

Nike is paying to be in a top position on PPC, which means that search matters as a way of gaining exposure, brand awareness, and possibly, just maybe, sales. But when I clicked on the PPC link for "Air Max," I was taken to the Nike store homepage.

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Wil Reynolds is the founder and head marketing strategist of SEER Interactive (, a search optimization and Web marketing firm located in Philadelphia.