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4 things to know about paid research from The North Face

4 things to know about paid research from The North Face

Managing a large international brand is hard work. Especially when that brand is multi-channel (sold directly a

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Managing a large international brand is hard work. Especially when that brand is multi-channel (sold directly and through retailers, online and through individual branded stores).

I’ve been thinking about these challenges lately and wanted to pick a brand and dig into how they approach their search campaigns.

The marketing requirements of these brands can be challenging when you balance all stakeholders, both internal and external. So, let’s look at 4 things you can learn in research from one of my favorite brands in this case, The North Face:

  1. Private local – ban and dealing with stores
  2. Powerful organic to help fund or offset paid research
  3. Brand Search – Watch the Competition
  4. Get the right site

To be clear: I’ve never worked with The North Face as a brand and don’t know anyone who works there, so I don’t have inside information. This article is from an external point of view and how I will evaluate their performance if I am going to participate in the business development of their business.

1. Own local – block and process when you have stores

Brands with their own websites prefer that customers shop directly with them. They can control the experience, they don’t have to compete with other brands, and they can get the biggest profit margins.

The first thing brands should do is make sure your location data (Google Business Profile) is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Despite the growth of e-commerce, its offline sales still account for 80% of all e-commerce sales.

The North Face does a great job of maximizing their rosters. All the details have been completed, and they are supplemented by advertisements that focus on what is available in the store.

The key to optimization is making sure you own all of your sites and that the information in those listings is consistent across the web. There are a lot of great resources available on Search Engine Land here to help you maximize this channel.

2. Strong membership rankings to help offset paid competitive search

In retail, many brands find themselves at negative or low ROI for non-branded keywords. It’s a competitive space and getting conversion rates high enough to make a positive ROI for non-brands alone is tough.

Below is just one example. I took keyword costs for “men’s running shoes” and did a quick sample assuming a 2% conversion rate. Negative return on investment.

Obviously there are assumptions here that could be changed to make it higher (AOV, conversion rates), but they are in the ballpark. So brands will publish their paid search in a portfolio that includes branded terms. This is one way to show a positive ROI on paid search and one I agree with.

The other approach is to get a solid flow of organic traffic. Then you can offset the lower ROI for volume by looking at the research program as a whole.

The North Face does a good job with its organic ratings. Take a look at some of the data points against some of the other competitors to see what I mean. The North Face has a paid-to-members traffic rating of 1.75%. This is the lowest in the group.

However, they have the most organically ranked keywords, and the second largest number of keywords ranked in the top three organically (it is only outperformed by Canada Goose which has about a third of the total keywords in the ranking).

The North Face has made sure that their membership ratings are strong so that when they participate in a payout, they can win and the overall portfolio looks solid.

3. Search for brands – watch the competition

Brand research is a never-ending debate with brands.

Should you bid on it? Should you let organic listings handle it?

I’ve been a part of auditions for the past fifteen years on this topic. There is no one-size-fits-all answer (for what it’s worth: I think you should bid on branded terms).

The North Face is a good example of why. It seems to me that they bid on their brand terms sometimes, but not always.

For The North Face, this is a defensive strategy. I found plenty of examples where brands like Patagonia, The Gap and REI were bidding on their brand.

If a customer types your brand name in search results and it appears on another brand, they will likely search until they find you. However, this is not true 100% of the time.

When you see the examples below, you know that other brands feel they can squeeze some sales and increase their brand awareness. In this case, I feel like The North Face is giving way too much to its competitors and could be more aggressive here.

4. Get the right location

Although when it comes to search, a lot of the interaction and decision making is on the keywords side. But you still need a powerful website to make it all happen.

For SEO, that means powerful content, a crawlable, high-performance site. For paid search, this means landing pages that link to search terms and can convert at a rate that exceeds bid prices.

This is not easy. However, The North Face does a very impressive job in this area.

We previously discussed how well they perform from an organic perspective. On the paid side, they also do a very good job.

All keywords are mapped to the appropriate landing page. Maximize ad copy usage to include all appropriate callout extensions and site links. Done well.

After writing this and doing some research, I remembered how hard it is to judge from afar. There are a lot of business nuances that make the decisions brands make unique to them.

Sure, we can all outbid on “running running shoes,” but it’s conversion rates, AOV and broader business goals that determine if it’s the right thing for your business.

Overall, I think The North Face has some opportunities for improvement, but overall it makes it more right than wrong.

We hope this article gave you some perspective on your business and how you can see your competition.

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About the author

Nicole Farley is an editor at Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA, and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.


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