We had a bad client call last week.
The client is a sexy DTC start-up. They had asked us to put together an editorial strategy to improve their ability to target potential customers via SEO, but when we presented our recommendations which were primarily focused on high-intent-to-purchase queries, the CEO’s first question was “Why can’t we make sexy content like Goop, Away Travel, Food52 and Casper?”
Instead of targeting things you would ask before you bought the product, he wanted more “interesting” content that people would bond with. For example, if we were targeting people in the market for laptops, we wanted to target “what is a good laptop for everyday use?” and he wanted to target “best coffee shops in West Hollywood to work from,” with the idea that the person doing that search is their target customer and they would appreciate the brand’s POV on where they should hang out.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with his approach. It’s just a much longer, indirect play that targets a broad audience, most of which will likely not be in the market for his product any time soon. This is the kind of strategy Mercedes employs when it starts marketing to children so that when they grow up and have cash, they’ll subconsciously desire their cars. But it definitely helps to be Mercedes. And it definitely helps that Mercedes has money to burn.
But IMO this is not a great SEO strategy to get results in the near term.
There are plenty of good non-SEO reasons to invest in content, but if you are looking to rank well in Google for intent-to-buy queries, you’ll want to consider how well search intent aligns with your brand strategy. Looking at the DTC brands our client mentioned, you can see their content & SEO strategies are not all alike:
AwayTravel.com: Targeting The Top of The Funnel
According to SEMRush, AwayTravel.com gets almost no non-branded organic traffic. They do rank well for “carry on luggage,” but I believe that is mostly because one of their products is called “The Carry On Luggage.” They don’t appear to rank on page one of Google for any other significant non-brand queries and get barely any non-brand organic traffic:
AwayTravel.com Non-Brand Page One Keywords
It appears they put all of their “brand” content on https://www.heremagazine.com/ which according to SEMRush gets ~8K SEO visits/month from queries like “la to oregon road trip.” According to Ahrefs.com, they have done an aggressive backlinking program to this site over the past 6 months (4K+ links):
It looks like they have published north of 700 articles. Away branding on this site is almost invisible. I’d argue they get virtually no business directly from it. I am guessing the role of this site is to get email addresses so they can market the luggage to subscribers.
FOOD52.com & GOOP.com: When Brand Strategy Aligns With Search Intent
The folks at Food52 are either SEO geniuses or just lucky because they picked a niche where “brand” content – recipes, travel, home design, etc. – aligns perfectly with search queries like “matcha shortbread cookies” or “things to do in hudson, ny“:
Food52.com Non-Brand Page One Keywords
If you wanted to start a DTC business with an SEO strategy, you’d want to figure out a niche like Food52’s where the brand and the search intent are one and the same.
Goop is similar to Food52 in that it publishes a ton of content much of which is designed to lead you to a product, such as this post on why you’re not losing weight, which basically pitches their products as the cure. It also publishes City Guide content like https://goop.com/city-guide/the-mini-los-cabos-guide/ that ranks for “cabo itinerary,” which could hit travelers as they are planning a trip and might be in the mindset to buy a travel kit from them. Like with Food52, the travel part of this is not a bad SEO strategy if you are willing to invest in a ton of content plus promotion (aka links) and are looking to use this is as an awareness builder. Goop’s non-brand traffic looks pretty good:
Goop.com Non-Brand Page One Keywords
CASPER.com: The Opposite of Sexy
Casper feels almost 100% focused on “SEO” v “brand.” Most of their “brand” content lives on their blog, and much of the content appears to be focused on not-very-competitive keywords somewhat related to sleeping such as “what to do in the middle of the night,” “plants in bedroom benefits,” etc. Most of these have low search volume, but you can see how someone might find Casper through these queries. This is not a bad strategy, but it’s not one we would choose as a primary SEO strategy, and I don’t think it’s Casper’s real SEO strategy.
Casper is prioritizing decidedly non-sexy “intent to buy” queries like “queen mattress size” and “how often should I replace my mattress.” According to the SEMRush data, https://casper.com/mattress-size-comparison-guide/ generates more than 50% of Casper’s non-brand traffic.
While Casper’s mattress size page looks about as sexy as Rudy Giuliani,
(sorry) it’s SEO performance looks super sexy to me:
Casper.com Non-Brand Page One Keywords
I would argue Casper may be over-reliant on a small number of URLs to do their SEO work. If that mattress-size page gets displaced in the SERPs, I wonder what that would do to their business.
So when you are thinking about investing in sexy content, before you pull the trigger, make sure you know exactly what you want that content to do for you. If it’s for social media, brand-building, etc., make it as sexy as you possibly can. But if it’s for SEO, make sure it’s at least targeting some sexy search queries.