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Olympic sponsors are SEO far from a photo finish.

The author

Heather Millar

Marketing Executive

Do Olympic events still conjure images of dedicated athletes or do they instead provoke thoughts of the multi-billion pound bidding wars between global corporations for the prize of associating their brands with the 'spirit of the games'? With companies prepared to pay such tremendous amounts for this privilege, exclusive monopoly rights are an essential part of the sponsorship deals that have been signed with Olympic partners, supporters and providers. As the games begin, Epiphany investigated which brands are making the most of their highly-prized 'official status' to improve their online brand visibility, and the results were quite shocking. <strong>Only nine out of the 51</strong> Olympic sponsors showed up in the results.

Do Olympic events still conjure images of dedicated athletes or do they instead provoke thoughts of the multi-billion pound bidding wars between global corporations for the prize of associating their brands with the 'spirit of the games'? With companies prepared to pay such tremendous amounts for this privilege, exclusive monopoly rights are an essential part of the sponsorship deals that have been signed with Olympic partners, supporters and providers. As the games begin, Epiphany investigated which brands are making the most of their highly-prized 'official status' to improve their online brand visibility, and the results were quite shocking. Only nine out of the 51 Olympic sponsors showed up in the results. Epiphany ran searches to see who was appearing in the top SERPs by looking at the results of eight different Olympic related search terms: 'Olympics', 'Olympics 2012', 'London 2012', 'London Olympics 2012', 'Olympics 2012 Tickets', 'Olympics 2012 Schedule', 'Olympic 2012 facts' and 'Team GB'. Here you can see a List of official brands, to show who had secured official titles for the event:

Worldwide Olympic Partners:

Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos, DOW, McDonalds, General Electric, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung, Visa

London 2012 Olympic Partners:

Adidas, BMW, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF, Lloyds TSB

London 2012 Olympic Supporters:

Adecco, Arcelor Mittal, Cadbury, Cisco, Deloitte, Thomas Cook, UPS

London 2012 Olympics Providers and Suppliers:

Aggreko, Airwave, Atkins, The Boston Consulting Group, CBS Outdoor, Crystal CG, Eurostar, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, G4S, GlaxoSmithKline, Gymnova, Heathrow Airport, Heineken UK, Holiday Inn, John Lewis, McCann Worldgroup, Mondo, Nature Valley, Next, Nielsen, Populous, Rapiscan Systems, Rio Tinto, Technogym, Thames Water, Ticketmaster, Trebor

The brand names in bold italics within the list above indicate those who showed up within the first three SERPs - only nine out of 51 - less than 18 per cent of the official sponsoring brands are utilising the opportunity of their affiliation with this huge event to improve their online visibility.

This breaks down as only three brands from each of the worldwide partners, UK partners and UK sponsors respectively having visibility within Google.

Of the nine brands that were discovered to have some level of visibility, eight of them only appear organically on one or two of the keywords. The only brand which appeared on more terms was Cadbury, who had visibility across four of the key phrases. While search volumes across the selected key phrases vary a lot, the collective search volume available in just these sample keywords totals 508,500 searches per month in the UK alone. If a brand was theoretically sat in first position, they could expect to receive anywhere in the region of 70,000 to 80,000 visits each month from these terms alone. As an estimate of the totality of Olympic related search queries made in the UK in the lead up to the Games, there looks to be around two million made per month in the UK and over five million made globally (discounting any foreign translations of terms). This goes to help highlight the sheer volume of organic search traffic available both before and during the Olympic Games that currently all of the official brands are not capitalised on.

It is well known that achieving higher rankings in the SERPs is beneficial to brands in many ways. Not only does it increase awareness and visibility of the brand to audiences who are using relevant search terms to the company offerings, but top positions are a huge source of traffic to landing pages - aka more potential customers. Understandably so, ranking highly for relevant search terms is incredibly desirable.

Having the advantage of being an official sponsor to a globally-recognised event is something that should be capitalised upon, ensuring that whenever anyone searches for the event, the brand is right there, developing associations between it and their own values. In this case the brand should be aiming for its offerings to be connected with the 'spirit of the games' and associated prestige of the iconic event. This is where SEO can be used as a traditional PR tool, instilling relationships to its brand, rather than directly driving traffic and revenue. For global sportswear companies, the Olympics represent a unique opportunity of a sporting-focused event before a worldwide audience. It is believed that Adidas spent around £100 million to be the official sportswear partner of the London 2012 Olympics and to sponsor Team GB, in an attempt to become the number one UK sportswear brand. However, they didn't make a single appearance in any of the searches made. Even for what is expected to be their key search term - 'Team GB' - they didn't show up until page seven, with the first mention being a Facebook photo album of the official Adidas Olympics kit. As you can see by the meta description below, the album has attracted plenty of comments, though mostly negative. The impact of this would be far from ideal, considering the cost of sponsorship: To maximise on their brand sponsorship of the Olympics within organic search results, companies should have ideally begun an SEO strategy back at the start of 2011 to maximise on the increased search volume now seen as the Olympics are underway. Looking at Google Trends, search interest in the London Olympics first spiked when tickets went on sale in April and then began increasing continually through to the start of the Games. A handful of companies did start their Olympic campaigns early, Cadbury’s Spots v Stripes being the main example, and even though there was no real SEO direction behind the campaigns, it is these brands that are reaping some of the rewards today with greater visibility in organic search. To have really maximised on this increased search volume around Olympic terms the sponsors needed to have not only started a campaign early but also ensured it was seeded effectively to the online media, interacted with some of the biggest online influencers, enabled the public to get involved and share content around the web and most importantly created an Olympic hub on their own website. This final step of creating Olympic related content on their own websites is one of the biggest downfalls of all of the sponsors. Being an official sponsor of the Games and partaking in loads of off-line activity is great, however unless they replicate this on their website, Google has nothing to rank in its search results. Cadbury had the most appearances within these searches, showing up within a couple of them with their 'Spots v Stripes' and 'Unwrap Gold' campaigns, both including Olympic-focused content and news about their activities across the country. The translation of off-line activity to on-line activity is key.
(Results of the searches: appendix)