Old school best practices for writing brand marketing copy have included the omission of terms that may reflect poorly on a company, including the term "cheap" to describe a product or service.
But is this practical in the world of SEO? In these seemingly dire economic times, search volume for phrases that include the term "cheap" has spiked. In an iMedia article published last May, Craig Macdonald at Covario cited comScore research (from December 2007) indicating the search phrase "cheap airfare" alone is worth about $8 million.
According to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, the average monthly search volume for the phrase "cheap insurance" typically amounts to 673,000 queries. Last month, the number of queries for this term rocketed to 2.7 million. Likewise, the average monthly search volume for the phrase "cheap car" is traditionally about 1 million queries. Last month, the volume exceeded 3.3 million.
So, as you consider incorporating adjectives such as "affordable," "budget," "inexpensive," "low-cost," and "thrifty" into your SEO strategies, consider this: There is a growing number of brands weaving the keyword "cheap" into their on-page SEO elements. (Many are even incorporating this term into their marketing copy!)
Let's take a look at some of the brands that are capitalizing on the word "cheap" in their SEO strategies. Could your organization benefit from giving this previously taboo word some renewed consideration?
Take a look at this Google search results page for "cheap hotels."
The phrase "cheap hotels" is an extremely competitive keyword set, and Red Roof Inn is the only budget-conscious lodging brand that appears in a sea of aggregators. Kudos to Red Roof CEO Joe Wheeling and digital agency 360i for applying common sense. After just a few weeks of becoming the digital agency of record for Red Roof Inn, the title tag for the company's home page went from this:
Red Roof Inn
RedRoof Inn | Cheap Hotels - Discount Hotels - Hotel Reservations - Hotel Rooms
Viewing the page source, we can see that Red Roof Inn is utilizing the term "cheap" in the title tag and description tag:
<title>Red Roof Inn | Cheap Hotels - Discount Hotels - Hotel Reservations - Hotel Rooms</title>
<meta name="Description" content="Red Roof Inn offers cheap, comfortable hotel rooms at discount rates. Book your Red Roof Inn reservations online or call 1-800-REDROOF" />
In short, by embracing the word "cheap," Red Roof Inn has increased its chances of connecting with consumers who are searching for low-cost travel accommodations.
"Cheap" car rentals
As with hotels, competition for the keyword set "cheap rental car" is thick. As you can see on the below screenshot, the first ad displayed for this term, by aggregator CarRentals.com, offers daily rentals for seven major car rental brands as low as $8.98 a day. When I searched the company's database for the cheapest advertised rates on its homepage, the touted deal turned out to be a sham.
For example, the company's homepage boasts a daily rate of $7.43 at LAX from Feb. 28 to March 14. When I searched for the cheapest rate within the dates advertised, the lowest rate offered was $26 per day on a weekly rental through Deluxe Rent A Car. The same held true for every special offer I searched. Regardless, this bait-and-switch tactic may convert a fair amount of business for CarRentals.com because the customer is already on its website and just wants to book a reservation without further delay or frustration.
One brand that has no qualms about positioning itself for the "cheap car rental" niche is Fox Car Rental. Fox Car Rental uses its title tags, description tags, keyword tags, and homepage marketing copy to optimize for "cheap car rental," "cheap car rentals," and "cheap car rental rates."
Here's the Google search results page for "cheap car rental."
On its homepage, Fox Car Rental advertises a low rate of $12 per day in Phoenix, March 17 through March 20, and it comes through with the offer, available for both compact and economy models.
Moving on to "cheap airfare," who comes to mind? I think of Southwest Airlines, Air Tran Airways, and Frontier Airlines. However, I found only one brand ranking on the first page of Google for the term "cheap airfare" -- Spirit Airlines. The company optimizes its homepage for "cheap tickets," "cheap flights," "discount airfare," "cheap hotels," "cheap car rentals," and "cheap travel."
Ironically, the unlikely airline brand to feature the best on-page optimization for frequently searched keyword sets that contain the term "cheap" is American Airlines. Strategically, this is a great move.
This AA.com page is optimized for "cheap flights," "cheap travel deals," and "cheap air fare." The company increases the thematic relevance (a Google best practice) by weaving in synonymous text in the marketing copy such as "sales," "deals," "values," "discounts," and "special offers." The Google terminology for how synonyms affect the search engine results of web pages is called "latent semantic indexing," and Jeffrey Smith of SEO Design Solutions reveals a sweet little tactic to identify synonyms in the eyes of Google in this blog post.
Despite all this effort, AA.com drops the ball by serving pages with dynamic URLs, thereby preventing them from ranking in Google. I can't stress enough to brand marketers and virtual IT techs how important it is to rewrite dynamic URLs to appear static to the search engine robots. Search-engine-friendly URLs will make or break your search engine rankings, and AA.com fails to rewrite the URLs for its JavaServer Pages (JSP).
One other note here: AA.com's audience searches for "airfare," not "air fare."
A "cheap" trick
When it comes to optimizing for the term "cheap," I have one more example that I would describe as a "trick" tactic. Let's take a look at the results in Google for the search "cheap hotels Phoenix."
The results for the geo-targeted keyword set "cheap hotels Phoenix" reveals a sneaky (i.e., deceiving) tactic employed by "Palmer Lux Hotel."
The people behind this site created a Google Maps business listing with the name Cheap Hotels Phoenix. Hmmm. I live in Phoenix and have never heard of this little gem, so I decided to check out the details.
As it turns out, the hotel does not exist. It is a "cheap trick" to generate hotel searches for the aggregator Hotelscombined.com. Here is the fine print:
"This Web site, its domain and all photos and images within the site do NOT represent an actual hotel. The purpose of this site is to provide the user with the lowest hotel rates from across top travel sites aggregated from www.HotelsCombined.com."
With so much competition in the travel industry, we will continue to see more brands optimize their services for the term "cheap." Does this -- as many marketers have traditionally argued -- damage brand perception and curb profitability? In this economic climate, high search volumes for phrases that include the term "cheap" might indicate otherwise.
Tom Crandall is the author of SEM Report Card and CEO of Ayohwahr Interactive.
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