Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Why Virgin Should Rule the Search World.

It is no secret that a fundamental part of achieving good placements in the organic search results in Google is to acquire good inbound links from friendly neighbourhoods.

For brands operating in multiple sectors, with different sub brands and divisions, this creates an interesting dilemma. Traditionally these subdivisions operate independently from one another and incentivised at a corporate level to compete for profitability, resource and budgets.

Virgin is one of the most noted global brands with these characteristics. The brand is globally recognised but there is little evidence of cohesion between the various subdivisions. Whilst this strategy may be effective at driving profitability, it is not helpful to the respective search marketing efforts of Virgin's sub brands.

One of the best tools for gaining a visual understanding of your relative neighbourhood is touchgraph. Below is their visual representation of the network.

Virgin clearly operates a hierarchical approach with in the centre and all other sub-brands linking back to the main site. I would hazard a guess that search marketing strategy is not managed at corporate level and there is nobody at Virgin that is overseeing the overall strategy for the group.

Some organisations that operate multiple brands do not want any association between the various brands. Examples would be Unilever that does not associate many of it's varied FMCG brands. Each of their brands has their own personality and I would imagine that there is no relationship between users of Lynx deodorant and Persil washing powder.

Virgin, however, use the same brand across the complete variety of products it offers. It would not be strange for a customer to see a Virgin Money link within the footer of the Virgin holidays site, especially as they cross-sell via offline marketing activity.

A more effective method would be to mesh the individual sites to create a network that is interlinked on multiple levels. Teletext have improved the organic search engine positions of many of their subdivisions by linking different brands within the Teletext family together. For example, features links to Teletext holidays in the footer of every page it's site. Whilst we all know that footer links are not as valuable as real contextual links, a small amount of value is passed for EVERY page of to Teletext Holidays. This results in a far tighter network:

Another question would be why an entrepreneur such as Sir Richard Branson has not been more involved in the online world, considering the potential for revenue generation.

Virgin sold The Trainline back in 2006 to a private equity group for good price of £131M. This was the first and best method of checking train times online and had a large and loyal user base. The growth of this user base dipped once National Rail launched their service but it remained a significant user base that the online startups of today would be very jealous of. By monetising this user base through selling train tickets, cross-selling into products and advertising, the trainline could have generated significant revenues for little cost. Private equity groups rarely acquire organisations unless they believe they stand to make long term profit.

The apparent lack of interest or cohesive search marketing strategy is good news for companies operating in the same sector as Virgin subdivsions. We can achieve relatively good search rankings without being overly concerned with the sleeping giant. However, when this giant wakes up there is significant potential for the Virgin brand to dominate the SERP's in any industry it chooses.

1 comment:

Michelle B said...


I am doing some research on sub brands and I came across your article. I was wondering if you could point me to the direction of where you found this image (of all the virgin brands linking to each other)... or if you had a higher quality version of this so you can see clearly what brands are in the image. I would greatly appreciate it!

Thank you.