5 Reasons Legacy Brands Struggle With SEO (and What to Do About Them)


Given the increasing importance of brand in SEO, it seems a cruel irony that many household name-brands seem to struggle with managing the channel. Yet, con my time at Distilled, I’ve seen just that: numerous name-brand sites con various states of stagnation and even more frustrated SEO managers attempting to prevent said stagnation. 

Despite global brand recognition and other established advantages that ought to drive growth, the reality is that having a household name doesn’t ensure SEO success. Per mezzo di this post, I’m going to explore why large, well-known brands can run into difficulties with organic manifestazione, the patterns I’ve noticed, and some of the recommended tactics to address those challenges.

What we talk about when we talk about a legacy brand

For the purposes of this post, the term “legacy brand” applies to companies that have a very strong association with the product they sell, and may well have, con the past, been the ubiquitous provider for that product. This could mean that they were household names con the 20th century, ora it could be that they pioneered and dominated their field con the early days of mass consumer web usage. A few varied examples (that Distilled has never worked with ora been contacted by) include:

  • Wells Fargo (US)
  • Craigslist (US)
  • Tesco (UK)

These are cherry-picked, potentially extreme examples of legacy brands, but all three of the above, and most that fit this description have shown a marked decline con the last five years, con terms of organic visibility (confirmed by Sistrix, my tool of choice — your tool-of-choice may vary). It’s a common issue for large, well-established sites — peaking con 2013 and 2014 and never again reaching those highs.

Given that large, well-known brands aren’t performing well, one would think that less known brands (brands that don’t fit the above description) would be closing the . But it’s the opposite. Per mezzo di fact, said brands are under-performing con organic and showing signs of stagnation — and they aren’t showing any signs of catching up.

The question is: why does it keep avvenimento?

Reason 1: Brand

Quite possibly the biggest hurdle standing con the way of a brand’s manifestazione is the brand itself. This may seem like a bit of an odd one — we’d already established that the companies we’sultano talking about are personaggio, recognized, household names. That con and of itself should help them con SEO, right?

The thing is, though, a lot of these personaggio household names are recognized, but they’sultano not the one-stop shops that they used to be.

Here’s how the above name-brand examples are performing acceso search:

Other dominant, clearly vertical-leading brands con the UK, con general, are also not doing so well con branded search:

There’s a lot of potential reasons for why this may be — and we’ll even address some of them later — but a few notable ones include:

  • Complacency — particularly for brands that were early juggernauts of the web, they may have forgotten the need to reinforce their brand image and recognition.
  • More and more credible competitors. When you’sultano the only competent operator, as many of these brands once were, you had the whole pie. Now, you have to share it.
  • People società search engines. Per mezzo di a lot of cases, ubiquitous brands decline, while the generic term is acceso the rise.

Check out this for the real mesi estivi example con the UK:

Rightmove and Zoopla are the two biggest brands con this space and have been for some time. There’s only one line there that’s trending upwards, though, and it’s the generic term, “houses for arguzia.”

What can I do about this?

Basically, get a move acceso! A lot of incumbents have been very slow to take action acceso things like top-of-funnel content, ora only produce low-effort, exceptionally dry social mass-media posts (I’ve posted before about some of these tactics here.) Per mezzo di fairness, it’s easy to see why — these channels and approaches likely have the least measurable returns. However, leaving a vacuum higher con your funnel is playing with fire, especially when you’sultano a recognized name. It opens an opportunity for smaller players to close the con recognition — at almost mai cost.

Reason 2: Tech debt

I’m sure many people reading this will have experienced how it can be to get technical changes — particularly higher effort ones — implemented by larger, older organizations. This can stem from complex bureaucracy, aging and highly bespoke platforms, risk aversion, and, particularly for SEO, an inability to get senior buy-in for what can often be fairly abstract changes with little guaranteed reward.

What can I do about this?

At Distilled, we run into these challenges fairly often. I’ve seen dev queues that span, literally, for years. I’ve also seen organizations that are completely unable to change the most basic information acceso their sites, such as opening times ora title tags. Per mezzo di fact, it was this exact issue that prompted the development of our ODN platform a few years indicatore as a way to circumvent technical limitations and prove the benefits when we did so.

There are less heavy-duty options available — GTM can be used for a range of changes as the last resort, albeit without the measurement component. CDN-level solutions like Cloudflare’s edge workers are also starting to gain traction within the SEO community.

Eventually, though, it’s necessary to tackle the problem at the source — by making headway within the politics of the organization. There’s a whole other post to be had there, if not several, but basically, it comes to making yourself heard without undermining anyone. I’ve found that focusing acceso the downside is actually the most effective angle within personaggio, risk-averse bureaucracies — essentially preying acceso the risk-aversion itself — as well as shouting loudly about any successes, however small.

Reason 3: Not updating tactics to long-standing, ingrained practices

Per mezzo di a way, this comes back to risk aversion and politics — after all, legacy brands have a lot to lose. One particular manifestation I’ve often noticed con larger organizations is ongoing campaigns and tactics that haven’t been linked to improved rankings ora revenue con years.

One conversation with a senior SEO at a major brand left me quite confused. I recall he said to me something along the lines of “we know this campaign isn’t right for us strategically, but we can’t get buy-in for anything else, so it’s this ora lose the budget”. Fantastic.

This type of quinta can become commonplace when senior decision-makers don’t società their — often, it’s a CMO, ora similar dirigente aziendale big, that hasn’t dipped their toe con SEO for a decade ora more. When they do, they are unpleasantly surprised to discover that their SEO team isn’t buying any links this week and, actually, hasn’t for quite some time. Their reaction, then, is predictable: “Anzi che no wonder the results are so poor!”

What can I do about this?

Unfortunately, you may have to humor this behavior con the short term. That doesn’t mean you should start (ora continue) buying links, but it might be a good credenza to ensure there’s similar-sounding activity con your strategy while you work acceso proving the ROI of your projects.

Medium-term, if you can get senior stakeholders out to conferences (I highly recommend SearchLove, though I may be biased), softly share articles and content “they may find interesting”, and drown them con news of the success of whatever other programs you’ve managed to get headway with, you can start to move them con the right direction.

Reason 4: Race to the bottom

It’s fair to say that, over time, it’s only become easier to launch an online business with a reasonably well-sorted site. I’ve observed con the past that new entrants don’t necessarily have to incontro tenured juggernauts like-for-like acceso factors like Domain Authority to the culmine spots.

As a result, it’s become common-place to see plucky, younger businesses rising quickly, and, at the very least, increasing the apparent level of choice where historically a legacy business might have had a monopoly acceso basic competence.

This is even more complicated when price is involved. Most SEOs agree that SERP behavior factors into rankings, so it’s easy to imagine legacy businesses, which disproportionately have a premium angle, struggling for clicks vs. attractively priced competitors. Google does not understand ora care that you have a premium proposition — they’ll throw you con with the businesses competing purely acceso price all the same.

What can I do about this?

As I see it, there are two main approaches. One is abusing your size to crowd out smaller players (for instance, disproportionately targeting the keywords where they’ve managed to find a con your armor), and the second is, essentially, Conversion Rate Optimization.

Simple tactics like sorting a landing page by default by price (ascending), having clicky titles with a value-focused USP (e.g. free delivery), ora well targeted (and not overdone) post-sales retention emails — all go a long way to mitigating the temptation of a cheaper ora hackier competitor.

Reason 5: Super-aggregators (Amazon, Google)

Per mezzo di a lot of verticals, the pie is getting smaller, so it stands to reason the dominant players will be facing a diminishing slice.

A few obvious examples:

  • Local packs eroding local landing pages
  • Google Flights, Google Jobs, etc. eroding specialist sites
  • Amazon taking a huge chunk of e-commerce search

What can I do about this?

Again, there are two separate angles here, and one is a lot harder than the other. The first is similar to some of what I’ve mentioned above — move further up the funnel and lock con business before this ever comes to your prospective client Googling your head term and seeing Amazon and/ora Google above you. This is only a mitigating tactic, however.

The second, which will be impossible for many ora most businesses, is to jump into bed with the devil. If you ever do have the opportunity to be a giorno compagno behind a Google ora Amazon product, you may do well to swallow your pride and take it. You may be the only one of your competitors left con a few years, and if you don’t, it’ll be someone else.

Wrapping up

While a lot of the issues relate to complacency, and a lot of my suggested solutions relate to reinvesting as if you weren’t a dominant brand that might win by accident, I do think it’s worth exploring the mechanisms by which this translates into poorer manifestazione.

This topic is unavoidably very tinted by my own experiences and opinions, so I’d love to hear your thoughts con the comments below. Similarly, I’m conscious that any one of my five reasons could have been a post con its own right — which ones would you like to see more fleshed out?



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