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Roomba Cleans Up With Search Engine Marketing

New Strategy Made It the 7th Most-Searched Brand on Google

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As the final statistics settle out of December's frenzied shopping season numbers, one of the marketers that appears to have made particularly effective use of search engine advertising is iRobot of Burlington, Mass., maker of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.

A campaign of integrated TV, radio and Web elements made Roomba the 7th most-searched brand name on Google.

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The company, which employs 150, was until recently best known as an robotics shop building battlefield devices for the Pentagon. Its military crawlers search out land mines and explore hostile terrain in Iraq, and squads of its video camera PakBots were used by the U.S. forces in the 2001 assault on Al Qaeda's Tora Bora cave complexes in Afghanistan.

In 2002, iRobot's new consumer division released the first model of the Roomba, a self-directed, room crawling vacuum cleaner that cleans floors and rugs and then returns, unaided, to its battery-pack station until needed again.

Unsuccessful first attempts
In 2003, the marketer purchased a small quantity of search engine keywords on Overture and Google, but the campaigns were not effective, said Nancy Dussault, director of product marketing at iRobot. Over the next year, much as it does with its robotic products, the company studied the problem and refined its marketing techniques for 2004.

The end result was that Roomba soared to the top of Google's list of most-popular brand names searched in 2004. It placed No. 7 behind Louis Vuitton, Nikon and Tiffany, with the bulk of its traffic coming in during the crucial holiday selling season.

11,000 a day
While iRobot said it experienced a 100% increase in sales this season, it would not release its sales or Web site traffic numbers for the Roomba. However, an executive close to the campaign said that during the holiday season, as many as 11,000 Google searches a day were being done on Roomba's various search terms.

The 2004 Roomba promotions were supported by a tightly integrated advertising program including heavy TV and radio ads supported by an in-depth product Web site and a much broader search term effort. Roomba was a new concept whose novelty had the potential to generate widespread word of mouth. The company knew that the TV and radio ads would drive large numbers of consumers online to research the product before they spent $250 for it at Amazon.com or irobot.com or in retail outlets such as Sears, Home Depot or Hammacher Schlemmer.

Keywords that make sense
"We tried to remain consistent in our branding campaign and then followed it up with keyword search marketing," Ms. Dussault said. "You have to buy the keywords that really make sense."

Target groups included high-income women over 35 who are thought to be "cleaning enthusiasts" and consumers who are "cleaning-challenged" by disabling conditions such as arthritis.

The second time around the company bought about 100 search engine keywords and phrases that included common misspellings of the brand, such as "romba," "rhumba," "irobot" and "eyerobot."

That tactic narrowed the target, said Tom Dugan, president of search agency NewGate Internet, which handled Roomba search marketing for Hammacher Schlemmer. "The term 'vacuum cleaner' is a very high-trafficked phrase," he said. "We recommend more specific phrases that will drive sales, like 'robot vacuum cleaners.' "

Variations of products's description
Another keyword tactic iRobot used was to purchase different variations of the product description. This is smart marketing, particularly for consumer electronics or technology companies that are so intimately familiar with what they produce that more pedestrian words or phrases don't occur to them, said Mr. Dugan.

"Just because we call it a robotic vacuum doesn't mean everybody does," Ms. Dussault admitted.

Keyword optimization by agencies such as NewGate also boosted Roomba's online visibility.

Not always good to be No. 1
"We had a lot of good placement related to 'iRobot' and 'Roomba,'" Mr. Dugan said. Good placement, by the way, doesn't always mean the No. 1 position on the search results page. Consumers who have become more sophisticated about search engines sometimes believe the top spot has gone to whatever marketer spent the most to secure it, he cautioned. "Many times the lower positions are less expensive and deliver the same or better ROI [return on investment]."

A major factor in Roomba's success for holiday 2004 is that iRobot checked in daily with Endai, the online marketing company that handled its search efforts. "We had constant feedback and reporting," Ms. Dussault said.

That's important because search terms and placement are each mini-campaigns that can change from day to day or even hour to hour. "We are constantly altering strategies according to factors that are discussed," Mr. Dugan said.

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