Our Take on Glossier’s Ad Strategy

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Recently we read this article that breaks down the Google Ads strategy of Glossier, and to say we were blown away by the insights would be a bit of an understatement.

Author and Founder of Store Growers Dennis Moons uncovers their campaign structure and breaks down every type of ad the company is running on Google. In the end, he was able to determine that Glossier makes $156k/mo in gross profit! Sounds crazy, right?

Well, Moons’ in-depth analysis got me thinking about how we’ve never actually discussed on the DM blog how intertwined SEO and paid traffic truly are. So while Glossier’s strategy and profit from Google Ads is impressive, it’s just as impressive that almost their entire search strategy is built around branded keywords…

*Note: “Branded keywords” means that someone is already aware of the brand when searching on Google. For example, someone who types in “DigitalMarketer certification” clearly already has an awareness of DigitalMarketer, so it would be considered a branded term. But someone who types in “digital marketing certification” doesn’t have a clear awareness of our brand, so that keyword would be non-branded.

It’s a bit of a controversial topic, but when you dive into the data, you can clearly see how much paid can affect organic traffic and rankings.

Ask me how I know… back when I worked as an SEO Manager at a tech company, the SEO team was breaking records left and right. We were doing so well, in fact, that the CMO told us he would buy us lunch at the restaurant of our choosing every time we broke another record. We were obviously thrilled (mostly because organic traffic was increasing WoW, so every week we were rolling out to another free lunch). Ya, I’d say we were sitting pretty.

The problem was that the paid advertising team was becoming more and more… let’s just say agitated (rightfully so, if we’re being honest). They knew that the work they were doing was actually affecting our numbers. So while paid search traffic wasn’t spiking to record-breaking levels, the ads they were running were causing organic traffic to spike. And the SEO team was raking in all the benefits.

In order to prove a point, one of the paid search team members decided to turn off their channel and stop running ads for 24 hours.

*Cue chaos*

Turning off any paid channel (even for a short period of time) at a large tech company can and will make a big impact. Organic traffic dropped almost immediately. And because our efforts to find any issues turned up fruitless, we were ready to believe we were hit by the latest Google algorithm update.

Alas, after our paid search counterpart let us scramble for long enough, they turned their channel back on… and almost immediately organic traffic was sent soaring once again.

Point proven.

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Of course, I don’t want to say that paid advertising completely controls organic search (my background is in SEO, after all), but it is a big contributing factor. And while SEO efforts are obviously important, when the strategy is functioning cohesively with paid search efforts, you can expedite results!

In the Glossier strategy, one thing Moons points out is that Glossier’s product line includes generic naming structures, making it easier for them to show up not just in organic search but also in Google Ads. This is a near genius marketing trick…

Yep. Nine out of 10 of their top keywords are branded. But it doesn’t particularly matter when your branded terms have monthly search volumes around 550,000. But all that brand awareness had to stem from somewhere… hmmm, I wonder if it came from an original strategy that generated organic traffic. 🤔

According to this Business Insider article, Emily Weiss, CEO and Founder of Glossier, actually started a blog back in 2010 called Into the Gloss. As a staffer at Vogue, the blog was built to discuss her experiences with the beauty brands because she felt they weren’t adequately representing women and their needs. She interviewed top celebrities and beauty brands, and the site quickly grew into a community of women discussing their experiences with makeup and the beauty industry.

The rest, of course, is history. Weiss received backing from Forerunner Capital and Glossier was born in 2014.

But the EXTREMELY important detail in this story is that Weiss organically built a blog to talk about an industry that she thought needed improvement. She had questions about the issues facing women, and her site became a sensation because other women resonated with her and had the same questions.

Take a look at the early years of Into the Gloss organic rankings:

At its peak, the blog was ranking for over 480k keywords! For context, DigitalMarketer’s all-time record is about 35k keywords. That is exponential organic growth that Weiss built, which then enabled her to launch Glossier.

Obviously, my favorite part of the Glossier story is that, even though it wasn’t calculated, the strategy used to launch into one of the biggest beauty brands is one that we’ve worked to implement at DM over the past few years.

I think one of our contributors Rachel Miller said it best, actually. “Content won’t matter if there isn’t a conversation to follow it.

That’s exactly what Weiss did. She built a brand around the conversations women were already having. In fact, if you look on Glossier’s About page, you’ll see that they actually still focus on this same idea:

Now, we’re building the future beauty company where everything we make starts with you. We create the products you tell us you wish existed. We believe in thoughtful design, and enabling conversation (which is where it all starts). But most of all, we believe that beauty is about having fun, wherever you are in your journey.

I think it’s clear that in order for the company to thrive, they needed both the organic and the paid strategies. And the same was true with DigitalMarketer. Back in 2018, when I started as the SEO Manager, this was one of the first graphs I sent to the team as I was auditing the site.

As you can see, it’s the correlation between paid spend and organic traffic from 2017 to the end of 2018. What was clear was that while we continued to decrease spend for paid Facebook and Google Ads, we were seeing a continued drop in organic traffic.

The solution for a situation like this isn’t necessarily to ramp up spend. The health of our organic traffic still needed help. Afterall, it’s a two-way street, both paid and organic need to function properly in order for one to help the other.

Our first step was building content for search that was going to generate conversations. We created pieces such as:

These are just a few of the posts we built around questions and conversations we saw marketers already having. And all of these posts did extremely well because we knew that they were topics our audience actually cared about.

Once we felt confident in our organic search strategy, we then knew it was the right time to start increasing spend on our paid channels.

Our paid strategy across Facebook and Google was also carefully planned. We built ads for different awareness buckets so that we could continue conversations with prospective customers throughout different stages in the funnel.

This meant that some of our ads would drive to the types of content we discussed above, while other ads were driving to lead magnets for those further along in the customer journey. The whole idea was that while we could optimize for organic, we still needed the paid search aspect to allow our strategy go above and beyond.

Glossier did the same thing. While it’s clear that their focus isn’t so much on the organic side of things anymore, it really doesn’t have to be.

As a marketer, you’ll find that as you start to build out your own strategies, once you hit specific goals, efforts are better spent in other areas… like Google Ads that generate $156k in profit every month! That’s not to say some channels aren’t important, it’s just saying that there is a time and place for every marketing strategy.

*Note: I do want to mention that it would obviously still be beneficial for Glossier to focus on organic search. While the brand awareness is there, there is clear opportunity in those unbranded searches. 😉

So yes, while Google Ads are a big part of Glossier’s story, organic search was also a huge contributor, and to be successful, you will need to implement both a paid and an organic strategy, and leveraging the two in unison can help your business grow to new heights!

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