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Lightbox Search Identifies Foul Google Search Results for Fowl Manufacturer Butterball

Analysis of five popular turkey brands reveals a Thanksgiving mess, according to research firm Lightbox.

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November 24, 2021

Editor's note: The following from Lightbox Search serves as a cautionary tale.

NEW YORK — Tens of millions of Americans will cross over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house for the cherished turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Our venerable holiday tradition will be busier than ever after Covid threw a (turkey?) wrench into plans last year. Now, online searches will no doubt be the first step for many of those millions to find what fowl to put on their dinner tables on Thursday.

The least favorite time of year for turkeys is when many of us pick up this year's bird ahead of the annual feast. First-time turkey cooks, as well as price checkers and recipe seekers, will no doubt consult the world's greatest authority and largest wealth of information — you guessed it — Google.

"These folks piqued our curiosity at Lightbox Search," said Jesse Jacobs, chief technology officer of the tech platform. "We spent the past week monitoring five of the most popular brands of turkeys with our breakthrough tech platform and discovered there were four lukewarm winners, and one cold loser."

"Our subjects were Jennie-O, Perdue, Honeysuckle, Shady Brook and Butterball. Using Lightbox Search, we ran an automated monitoring campaign that analyzed each brand's daily page one of Google," Jacobs pointed out.

Fueled by an enhanced artificial intelligence system, Lightbox Search analyzes Google content for sentiment, website type (such as e-commerce or review) and SEO strength. Simultaneously, Lightbox Search aggregates critical audience insights such as related keywords, advertising costs and monthly search volume. This information is saved as an interactive report that is automatically benchmarked along historical charts for easy tracking.

The results for Jennie-O, Perdue, Honeysuckle and Shady Brook Farms were all "clean." That means no negative stories appeared on page one of Google. But none of these companies "owned" many of their high-ranking results for branded queries. Instead, most results were shopping pages on e-commerce sites selling turkey. While typically an ideal scenario that makes it easy for searchers to find and buy turkey, poor control of page one content makes it harder to withstand a crisis.

Management of their search results is a lesson Butterball's communications department and agencies probably are not thankful to learn this holiday season.

Over the course of a week, Lightbox Search captured multiple negative news stories with high search engine visibility that appeared for Butterball:

  • A Nov. 16 article from CNN Business, "Butterball is recalling more than 14,000 pounds of turkey," first published on Nov. 14 lands on page one in position 10. In this time, the story has been linked to at least 250 times. By the next day, this story has dropped from page one. As of Nov. 23 this result lurks in position 15 on page two of search and has gained 18 new backlinks.
  • On Nov. 16, a video news story from CNN, "Butterball turkey shortage could leave Thanksgiving a dish short," enters Google Top Stories in position two. This story stays in position two until Nov. 18, when it has been pushed out by new news and positive PR released by Butterball.
  • On Nov. 18, a news release from the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), first released on Nov. 13, lands in position six of Google search results for Butterball. The release, "Butterball, LLC Recalls Ground Turkey Products Due to Possible Foreign Matter Contamination," had been linked to many times. In position six, this result will be visible on page one across all desktop, tablet and mobile devices and command 10% to 15% of clicks. Further, as "organic content" it will have more staying power than temporarily injected Google News stories and garner more attention overtime. This is evident by its 2,626 backlinks at its point of capture. On Nov. 22, in an article from the San Antonio Express, "San Antonio woman alleges she ate glass shards in Butterball turkey sausage," enters Google Top News Stories.

The USDA FSIS result remains on page one of Google Search in position eight and has been linked to an additional 40 times since first captured by Lightbox Search.

So what could Butterball do better? Though it already owns three of the top four results, much of the page is controlled by third-parties.

Its corporate site, butterball.com, does appear first, as it should. Of course, that's a great positive. Butterballfoodservice.com also ranks highly, though that's geared towards restaurants and operators of food service cafeterias. Not necessarily a positive for Thanksgiving, but it maintains Butterball's food expertise.

"Is there anything Butterball can even do to improve its results?" asked Laurence Moskowitz, chief executive of Lightbox Search. "The answer is a resounding yes. Butterball does very well with its Facebook page, but by and large its social media presence does not translate into powerful search results."

Butterball's popular Facebook page ranks in position three as of Nov. 13, but its other channels such as LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram are harder to find on pages two and three. With optimization and backlink building these results could rank higher and potentially push the negative USDA release off of page one and on to page two where few will ever see it.

A more creative and perhaps more powerful opportunity would be to utilize Butterball's famous "Turkey Talk-Line," its 800-phone line that attracts tens of thousands of caller queries per year. Such an asset could easily be showcased with its own website and social media accounts — all which have the potential to outrank negative news if properly built and maintained.

Let this also serves as a cautionary tale for Butterball's competitors. To safeguard your search results, work your own content and own your own content. A higher percentage of page one ownership leaves less chance for negative news to take hold allowing you to really kick the stuffing out of your search results and leave your customers yammering for more.