The Sweet Smell of Sunscreen

Sun protection

I can always tell summer is coming by the way New York City smells.  There is nothing quite like ‘eau de Hot NY’ – walking outside you are immediately hit with top notes of black garbage bags soaking up summer heat and stagnant disease-festering water that evolves in the subway to expose a ripe middle of sweaty bodies and unwashed feet.  As your nose becomes accustomed to this assault however, you start to notice base notes of a more pleasant sort, evoking childhood memories of easier times, when summer did not stand for uncomfortable commutes and a feeling that half the world forgets to put on deodorant – I’m talking, of course, about sunscreen!

Interested in sniffing out some digital insight behind a seasonal staple, I went over to to see how sunscreen brands would rank online for a generic search of the word “sunscreen.”

uvs to popular sunscreen sites

I chose Coppertone and BullFrog due to their similarities – both control a similar share of traffic generated from a broad match for keyword “sunscreen;” – as well as their differences – Coppertone relies mainly on paid traffic, while BullFrog relies on natural referrals.

daily keyword destinations for sunscreen

I wondered – what accounted for the differences between paid and natural search between two similar brands for the same exact keyword?  Let’s take a look…

Coppertone actually ranks very highly for the generic keyword “sunscreen,” showing up on the first page of a Google search, yet still opts to utilize paid search for their search referral volume.  Why?

We can see that only 21.5% of Coppertone’s search referral volume comes from search phrases containing the word “sunscreen.”  This indicates that when consumers are searching for Coppertone they are likely searching by brand name only, as “Coppertone” is a fairly distinct moniker.  By buying paid advertising for the generic keyword “sunscreen,” Coppertone may be looking to capture a portion of consumers who are not searching for Coppertone by brand.  Paid advertising puts them at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs), and therefore makes Coppertone the first brand consumers see.

BullFrog manufactures specialty mosquito-repelling sunscreen, and is a smaller, less widely-known brand when compared to Coppertone.  Because the brand name “BullFrog” is generic in itself, the majority of consumers searching for the BullFrog brand do so using “Bullfrog Sunscreen” or some variation – as can be seen by the 75% share of search referrals to containing the keyword “Sunscreen.”

BullFrog does not seem to be ranking higher than Coppertone for “sunscreen” in the SERPs; the high percentage of natural search traffic appears to come from the generic nature of their brand name, which demands consumers search with specific keywords rather than the brand name by itself.


When comparing site statistics, keep in mind that each brand will have its own unique “footprint” due to company specifics – not every difference is due to the complexities of SEO strategy and search algorithms!