The cardinal rule of green marketing: walk your talk

It’s not easy being a green marketing manager. If you’re tasked with attracting potential customers to your socially and environmentally responsible company’s website, what do you call your product or service? Green? Sustainable? Eco-friendly?

Let's assume, of course, that your company really, truly, honestly provides a product or service that is good for the environment and the community. No greenwashers allowed. So how do you convey that in a way consumers will understand and feel good about?

More to the point, how do you grab the prospect’s attention and interest when putting together your organization’s search engine advertising, organic keyword strategy and content for inbound marketing?

Those questions also intrigued energy and environment-focused marketing communications agency The Shelton Group. Its recently released free report, “Green Buzzwords, the online search edition,” looks at the most popular search terms Americans use when checking out environmentally benign or beneficial products and services. Their report reviews usage trends and makes recommendations on how to use the terms.

Green is good

According to Shelton, the top three keyword search terms for green marketing are “green,” “sustainable,” and “eco-friendly.”

  • Green. In an earlier report from 2015, “The Buzz on Buzzwords,” Shelton ranked “green” the highest in desirability with consumers. Most folks consider green important, positive, good for personal health and easily understood. The term continues to grab a high number of searches. Shelton recommends using the word throughout your online sustainability story—as long as it accurately fits your operation. And I second that motion. Pair it with a relevant and specific identifier such as energy or home. That will avoid competing with general searches for green in such things as green beans, green tea and green plants.
  • Sustainable. This popular green buzzword, while scoring second to “green” in Shelton’s The Buzz on Buzzwords, still is considered desirable by a majority. But it doesn’t get nearly the number of searches—18,100 per month on average, compared with green’s 110,000 per month. A more popular search term is “sustainability,” which garners almost 50,000 monthly U.S. searches. Still, an advantage of sustainable and sustainability over green is its more specific meaning. The term “… has a narrower definition and enjoys relatively low amounts of competition online, making it a better target keyword for your SEO and SEM efforts,” the report says.
  • Eco-friendly. Not my favorite green buzzword because of its overly broad meaning that can lend itself to greenwashing, “eco-friendly” nevertheless scores high in desirability with consumers. Despite its highly positive perception by consumers, “eco-friendly” paradoxically gets the least amount of search traffic. I put eco-friendly in the same box as “all-natural.” It’s just too easy for greenwashers to exploit and devalue these ambiguous terms (e.g., If chicken’s not all natural, what is it?)
SEO search terms green marketing
SEO search terms green marketing

Green marketing demands clarity

One big problem with buzzwords is that it’s easy to assume that consumers understand what they mean. Their meaning gets diluted with use. That’s especially problematic in green marketing, where transparency, integrity and reputation matter so much. As the Shelton report points out, using these buzzwords to make broad claims about a product’s environmental benefit can confuse consumers. But it can also get you in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission.

“Always give specific context that makes your product’s particular environmental benefit clear,” the report advises. “If you use these words, we recommend you do so as part of a larger messaging strategy or sustainability story that is transparent, thorough and specific.”

If you have a green success story to tell, by all means tell it. Just make sure that when touting your sustainability bona fides, you walk your talk.