Brand building in search – impossible made possible

I’ve been recently approached by a well-known brand with a problem of poor brand awareness in search. They are not an unknown brand and don’t suffer from poor reputation, yet they felt their audience does not necessarily think about them in the context of services they provide. Sounds familiar?

That really got me thinking about the topic of brand building in search. It’s also surprisingly difficult to find relevant information on well-known industry blogs like Moz or Search Engine Land. They are interesting posts but they don’t really tackle the problem despite promising to do so.

We are often so focused on leads and conversions in SEO and PPC that (own) brand terms are often taken for granted. Yet for the vast majority of medium to large online business it’s the brand terms that drive the best sales and conversion rate numbers. If there was only a way to increase the number of brand searches we would all be reach and famous…

Ok, I know some will say that we can’t make people search more for our brands in Google. That is almost true. The role of search has generally been to capture the available search volume, not create more of it. So is there something, anything that we can do?

The very first thing you should think about is an integrated SEO PPC strategy. This old chestnut? That’s right. Let’s assume that most recognisable companies bid on their own brand terms and that you can’t just unlock more budget to spend in PPC. The key is to get to No. 1 for all your popular brand terms organically… and stay there. You are then presented with a strategic choice – should I keep bidding on my brand term in PPC? If all you want to achieve is leads and conversions than switching off the PPC is most definitely not going to work for you. The drop in conversions may be higher than the cash you’ve saved by not bidding on brand terms. The problem is you simply don’t know what’s going to happen when you try switching off your PPC.

What we generally tend to do with our clients at TMW Unlimited is SEO PPC ‘on/off’ testing. This is when we pick the brand keywords for which we already rank for at No. 1 organically, chose the time of year not affected by the seasonality (and competition) and then switch PPC off for a period of time. We than compare the results and decide on the keywords to leave on or switch off depending on the net gains and losses.

Let’s say you’ve saved yourself some money without a big decrease in search conversions. This is how you can easily unlock the budget to bid on more generic product and services keywords and target people who haven’t necessarily associated that product with your brand. The chances are that, with time, these people will come back to search results and type in your brand name instead, thus increasing the average search volume for your brand keywords. Brand building in search. One very important implication to consider is the fact that generic keywords are unlikely to convert as well as brand terms, hence why the KPIs must change from conversion led to engagement and brand building metrics. That’s a considerable trade-off but it’s one of the options.

What else can we do in SEO to help? Once you’ve secured the rankings for your brand terms the next logical step is to move on to the generic non-brand keyword space. Similarly to PPC, improving SEO visibility for popular non-brand keywords will get your brand in front of people who haven’t considered you and, even if they don’t convert straight away, they may come back in a while through brand search. Obviously it takes a long time to improve it which means you need a strategy. This post is not about SEO strategy but my best piece of advice would be to stay realistic. Yes, you should aim high and have a tiered keyword strategy etc., but start with more achievable keywords. The most popular ones are probably dominated by a massive vertical search engine… just think Wikipedia for information, Amazon for consumer goods, Indeed for job searches, Skyscanner for flight search etc. Even if you get to the top of Google for an incredibly popular keyword the chances are that everything above the fold will be ads and your CTR will be horrible. Pick your battles.

How else can we improve the number of searches for brand terms over time? Any modern and respectable SEO team will be all over PR and Influencer teams. Why? Ever heard of link authority and co-occurrence? Basically, the proximity of your brand mentions and links to relevant product/services keywords in content on relevant and popular websites is one of the biggest SEO ranking factors. Guess who’s already working with the most important and popular websites out there? Dear Social, Influencer and PR teams, we don’t bite and we can offer another way to validate your work 🙂 So what does it give us? Firstly, people seeing your PR coverage are likely to remember the brand and possibly try to find it in the future. I wonder how they’re going to look for the brand? Google to the rescue. Brand building. Secondly, the links and mentions will improve the SEO rankings for generic search terms.

What about the good old TV and media? From my experiences working in media agencies and with media teams, even if you tell people to go to a %insert-lovely-vanity-url-here% people will go to Google anyway and search for what they remember. If the search team haven’t had input into the messaging you may end up sending people to search results that have nothing to do with your brand. After seeing a food brand sending campaign audience to Google only to show them results for random Amazon book titles nothing will surprise me anymore. However, if the search team has been involved, great! You’re increasing the number of brand searches and improving brand awareness. Brand building in search!

One final, yet very important point is related to maximising your presence in Google for searches involving your brand. Just go to Google and search for a well-known brand like Canon or Diageo. Everything you see on the right hand side is the Wikipedia box mixed with links to company social profiles and related semantic search entities.

It looks professional, credible and trustworthy. Three really important values brands want to be associated with. Guess what? Nothing, absolutely nothing, is stopping you from having something like that too. Yes, it requires a bit of time and patience dealing with (putting it mildly) “thorough” Wikipedia editors. The goal of the exercise is to capture as much branded traffic from search as possible onto the own properties.

I know most of these strategies are not a rocket science and many search specialists already do it (possibly in a different context) but I think it can provide additional argument to get someone across the line.

Artur Jach Written by:

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