How To Combine Brand & SEO

Jun 16th
posted in

In 2008, Eric Schmidt let slip that Google would use brands as a signal to clean up the "internet cesspool.

SEOs ears twitched.

Quoted by CNET at the time:

Web crawlers aren't particularly good at making judgments about the truthiness of digital matter, and the wisdom of the crowd can't keep up with the river of data streaming online. Schmidt gave the magazine publishers hope for their future. Brands, he said, are the way to rise above the cesspool...

Schmidt was talking to magazine executives who were concerned about competition they faced from low-cost publishers, like you and me :)

Whilst we can't know exactly what aspects Google's algorithms will reward, it's not difficult to see brand factors becoming increasingly influential in search results, both directly and indirectly. Schmidt may be talking about a level of authority that the brand possesses, so is therefore trusted as an "editor", but there may be something else going on, too.

It might also be a question of clear subject/topic focus.

Establish A Brand

If your site has a very clear focus, in terms of brand identity, a number of search and social media benefits naturally follow. On-topic linking, context, and more. I'll discuss this shortly.

A brand is more than a name, graphic or logo. A brand is everything you do, from the way your position yourself in the market, to how you answer your emails. Brand is the total sum experience you offer. It's also a collection of keyword terms people naturally associate with you and your site.

Whilst it is expensive to create a national or international brand, you can create well-known brands in niches. Consider SEOBook, Webmasterworld.com and SEOMoz. Those brand identities are clear, and I'm sure that a number of unique qualities for each brand springs to mind when those names are mentioned.

Ways To Establish A Brand

Philip Kotler, Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, identified the steps to developing a brand. Amongst those steps were:

  • Develop The Value Proposition
  • Choose A Broad Positioning For The Product

This sounds like marketing guff, but what does it mean in practice?

The Value Proposition

No one can be good at everything - there isn't enough time and resources - so what is the one thing you are really good at? Is this a value people are willing to pay for?

Broad Positioning

Kotler identifies three alternatives:

  • the product differentiator
  • the low cost leader
  • the nicher

Which one are you?

It's possible that a business can be all three, but such generalist businesses tend to be outgunned by businesses that are superior in one way. For example, Versace *could* do cheap items, but it would compromise their focus and confuse their brand identity, which equates to luxury.

Here's how to translate these brand ideas into an SEO advantage.

The value proposition is based on the demand you identity. For example, if a business owner found keyword demand for the phrase "SEO services in Los Angeles", then the value proposition is:

  • A locally focused SEO service provider

The business owner would be suited to providing "SEO services in Los Angeles", presumably by virtue of their location, contacts, focus and experience.

The broad positioning would be "niche". A catchphrase/byline may emphasize regionality, locality and accessibility for clients located in Los Angeles. The terminology used in the copy should reflect this niche approach - again, use words and phrases associated with both the service and the locality. When people link to such a site, they would naturally use terms that reflect locaility, because it's an intrinsic part of the brand identity the owner has established. When people talk about this business on Twitter/Facebook etc, they will hopefully use the terms consistent with the brand identity. Whenever people talk about your site in a certain way, Google will surely follow.

All the ducks are lined up. Business focus, keyword text, link text and the frame of reference in which people can talk about the business. Simple, right? But how many sites lack this type of focus, and thus miss out on keyword associations?

Brand can also be about personality. Danny Sullivan may know a lot about general tech, but to most people, Danny is "the search guy". He gets keyword-rich links, without having to ask. Aaron is "the SEOBook guy". It's hard to not link to Aaron without using the term SEO. Whenever people talk about them, people will naturally use search terminology in the same breath - in their keyword copy, link text and so on, which all flows through into SEO advantages. This benefits flows from having a tight brand identity.

The alternative is to be all things to all people, and this doesn't work so well in 2010, either online or off. There's just too much noise.

Building a brand is about building a a clear and established identity, and in terms of SEO, it's about being associated with a specific list of keyword terms relating to that identity.

Could you sum up your brand identity as a list of keyword terms?

Published: June 16, 2010

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Comments

June 16, 2010 - 8:01pm

The problem with the term "branding" is it is traditionally associated with big institutions, with deep pockets to hammer a "brand identity" into the consciousness of their target market. Let's hope Google doesn't cave to providing higher organic rankings for pay.

The more I learn about SEO the more I laugh at how little I know. But this helps me understand the relationship between brand and SEO.

Thanks

June 16, 2010 - 11:33pm

That's true - brand has traditionally been associated with big companies.

But there's no reason small companies can't leverage "brand", in all sense of the word. In fact, I think Google is encouraging it.

June 17, 2010 - 2:28am

Uh, guess which one of the three "brands" you cited hasn't registered there name as a trademark?

June 17, 2010 - 2:33am

who cares.

June 17, 2010 - 3:25am

You have to be kidding me, right? An attempt at a joke?

Name me any brand in the real world that doesn't have a trademark.

June 17, 2010 - 2:36am

I love this post....being a branding guy, i think this was to the point and showed the relation very well.

"Brand is the total sum experience you offer." -- a short and spot on definition. Thanks!

June 17, 2010 - 2:38am

I'm glad to see a post about the importance of brand when building a long term, sustainable company. I wrote a recent post about how creating the right brand name sets you up for success.
http://www.andysalo.com/2010/05/26/choose-the-right-company-brand-name-r...

Also, I like how you married in value prop, as it is something that gets overlooked all the time. You can learn more about how to develop a strong value prop here.
http://www.andysalo.com/2010/05/20/funding-a-company-with-a-strong-value...

June 17, 2010 - 5:15pm

I love reading your articles.

June 20, 2010 - 7:48am

both are form of marketing and should go together.

June 20, 2010 - 9:36am

The problem with the term "branding" is it is traditionally associated with big institutions, with deep pockets to hammer a "brand identity" into the consciousness of their target market. Let's hope Google doesn't cave to providing higher organic rankings for pay.

Exactly. And I think this is what Schmidt was talking about. He's talking about big brand media outlets, and big brands in general. He's saying it's a shortcut for Google to filter spam and make their results LOOK more trusted. I see them having a whitelist of brands - if you're on the list then good for you - expect a helping hand from Google.

How can Google determine if some one-man-band website is a great brand? Their love of automation means they go by links - which as we all know, is no way to determine the TRUE value of a brand (its services, its products). Not in the age where SEO is completely mainstream and everyone seems to be doing it.

The only TRUE way to measure the quality of a site is to do so in a non-automated manual way. It doesn't scale though. And that's been Google's quandry for the past 12 years - one they haven't solved yet (certainly looking at what ranks in many verticals in Google).

June 20, 2010 - 2:31pm

"I see them having a whitelist of brands "

Did you know that in some versions of their remote quality guidelines they wrote of whitelisted sites? Some of the sites that were once white listed did later get penalized for excessive link buying though :D

June 21, 2010 - 3:25pm

Did you know that in some versions of their remote quality guidelines they wrote of whitelisted sites? Some of the sites that were once white listed did later get penalized for excessive link buying though

No doubt Google have whitelists because they may just see certain huge brands as being "gold-plated" in terms of trust - not really from Google, but from the public. The public seeing big brand websites listed in the SERPS "feels right" to the average Joe. Big brands also have a general service standard that Google would expect so it's not like listing the big guys higher up is a RISK for Google (not like unknown smaller brands).

So the whole idea of making your one-man-band site a brand seems well intentioned, but I personally think Google use the word "brand" to mean "massive, cash-rich, well-established company that is in the public consciousness through millions of dollars of advertising and makes millions in revenue". Startups and small businesses need not apply.

June 21, 2010 - 5:36pm

Governments can be brands too :D

Here’s every U.S. state and they have a home page and we better get that home page in the top results, and if we don’t … then literally somebody’s pager goes off.

June 21, 2010 - 8:29pm

]Startups and small businesses need not apply.

To that I say Wikipedia :)

Brand is often associated with big business, but in 2010, the brand is possible at the level of the individual.

It simply isn't in Google's interest to let major brands dictate editorial control of the web. At best, they'll use them as one signal of authority (i.e. the PageRank theory)

The task of providing relevance to searchers requires a more complicated set of signals.

June 22, 2010 - 2:00pm

I agree with you Peter in that small companies can be brands to individuals, but Google have billions of pages to index constantly and my belief is that when they mention brands, they are talking about the biggest, most-well-known-in-the-public-eye brands as shortcuts to public trust for the SERPs. People are busy, they haven't all got time to investigate companies in terms of trustworthiness so sheer familiarity is a "signal" of trust to the end user. Having these "trusted" sites high up is a way for Google to look like they're putting the shopper in safe hands, while still having their index be scalable. Talking about shopping verticals here by the way, not academic/info searches.

If I owned a new shopping mall, I'd fill it with branded chain stores because the public have already had these brands marketed to them. I think Google's SERPs is getting to be more and more like this homogenized shopping mall because economics tell them this works even if it gives people less choice.

June 22, 2010 - 1:48pm

The shopping mall analogy is a good one. Just through promotion in the organic search results (and raising bid prices on some of the shopping search engines) Google Product Search has become the #1 online shopping search service. What kind of stores does it typically feature? Big box bland brand ones.

June 22, 2010 - 10:04pm

my belief is that when they mention brands, they are talking about the biggest, most-well-known-in-the-public-eye brands as shortcuts to public trust for the SERPs

Right, I agree, however I don't think the positions are mutually exclusive.

Big brands may well dominate a niche - not simply because they fit the definition of a "big brand" - but because they also posses all the other authority signals i.e. links, media mentions, context, too.

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