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To Brand or Not To Brand: Understanding Brand Benefits for Natural Search.

Malcolm Slade, Head of Technical SEO

The author

Malcolm Slade

Head of Technical SEO

Over the last ten years, the main criteria for success in natural search has shifted many times. We started with “Spam.” Spam that ALT text, stuff those keywords in, hide that content using white text. Next came “Links.” Get them! Get as many as you can as fast as you can. Get the anchor text set to your main keyword. Then it was “Content Is King.” Spend five minutes writing some throw away text. Submit to 1,000 article directories. Add text wherever you can. Well now there is a new King in town - “BRAND.”

Over the last ten years, the main criteria for success in natural search has shifted many times. We started with “Spam.” Spam that ALT text, stuff those keywords in, hide that content using white text. Next came “Links.” Get them! Get as many as you can as fast as you can. Get the anchor text set to your main keyword. Then it was “Content Is King.” Spend five minutes writing some throw away text. Submit to 1,000 article directories. Add text wherever you can. Well now there is a new King in town - “BRAND.”

The Rise of The Brand

You don’t have to look far to see evidence that brands are doing well in natural search. If we look at the top ten results for “Car Insurance” in Google.co.uk we see: All ten  natural results are brand as are five (maybe six) of the eight suggested searches. If we look at a few more competitive search terms we can clearly see brands doing well. Search Term - Car Insurance Brands in Top 10 - 10 Brands in Related Searches - 5 (Maybe 6) Search Term - Mortgages Brands in Top 10 - 9 + Motley Fool Brands in Related Searches - 3 Search Term - Loans Brands in Top 10 - 8 Brands in Related Searches - 2 Search Term - Beds Brands in Top 10 - 7 (Removed Local) Brands in Related Searches - 2 I could go on all day but since I always get told off for writing a thesis rather than a blog post, I won’t. I will therefore assume that you agree with me that brands are now heavily entrenched within SERPs. So why? What’s changed? Why are brands now everywhere? Ever since the Google Vince update (thought of by many as a brand update), Google has been tweaking their algorithm in an attempt to put more emphasis on trust and influence over PageRankTM and other link metrics. This trend has followed through Caffeine, Panda and all of the smaller unnamed (and often unnoticed) tweaks in between. In addition to Google’s move, brands themselves have finally started to take more notice of the online environment and SEO; the sleeping giants are starting to awaken.

Identifying Online Brands

Search engine algorithms don’t watch TV. They don’t walk around shopping centres, read papers or get exposed to the onslaught of in-your-face advertising brands push out to us every day. They can however use the results of all of this to understand how search engine users interact with a brand in an attempt to model what a brand looks like from a domain and data point of view. Some things that may well be used to do this are:

  • Brand Name Traffic

Does the brand associated with the domain get searched for in its own right? This is what we sometimes call “type-in traffic.”

  • Brand + Keyword Traffic

Does the brand associated with the domain get searched for in conjunction with keywords within the topical niche?

  • Brand Links

Do people link to the domain using the brand name?

  • Brand Mentions

Is the mentioned (linked to or not) in all the right places?!

  • Click Through Rates

When listed in SERPs, does the brand listing act like a black hole generating a disproportional click through rate compared to other listings in the same position?

The Exact Match Domain (EMD) Issue

One of the main issues with Google trying to change anything within its algorithm is the effect it has on other areas that were outside of the target for the change. Let us presume that Google is in fact using brand keyword volumes, links and mentions as strong signals of a brand. On the understanding that the starting point of an identity is the domain name, exact match domains suddenly gain a lot of brand signals that they may not actually deserve. Let’s use a fictitious example of http://www.cheap-widgets.whatever The domain and therefore perceived brand is cheap-widgets. The term cheap widgets is searched for a lot. The cheap-widgets.whatever domain has loads of links pointing to it using the perceived brand name of cheap widgets. The term cheap widgets gets mentioned a lot on other sites. This bi-product of Google tweaking in favour of brands is likely to be next on Google’s hit list and I have previously spoken (prayed for) an EMD update.

How To Generate An Online Brand

Based on the above (which may or may not be exactly correct), how can we take a website and turn it into a powerful online brand?

  • Brand Name / Brand + Keyword Traffic

You need to get your name out there, get people talking about and searching for you; this fundamentally comes down to community engagement and more traditional marketing. Interact with your community, promote your own opinions, sponsor events, publish authority press releases, generate thought provoking opinionated content and be sure to promote your brand within everything you do. It also goes without saying that you should leverage your offline media assets such as TV and traditional advertising if you can by promoting your online presence within them.

  • Brand Mentions

A strong offline brand generally already has the necessary press coverage but failing this, you need to create a splash within your industry. Create original quality content and be persistent when pitching it to authorities within your industry and the press.

  • Brand Links

Nothing special here. Simply build brand anchor text links.

  • Click Through Rates

You should already be using USPs and strong messaging to enrich your SERPs listings. If you are not, then hopefully this will inspire you to. Although you can’t recreate the exact effects of a well-known brand, you can go some way toward inflating your click through rate via crafting a solid SERP listing.

Conclusions

Brands are here to stay and rather than moaning about them, you need to step up in an attempt to join them. Goals need to be set higher than ranking for particular terms. SEO can no longer be an activity that is outsourced and forgotten about. Clients need to make internal resources and knowledge available, and agencies need to be creative in the ways they promote the brand and help the client reach brand status. Your ultimate goal needs to be to create a branded site capable of ranking for anything rather than four terms you have defined as high value.

Author Background

A large part of my role at Epiphany is to analyse data and draw logical conclusions from it. Although I can’t go in to detail, the data is there to back all of the above up. Also, you can sometimes see brand results being injected in to Google SERPs for short periods of time which is presumably Google testing for the black hole effect. Yes, turning some of the above into reality is very difficult. I know, we have been doing it for years. It is however the only way to future-proof your online strategy. [email protected]