In the past ten years, digital marketing has eaten into the market share of traditional marketing. Despite this radical shift, a few centuries-old marketing tactics still return the highest on investment. Branding is one of them.
Even in this hyper-digital era, branding supports online marketing efforts -- as long as business owners and marketers know how to leverage it. Brand name and affinity boosts search engine optimization in three critical ways:
It drives direct traffic.
Google indirectly includes it in the algorithm.
It draws links better than non-branded content.
Read on to keep in mind how you can leverage your brand to get more traffic, leads and sales through keeping your branding efforts consistent and vigorous.
Building your brand results in the second largest traffic driver: direct traffic.
Some users come to your website via the queries they type in (organic), or via a link from a social media channel (social). Others come from other websites that have linked to your site (referral). Still, there are those who type in the actual url: target.com or usajobs.gov or ucla.edu. The graphic below represents the origin of traffic for an actual small business.
Traffic source breakdown from a real small business.
Direct traffic (green) tends to get the second largest amount of traffic behind organic. When business owners and marketers infuse their social content, blog posts and directory listings with their brand identity and values, they remind online surfers of their name and eventually boost direct traffic.
Think about it: how many times have you been scrolling through Facebook only to see a product you’ll need someday? The name of the company may not stick with you the first time, but after five or six exposures, it has a good chance of remaining memorable. When you have a need for that product, the name pops up in your mind, and the first place you go is Google search. You type in the url or something close and Google takes you to the website directly.
David Ogilvy describes “brand” as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” These attributes must be unique and target a defined sliver of the consumer market. The key to brand success is linking the company’s values with the consumers’. Target is affordable but trendy--even chic--clothes and furnishings. That’s why some call it Tarjay. REI provides the best products for the avid outdoorsman who values quality over price. Walmart? The least expensive consumer goods available. Consumers who shop there value price over quality.
The bottom line is that all television, radio and social media outreaches begin to coalesce into the memorability of the brand. The companies that have branded adequately enjoy a direct hit as the consumer types in their name and not a competitor’s.
Google--and its indirect brand evaluation--is watching.
While consumers understand a brand through consistent messaging, Google works its algorithm to understand exactly what a brand offers and to whom.
First, the search engine watches queries and where they go. People flooding your website for particular search terms attract the search engines’ attention. A positive correlation between certain queries and keywords prompts the search engine to designate the site with enriched “brand authority.”
A robust, memorable brand attracts links from other websites as well. Links are a top factor in determining PageRank. The broadcast of your brand across the Internet eventually leads to mentions and even links on other websites. The “follow” links are a stronger indication of authority, but Google doesn’t ignore the nofollow links and even unlinked “mentions” of the brand name. The more, diverse backlinks from reasonable-authority sites a website has, the higher its rankings.
The number of links is not the only way Google determines a website’s authority. Part of Google’s Panda algorithm aims to decode brand authority by dividing the number of incoming links by the number of searches. It would then compare the resulting fraction to competitors’ numbers. Google regards many incoming links existing with few brand searches as lower brand authority. After all, the incoming links could have been created with some encouragement from the company. If not many are searching for the brand, it hasn’t yet gotten a foothold in the market.
Online and offline marketing can work hand together nicely to build brand and traffic. Consumers discuss offline branding efforts (commercials, tradeshows, sponsorships) online, and online mentions of a company (possibly via PPC or social media) drive people to visit its bricks and mortar site. Men’s fashion brand Bonobos found that those who shopped at their online store after visiting their shop in a mall spent 75 percent more online than those who hadn’t gone to the store. Also, before going to the store in the mall, 78 percent of respondents admitted to researching the store’s offerings online first.
Despite this, keep in mind that any brand distinction in the abstract is not a ranking factor. Google doesn’t purposely rank Coca Cola slightly higher than Pepsi because its market share is bigger. Google does take into account how well a company has consistently branded itself. The website with clear, meaningful branding AND SEO best practices will outrank one with neither of those elements in place. Google gives companies that have invested in their branding more link juice than those that haven’t.
Branding builds reputation, which attracts links.
Google busted unnatural, inauthentic and constructed links in the Penguin update of April 2012, down-ranking those websites that were obviously paying for or constructing links. The search engine has made it clear that any links coming back to a site should be earned through quality, useful content. It wants to see proof that a relevant website genuinely wants to share the content to enrich their own readers’ experience.
Acquiring links can be a rigorous exercise involving calling bloggers and asking them to write reviews, or sending press releases to newspapers and online publications and hoping for a link. Because of the budget, time, and creativity required to earn authentic backlinks, people “game” or try to manipulate the Google algorithm precisely because they do not have exceptional content other sites want to link to naturally. Therefore, these purchased links indicate poor quality content. Google is proud of its own brand and wants to provide only the best information to its users.
In the go-go pace of the Internet, surfers want to know instantly whether they should read one piece over the other. If a company has a recognizable brand name, a website owner looking for a site to link to is more apt to link to a company with a reputation. One Moz study showed that those looking for a good link chose companies with recognizable brand names twice as often as more generic or unrecognizable brands. Reputable companies are more likely to produce well-researched, useful information to keep their own brand name polished.