Marketers, Here’s How Your Branding Impacts SEO
For many people in online marketing and the web industry in general, Technical SEO can be very enigmatic and far from simple. Branding on the other hand, feels like something people can understand and relate to–even if it’s not easily achieved.
This post wasn’t written for SEOs. But rather for marketers who may not be focused on Search, as well as for other stakeholders of online companies. Since the boundaries between SEO, Product, and Marketing are getting more and more blurred, it’s important to understand how a brand’s perception impacts SEO in late 2018.
So why does Google love ranking brands?
To answer that question we first need to go back to Google’s number one goal when it comes to its search engine. Google’s main goal is to satisfy users with the most relevant search results, and at the same time avoid user frustrating from bad, irrelevant results.
Compared to 20 years ago when people were still naive about the web, today, trust is a very important factor online. Users want to get their results fast, they want the information that they need to be accurate, and perhaps above all, they want to make sure they don’t fall for a bad deal or even worse, a scam.
How many times have you heard someone say not to enter an empty restaurant? People believe the crowd knows better; that if many others chose that specific restaurant, or decided to avoid it, then they must know something. And the same concept also applies for online behavior.
Google knows how we behave, and Google loves brands primarily because users prefer them.
Direct brand impact – Branded searches
One interesting patent Google submitted a few years ago was around users preferring particular sites through branded searches. So on top of just tracking searches of the brand name itself, this means that when Google sees that more and more people are searching for a keyword together with a specific brand name, it understands that these are associated.
Let’s take a look at few examples to make sure this is clear. Many people search for “Best Buy laptops”. Why? Because they want to reach Best Buy’s laptops page, and searching for that is faster than going to Bestbuy.com and navigating to the Laptops area. Google then understands the relationship between Best Buy and Laptops, and assumes that this URL is a good result for people who are just searching for “Laptops”. This branded query is one of the reasons Best Buy ranks on the first page for “Laptops”.
Another example would be “Bohemian Rhapsody IMDB”. Here, people want to find the movie’s specific page on IMDB, Google gets it and ranks IMDB as number 1 for one of the most popular movies in theaters today.
“Crowne Plaza Times Square Booking.com”, “Trump Twitter”, and “Zillow New York Apartments” are just a few more popular examples that allow these brands to rank very well for the unbranded versions of these queries.
One thing that I suggest to marketers, Product managers and all the way up to the CEO, is to check which branded queries bring traffic to their websites. This data can be found in the Google Search Console. Try finding out if there’s correlation between what you believe your website to be best known for, with the top branded queries that actually send you Organic traffic every day.
Indirect brand impact – CTR (Click through rate)
The fact that branded queries have a much higher CTR isn’t a surprise. Users are searching for a specific page on a specific domain, and they know exactly what it is that they are looking for. But the interesting thing that happens with non-branded queries is that very often, even without paying attention, users prefer the search results of brands they recognize. This means a recognized brand has the potential of getting more clicks even if it ranks lower.
Imagine a list of top 3 results after searching for a non-branded query, and now imagine that the 3rd result is from a brand you’ve heard of or used in the past. Are you more likely to click it?
Remember that even if CTR isn’t a direct ranking signal, we do know that Google tracks it, and even uses it to test the quality of the search results. In simple words, that way or another, CTR matters for Google, and therefore a recognized brand in SERPs, impacts SEO.
Indirect brand impact – User engagement
Return visit rate, time on site, and dwell time are just a few examples of things Google has access to through Chrome.
Dwell time is how long it takes an average user to go back to the search results on Google, after clicking on a specific result. A short dwell time by many users may indicate a poor user value and a low chance of accomplishing the requested task.
A stronger brand can often impact the way users engage with websites after the initial click, by how often they return to it, and how long they stay.
Indirect brand impact – Mentions, Links, and Social Shares
Without going into how important links are today or how important they were in the past, one thing that most non-SEOs believe they know about SEO is that links are very important.
Since journalists, editors, or just all website owners want to make sure they quote and link to sources they know and trust, known brands are more likely to get linked to by more websites. Period. Take this post for example, all five links you’ll find here belong to websites I know, websites I read regularly, and have followed for years. Only sources I trust to back up the points I try to make.
Now when it comes to Social media shares, people are also more likely to share content from websites they know. Nobody wants to send their Facebook friends to a shady link, to a possible scam, or even just to a non-confirmed piece of information. On top of that, believe it or not, one of the reasons people share content is to make their online profiles look better. This is where once again known brands have an advantage.
Do social shares matter for SEO? Yes they do. It isn’t a direct ranking factor, but social shares expose more people to your content. And the more people that are exposed to your content, hopefully the right people, the more likely your content will be searched for on Google, mentioned, or linked to from various sites.
In November 2015, Google released its Search Quality Rating Guidelines. One of the newest terms Google revealed for the first time was E-A-T. Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. An internal metric Google has individually for all pages. And this metric became one of the most talked about metrics within the SEO community in the past couple of years.
While E-A-T is calculated on a page level, it heavily depends on the website’s reputation on its main topic.
E-A-T isn’t really about branding, but rather about each page’s ability to provide users with the feeling of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, based on internal and external factors. The external factors Google collects about a website that is positioned as a stronger brand in its industry, often gets a serious advantage when Google calculates E-A-T.
Advertising and SEO
A popular question among non-SEOs is whether PPC campaigns impact SEO. The short answer is no. But the full answer is that PPC may definitely impact rankings, just not directly.
Indirectly on the other hand, PPC can make a huge difference through two simple concepts:
A significant PPC campaign can easily generate real interest in the promoted pages. This interest might result in brand new social shares, new direct links if exposed to website owners, and might impact the user’s CTR and future engagement with the same website’s organic results. All of these, may impact SEO.
Through new, additional branded searches.
To illustrate the 2nd part, let’s take an extreme example. Imagine that a brand new website was just launched. The content, value to user, UX and design are simply fantastic. But the website is new and nobody knows it exists.
The promotion starts with a PPC campaign of tens of thousands of dollars a day, bringing the new domain to the attention of tens of thousands of people.
A group of these new users love the new website so much, that they decide to go back to it later again by searching for it on Google. This exponential increase in branded searches will trigger Google’s algorithms to pay attention, and it will make a difference for SEO.
The exact same concept also goes with other types of advertising. And the two examples I provided can be achieved with a significant exposure through Facebook ads, TV, a newspaper campaign, and all the way to an ad on the super bowl.
A small note about apps: Important to note that there’s one place online where buying ads can impact search rankings directly, and it’s the app stores. Where a significant amount of app downloads in a short amount of time is an actual ranking factor. While with some differences, this exists for both Google Play and iTunes.
So is SEO All About Branding and Publicity Now?
Absolutely not. SEO has become much bigger than it ever was in the past. And despite the fact that the SEO strategy is led by SEOs who can connect the dots, SEO has become a cross-departmental responsibility.
Technical SEO is extremely important, and not any less than it was in the past. In fact, it only continues to add more and more layers to it. The bigger the website is, the more crucial and sensitive Technical SEO becomes.
Content and user satisfaction are only two other enormous SEO factors out of many additional critical factors.
But your brand’s perception is the last missing part. And its impact is only growing.