Targeting Branded vs. SEO Keywords: Which Should You Focus On?

We’ve known for several years now that Google prioritizes branded websites when it comes to choosing what to display in its SERPs:

ranking vs branding

Although, to be fair, as Moz puts it:

“Google doesn't try and go out and say, ‘How well known is Coca-Cola versus Pepsi versus 7 Up versus Sprite versus Jones Cola? Hey, let's rank Coca-Cola a little higher because they seem to have greater brand awareness, brand affinity than Pepsi.’…. That's not something that's in their algorithm. However… many things that are in Google's ranking algorithm correlate very well with brands.”

From Google’s standpoint, this practice makes sense.  The search engine’s goal is to provide users with the best possible results and there’s no doubt that some users prefer the “known quantity” of a brand website than the potential risk of an unknown competitor.

If you aren’t sold on the importance of branded keywords, check out a study that Tom Capper did on Moz’s blog about links (a huge factor in domain authority) versus brand awareness:

image2

Capper states:

“Here’s the main story: branded search volume is better correlated with rankings than Domain Authority is.”

So if you want better rankings and higher conversions, owning your branded keywords and/or generating searches for your brand is crucial.

However, simply jumping to optimize branded search terms might not be the best strategy for your specific situation. For some, staying with SEO keywords might be best. I’ll tell you how you can discover which strategy is right for you and how to execute it.

First, though, let’s get on the same page about what the difference between branded keywords and SEO keywords are.

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What’s the Difference Between Branded and SEO Keywords?

Traditional SEO Keywords

SEO keywords represent the phrases you’ve chosen to target on your website based on their search volume and competition. You’ve chosen traditional queries like “online camera review” or “best women’s shoes” because your keyword research indicates that you’ll be able to get your website ranked well in the corresponding SERPs and that you’ll see an influx of natural search traffic as a result of your optimization efforts.

Here are some examples:

  • Table for sale
  • Best water glasses
  • Buy pillows online

Notice how in most of the search results of a traditional SEO keyword, like “electric fireplace for sale online,” a number of different brands will be shown.

image5

Branded Keywords

On the other hand, branded keywords include search queries that reference your company’s name or other branded elements. Here are some examples:

  • Single Grain marketing
  • Single Grain blog
  • Eric Siu Single Grain

Notice that in the branded search, all the real estate is owned by that one particular brand. In the example of “fireplacepro blower kit,” every single result has the domain “fireplacepro.com”.

image13

With Google’s focus on brands, companies are now responsible for including both of these keyword groups (branded keywords & SEO keywords) in their marketing plans. Click To Tweet  

In fact, bidding on your own keywords in PPC is common practice. Why? If you don’t, one of your competitors could bid on your brand and technically rank above you as ads are listed above organic listings.

Here’s an example. The brand Black Forest Gifts sells cuckoo clocks. So if you put in the keyword plus the brand – “black forest gifts cuckoo clocks” – you will find that although Black Forest Gifts are listed first organically, they are actually the fourth listing on the page, because they are not bidding on their own brand name.

image12

While branded keywords are important, depending on where you are in your business, you don’t necessarily need to start targeting your brand keywords. Here’s why.

Dive Deeper:

Targeting Branded Keywords vs. SEO Keywords

If branding matters so much, should you abandon your traditional SEO keywords altogether in order to focus your efforts on branded phrases? If you’re a new brand, should you make this change even if search volume doesn’t exist for your brand keywords?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will provide the ideal balance of branded and traditional keywords for all websites. However, I am going to give you some tools you can use to craft a strategy for your company.

This is one question that I still get asked a lot: If I’m already ranking for SEO keywords, does it matter if I’m ranking for branded keywords?

Yes. Not only does it reflect poorly on your site if you come up below your competitors for a branded search, but these are also searches made by people who like and trust you. They have already passed the awareness part of the sales funnel and are interested enough in what you have to offer to type your name into Google.

Single Grain Marketing Funnel2

Not only is this theory logical, but it is proven as well. A study called “The Evolving Path of Today’s B2B Customer” shows that brand keywords convert twice as well:

Branded keywords

Make it as easy as possible for these people to click on your link by optimizing it to be first in the SERP (more later about how you can optimize for branded keywords).

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Determine Your Branded Keyword’s Search Volume

If you aren’t getting search volume for those branded keywords, jumping in and optimizing for branded search terms won’t be of much use to you. How can you tell if you are getting search volume for branded keywords?

Head over to SEMrush and type in your website’s domain:

image6

  • Click Organic Research on the left side bar
  • Then click the Positions tab next to Overview
  • Click the Advanced Filters tab
  • Under Keyword, scroll down to click Keyword Type
  • Next to that, you can filter by “Branded”

See the volume column? That’s your gold. image7

If you have a lot of search volume, it might be time for you to start optimizing for some of these branded searches. I’ll discuss that soon, but first, let’s talk about what you should do if you did not have many branded keywords listed.

If you don’t have a lot of branded keywords, it might be time to figure out how to grow your brand. Maybe you are a startup or still growing. This is what you should do.

Dive Deeper:

How to Grow Your Branded Keyword’s Search Volume

1) Targeting Traditional SEO Keywords

If you don’t have a lot of search volume for your brand keywords, targeting them within your SEO efforts won’t make sense at this point. Instead, focus your energy on targeting traditional SEO keywords.

For example, if you’ve launched a startup in the personal finance space, you might target the phrases “personal finance tool” or “online savings tool” (depending on your startup’s business objectives).

If you want a complete guide on SEO keyword research, we have already written it!

By targeting the phrases that you anticipate your users will be entering into the search engines with both your on-site and off-site SEO activities, you’ll get the momentum needed in order to build familiarity with your brand.

2) Building Brand Recognition with Other Types of Marketing

At the same time, though, you’ll want to put some effort into carrying out branding activities on other web properties in order to begin generating the branded search traffic needed to win in the SERPs over time.

There are dozens of ways to do this, but a few places to start include (remember that it takes about 7 touches before a customer buys):

  • Writing and submitting press releases detailing your startup’s launch and benefits. Wondering how you can go about doing that? We actually already did the heavy lifting in this step-by-step article that will show you exactly how to land a top publication without a PR firm.
  • Setting up social media profiles and optimizing them with branded imagery.
  • Claiming any local business profiles (as found on Google+, Yelp and similar sites) that are applicable to your business.
  • Creating (and sharing) content marketing articles that capture your audience’s attention and provide value to them with no strings attached while promoting your brand.

We even did a video with Adrian Saluminovic, a master at PR, to discover the best ways to get more press for your company. We discuss finding the best publications for your niche, pitching to that company and listing some tools you may need along the way.

Adrian provides another three strategies that you can use to build brand recognition:

  • Get reviews from top-tier publications on your products/services without using a PR service.
  • Get on podcasts – he mentions how to figure out which podcasts you should target.
  • Pitch journalists directly by email – we go into how to warm them up, what to say and a general timeline for the correspondence.

3) Super Creative Ways to Build a Brand

Give Value Away for Free

Do you know why Neil Patel acquired Ubersuggest for six figures and then turned around and provided access for free? It wasn’t for links or for the traffic – it was to build his brand.

After all, when most people were paying $100 per month for this information that suddenly became available for free, why wouldn’t it become popular? Do you think it worked? You bet it did!

image8

Buy More Real Estate

If you have some cash to spend and you are in a position to grow, you might want to consider buying other websites in your space and then redirect all their traffic. Boom! Now all of their customers will begin searching for your brand instead.

Over time, as consumers become used to seeing your brand name mentioned on the web properties they frequent, they’ll be more apt to use your brand name in association with the queries they enter into the search engines.

So make sure to keep checking your keyword tools to watch the search volumes start to increase.

Dive Deeper:

How to Optimize for Branded Keywords with SEO

Let’s say you do have search volume for some branded keywords. How do you optimize for them?

First, go back to your SEMrush page that we already looked at. Now sort those branded terms by position (second column) backwards and it will show you your lowest to highest rankings.

If you don’t have any below the first position, you are good to go. However, if you have a branded keyword that is ranking in position two or lower, let’s optimize it.

Penalties

First go into your Google Search Console and see if that page has any penalties. If not, go onto the next step. If it does, make sure you fix it and then learn how to recover from it.

Create a Page

Sometimes you have to create a page for that branded keyword. For example, if you don’t have a customer service page, but a lot of people are Googling “[brand] customer service,” then there’s a good chance that Google would prefer to show another more established brand’s customer service page. So make sure to add one.

Also be sure that whatever page you create is helpful to the audience. Notice how this page makes it easy for the user to find answers depending on the category of problem that he or she has:

image11

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Optimization for Branded Keywords in Google Images

Google Images should not be overlooked. Depending on your industry, this has the potential to drive you a lot of traffic. Make sure that you have optimized the:

  • Alt tag
  • Title
  • File name

To optimize them, just make sure that you have included your brand name plus keyword that you are trying to rank for. If this is an e-commerce store, also include the name of the product, model, size, color, and anything else that is relevant.

If you still aren’t sure if you have enough branded keywords to start optimizing for them (maybe only a handful of keywords are showing up), consider the following scenarios.

1) Launch an Entirely New Brand

In most cases, optimizing for branded keywords with little search volume shouldn’t be a priority.

Suppose that you’ve recently launched a new startup. People aren’t Googling your name because they don’t know who you are yet. So is it worth creating content around the branded keywords? Not really.

Instead, focus on creating a search volume for those branded keywords. Part of this can be done on your website, but part of it must be done on other websites.

In this case, your ideal SEO scenario involves the following two major tactics.

2) Realign Your Keyword Strategy for an Existing Website

Now, suppose you aren’t a startup. Instead, you’re an established company that’s been carrying out digital marketing campaigns according to previously known SEO best practices. You’ve heard that branding is becoming more and more important in terms of natural search performance, but you aren’t sure how to alter your current marketing strategy in order to satisfy both of these requirements.

Chances are, if you’re in this position, you aren’t currently targeting any branded keywords – unless they happened to come up in your traditional keyword research. So should you really give up your existing keyword priorities in order to chase after branded search queries?

Well, yes and no. First, it’s back to the drawing board to research exactly how much search volume any existing branded queries are receiving. You can use any keyword research tool to uncover this data, simply by generating keyword ideas based off of your brand name.

As an example, if we put “Click Funnels” into a keyword research tool like Ubersuggest or Ahrefs, we’d likely get a handful of phrases that include the company name and monthly search volume:

image10

If you do see instances of branded keywords receiving existing search traffic, consider optimizing different parts of your website for these keywords. One simple way to do that is to see if that branded keyword even appears on the page. It reflects poorly on your company to appear below others in these SERPs!

However, if you do decide to replace traditional keywords in order to make room for branded queries, be careful to monitor your results to ensure that you don’t see a reduction in natural search traffic or overall conversions.

At the same time, consider optimizing a few instances of your branded keywords both on your website or on external web properties – even if these phrases don’t have any meaningful search volume yet. Building links that showcase your branded keywords will help prove to Google that you’re a known brand, regardless of whether your branding efforts have caught up to your aspirations yet.

Dive Deeper:

3) Compete in a Market Full of Established Brands

Finally, what are you supposed to do if you’re a small fish trying to compete against known entities like Amazon, Zappos or Best Buy? After all, these companies have a substantial branded advantage over your puny marketing budget.

Big Brands

In these cases, you’ve got to take your branding efforts directly to the people! While you may not be able to command enough of a presence to score points against better branded competitors in the SERPs right away, you can make your case directly to consumers by marketing your business using social channels.

On sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest, the barriers to attracting customer attention are much easier to overcome than trying to secure the same interest through your natural search presence.

Take a look at this example from Zomato Pizza. They aren’t nearly as big as Dominos, but they are still getting a lot of attention on social media:

image3

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Final Thoughts

Of course, you should certainly add some branded keywords to the anchor text you use in both internal and external links in order to prove to Google that you’re a branded force to be reckoned with. But at the same time, don’t wait around for these efforts to be noticed. Get out there, start promoting your brand on social networks and, with time, you should see an improvement in both your brand’s recognition and your website’s natural search performance.

Really, no matter what size your business is, the power of branding is something you need to be aware of. Integrating branded keywords into your SEO approach will help your site to build recognition with both visitors and search engines – recognition that is likely to play a larger and larger role in the way your site’s authority is measured by Google in the future.

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