Building Brands One Non-Branded Keyword at a Time

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seo_small.jpgADOTAS — I never believed search built brands until recently.

To me brands are usually built by basic brand pillars or attributes such as service, quality or innovation, yet often comprise critically important differentiation intangibles such as feelings and experiences. These feelings and experiences are developed and communicated by brand advertisements. Such advertising experiences aid in developing a consumer’s reference to the brand and correspondingly shape one’s feeling of the brand.

The other day I had lunch with a SEO colleague from another agency who performs the SEO campaigns for some very large brands. He complained about one of his clients reducing budget for the SEO campaign even though his agency had achieved some great organic listings.

Surprised by this, I asked him what organic rankings had he achieved. He quickly rattled off brandname car, brandname truck, brandname model, brandname etc. He stated the average cost per click for these keywords is $1.75 for the top 3 listings and each month the traffic produced from this campaign is worth $350,000 in paid search.

He went on to say that by securing high organic rankings for these keywords, he had protected the brand and how this was very valuable in itself. As an SEO that often performs reputation management services I could not agree more. Ideally clients should own at least the top 10 rankings for their branded keywords, just in case something negative happens and taints the company’s reputation.

I then asked him – what non-branded keywords such as electric car, low cost car, and high mileage car did he get well ranked for the client? His response, “None.” He explained how his agency does not target non-branded keywords as they work with established brands. At that moment, I saw the light – my thinking about search and brands was all wrong. It turns out that organic search for non-branded keywords builds brands digitally.

Except for my reputation management clients, 100% of my organic search campaigns are non-branded including clients with established brands. My clients want to get well ranked for non-branded keywords like health insurance, mini storage, payroll services, titanium rings, blade servers, credit repair, debt settlement, and junior clothing.

While my clients want the targeted traffic that results from such organic rankings, these non-branded keywords are also the attributes my clients want to align their brand with. They want to be known in their respective industries for their company name as well as their non-branded keywords. In the process of developing high organic rankings for non-branded keywords, my clients are simultaneously aligning these keywords as their brand attributes.

When people search for a non-branded keyword they have not identified a brand for that query. The first branding experience begins when a person views and clicks the organic listing as they associate that brand with that keyword. The title and description tags associated with that organic listing shape the feeling. Once the person reaches the site, the logo, design, information architecture and content reinforce the brand pillars and attributes.

With each new and returning visitor that is produced from organic rankings, I build alignment of that non-branded keyword to the brand – non-branded keyword after non-branded keyword. Although we might target 25-50 non-branded keywords for a typical SEO campaign, through latent semantic indexing the SEO campaign might produce several thousand unique non-branded keywords over time. Perhaps not as exciting as a series of 30 second spots on television or radio, this behavior shapes the brand in a similar fashion.

As I concluded lunch with my colleague I had a new appreciation of my work and that of our fellow SEOs at WebMetro. We’ve always prided ourselves on turning around underperforming SEO campaigns but now I can add that we build brands one non-branded keyword at a time. Of course, securing top rankings for the keywords like health insurance at $9.90 per click has financial benefits as well.

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