I'm going to outline current beliefs on how brands affect SEO, and how to improve your brand in a way that will effect your rankings. Keep in mind this is a new and emerging aspect of SEO. Most of this is theoretical and based of off general statements from Google and SEO experts. But before we get too deep, a bit of history is needed.
Since 2008, Google has been developing search results that delivers better information on brands. In a now, over-quoted statement, CEO Eric Schmidt said: "Brands are the solution, not the problem ... Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."
Around March 2009, Google's update, called the "Vince" update, seemed to favor the big brands. We saw brands that were well known suddenly jump out of obscurity and into search engine lime light. At the end of 2009, personalized results became universal, whether you were signed in or not (I'll explain how this effects brands later). Around April of 2010, we saw Google experimenting with displaying brands in search results. In December of 2010, it was announced that Social Media is also now being used as a ranking factor in search results (again, I'll explain this in a bit).
Some of these changes are still noticeable today, some are less prominent or gone altogether. Regardless, you can see that Google has been trying to perfect their rankings of brands over the past several years, and there are no signs of stopping.
Impact of Changes
Clearly, no one is going to argue with branding being a critical part of any marketing campaign. Nevertheless, it does seem to get forgotten sometimes when I discuss SEO as part of that marketing plan with clients. If you want a lot of success in SEO, brands will eventually play a part. For example, let's talk for a minute about personalized results. A part of the intent of this change was to help display brands that you recognized and clicked on more often at the top of the search results. In other words, if your visitors recognize your site, and click on it more often then other sites, you will be displayed higher in search results for those visitors. Sounds like a branding push to me.
Brands and Ranking Factors
OK, here is the meat that some of you were probably looking for. Again, I have to put my disclaimer here. These are not concrete measurements that are definitely used by search engines, but best guesses based on expert opinions:
- Domain Age
- Anchor text used in links (i.e. "click here" or "keyword" vs. "brand name")
- Anchor text links using the domain name
- References to brand on other shopping portals, such as Amazon, or even Google Shopping
- Social Media Mentions
- Possibly others (Digg, Reddit, etc.)
- Presence on Social Media Platforms (with followers/subscribers):
- Part of related government and private institutions (e.g. BBB)
- Members of the Industry Trade Organization or equivalent
- Non-link mentions and Brand Repetition (e.g. news articles, information sites, authoritative pages etc.)
- Brand searches (i.e. someone searching for "Dell" or "Apple" as opposed to "laptops")
- Online Ads (NOT paid links)
- Traditional media outlets - no really. Is there evidence that you advertise in the "real world"?
- Patents, Licenses and Government Documents
- Verified address
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Here are some ideas on how to implement some of the above principles, or to just advance your brand in general.
- Tweet. And update Facebook. Often. However, remember to not only tweet, but also tweet something worth tweeting about. There are numerous studies and examples of how one bad tweet can ruin a brand.
- Make your articles, videos or viral content easier to tweet and share. There are now a myriad of buttons and options that will make tweeting something incredibly easy and painless (e.g. AddThis).
- Link build to your site using more than just keywords. A good brand will be linked to using the brand name. Don't get so caught up in link building with good anchor text that you forget your own brand.
- Integrate your traditional media marketing with SEO. For example, suggest in a media print ad to have someone search on your brand. This could create more searches for your brand, making a stronger suggestion to Google that you are, in fact, a brand.
- If you sell products, consider putting these into Google shopping. Also consider other portals and resources, including Amazon.
- Write press releases when possible. The better the news you have to report, the more successful your releases (and brand awareness) will be.
- Leverage existing visitors or customers. For example, in your newsletter, encourage (or provide a link) advocates of your brand to do searches on particular keywords. With the personalized searches, you're helping to cement your place in the top spots (this also increases Click-through rates which is believed to be a ranking factor).
- Do PPC. It's not going to directly effect rankings (as promised multiple times by Google), but it will increase your visibility and make your more trusted. In fact having PPC and SEO on the first page has shown to increase click-through rates and conversions.
Here is the final word: Brands have been on the radar at Google for a long time. Experts are starting to see more of a push towards this metric and expect for it to become a more prominent ranking factor in the near future. It's best to pay attention and, even better, make branding an integral part of your online strategy.
Have other ideas? I'd love to hear them! Post them in the comments below.