Why brand eats SEO for breakfast
Being the first result on Google (other search engines are available) without spending megabucks has traditionally been important for most marketers.
Even if your brand is still relatively small, keeping ahead of the latest SEO fads is always key, right?
We’re increasingly convinced that it’s the power of brand recognition that determines your success or failure.
To put it simply, building a distinctive brand is the most foolproof SEO strategy there is.
And we’ve got some pretty solid evidence to back it up.
Nobody can keep up with Google anyway
Google just can’t stop fiddling with its inner workings.
According to Moz, it makes algorithmic changes around five to six hundred times a year, and Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller casually put the figure at more like a thousand in a Google+ Hangout back in 2015.
Either way, that’s still well over a change a day on average.
And that’s even before we start thinking about layout changes that also affect user behaviour. (Because diving too deep into the dark depths of SEO nerdery would give us a headache.)
Whilst the majority are minor tweaks there are always major updates that can wipe out your SEO efforts in one fell swoop.
For example, you probably remember the way its ‘Pigeon’ update rocked the local search algorithm a couple of years ago. And unless you were living under a rock back in 2011 you’ll remember the chaos of ‘Panda’ (Panda-monium!) affecting 12% of search results.
The point is, it’s impossible to know where search optimisation is going next but a developing strong brand strategy is something you definitely do have more control over.
As it happens, brand affinity is also something Google rewards you for anyway.
How branding supports digital marketing
Part of Google’s Panda update was actually to give preference to ‘brand authority’.
The algorithm looks for a positive correlation between queries and traffic to give each site relevant brand authority for every keyword.
But, as highlighted in the recently published Search Quality Rating Guidelines, Google’s rankings don’t just rest on what you say about yourself, but what other people say about you.
In other words, your brand reputation.
Brand mentions in external sources such as “news articles, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions and ratings from independent organizations” all count towards your search position.
The more people talk about you (especially in the news) the higher your site will appear in search.
In addition to these updates, there have been a few recent changes that put brand ahead of SEO wizardry.
Knowledge panels, keyword snippets and smarter search
You’ve probably noticed an increase in those info boxes that pop up next to or in amongst your search results recently.
If try it out for yourself you’ll likely find that the content in that knowledge panel is a definition courtesy of Wikipedia (as it was when we tried ‘Branding’) or you’re met with a snippet of content from a major media organisation.
So, Google is trying to answer queries themselves, without users needing to lift a finger to click, let alone sift through a list of organic results as before, and the figures show it’s succeeding at it.
Even if your brand’s epic content was to be featured, users would odds-on be interacting with it through Google, not clicking through to read it in on your site itself.
According to Rand Fishkin’s immense “The State of Searcher Behavior Revealed” only around 60% of searches resulted in a click in the middle of 2017, and it’s looking likely this will drop to half before too long.
Users go with what they know
If getting clicks is harder and Google is providing more and more answers, it seems like brand recognition is going to have to do some heavy lifting.
Thankfully though, there’s some very compelling evidence out there that we humans really are creatures of habit.
Information and measurement behemoth Nielsen undertook probably the most comprehensive ‘New Product Purchase Sentiment’ survey known to man a few years ago.
They quizzed over 29 thousand respondents with internet access in almost 60 different countries, and the results were overwhelming.
Sixty percent of people preferred to buy from a familiar brand than switch to a new one. Brand familiarity resonated strongly with consumers worldwide.
And this familiarity works even more strongly when the question is focused in on what makes them click on one result over another.
Of the 400 Americans asked by Search Engine Land, almost 70% of them chose familiarity, ‘known retailer’ as the top thing they look for - ranking it AHEAD of offers or sales and free shipping.
We tried a little experiment with this in our office (we know, right, it’s like an episode of How 2) , to illustrate this point.
We searched for the first thing that popped into our heads, which happened to be ‘orange juice.’ Hey, it’s sunny, we’re thirsty. The sponsored results looked like this…
While ‘Growers Harvest’ people might make perfectly lovely juice at an extremely moderate price, we’re willing to bet that you, like us, were instantly drawn to Tropicana.
Theirs is the name you’d be yelling out on Family Fortunes, and our survey says you’d be going home with the speedboat.
Like it or not, we all have a bond with the brands we see the most of.
Quick case in point, when Tropicana tried to reinvent their visual identity in the US it was such an utter failure, losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue in 2 months, that they were forced to backpedal quick smart.
Their CEO’s explanation of what went wrong is telling:
“We underestimated the deep emotional bond they had with the original packaging... What we didn’t get was the passion this very loyal... group of consumers have.”
Brand authority beats quality content
The brand trust factor doesn’t just work in favour of ‘known retailers’, it works for niche search terms and keyphrases too.
Check out the search results page for ‘digital product’’...
This is an assumption but we’d expect most people to click through to the Wikipedia article for a handy definition.
It’s not about the quality of the content - spoiler alert, ‘digital goods’ may have alerted you to the fact that theirs isn’t even the most authoritative source here.
Neither is it about where the result comes on the page.
It is ALLLLLL down to the trust we instinctively place in Wikipedia, thanks to their all powerful dominance when it comes to quickly finding out what something means.
Trust is the motivator here, and there is nothing that builds trust more than a strong brand. Trust us.
None of us are bigger than Google. We can’t affect (or sometimes even predict) their next move, and we’d drive ourselves mad trying to keep up.
But what we can know with certainty is that ‘being number one’ ain’t what it used to be.
More and more, it’s brand recognition, and the trust that users have in the familiar, that drives those increasingly elusive clicks and conversions.
But more importantly, when you’re building your brand your building a name, reputation, relationships and a lasting legacy. You’re becoming a company that actually matters to people.
That Google might be listening is just a bonus.
Get your branding right, and the traffic will come to you.
Signed: Danny & the Huddle Team
A True Friend