Increased Brand Awareness via PPC and SEO

You know how to optimize a site for the search engines using keywords, but what if you or your client want to promote awareness of a brand? Believe it or not, this is another area in which the search engines can help. SEO combined with sponsorted text advertising can provide powerful results.

Search Engines Work for Promoting Brands

On July 2004, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Nielsen//Netratings released some very interesting research: But it seems that search marketers are still not implementing sponsored text advertising as they should be.

So what was the research about? With more than 10,500 participants recruited to the task, a control group was shown search engine results without sponsored text ads (PPC ads) while another group was shown search engine results with sponsored text ads. Afterward, when respondents were asked to name a specific leading brand within a tested industry, they were 27 percent more likely to name the brand displayed in the top spot compared to a control group not exposed to the ad. Note that “top spot” and “ad” refer to paid advertising.

For advertisers who would like to promote a brand, the message is clear: if they are not currently including search engines in their advertising mix, they are missing out on an opportunity. Until now, the trend was such that advertisers saw search engines only as a “direct response” advertising channel only. In other words, they were thought of as a channel through which the advertiser seeks to attract the user into taking some direct and immediate action such as writing an email, filling out a form, picking up the phone to make a call and so forth.

Exposure beyond PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising

I would also like to add that brand advertisers could benefit greatly if they achieve top rankings within organic results while having their brand names appear within paid listings as well. From the user’s point of view, s/he would see the brand name being repeated among the top search engine results. As long as they achieve that for the right set of keywords, that’s a winning exposure!

Goals of this Article

In light of the above, in this article, I’m attempting to achieve the following goals:

  • Provide some basics about branding.

  • Highlight the importance of SEO and PPC advertising to brand marketers.

  • Provide concise information about brands and branding in general, and specifically within the context of the search engine arena.

  • Provide some critical success factors to SEOs when optimizing a brand.

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Brand advertisers try to get people (and especially consumers) to specifically recognize, identify, trust and use a certain entity. That entity is usually a trademark, product/service, company, supplier, manufacturer or service provider of some sort, but could also be an individual like Michael Jordan, for instance. As the latter implies, a brand is always identified by at least one distinct name; there is no brand without a brand name and that name plays a key role in consumers’ purchasing decisions. As Bob Marley humorously stated, “I have a BMW. But only because BMW stands for Bob Marley and The Wailers and not because I need an expensive car.”

What’s Good About a Brand?

So what’s so good about a good brand? The organizations or individuals who do the branding enjoy not only recognition by consumers but also loyalty, which translates into return customers and increased sales in general. For example, Coke continues to strengthen its brand not only to lure new cola drinkers and get existing ones to drink more and more Coke, but also to keep everyone from moving over to Pepsi. Consumer benefit from brands by enjoying a greater sense of security and reliability when purchasing a well-known, branded product or service. Specifically, return customers know what’s in store for them (think of going to McDonalds). New customers don’t know what’s in store for them but are still somehow influenced by the brand or by others who  have already purchased the brand.

Things Used to Be Simple

Before the marketing world became so sophisticated (not so long ago!), marketers didn’t invest as much effort into branding as they do today. For example, in the early 1970s some people were drinking vodka. What in the world could be “identified,” “known” or “trusted” about vodka? Well, in the late 1970’s, Absolut, the Swedish vodka was branded as “smart, showy, sassy, sophisticated, and stylish.” Along with that message and a newly-styled attractive glass bottle, Absolut became one of the hottest-selling vodkas in the U.S. market.

Absolut is such a major brand in the vodka arena today that it can not afford to not show up within the top results of Google when a user searches for “vodka.” And guess what, indeed it does (regardless of the fact that it’s displaying a very unethical SEO code of ethics –- check the home page’s source and you’re in for a hell of a surprise!).

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Within the search engine marketing arena, branding takes the form of a new art. First, it is not enough only to promote a site, via SEO efforts, to top organic results. You need to add paid listings into the advertising mix. Why? You want consumers to see as much of the brand name as possible among all possible results. You want to conquer as much visual space on the SERP as possible. And, as with banner ads that are used to maintain and increase brand awareness among Web users, you want to put in a logo or an image of the trademark besides the search engine listings whenever possible. Many PPC programs today allow you to do that for a premium fee.

So let’s see what you can do.

Optimizing a Brand Name within the Title

The first SEO-related action you should take is in your title. Usually, when promoting a brand name within a certain target market, the competition will be hard if not fierce. If the brand is already known and trusted, you want to differentiate your listing from all the search engine results that are viewed by the user. For example, if you search the incredibly competitive search term of “search engine optimization” and examine the results on the first page, you may see that and High Rankings stick out a little more than the rest despite the fact that neither are ranked within the first three organic results. In effect, some people recognize their names and I bet that they get more clicks because of that.

But what happens if you’re optimizing a site that is just starting to promote a brand and no one really knows it? That’s a harder case. First, go to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and type in your brand name. Now look under “Similar Keywords.” At best, the major search terms that you would like to target appear in the list –- and the higher, the better, since that means that Google sees your brand name as being closely associated with your targeted term (e.g. “Absolut” as a brand name is related to “vodka” as the main term you plan on targeting).

However, if your brand is new, it is most likely that Google will not show any terms that you planned on targeting. In that case, you need to decide whether to compromise keyword targeting focus for the sake of showing your brand name in the Title, or whether you focus on your term without having any unrelated words of a brand name within your Title. Personally, I would recommend the latter approach until building some critical mass of incoming and effective traffic to the site before wasting any characters within the Title. Once that mass of incoming and effective traffic is achieved, I would start pushing the brand name.

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As opposed to what was said in regards to the Title, when submitting your site to directories and establishing other links as part of your link campaign, you need to consider scalability. You can change the Title of a page on your site in a matter of minutes, but it’s not the same story with all those backlinks. When thinking of all those submitted links out there, it is hard to start updating them all when you are not in charge of the pages on which they appear. So, if you did not plug in that brand name in the title and/or description of your link submission, you may never be able to update it in the future. That is another small example of how brand building in the search engine arena is a long term process (and the SEO budget should rise accordingly).

Furthermore, if you are optimizing a known brand from the start, you want that brand name to appear within the title and/or description of your submitted link. Not only would search engines recognize that brand name as being related to the topic of your targeted search terms, users may recognize and appreciate it as well (assuming it’s an appreciated brand, of course). In other words, your listing/link sticks out more for the users and should get more clicks.

Branding and SEO within the Copy of the Site’s Pages

The SEO-related pros and cons of including the brand name in the valuable Title of the page were mentioned before, but when it comes to the copy of your Web pages, feel free to include your brand name more than once. Moreover, it is important to do so in order to gradually provide your users with that crucial sense of reliability and trust as your brand becomes more known and valuable. Also, if people have gradually become aware of your brand over time then it is likely that brand name already appears on various pages on the Web. Thus, Google and other leading search engines are already “aware” that your brand name is associated with the same topic that your major search terms are associated with. Thus, plugging your brand name into the copy will boost the relevancy of your pages.

The Challenge and Reward of Successfully Optimizing a Brand

Optimizing a brand is usually a challenge for advanced SEO professionals who have already gained experience with other SEO campaigns. When you think of “branding” with search engines, you need to think more about “search engine marketing” than simply “search engine optimization.” This involves mixing effective PPC ads into the advertisement mix. In regard to SEO, you need to consider the appearance of the distinct brand name within the strategic Title, anchor texts of incoming links and within the copy of your Web pages. Optimizing a brand will take longer than an average project (unless you already have an excellent starting point) since the market is most likely more competitive. However, the rewards are high. The reward fo ryour client, as the IAB and Nielsen/Netratings research report states, is that more (27%) users will become aware of the brand. Your reward as an SEO is another successful job completed on a high-profile brand!

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