Why Brand Building Should Be the Foundation of Your SEO Strategy

The following is a guest post by Meaghan Yorke. Meaghan is a web designer who is quite passionate about writing. These days she is all about researching various IT related topics. When she is not working she enjoys dancing classical ballet.

Branding is more than a logo or an established slogan. It goes much deeper than that. 

A brand is a perception of your business through the eyes of the customer, the experience provided behind your product or service. It’s what makes your business reside in the hearts and minds of the consumers.

Branding and SEO work great in sync as they both paint the natural representation of your brand - no gimmicks. Users trust and rely on search engines to provide best, relevant and personalized results. Consumers trust and rely on brands to provide the best recommendations, personalized experiences, and trustworthy relationships.

Although SEO performance can be quantified, branding KPIs are a bit vaguer. But there’s an underlying connection between these two that drives organic growth. Not to argue which one is better. Let’s elaborate.

NAME RECOGNITION AND BRAND AWARENESS

What drives your click in Google SERPs for specific queries? How often have you clicked the first result? Organic link CTR isn’t as concentrated as previously stated by the people in the industry. Since 2011, the organic CTR in Google SERPs has been dropping for the first ranked result down the line for the rest. A more recent study suggests that top organic results drive up to 20% CTR while positions #2 to #5 range 9%-12% CTR. This isn’t a whole lot lower and it suggests that people who just started shopping around or are researching a topic they’re not familiar with, are going to click on a result they are more familiar with.

And this is the link between SEO and branding, your mantra and starting point - a familiar brand name will give you a greater chance of click-through even if you aren’t positioned as #1 in the SERPs. Well established brand presence is vital for your SEO strategy success - the greater the CTR on your result in SERPs, the better link, and rank positioning.

AUTHORITY BUILDING

Two words - Featured snippets.

The appearance of rich snippets has been increasing in SERPs over the past few years. Knowledge boxes, direct answer boxes, question and answer panels just to name a few.

GoogleMyBusiness should be your first business listing - it’s your doorway to branding in Google SERPs. For any branded keyword search query, GoogleMyBusiness listing will appear in the right side panel of the SERP along with additional data such are your social media profiles and shared posts on your Google+ page.

In order to compete for featured snippets in SERPs, your websites posts and pages need to have a valid HTML5 markup and structured data implemented in form of microdata or JSON-LD. This helps add context and structure to the content fields of your website and makes it easier for the web crawlers to understand the semantics and meaning behind it. This is something that top digital agencies with a technical SEO background should be able to implement seamlessly in your websites page and post templates.

Web crawlers ARE getting smarter in content interpretation though. Providing great user experience should always have priority over technical on-page search engine optimization. Content beats code, so focus on becoming an authoritative figure in your industry, market, and niche by creating topic-relevant content that brings value to the end user. It’s essential not only for better SEO performance but for building brand awareness as well.

LINK BUILDING

Link building is a cornerstone of any SEO strategy. Signals from backlinks make up to 23% of total confirmed Google ranking signals today. Your positioning in SERPs is directly proportional to the number and quality of backlinks acquired from websites across the web. In layman terms, link building can be seen as a sort of endorsement.

From the branding perspective, it’s way harder to build quality links and in volume without having a well-established brand. High-quality publications with established and knowledgeable communities are most likely to have a strong editorial team behind it. A good editorial practice is to always check the brand and the representative that reached out in its name for social profiles and their recent backlink portfolio. If a brand or its representative is shady or new, they will most likely be denied of any publication or simply ignored. So it becomes way harder for them to acquire a quality backlink on a topic relevant website.

And there’s the other side of a coin. If your brand is well established with a strong online presence, it will be much easier for you to acquire natural, organic backlinks across the web, without a direct outreach. Authoritative industry representatives that blog and publish across the web usually research their topics and back them up with sources from blogs, publications, research and whitepapers published on well-established websites. If you were to publish a piece on a blog that has a strong branded image and a community behind it, it will most likely be used as a reference in future publications. And if this was your website, you may certainly hope for it to be naturally referenced and linked back to from other topic relevant websites.

Let’s set up an experiment, here’s an example - we’re using non-personalized Google search to look for “microdata markup for web agency”. You can use this link. The official library any experienced technical SEO specialists would definitely visit is Schema.org, but it doesn’t contain any information about this markup, it’s non-existing.

So which of the results would you click on if you aren’t familiar with the topic? Which result would you refer to if someone asks you the question? Which one of them would you use as a reference in your publication? Let me guess, it isn’t the same result that answers all of the above.

BRANDED SEARCH QUERIES ARE EASY WIINS

This somewhat goes without saying but people are more likely to find what they’re after if they know what they’re looking for. If a user googles your brand name, they are most likely looking for you and what you have to offer. These users are already familiar with your brand and what it has to offer so the probability of click-through and conversion is greater. Branded keywords prune the competition.

By syncing your branding strategy with SEO engagement, you are getting on a right path to growing brand recognition. In time, you will be able to drive brand searches with more conversion value than of those search queries made by users who are just starting to shop around.

THE KEY TAKEAWAY

When starting out, without any previous online presence, you can focus your marketing efforts on SEO performance. Techniques like link building will get your website noticed by search engines, and if done properly, will start ranking in SERPs.

However, focusing on branding from the early stages is a much smarter move. Branding strategies help you build name, reputation, and authority. It opens a path to establishing a strong online presence. And it definitely improves your chances of acquiring natural links and brand mentions.

Either way, the crawlers will crawl. The user experience is what will always prevail.

The Marketer’s Guide to Cannibalization

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When marketers and businesses talk about cannibalization, they are talking about taking a bite out of their own sales with new or competing products. A good example of this is the story of Diet Coke.

Diet Coke was the pet project of a senior manager at the Coca Cola Company for many years. At the time, Coca-Cola was far and away the number one soda on the market. And the company already had a diet soda, called Tab, which was moderately successful.

Diet Coke was developed somewhat in secret because of the strong opposition to it within the company. Executives, salespeople, and marketers all believed that launching a diet soda with the Coke name would hurt sales of both Tab and Coca-Cola. They were worried about cannibalization.

Of course, those fears didn’t come to fruition in the case of Diet Coke. When it finally launched it was a huge success, and continues to be the number one diet cola on the market.

Why Fear Cannibalization?

Fears of cannibalization are often legitimate. When a company’s growth strategy involves launching new products, there is a fine line between products that are truly new and products that directly compete.

A truly new product is responding to an unmet need in the marketplace. It either targets a new group of consumers that are not already purchasing your existing product in that category, or it targets an additional need observed in the same group of consumers you already sell to.

If consumers view the new product as an alternative to the old, then cannibalization may occur. Consumers will simply shift from one product to the other.

Is Cannibalization Bad?

Cannibalization sounds bad, but that’s not always the case. It depends on a number of different factors. To illustrate this, let’s look at three different cases where cannibalization can actually be a good thing:

  1. Versioning – if you are replacing an older product with a newer version, something that is truly better, cannibalization might be good. By getting you customers to switch from the old to the new, you are better serving their needs. Although this may not directly increase sales, it does two things. First, it keeps them from switching to your competitor’s product, which is an increase in sales from what would have been. And second, it builds brand strength by creating happier customers.

  2. Upselling – if your new product is more expensive than the old product, then the value of each sale increases. In this case, successfully getting your existing customers to switch from the lower value product to the new, higher value product, will lead directly to an increase in revenue. Therefore, without adding new customers, you can still grow your business.

  3. Growing Overall Market Share – this last case is one where we can, again, look at the case of Diet Coke. Sure, some Tab drinkers switched to Diet Coke. And some Coca-Cola drinkers also switched to Diet Coke. But Diet Coke also brought in new customers that previously may have avoided soda or drank one of the competitor’s drinks. And if the losses to your old products are more than offset by the gains of the new, then the overall business grows.

How to Judge Cannibalization in Your Business

It won’t always be obvious whether a new product will cannibalize the old. But those kinds of questions and decisions may be yours to make. So how do you make them?

First, understand the costs associated with developing the new product. Second, understand the competitive landscape. What else is on offer? Are other companies aiming to steal market share with a new/better product? And third, prepare some realistic expectations of performance.

If the cost of developing and selling the new product is more than the overall gains expected by its release, you probably shouldn’t move forward. If the losses to your existing products are higher than the expected new business generated, also not the smartest decision. But if you risk losing business to a competitor and the only way to keep customers is by releasing a new product, then sometimes it’s worth the added cost.

Who Are You Bidding Against?

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Knowing who your competitors are is a top priority for all businesses. If I were to ask most marketers and small business owners, “who are your top competitors?”, they would be able to answer off the top of their head.

Now, are those the same people you are bidding against on Google?

Not always. But it’s easy to find out.

If you use Google Ads (formerly AdWords) for SEM, you can run a simple report for each campaign that gives you very valuable competitive information. It’s called Auction Insights, and it exists in the Google Ads interface under Ad Groups.

What Does Auction Insights Tell You?

The following is a list of metrics available in Auction Insights:

  1. Display URL Domain – this is the competitor.
  2. Impression Share – the number of impressions you received divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive.
  3. Avg. Position – the average position of each advertiser’s ad on the page.
  4. Overlap Rate – how often another advertiser’s ad received an impression in the same auction that your ad also received an impression.
  5. Position Above Rate – how often another advertiser’s ad in the same auction shows in a higher position than your own, when both of your ads were shown at the same time.
  6. Top of Page Rate – how often your ad (or the ad of another advertiser, depending on which row you're viewing) was shown at the top of the page in search results.
  7. Outranking Share – how often your ad ranked higher in the auction than another advertiser’s ad, or if your ad showed when theirs did not.

How to Use the Auction Insights Report

Like I mentioned earlier, the companies that are bidding against you in paid search are not always the same companies that you might name as your nearest competitors. Therefore, you need a separate understanding of competition when it comes to paid search.

These are the companies that you are competing against when someone is searching for something you offer. And you want to make sure you outwork them.

So much of paid search is about finding the right position, on the right keywords, at the right times. Your competitors are doing the same thing. They have the same goals.

Use the Auction Insights provided by Google to gain a deeper understanding of their strategy, and how it overlaps with yours. You might learn something about who they’re targeting and how much they are willing to pay to show up at the top of the page.

And by looking at the Auction Insights over time, you will better see how the competitive landscape is changing month to month and year to year.

Applying the 80/20 Rule to Search Keywords

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Whether we are talking about paid search or organic SEO efforts, not all keywords should be treated equally.

If we apply the 80/20 Rule, which states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, to your search keywords, we assume that 80% of all traffic to your website will come from just 20% of your keywords.

In truth, if your company is like the majority of others, the ratio is a bit more dramatic – closer to 90/10.

Prove It

At this point, some of you will not believe me. Others will have already heard this before.

Regardless of how you feel about the numbers provided above, it is important that you find out the truth for your business. And there are a number of tools available to help you do just that.

First, you can go to the person responsible for your SEO and PPC. Those may be two different people. They may be people outside of your company. Regardless, the tools that they use to track and optimize their efforts will have all the information necessary to judge what percentage of all the keywords they’re targeting bring in the majority of search traffic.

For those of you who are doing this for yourself, you can use Google Ads or Google Analytics reports to find the true ratio for your company. Look at the last 30 or 90 days and export a full list of the keywords that brought in traffic. Sort it from highest to lowest and then simply do the math.

How many keywords, out of all the ones searched, does it take to get to 80% of all traffic?

Why Does it Matter?

Now that you have proved to yourself, and your boss, that the majority of search traffic is coming in to your website on a limited number of total keywords, it’s time to let that inform your decision making.

A lot of efforts are focused on keyword expansion. And while this strategy is not misguided unto itself, the numbers above should suggest to us that this is not always the wisest initial option. The much bigger impact can be made by focusing your efforts on the keywords with the highest traffic.

You can capture even more traffic from those keywords – or acquire the traffic more efficiently – in a number of different ways.

  1. Why pay for the traffic if you can get it for free? If you know which keywords you’re spending the most money on in paid search, you should start targeting those keywords in your SEO efforts. If you can turn paid traffic into organic traffic, you save money that you can put toward other uses.
     
  2. Find out who is outbidding you. It’s likely your competitors are driving traffic from those very same keywords. But if you know who they are and what they are doing, you can compete and win a higher percentage of total search traffic.
     
  3. Rise up the first page. You may already be getting organic clicks to your site from high volume keywords if you are on page one. But that doesn’t mean your work is done. With each position you rise toward the coveted top spot, the percentage of total search traffic goes up almost exponentially. So don’t settle for page one, aim for position one.

What if Traffic isn’t the Point?

Traffic isn’t always the point. In fact, unless you are a publisher that derives their income from ad impressions, traffic is rarely ever the point.

Your aim is something else. Conversions.

Whether conversions mean leads, sales, donations, contacts, or anything else, you want traffic that takes action. And so instead of measuring which keywords lead to the most traffic, simply measure which keywords lead to the most conversions, using the same tools discussed earlier.

By gaining a deeper understanding of where your best traffic is coming from, you can refine your search efforts and spend your time on those activities that truly move the needle.

3 Simple Changes That Will Supercharge Your Content

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Content marketing is an all-encompassing term that has peaked and fallen off in years past. But just because use of the term is on the decline, doesn’t mean that successful content marketing strategies are any less effective.

In fact, the companies that are succeeding with content are using it to drive more sales, more loyalty, more brand awareness, higher levels of community engagement, and more.

But too many companies are still wasting their time doing content for content’s sake. It’s time to take a hard look at the return on investment of your content marketing efforts. What is it doing for you? What value is it adding?

If your content marketing is barely moving the needle, you need to make some changes. And if you are not ready to throw in the towel for good, you need to test some new practices that have potential to improve your results.

Here are three things you can do to get more about of your content marketing efforts:

1) A/B Test Your Headlines

Just like we test different subject lines for our emails, in an effort to get more people to open and read them, we should test different headlines for any piece of content.

A good headline makes all the difference. The right headline grabs attention and leads a user to view the piece of content we publish.

And though there are countless resources for best practices when it comes to headline writing, the only way to know for sure what headline will attract more readers is to test them in the real world. A free tool like Google Optimize will allow you to test multiple headlines for every article and settle on the one that gets the most visits, clicks, reads, conversions, etc.

2) Make It Easy to Share

The sites that succeed with content benefit from engaged readers/users. As a company, there is only so much that you can do to promote your content by yourself. To get real results, you need to leverage the virality of the web.

Content that is easy to share is more likely to get shared.

Making your content easier to share is not hard. There are existing plugins you can add to your website that allow people to publish to their preferred social network with one click. And you can (and should) customize the way your content appears when someone adds them to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and others.

3) Invest in Media

Too many marketers treat content as a one-size-fits-all process. We write blog posts and articles and hope they get shared. But this outdated vision of the web is bound to fail.

Today, there are so many different formats to experiment with, that if you only write articles, you shouldn’t expect to succeed.

It make take more time and money to create engaging video content, live video, Snaps, images and infographics, but this is exactly the type of content that gets shared. The content and the audience should determine the format, not the team you have or the budget you’re working with.

If budget and people are limiting factors for your company, perhaps you should invest elsewhere and ignore content marketing for now.