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Branded search results and strategies are interesting. I’ve seen my share of conversations where clients or business leaders make it a goal to rank for “the brand name.”
SEO Expert Greg Gifford told me on the Business Storytelling Podcast that ranking for your brand name is usually one of the easier SEO strategies. Of course, there can be exceptions, but generally speaking and especially for emerging brands that’s true.
I do agree with Greg. Most of the brands I’ve built or worked with over the years naturally rank for their name. I’ve also seen some other developments when it comes to branded search and let’s discuss them here. The article is broken down into a few sections:
- How others covering your brand helps with branded search results
- The realities of branded search in voice
- Practicalities of branded search
- Should we target branded search through paid campaigns?
What’s branded search?
Here’s a definition: People go to the search bar and start typing in the brand name and sometimes even the brand URL.
Then in Google results the person gets served your website as a result and clicks on it. Google takes the credit for an organic search hit but really they could have just typed in the website address and then it would be a direct visit.
Another version of branded search is the results that show up when people search for your brand. This is where it can get trickier. Many brands can own their branded search results and be listed high. But that’s not always the case. And social media accounts are now listed prominently as well. So are podcasts.
How others covering your brand helps with branded search results
In a world of merging voice search and where voice is just showing one result branded search becomes even more important. The authors of the Voice Strategy book told me on the Business Storytelling Podcast said clients don’t usually like it when their brand’s Wikipedia page shows up first. That’s a sign to get that branded search and voice strategy going.
The more your brand gets covered the more likely it is that others are showing up for your branded search. That can also be used as an advantage and to add credibility to your brand. Let me explain.
I’m usually very willing to go on other people’s podcasts and hardly ever have problems getting guests on my own podcast. And those podcast appearances can help establish my credibility when they show up in search for topics related to me. For example, a search for “Content Performance Culture,” my third book also shows my appearances on two podcasts:
Here’s how that looks on the SERP:
The branded search results for my book are in this order:
- This website
- Nick’s website
- My LinkedIn profile
- Jason’s website
- My book’s podcast on Apple
- One of my podcast episodes on Anchor
It’s worth noting that Nick and Jason have an article on their websites with the podcast embedded. I prefer to listen to podcasts on Spotify or Google Podcasts, but posting them on your website with a write up can help with search. As can be seen in this example.
From my perspective, it’s fantastic that Nick and Jason show up for my book. Them being listed – as experts in the field – gives more credibility to my Content Performance Culture brand. If somebody clicks on their links my content is also there and my book can be purchased through the links on those pages.
This is one reason why generally speaking it’s always good to be available for podcast appearances, quotes for articles, etc.
Branded search and influencer marketing
It’s also important when your brand works with influencers and content creators. Here are the typical questions I get when I partner with brands:
- How many people read your content each month?
- How many people are on the email list?
Hardly anyone asks about SEO. Is there a chance for you to rank for our branded search?
It depends and be wary of people who guarantee anything like that. But there’s long-term value in getting an influencer or a publisher to produce content that is educational around your brand and that stays published. When it shows up in search that can help your brand.
Let’s take the example of Anchor podcast hosting review. My articles isn’t showing on Page 1 (yet). But many others are and Anchor – aside from their ad – doesn’t even show up on Page 1 of SERPs.
When you click on those drop downs you get more links to other content.
There’s real value in getting coverage or participating in other people’s content pieces. Amanda Milligan talked about the top ways to get earned media here.
The realities of branded search queries
Search engine optimization matters and when done well can drive fantastic business results.
But of course, it’s Google’s world and we just live in. Google used to tell us what search terms people used to come to our sites. Today, not so much. As you can see here most keywords are hidden for me. I can’t even tell how I’m doing in branded search.
That’s a great amount of search traffic and I’m glad that is happening. But before I declare myself an SEO expert when most traffic comes from search engines, that might not be the end of that story.
Some of that could be branded search – which is different from other organic search traffic.
How many branded searches are there per month? No idea. Given that my name gets searched around 100/month on Google and “authentic storytelling” about 40 there’s still plenty of other terms – in this case.
You can also see how that looks for your site by seeing what the high performing posts are. For example, my top posts in a recent year were all about social media tactics. It appears they drew a lot of that traffic. So I can guess that branded searches aren’t making up the majority of my SEO traffic. Based on the articles it appears most searches are coming for actual information – not branded searches.
Another example of how branded search happens
When I start typing in web addresses on Safari, here’s how that looks.
Example 1: Meetings Today
The first link actually is a direct click to the website. The second is a Google search.
I noticed this when I clicked the second link myself. I certainly shouldn’t be counted as a lead or conversion or whatever under an SEO program.
The other example is when I search for ChristophTrappe.com.
That site actually redirects to my page on here and that shows up as the top suggestion. And right below is the Google search link.
Nothing to fret about really but something to be aware of.
Branded search is nice because it means that people know you and are searching for you.
Should I target my branded keyword on paid search?
This section of the post stemmed from the following experience, which I posted to my social media channels:
Free PPC advice given on flight from LAX – SEA. Was sitting next to a business owner.
Googled his company and there was an ad for their site.
“You are already ranking No. 1 for your brand name. No reason to target that keyword. Waste of money.”
Let’s look up some keywords you should go after.
Of course, the answer is: It depends on whether this is a good investment or not.
You may have to spend those dollars if your competitors are going after your brand name. Thanks to John Lynch, founder of HITMC.com for reminding me.
And of course Google, like all of us, is trying to make money.
And here are a couple of examples of companies spending ad dollars on their competitor’s brand name.
If you are not yet ranking for your brand name, because it’s a new company or product, maybe it’s okay to try to buy your brand name in advertising campaigns. But, really, if it’s new, who will search for it? Maybe buy an ad on your competition’s name. So that would technically be the reverse strategy from above.
There might even be some slight branding advantage for your brand to show as an ad even if your organic result shows right below.
An audience may interpret the ad and the organic result as a signal to being legit. So there’s that potentially.
In general, though, I see little value in spending money in trying to rank for keywords you are already ranking for organically. That’s the theorist in me. The reality is that the larger the brand the more coverage by others likely exist. Spending some dollars on ad campaigns is probably necessary.
How to set your brand name as a negative keyword in Google Ads
It’s funny to me how content marketing has changed. A few years ago, we would tell everyone: “We focus on creating good content. Advertising is a different department.”
But running ad campaigns is a different skill, one I would recommend content marketers learn. Of course, Google makes it easier and easier to run campaigns. The latest smart ads feature makes it easier than ever. Logging into a new Google Ads account you’ll get the Smarts Campaign area as the default option.
When I run a campaign to my project page, the ad and keywords look like this:
I set certain keywords when I started the campaign and Google Ads also makes recommendations. As you can see they added “Christoph Trappe.” Seeing an ad when I search for my name does potentially add some cloud. Real businesses spend money to make money…. or something like that.
But honestly, in this case, it’s a waste of money. I already rank for my name. It’s easy to turn off the keyword and add it to my negative keyword list via the Google Ads app.
Click on Manage All, which gets you this screen:
From there you can easily toggle off any keywords you don’t want your ad to show for. Once saved, the negative keyword with prior stats will show grayed out on the previous screen:
As you can see, I believe in an integrated strategy that includes:
- Guest appearances on other people’s podcasts
- Some guest blogging
- Content on my own platforms
- Organic distribution, like social and email
- Strategic paid campaigns and smart targeting
I’m certainly thankful that it’s becoming easier and easier to run an integrated campaigns and even from just an iPad. The Google Ads platform for Smart campaigns works well on mobile Safari and in the app, for example.
Don’t forget about non brand search terms in your SEO strategy
Another piece to focus on is to rank for terms that people search for when they are looking for something specific but do not know your brand yet.
Instead of trying to rank for Christoph Trappe I should try to rank for terms I offer tips in, like:
- Content marketing for companies
- Social media tips that aren’t a waste of time
- Storytelling strategies that are actually authentic
That’s another reason why you would want to have a thought leadership program around the core knowledge topics of your company. Then you can draw people in through those and accelerate the growth through strategic topical keyword buys.
Marketing and content syndication certainly can take time. But be careful how you spend budget on accelerating results.
I’m all interested in business strategies that help us grow and we may have to bid on our brand names in search. But let’s not treat it as a default strategy. At the end of the day, many of these strategies go hand in hand and should operate in concert.