Branding v Optimization- Something Has to Give.

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Branding v Optimization- Something Has to Give.

Hot on the heels of my last article, “The Basics of Search Engine Optimization“, many commenters and emailers have let me know their opinions and stories about branding conflicts with search marketing. In-house SEO’s feel the pain more than the rest as they struggle to keep the keywords in front of the searchers, only to have corporate directives control the page title, relegating the website to the 3rd or 4th page of search results.

I am friends with many in-house SEO’s. From Fortune 500’s, multi-national companies, even local big businesses, the problems of these in-house search marketers are primarily the same: calling things what they are, and optimizing for those keywords rather than the brand.

There are some that feel passionately about branding their companies and that search engine optimization should take a back seat to that branding. To them I have to say, “tough luck.” Sorry, but it just doesn’t work the way. Not if you want to be found and get the most exposure for your site.

Here’s why:

Customer Vocabulary
You have to be pretty arrogant to think that branding is the primary goal of a website, and that searchers will respond to that. Unless you are a major household name, people rarely search for you unless they already know you or have information about you. Even then, no business has cornered the search market on actual concepts. Just because people know your business name does not mean that they are searching for you.

Here are a few examples of how some well-known brands stack up against the search term popularity:

Tennis Racquet
tennis racket keywords

Car Insurance
car insurance keywords

Digital Camera
digital camera keywords

Laptop Computer
laptop computer keywords

tire keywords

courtesy: Keyword Discovery – keyword research tool

Despite being household names, these brands hold very little sway when people are searching for the actual product. Very few are searching for the brand in comparison to the primary keyword concepts. Not everyone knows who you are.

Searcher Control
The internet is a medium that businesses cannot control. There are numerous conversations taking place, and unfortunately, most companies are not even aware of what is being said about them. Customers are talking; many are talking about their experiences with companies and products. Businesses cannot control this conversation, and when they attempt to do that, it backfires. Spectacularly, in some cases. Engaging in the conversation with customers is a good idea, dominating the conversation and controlling it isn’t.

This is not the age of the corporate message to the mass market. This is the age of the searcher, as they are they ones using the tools and conversations of the internet to drive the demand. The internet is the only medium that allows customers to tell companies when they are interested in their message, and not the other way around. TV commercials, billboards, magazines, even banner ads on websites are a “shotgun” approach to mass marketing. Get the brand out in front of the market, try to affect the decision. However, the message first has to be relevant. If the message isn’t relevant, then that ad, the billboard, they really have no hold on me. However, when I am looking for a product, then I control who I listen to and what I see.

Brand + Keyword
Very few people are searching for you; they are searching for your product. The only change in that is when people know specifically what they want, and then they add the brand to the product name. In that case, your site had better be found.

Considering the buying cycle, many consumers have researched products on line, using many search methods to get reviews and pricing. After making the decision, they know the brand that they want and they search specifically for that. Now, it is up to your site to be found for that search, as the potential of that searcher becoming a buyer is very high.

There have been many studies that show that the conversion rate is very high for searches referrals that contain both the brand name and the product name. I have observed this trend as well from analysing hundreds of websites. The more detailed a searcher is in the keyword along with abranded term, the more potential of converting them to a customer.

In most cases, searches for a specific brand or a company name will find the website. It is (in most cases) very easy to optimize for a company name. Those who know you will find you, those who don’t won’t.

The Long Tail
Yes, the long tail again. You simply cannot focus entirely on your brand name and a single product keyword. Your customers don’t do that, and aren’t you trying to reach them? Find out the many names that customers call your products; they are varied and sometimes very specific, depending on many factors. To focus on a brand name or a single keyword will cause you to miss the greater part of the market, and also the most profitable part of the market.

Rule #1
Call the stuff what your customers call it! If you don’t, no one will find it.

Rule #2
Corporate Branding has its place. And its place is not in the sole ownership of the page title. As I have said, the title tag is the “beachfront property” of a website. For those that choose to have nothing but the branding in the title, that beachfront property quickly becomes a lonely island.
Nestle title tags

Related articles:
10 ways that SEO (website marketing) is like Sales
The Three C’s of Marketing: Revisited – Content, Context, Community
The Lost Art of Sales

About the Author:

Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN. As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.


  1. Matt McGee May 31, 2007 at 11:42 pm - Reply

    I hate to comment without adding great value/insight, Matt, but I just wanted to say THANKS for an excellent post and give you a virtual pat on the back or something. Amen to all of the above!

  2. Jozian (Jeff Jockisch) June 17, 2007 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this well conceived post, Matt. Your arguments are compelling and the pictoral documentation is a bonus.

  3. Matt Bailey June 17, 2007 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the compliments, guys. That is really what helps to make this blogging project worthwhile.

    I just really want to educate people on the simple things that can make a big difference in their online marketing plans. Thanks for the comments and the links!

  4. Barry Welford June 18, 2007 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Let me join the chorus, Matt. It really shouldn’t need to be said. Clearly the Internet has changed the power structure. The consumer is in control. If Mr(s) BigBrand hasn’t realized that (s)he will end up wasting a great deal of that Push Marketing budget.

  5. Timothy Meany August 15, 2008 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    It will be interesting in the next 10 years to see if our graphic design studio does more print design or website design. Right now print design is still holding on, but who knows.

  6. finally March 1, 2009 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    finally, SOMEONE wrote down what i always thought. sometimes i really wonder. well they hired me for SEO. why do they want this bad bad bad branding? cant the company name be at last, for example: “keyword page title – company name”. but no they argue about their branding… blablabla… 😀

  7. Emma Brand April 1, 2009 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Just stumbled across your blog recently, and will concur with the others on a pretty solid post.

    Since you’ve written this however, the “Vince Update” has now seemingly given more power to the brands, meaning they can focus less on their names, and rather on their core products and services.

    May be worth a follow up post down the line?

  8. Lee Norwich April 11, 2009 at 6:28 am - Reply

    This is a very common argument than an SEO will have with managers and company directors who do not understand SEO.

    Also often with different spellings of words (e.g. advisor and adviser) you have to go by which is most commonly searched

  9. Clayton Shumway August 24, 2009 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Great point, knowing what your target customer is searching for is key to developing your keyword strategy. Curious to see how search develops over the next few years…

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