Posted by randfish

What have you been doing with branded searches? If the answer is “not much,” it may be time to shift your focus a bit. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explores the huge benefits of turning some of your unbranded searches into branded and offers some key tactical advice.

How to Influence Branded Searches and Search Volumes to Earn Big Rewards Whiteboard

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little bit about how to influence branded search and get a load of benefit out of that. Some of these things that I’m going to talk about today are more theoretical. Like we think they work. We’ve experimented. We’ve seen some other folks experiment. We’re pretty sure. Then some of them are solid. We know that these things influence. Regardless, I think I can persuade you that trying to turn more of your unbranded search into branded search is a hugely positive thing. Generating more branded search in general is also hugely positive. Let me show you what I mean with some examples first.

Non-branded search

Non-branded search, these are essentially the search terms, the queries and phrases that we are all pursuing. We’re trying to rank for them. This is searchers who have not yet expressed a brand preference. They’re searching. Let’s say we’re talking to a chemist or a lab instructor at a school and they’re trying to put together all their materials for their lab. So they’re searching for things like test tubes and lab equipment and chemical safety goggles. They’re trying to figure out the best prices and the best products, the ones that’ll be the safest, the ones that’ll be best for their class. Those are unbranded. They have expressed no brand preference. They haven’t said, “Oh I want this kind and I know that.”

Branded search

Branded searches are more like, “Oh I know I want a Fisher test tube, Fisher Scientific.” Fisher test tubes is what I’m looking for, or lab equipment from Thermo. Thermo Scientific makes a bunch of lab equipment that you can buy prepackaged, kind of all together. Or chemical goggles, “I know I want the 3M variety.” 3M has, like, these awesome chemical goggles. They’re very safe, very good for this stuff.

These branded searches are preferable in many ways for the brands that own and control these companies than the non-branded searches. Here’s why.

A. Increase ease of ranking and conversion

Obviously it is way, way easier to rank well for “3M chemical goggles” if you are 3M than ranking for just “chemical goggles” if you’re 3M. You’re competing against far fewer folks. A lot of people won’t even use your brand name. Even the people who do, like maybe on Amazon.com, you’ll still get some benefit from that because they’re searching for your brand.

It also increases the propensity to convert, meaning that if someone performs that branded search, they’re more likely to actually buy that product. They’re generally speaking further down the funnel. They’ve sort of decided to at least investigate your brand, and now you have a chance to pitch them. They’re familiar. They know your brand name at least. That’s a real positive thing.

B. Affecting search suggest

The second thing that’s nice is you can affect search suggest, meaning that if lots of people, for example, started searching for “3M chemical goggles” instead of “chemical safety goggles” or “chemical goggles,” it would actually be the case that over time what you’d see Google do is in the dropdown box for “chemical safety goggles,” 3M, the word, would start to be associated with it. You’d see that in search suggest. It might be at the very bottom.

For example, if you do a search for “whiteboard,” today in Google, Whiteboard Friday is somewhere on that list, but it’s usually way down towards the bottom. In some geographies it’s probably not there at all. Over time if we get more and more people searching for Whiteboard Friday, it’ll move up in search suggest. So that means people will be more likely to perform that query. At least they’ll see it and say, “Oh that must be a brand,” or “I must have some association with that, or maybe I’m supposed to,” or “I want to investigate that, I’m curious about it.”

C. Improve rankings for non-branded queries

This is one of those speculative things. We believe that right now search volume for branded terms does have an impact on ranking for the non-branded version of the query.

We saw Google file some patents around this, but we also saw some tests in this direction that looked promising, basically saying that if . . . Let’s do Fisher for this one. Let’s say people start searching for Fisher test tubes a lot more. Google might say, “You know, I think Fisher is very relevant to the search query ‘test tubes.’ Let’s move Fisher up in the rankings for just the unbranded phrase ‘test tubes,’ because that volume is suggesting to us that this brand is more relevant to this query than maybe we initially presumed.” That’s huge as well. If you can drive up that search volume, now you can start to get benefit in the non-branded rankings.

D. Appear in “related searches” feature

You can appear in the related search feature. Related searches is usually somewhere between the middle of the page and the very bottom of the page, most of the time at the very bottom of the search page. That’s a powerful way for those 10% to 20% of people that scroll all the way to the bottom before making a click selection or before deciding to change their query, those related searches are a powerful way to suggest, just like search suggest is, that they should, instead of searching for the non-branded term, search for your branded query. The related searches, by the way, is also we think influenced by content, which I’ll talk about in a second.

E. Create an association between your brand and a keyphrase

Create an entity-style association. This is essentially the idea of co-occurring keywords. If Google is crawling the web and they see tons of documents, high-quality, trustworthy documents that contain the word “test tubes” that also contain the word “3M,” oftentimes in close proximity to the word “test tubes,” they’ll over time start to associate the word “test tubes” with the word “3M.” That can impact suggest. It can impact related. It can impact rankings. It has a bunch of positive potential impact. That can make you more relevant for all sorts of things around search that are just awesome.

F. Affect future searches and personalization

Then the last one, which is also cool and powerful, is that this can affect search personalization, meaning, for example, let’s say someone does a search for “3M chemical goggles.” They click on 3m.com. Maybe they buy them. Maybe they don’t. Next time they do a search, for example let’s say “chemical aprons,” well it turns out that Google already knows that person has visited 3M in the past. They might see that behavior and, because they’re logged into their account, they might show them 3M higher up in the rankings. They might show them 3M higher in the search suggest as they start typing. That personalization is another powerful way that you’re getting benefit from branded search.

There are all these benefits. We want to make this happen. How do we do it?

What are the tactics that an SEO can actually use?

It turns out SEOs, we’re going to have to work pretty cross-departmentally in our marketing teams to be able to make this happen because some of the best tactics require things that SEO doesn’t always own and control entirely. Sometimes you do, sometimes not.

The first one, if we can create curiosity and drive search volume via brand advertising, that’s an awesome way to go.

You’ve seen more and more of this. You have seen advertisements probably on television and YouTube ads. You’ve seen branded ads on display ads. You’ve probably heard things on the radio that say search for us, all that kind of stuff. All that classic media, everything from billboards to radio — I know I’m drawing televisions with rabbit ears still. There are probably no TVs in the US that still have rabbit ears. Magazines, print, whatever, billboards, all of that brand advertising can drive people to then be curious about the brand and to want to investigate them more. If you hear a lot about 3M goggles and the cool stuff they’re doing, well, you might be tempted to perform a search.

You can embed searches as well.

Be careful with this one. This can get spammy and manipulative and could get you into trouble. You can do it. If you do it in authentic white hat ways, you’ll probably be okay.

The idea is basically telling customers like, “Hey, if you want to research us, learn more about 3M’s goggles, don’t just take our word for it. Search Google. Go find what people are saying, what reviews are saying about our product.” You see I think it was LG or Samsung ran a big one of these where they were suggesting people do a Google search, because it turns out their phone had been very, very highly rated by all the top folks who’d done a review of them. You can do that in email. You could do it over social networks. You could do it in content. You’re essentially driving people directly to the Google search result page. That could be an embedded link, or it simply could be a suggestion to search and check people out.

You can also use public relations and content marketing, especially guest contributions and content marketing.

You can use events and sponsorship, all of that stuff to essentially drive latent interest and curiosity, kind of like we did with brand advertising but in a little more organic fashion. If The New York Times writes a piece about you, if you speak at a conference . . . This is me wildly gesticulating at a conference. It looks like I’m very dangerously, precariously perched to fall into the crowd there. Guest contributions on a website, maybe something like a Fortune.com, which takes some guest posts, driving people to want to learn more about the brand or the product that you’ve mentioned.

Then finally, you can create those keyword associations that we talked about, the entity-style associations, through word proximity and co-occurrence in web documents.

I put just web documents here, but really it’s important, trustworthy web documents from sources that Google likes and trusts and indexes. That means looking at: Where are all the places potentially on the web that lab equipment is talked about or would be talked about maybe in the future? How do I influence those authors, those creators, those publications to potentially consider including my brand, Thermo Scientific, in their documents? Or how do I create content for places like these that include my brand and include the unbranded term “lab equipment?”

Bunch of tactics, bunch of great opportunities here. I’d love to hear from you folks about what you’ve done around influencing branded search and how you’ve seen it affect your SEO campaigns overall. I’ll look forward to catching up with you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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