Google has increased its love of brands, and moving into 2015 it’s important for SEOs to understand how brands work and how to establish yourself and your clients as brands.
SEO’s aren’t PR people, so why do we care about branding? Well, with Google’s shift towards brand-based ranking factors, we should care a whole lot about branding. In terms of SEO, a brand is more closely related to entity association, with your business being the entity, but it doesn’t hurt to understand what true branding is, and how you can utilize it to build an online presence. While branding is different from SEO, working on your local brand can help with your SEO, thereby killing two birds with one stone (and explaining the above image!)
What is Branding?
David Warschawski of The Warschawski Agency breaks it down, stating that branding is, “the fundamental emotional experience that you want your target audience to have every time they come in contact with your company, product, or service.” While many local companies feel that building their brand, both online and offline, is nearly impossible when up against huge corporations who spend millions on establishing their brands, nothing could be further from the truth.
From an SEO standpoint, promoting your brand online should include the following:
A Consistent Website Message
If you were in a conversation with someone, casually discussing the work you do, and suddenly you switched into presentation mode, talking with extreme confidence and driving home points about your business, the person with whom you were speaking would think you were crazy. The same goes for your website. Don’t speak in a highly professional voice on one page, and in a conversational one on another. If your brand can’t stay consistent on its website, how can clients and customers trust what you’re selling? The words you choose throughout your site also help establish your brand voice. If you’re selling chainsaws, using words like “elegant” and “quant” aren’t going to establish your brand as a rugged one. Words like “wood-devouring” and “heavy duty”, on the other hand, may do just that. If you’re creating content for any site, even as an SEO, you need to know this. Additionally, search engines understand related terms, understanding, for instance, that SEO, social media, and pay per click all fall under the umbrella of internet marketing. There’s no need to stuff your content with the keyword “internet marketing”, because Google is smart enough to associate those other services with it. Content should be natural. Period.
A Strong Blog with a Consistent Voice
In order to establish your brand online, you should write articles for your blog that reinforce your brand. This goes a little deeper than writing about your industry; you should write about your industry from your brand’s perspective. This may mean using a local accent and featuring content that is geared towards community members. If you don’t want to pigeon hole yourself to the local area, you still need to establish a voice. If one post is written in a dry, extremely professional tone, and another in a playful, conversational tone, your brand will be confusing to readers. From and SEO perspective, this includes using authorship markup that will associate your name with your brand on all posts. By focusing on specific aspects of your industry, instead of your industry as a whole, you’ll potentially establish yourself as an expert and attract more buzz and mentions.
Local Name, Address, Phone (NAP) Listings
One thing major brands can’t do is brand themselves as a local company. While huge corporations try their hardest to do this, nearly everyone sees through their charade. One of the advantages local companies have over huge brands is that they are indeed local, and they should run with this aspect of their brand. If you’re branding yourself as a local company, which will evoke emotions of community pride in your buyers and clients, make sure you’re business is well established in that community. That means setting up Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, and joining community business associations such as local chambers of commerce. The best way to separate yourself from the big brands is to go places they can’t, such as local community associations; the best way to look like a big brand is to have an active social presence, a growing website, and a lot of online profiles.
By its definition, serendipity can’t be made to happen; however, you can certainly put yourself in situations where it is more likely to happen. Giving to local charities, sponsoring local events, and offering seminars about your specialty at local churches, meeting places, businesses, and libraries will help build your brand locally, and could lead to serendipitous interactions such as referrals. Is this SEO? Sure, because you never know when serendipitous encounters could lead to newspaper, blog, or website mentions of your brand. Google is most likely moving away from links and focusing on mentions, so even if they don’t link to you, you’ve strengthened your local brand. Rand Fishkin of Moz talked about the importance of serendipity is his recent webinar entitled “Cracking the SEO Code for 2015: Tactics to Love vs. Leave” (a video of the webinar can be accessed by logging in to Moz.com).
Local Presence Online
One of the best ways to strengthen your brand authority online is to participate in the local online community. That means commenting, when beneficial, on local business blogs, joining Meetup groups, and guest posting on relevant sites for the local area. Find blogs dedicated to your area and offer to guest post. Google’s algorithm factors in a website’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness), and one of the best ways to build all of these things is through support of other websites. Guest post on high quality blogs, adding value to those sites and creating a conversation about your area of expertise. Note: Don’t overdue the guest posting, as content on your own site is just as valuable, if not more valuable. Expertise can be established by online reviews. You can’t solicit reviews on Yelp, and you’re not supposed to offer rewards to people just for liking your page, but you can hand out cards asking them to visit your social media accounts, or include that information on receipts or invoices. Authority can be established through consistency of online listings and the authority of sources referencing you. Trustworthiness can be established by having a secure, SSL (https) website and links from other trustworthy sources, such as chambers of commerce.
Here’s a helpful infographic on branding that demonstrates the evolution of Google’s brand-based ranking factors:
Does Google see you as a strong brand? Try searching your name in Google and see if you get sitelinks and a knowledge graph.