Brand Strategy and SEO Work Together

Brand strategy and SEO, particularly technical SEO, are often thought of as separate in business. The point of brand strategy, brand marketing, and strong technical SEO within your search engine marketing plan is to promote awareness with the right target audiences, build a trustworthy business relationship at scale, and ultimately exchange value with customers in return for increased revenue. SEO and brand marketing both aim for the same target, increased awareness and optimizing the cost to acquire a new customer. 

Brand strategy is about positioning your company in a way that makes it stand out clearly from the competitors and provide value in a meaningful way to a distinct group of people.

Brand strategy ensures you’re not wasting your time and energy with offers and messaging that cause friction with your target market. Get it right and your sales conversions flow more quickly and smoothly.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the way you set your website coding, page content, site structure, keyword selection, web hosting technologies, and user experience. All of these factors impact both the way a search engine ranks your website and how people perceive your business hence, it’s a branding factor as well.

A common, modern SEO strategy that ensures your energy isn’t wasted is creating content that ranks for many multi-word keyword phrases, better known as “long-tail keywords.” These keywords tend to be cheaper and easier to rank, which over time turns it into more traffic and leads resulting in lower customer acquisition costs. 

SEO Priority Pyramid

Search engine optimization can be broken down into four parts. 

  • Technical SEO: This refers to improving the technical aspects of a website in order to rank higher. For example, making a website more crawlable for search engines or improving your page speed metrics. 
  • Off-page SEO: This encapsulates SEO efforts like backlink research, keyword analysis, and any other factor that is external from your website to help your rankings and the relevance of your site.
  • On-page SEO: This means optimizing the actual content of your website, including things like headings, implementing keywords in your site copy, and writing quality content with the intention of ranking for a keyword.
  • Link Building: This is the last part of the SEO equation.  Once you’ve ensured your prior three factors are covered, then you can move into promoting your website to build backlinks to it.

Content Writing for On-Page SEO and Brand Strategy

In 2020, on-page SEO is more about optimizing all on-page elements to ensure a great overall user experience.  Centering your strategy around a great user experience gives both the users and Google what they want.  The vast majority of Google users are coming to the search engine to find information that relates to the questions or problems they are dealing with in life.  When you provide answers to these questions through the content you provide on your website, you’ve taken the first step towards delighting the user with a great experience.

Taking this a step further, when your website content is more thorough than your competitors’ content and it empowers your readers to take positive action against their problems then you’ve provided a better user experience.

The most important thing to remember about brand strategy is that the perception that people have about your brand is malleable.  This means you have control over how people perceive your brand.  Even if you’re a small or medium-sized company, you can generate the perception that you can better serve or outperform your larger competitors by publishing authoritative content in your space.

Consistently publishing guides, articles, and blogs that help your target audience improve their lives eventually positions you in a way that search engines can rank you for tens, hundreds, or even thousands of keyword topics.

The end result of this is a perception with your customers that your brand is a true expert, offers quality value, and can outperform others.   This is especially the case when you take the time to write quality articles that cover a subject matter in-depth (not to be confused with writing long articles for the sake of word count).  It’s a logical correlation that quality content tends to be longer because it covers more details and this in turn tends to draw in more backlinks and social shares.  In return for all of this, your brand gains increased exposure due to Google ranking your content for a myriad of keyword phrases.  This gives your brand a boost as well in channel dominance and the increased chance that your thought leadership and all of your other brand messaging are actually consumed by the market.  Recent data backs this up as well.  Moz’s 2020 Google Search survey found that almost half of all Google users trust the information they find in search to make important financial, legal, and medical decisions.  Failing to ensure your brand ranks for important terms in your industry means that you’re missing out on connecting with valuable future customers.

Rankings Influence Perception of Brand Authority

An SEO strategy that produces website clicks through top-ranking search results is also a brand awareness strategy because there is a bias towards the top 3 search results — they receive an average of 75% of all clicks.  It’s also a brand authority strategy because we already know users trust search results to make a number of important life decisions.  

Optimize your content to provide great user experience and ranking signals. This has been a smart business strategy for a long time for both large and small businesses — and it still is today.  In 2019, a survey was conducted on 1,400 users to see how they use Google.  One of the most interesting factors is that despite Google giving more preference to Google property listing — paid ad spaces — nearly 72% of all users click organic search results over paid ad links.  This means that the long-tail keyword content your site ranks for is still falling into the gaze and click path of most Google users!

Zero-click paid search spots and google owned assets are taking over the SERPs.  There are more results now that are paid or zero-click SERPS, BUT you can still generate new traffic, leads, and customers by focusing on the right long-tail keywords where zero-click and paid can’t necessarily dominate.  While it takes more planning and effort, the silver lining is that organic value hasn’t diminished if you execute properly.

It gets even more interesting from there.  “75 percent of respondents either click on the first one or two results, scan page one looking for the most relevant answer to their query, or visit multiple results from page one.”   The numbers we are seeing here in the 2019 report are even more skewed than the early 2010s.  Back then the general rule of thumb was that the first search result would get 30-40% of clicks and the second result would get 15-20%.  The trend that has occurred only goes to show that creating content and getting it ranked in the top 1 or 2 positions puts you in a position to increase both brand awareness and brand authority within your overall brand strategy.

Technical SEO and Brand: Site Performance

Page Speed

Optimizing your site speed (page speed), and making it easier for search bots to crawl and index your site is an important technical SEO factor, but it will also help your website convert leads and play into your overall brand strategy.  

Page speed has long been an SEO ranking factor. Speed can refer to one of two metrics: either the time to first byte, which is the time it takes a browser to get the first byte from a server, or page speed, which measures the time a page takes to fully display content.

Beginning in 2010, Google announced that page speed would be a ranking factor for desktop. Then, in 2018 Google announced that page speed would be a mobile ranking factor. Finally, in May 2020 Google announced that the 2021 core algorithm update will be focused on making page experience (user experience) a ranking factor. The update will include three new metrics called core web vitals, which will measure different page performance attributes. The three core web vitals can be measured using the PageSpeed Insights tool and all go into determining your overall PageSpeed score. 

Slow websites are associated with higher bounce rates and lower conversion rates. That means, if you have a slow website, users are more likely to hop off your site quickly, rather than sticking around to make a purchase. I think we can all relate to this experience from a consumer perspective. Let’s say you wanted to buy a backpack, and in your search, you see an Ad for something that fits your needs and your style, and you click onto it. Except, when you arrive at the site, it takes more than 30 seconds to load, and then when you go to compare this backpack to other styles and colors on the site, those pages are also slow to load, and so you just click off and look for your backpack somewhere else. Not only is this bad for your conversion rates, but it’s bad for the overall perception of your brand. Simply put, slow site speeds make your website feel bad by inconveniencing your potential customer and this ultimately results in poor brand perception.

Dynamic Rendering

Another crucial technical SEO factor is the ability of search engines to crawl and index your site with a limited crawl budget. Certain sites are more challenging to crawl than others and can benefit from a concept called dynamic rendering

Dynamic rendering is endorsed by Google, and it is the process of serving a client-side version of your site for users and a separate, server-side version for Search Bots. On the server-side, javascript content is converted into a flat HTML version preferred by Search Bots. This allows them to fully access, crawl, and index webpage content.

If you have a particularly large site with rapidly changing content that requires quick indexing, if your website relies on modern javascript functionality, or if your website relies on social media sharing and chat applications that require access to page content you could benefit from dynamic rendering. 

Why does this all matter for brand strategy? As we discussed earlier in this article, content marketing is a key piece of brand strategy. If you are producing top-notch content, but the search engine isn’t indexing it, no one is going to see it, and it’s not going to help your brand or your conversions for that matter. But if we set aside the search engines, and simply consider the user and how humans are interacting with our brand properties, we’ll quickly realize that user experience is not only an SEO factor, but it’s also a brand factor.

Technical SEO and Brand: Rich Results and Structured Data Markup

Rich Results

Zero-click searches are becoming a strong presence in Search Results. Setting up technical SEO properly so you have structured data markup is a smart branding move because it helps you show up above the fold on the search engine results page (SERP) in the featured snippets called rich snippets (rich results). Depending on the rich snippet, users may or may not click onto your site, but regardless of whether they do so or not, having your brand presence at the top of the SERP will aid in brand credibility and brand awareness. 

Channel visibility is a huge branding factor for e-commerce companies. A strong emphasis on technical SEO, with high-quality structured data markup, can ensure an e-commerce company’s category and product pages show up for hundreds or thousands of keyword phrases that lead to new customers.  

This concept applies no matter the size of your company.  When Clicked Studios’ founder, Frank Spohr, worked with eBay’s former head of SEO, Jordan Koene, on a project for the major goal was ranking for 10,000+ keywords and category-specific pages to gain as much channel visibility as possible to build the brand presence through search engine marketing.

Even on the smaller scale, Clicked Studios has worked with a husband and wife team who offer a niche e-commerce product.  By focusing on ranking for visibility and click generating keyword terms in their market, Clicked Studios has helped this small company grow from a couple thousand dollars per month in revenue to multiple six figures per year.  Every year’s results end up being better than the last as the branding strategy and search engine marketing strategy reinforce each other for compounding effects.

Voice Search

Another thing to consider is that structured data can qualify your content for voice search. This is because voice search systems are essentially just identifying the rich result for a specific query and reading the rich card (or the information in the rich snippet) back to you. This can play into a brand strategy in various ways. 

For example, if you ask Siri for a “Tomato Soup recipe” she’ll direct you toward, which has been marked up with structured data using recipe schema. If you ask “Where can I find the best pie” you’ll get a bunch of results of businesses that have included 5-star reviews which can be marked up using reviews schema. Potential customers may find your competitors more easily if you don’t adopt a voice search strategy. 

Voice search is an evolving channel that will only continue to grow in relevance and popularity as technology gets better. Voice search presents not only a new way to approach SEO, but it is also an opportunity to create an enhanced customer experience, and brands that want to compete and stay relevant need to incorporate voice search into their branding and overall marketing strategy. 

Backlink Acquisition 

The early days of search engine marketing saw a number of abusive link building tactics employed by both large and small businesses.  It was like the wild west of the world wide web and anything went.  As Google gained popularity and market share, it had a vested interest to ensure the quality of its search results.  Thus, a game of cat and mouse was born between the most popular search engine and business entities trying to rank their websites at the top.  As time has passed, algorithm updates have been released to sniff out aggressive, spammy, and unethical link building practices.  The only safe long-term way to get links going back to your site is to rely on a foundation of quality content published on a website with a strong technical SEO foundation.  Quality content is way more likely to be naturally shared on social media.  Direct outreach to topically relevant websites is more likely to result in a backlink reference or citation.  Once these initial seeds are placed, your content is likely to gain some of its first search engine rankings.  Over time, another benefit for your brand can kick in.  By securing your initial search results, more people naturally see your content and are more likely to link to your content in future published pieces.  This essentially creates a flywheel effect where each backlink eventually generates more backlinks without additional manual effort.  An example of where this has played out in real life is with Clicked Studios’ guide to creating an amazing brand name.  Every month new inbound links, as well as stronger rankings, are generated with zero additional effort! 

Keyword Research

Keyword research is an integral part of SEO and, when done properly, can help you answer important questions about your audience that’ll enable you to produce high-quality content and rank your site for relevant terms. 

The first step in this process is to have a clear understanding of your audience and what they want from your site — while this may seem obvious, there’s often a disconnect between what you are trying to rank for and what your audience actually wants and searches for. Critically analyze what terminology you are using to describe your product or service, and the topics surrounding your product or service, and use SEO tools to see if those terms align with the words your target audience is using to search for your product or service. 

Use Branded Keyword Searches to Measure Brand Strategy

If you’ve already done SEO work on your website, you have likely performed keyword research and have a pretty solid understanding of how to determine what keywords you want to rank for. What you may not have considered, is that this SEO practice should also inform your brand tactics. 

The same insights that you can gain from understanding the keywords you’d like to rank for and their difficulty score, in your approach to writing web content, can be applied to your approach to brand strategy and other marketing efforts. Ask yourself, what are people in my target audience searching for and how do they talk about my product or service? Keyword research can be a great opportunity to identify pain points of your customers and rethink your marketing strategies, or in some more radical cases, the entire brand strategy for your business. 

SEO and Brand Awareness Measurement Metric 

Strong brand strategy across all channels tends to increase brand-related searches on a search engine.  This means when you’re promoting top/middle/bottom of the funnel on paid acquisition channels like Facebook ads, YouTube video ads, and even retargeting on partner sites you tend to see analytics software reporting a correlated rise in the organic/search channel because users are seeing your brand name more often.  The users remember your brand name and instead of typing it into the address bar on their browser they use the search box to quickly find your website.  (Frank: I’ll have to anonymize some client Google Analytics data to include supporting data/charts)

Branded Search Traffic

You can track the number of direct searches for your website domain or specific brand name using branded search traffic. Branded search traffic is the volume of traffic that comes to your website via search queries containing branded keywords on a search engine. 

To measure branded search traffic on Google, you can utilize tools such as Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools. It is generally looked at as a trend over a specified time period to indicate the success of brand awareness efforts. 

Branded search traffic is a result of brand recall and purchase intent. In other words, people that are searching for your brand using branded keywords are not only aware of your brand, but they are taking action to find out more about it. That means that branded search traffic could also be used as an indication of brand awareness driving purchase intent. 

A Google study found that 53% of shoppers say they always do research before they buy to ensure they are making the best possible choice, which means if they’ve heard about your brand, more than half of shoppers are likely to turn to search engines for more information. 

One thing that is important to remember, though, is the seasonality of certain keywords. Certain keywords will see an increased organic search volume during specific times. For example, if you’re a swimsuit company, more people will organically begin to search for swimsuits as summer approaches, making more difficult to track brand efforts. If that is the case, you may want to compare branded search traffic to the same period the previous year to see if you’re making progress. Using Google Trends can also help you see national and global trends for a keyword over time to see if your company is rising and falling with the broader search trend.

Written in collaboration by Lindsey Nelson and Frank Spohr.

Lindsey Nelson - Contributing AuthorLindsey Nelson, contributing author, is a writer and an SEO and content marketing professional. She has a B.A. in English from the University of Utah and currently works as the content marketing coordinator at Huckabuy. Huckabuy is an SEO software platform that automates Google’s key technical SEO initiatives including structured data, dynamic rendering and page speed. Connect with Lindsey on LinkedIn.