Time, tide and now search engines wait for no man. A few years ago the notion of online branding was still alien to many. Sure, you’d secure your domain and talk about how great you are on every page of the site, but optimisation would revolve primarily around keywords, not your brand. However, things are starting to change.

Traditional marketers have always placed high importance on building a brand identity. It’s the mainstay of every advertising campaign and is why we have catchy slogans and memorable gimmicks. Marketing is all about making sure a company gets seen and that the brand is remembered. Whether it’s on a billboard or a television commercial, the audience should be able to instantly recognise who is being promoted, even if it is on a subconscious basis.

Broadening Search Engine Visibility

When it comes to marketing a business online, search engines have always played a central role. Site owners and optimizers would invest inordinate amounts of time in researching keywords and competition levels; and with good reason too. In the battle for visibility, it’s important to know who you’re up against and whether you stand a chance of succeeding. Going after generic terms that are dominated by huge brands or long-tail phrases that nobody has ever searched for could mean that you’re doomed to failure even before you begin.

As mentioned though, the focus is shifting. While keywords remain important, the Penguin update has forced many to reconsider their approach. With Google suddenly punishing sites for excessive usage of terms within on-page copy and anchor text links, a cleaner, more natural approach is now required.

From pure SEO, many are now looking to create a holistic strategy, incorporating social and local optimisation. At the centre of this change in focus is the most important element – the brand. Without this you have nothing to promote, no way of building your visibility across multiple platforms and nothing for visitors to latch on to.

The Benefits of a Strong Brand

Today, a strong brand built around a receptive community is the Holy Grail for most online businesses. It offers a gateway to opportunities that would otherwise prove impossible. For instance, getting your brand seen can help:

  • Increase social shares of content and attract new followers/visitors
  • Open up guest blogging and PR opportunities
  • Encourage blogs and site owners to naturally link to your pages
  • Develop and manage your brand’s reputation

It’s very much a building process though. Unless you’ve already established a strong brand identity offline, it can take time for search engines and your target audience to take notice of who you are and what you offer online. Neither trust nor rankings can be earned instantly, so you have to do the right things and be seen in the right places. Again, at the centre of this recognition will be your brand, not keywords.

For better or worse, everything that you do will reflect on your brand. In the past we’ve seen companies damaged by social media outbursts (Kenneth Cole being a good example) and SEO irregularities (J.C Penney); however, for those that are big enough, a little positive PR is enough to make most forgot. If you’re just starting out and decide to make a few controversial attitudes public or respond poorly to criticism, it can prove to be much more costly.

Earlier this year, Boners BBQ in Atlanta, Georgia, managed to create a bit of a stink when they criticised a customer for not tipping after she had written an honest review of their service. Needless to say, the personal attack from the company and management team didn’t sit well with everyone. While it created publicity, it only served to damage the brand – not enhance it. As the image below demonstrates, this can have a long-term effect on what appears within the search results for branded phrases.  So online marketing can be a double-edged sword, but only when you abandon common sense.

Again, this demonstrates why building a core base of followers and customers is so important – just in case.

Protection for Your Brand and Business

As a consequence of Google’s renewed focus on link quality, the door has been opened to mischievous types who are hell-bent on damaging another site. This is generally called negative SEO and essentially involves an individual buying links that they then point at a competitor’s site. This was covered in StayonSearch last year in the post “Can Your Search Engine Rankings Be Damaged By Tricky Competitors?”; however, one of the best ways to protect against this, apart from reviewing your link profile on a regular basis, is to grow your authority. The more established you become, the more links you’ll receive and the less likely any such attacks will impact your rankings.

Essentially, in time, your brand can protect your business from damage and naturally encourage others to carry out online marketing on your behalf. Every link, share and like you receive increases your visibility across all platforms, leading to further links, shares and likes. So while keyword rankings can come and go with every algorithm update, your brand and the reputation you build around it will remain strong.

This is the key reason why online marketers are now shifting their focus and why you should be too. After all, what use is a content marketing campaign if nobody is willing to host your articles, let alone share them? If people know about your brand and what it is that you offer, then they are more likely to both publish and publicise your work.

How will Branding Help Search Rankings?

Google likes brands. It makes their job easier when there’s a clear authority within a particular industry or geographical area. That’s why they reward bigger companies with multiple first page entries across a variety of terms. While this may not appear to be fair for smaller, younger enterprises, it is the easiest way for search engines to ensure that their results are of the highest quality and reflect what users are looking for.

So, rather than trying to fight the system, play the game. Optimise your site for local and brand terms, use anchor text from inbound links to reinforce this renewed focus. Create social profiles to reinforce your identity and start growing a receptive audience.  If you have a unique brand name then you’ve already got a logical, low competition term to optimise for – making it easier to rank.

In time, as you gain authority, these efforts should be rewarded with further organic rankings, improved local visibility and complete domination for the first page when anybody searches for your brand name. So if you’ve received a few bad reviews or somebody else attempts to hijack your results pages, you’ll be protected.

How to get Started?

So as long as you have a unique name and a decent business structure, you’re already half way there. Branding is essentially about identifying a company by a name, imagery and an ethos or mantra. So essentially all you need to do is reinforce that message online using the various platforms available. In fairly generic terms this might include:

  • Creating a website
  • Setting-up a profile on Twitter, Facebook and Google+
  • Developing professional videos and publishing them through sharing sites such as YouTube
  • Getting listed on major industry or local directories
  • Creating a Google+ Local profile

By standardizing your message, through design and content, across all of these platforms you create familiarity. In essence that’s all branding is; awareness. If you can reinforce this with positive experiences and PR, your online marketing efforts should become immeasurably easier.

Over-reliance on Google rankings alone can prove costly. So why not dedicate your time to something that is within your control? There will always be algorithm updates, so if you weren’t affected by Panda, Penguin or Venice, you can’t assume that you’ll be just as lucky next time. Build your brand and protect your online business.