Organic search has long been a place where small businesses can trump established brands for big keywords. Historically it was much easier than it is today because Google is increasingly able to understand what an established brand looks like online.
Offline brand activity might consider your company’s mission, the benefits or your service, shaping perception of your product and the qualities you want people to associate with your brand. Online is about search volumes, brand and non-brand keyword mix, reviews and proving you are a real business in ways a machine can understand.
The most recent version of Google’s Quality Rater’s Guidelines tells you everything the search giant cares about when it comes to a website, including things it does not want to rank. You could do a lot worse than using the document as a box-ticking checklist to ensure your SEO strategy covers everything listed. You can also identify gaps you should work on to get the most from your brand online.
The reputation section of the document in sections 2.5 and 2.6 are key to making sure you have everything covered from a brand perspective.
Google specifically asks its quality raters to check that every site clearly shows who is responsible for it and who created the content on each page. This can be an individual, company, business or foundation. Contact information should be comprehensive and cover multiple ways of communicating to cater to the varied reasons users might get in touch.
Further, quality raters are encouraged to interrogate the claims you make on your site, including corroborating the information using third-party websites. Take care of your brand messaging on all your social channels and on review sites. Be sure you can back up your claims on your social channels and that industry sentiment on forums, blogs and news articles reflects them.
It is worth mentioning that quality raters are instructed that finding no reputation does not indicate a bad reputation and not to score pages as such. So only look to create a presence in an area where you can maintain it – having no presence can be better than having one that can’t be maintained.
How Google understands your brand
Google uses several elements to understand your brand, including SEO metrics from brand search volumes to data on your own and other websites. There is also a manual-review element by quality raters that is undoubtedly added to Google’s algorithm at some point. The list below details tactics that, as well as having a direct output, will also drive brand awareness and trust within Google.
• TV Expensive, but the results can be excellent. I’ve seen first-hand on multiple sites the impact a targeted TV campaign can have on organic performance. The result of wellexecuted TV, as far as organic search is concerned, is an increase in brand and brand-plus keyword searches (see Figure 1). These increases are noticed by Google and your site will experience ranking improvements as a test to see how well the landing page copes with increased demand.
Google’s thinking is that if more people are looking for this page now than a month ago then it should be ranked higher. If your page caters to the varied intents of the increased audience and that is reflected in engagement metrics that Google can see, your rankings will retain their improved position.
Turn your TV off and brand demand will naturally drop in the weeks following. You may then see a drop in organic rankings if your site was not performing as well as it could from an SEO perspective prior to the TV campaign.
• Display This has a similar impact to TV but on a smaller scale. Ideal for targeting sub-categories.
• Awards A good way to legitimise your brand is to create awards relevant to the industry you operate in. As a result, you will often find that your award nominees will talk about your brand in turn and may even link. You are then in the position of having the people to whom you are driving affiliate traffic talk about you as an equal and not a channel.
• Thought leadership Having an opinion on your industry/product/ future of your sector will get people talking and have a similar impact as awards. You become a leading part of the conversation and, if you remain interesting and relevant, that equity will be recognised in unlinked mentions on social channels, forums and links from response pieces. If everyone in your industry links to you then you will be seen as one of the market leaders by Google.
• Reviews Real businesses want to hear from their customers. Whether it’s good or bad, feedback is an essential part of identifying challenges and opportunities. If you are not actively gathering your reviews, you can be sure they are being left elsewhere.
Take control of where people leave reviews about your business, encourage them to use your review platform of choice, mark up the data to appear in search results and be sure to respond to negative reviews with solutions and not templated content. Acting on reviews is a sign of a real business for users and for Google.
• Social profiles Brands get traffic from a range of sources. These need to be aligned in their messaging and imagery. Only open social profiles that you know your customers are on and that you have resources to be active on. Nothing’s worse than wanting to engage with a brand only to find it’s no longer monitoring its Twitter feed.
• Wikipedia Often viewed as a significant trust signal by users, who consider that if someone has created a Wikipedia page about your business you must be at least semi-legitimate. Check it regularly to see what’s added and use it to shape the messaging around your brand while keeping it up to date with award wins, customer numbers and expansion plans.
• Displaying accreditation Accreditation from industry-standard or regulatory bodies sends trust signals from the moment a user lands on your site and sees the associated logos. This will help improve engagement rates and reinforce the idea that your site is a good result and therefore deserves to rank. Any logos or images you use for this should link to the relevant body.
• About us Being transparent about who works for your business and presenting yourself in a way that is friendly with a good tone of voice goes a long way to building trust. People like to know who they are dealing with, even if 99% of their interaction is with a website. This is especially true if your brand is not as wellestablished as others in your industry.
• Scholarships A link-bait tactic you could take to the next level. I have seen many Amazon affiliate sites take a small amount of their revenue and repurpose it into a scholarship programme to drive links from universities. This has had good results in the USA but could easily be tweaked to work in other regions.
• Brand ambassadors Legitimise your brand with an influencer that can reach your audience effectively. Make sure they have clear calls to action that they can share with their audiences, such as sign-ups or discount codes.
• Schema There are specific brand schemas that you can add to your site to signify to Google that you are a brand and take up white space in search results when users look for you. If you have no schema the best place to start is with Brand, Website, Breadcrumb, Organization, Corporate Contact and Social Profiles.
• SSL If your site isn’t secure, you are already behind in terms of organic performance and brand legitimacy.
While brand is not a ranking factor, brand activity will make for better rankings as it drives certain types of user behaviour that search engines can understand. Searchers familiar with your brand are more likely to click on your result; they are also more likely to search for your brand in conjunction with related non-brand queries. These increased clicks and searches are something that Google takes notice of and, if they persist long enough, will see your rankings increase. The key to keeping those increases is having a well-optimised site to take advantage of the opportunity.