If I were to run a poll asking, “What’s more important, branding or keywords?” how would you vote? Keywords get people to the site, but building brand recognition helps sell your products or services. It’s not quite a pure traffic vs. sales scenario, but it’s pretty close.
No traffic equals no sales. But traffic without sufficient brand/authority building equals no sales as well. So what should you do?
Over the last couple of years, we have begun to see a shift in how search engines work. They are not just looking for strongly optimized pages. They are looking for strongly optimized pages on authority websites. That means that a more poorly optimized page on a higher authority site has a good chance of outranking the better optimized page on a lesser authority site. The key difference is that optimizing a page helps just that page, while building site authority helps all your pages!
So a good amount of focus on web marketing now is not just optimization, but authority building. But what about branding? Where does that fit in?
Two Types of Authority to Take Advantage Of
There are two types of authority, both of which web marketers must take advantage of if they want to succeed.
This has been the domain of SEOs and web marketers for a long time: On-page keyword optimization mixed with off-page link building, or social media marketing as its often practiced today.
As any web marketer will tell you, website authority offers huge advantages. The more you optimize your pages for keywords you want to target, the more opportunity you have to rank for those keywords.
But that opportunity is only fulfilled as you work on the off-page factors that tell the search engines that any given website is, for lack of a better word, popular. Of course that’s all relative to the keywords being used and the industry of the site, but the more “popular” a site is, the more power there is in the already optimized pages.
Optimized pages plus website authority leads to top search engine rankings, which we all know, leads to greater opportunity for clicks into the website. Of course, we also know that the higher you are on the first page, the more clicks you’ll get, but that’s not always going to be the case.
That leads us to the other type of authority, which is brand authority. Brand authority also plays a role in increasing raw website authority, but unlike website authority, brand authority has an impact both on and off the web.
But let’s stay focused on the web. Besides the lift in website authority, the real value in brand authority comes from the clicks.
As we already noted, top search engine rankings alone produce clicks. That’s because there is a small amount of brand authority building that happens when you get top search rankings, and even more when you have top rankings next to your PPC ads. Both of those together produce a nice branding lift in click throughs.
But the problem with brand building via rankings alone is that once you lose your rankings, your branding impact is lost. There is very little residual branding effect if you’re not building brand authority outside of the rankings alone.
In fact, when you have built sufficient brand authority, people will find you with or without top search engine ranking for non-brand keywords.
Taking Advantage of Website And Brand Authority Building
When it comes to search engine optimization, I’ve always shied away from using the brand name in page title tags. That keyword real estate is just too valuable. You have 50-55 characters to optimize a title tag and entice someone to click. Unless you’re a recognizable brand name, having your name in the title just isn’t going to cut it.
But as we looked at local search click through data recently, we saw an interesting trend. The sites we were working on received more clicks when the business name was in the title tag. We figured that local people are not just looking for something locally that does or sells X, but they are also looking for a recognizable name.
Searches for local products and services are far more likely to have heard of your company, either via networking, commercials or word of mouth. That makes branding in title tags more effective for local sites.
Is All Marketing Local?
If local optimization garners more clicks when the brand name is in the title, would the same reasoning apply to national sites? In the past I would have said no, unless you are a nationally recognized brand. But today, I’m not so sure.
The same principles that apply for local optimization can also work in your favor on the national stage. They may not work to the same degree, but what we do know is that people gravitate to the familiar.
Previously I would have made the argument that your brand name is already present in the search results in the form of the URL that is displayed right below the clickable result title. That’s very true and it may be enough for you. But what if you could get more bang for your buck by moving your brand name to your title tag?
No, that won’t produce a branding lift overnight, but over time, the more people search and see your name, the more of a branding impact you’ll begin to have on the searcher. It won’t matter if your result is #1 or #10 or even number #50. Once the searcher has already seen your brand name a couple of times, the more likely they are to gravitate toward that with the click.
Website authority will move you up further in the search results, but brand authority will earn you more clicks. It’s not all that uncommon for a lower ranked site to outperform a higher ranked site. The higher ranked has the website authority/optimization needed to outrank the lower sites, but the lower site has the brand authority needed to get more clicks.
But, as I said above, your title tag real estate is extremely valuable. If putting your brand name in the title tag is standing in the way of creating a more compelling and optimized title, you may be better off without it. But, if you can work all three in (keywords, compelling and brand) then you’ll likely have a triple-winning title tag on your hands: One that ranks, gets clicks and continues to build your brand authority!
Useless factoid: The first time I heard Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass was when this video was sent to me by a friend. In my mind, that’s a far superior version of the song.
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