Marketing departments have been laboring over and tweaking branding strategies for a lot longer than they’ve been looking to SEO for exposure on the web. So, despite SEO being an effective branding tool, there are often some conflicts to work out before you can get your branding and SEO strategies working together effectively.
A long time ago, in a far away place, I worked with an international medical service client that was just getting started with SEO. Lucky us, they were creating a totally new website so we could write every word of content—a big job but great for a company that never thought much about SEO. We did all our keyword research, identified how searchers were seeking out our client and their competitors online. Then, we got the branding materials from the marketing department. Uh oh.
We saw clients searching for our client as a “clinic” or “practice,” but that’s just too bad because the branding plan forbid us from using those terms at all! We were to refer to our client as a “hospital,” never anything else. And, since searchers often look for reviews and testimonials, we thought we would make sure to include patient testimonials and experiences—but no, can’t do that. “Patients” are only referred to as “guests.” Guests!?! Who goes searching for review and recommendations from “hospital guests”?
I’m not suggesting abandoning all branding plans or guidelines, and some restrictions like these are necessary and positive. You have to balance your brand identity with your SEO investment. Here’s a few simple things to help you strike a profitable balance between SEO and branding strategies:
- First, do your research. The most common issue with developing an SEO strategy can be language and search terms—they’re different from region to region, country to country and, sometimes, you’ll find some crazy overlaps you never expected. Wouldn’t you want to know if your company name was actually an common manufacturing industry term before you got started with your SEO project? Then there’s the standard soda versus pop debacle, or the drinking fountain versus bubbler debate. And, it’s critical to understand how your competitors are positioning themselves online—it’s critical to understand their branding and SEO strategies as well as your own.
- Where do your branding strategies intersect with your SEO? Understand the overlap and work with your SEO professional to understand the effects of this overlap. For example, if you have terminology restrictions, are your chosen terms what your consumers are searching to find you? And, how are other terms performing? Are you handing traffic to your competitors by ignoring them? Let your SEO professional break this down for you, show you the numbers so you can decide if your SEO/branding overlap needs some tweaking.
- If the numbers tell you that you need to make some compromises, are their some creative solutions? For instance, with the “hospital” we were able to make use of those forbidden words in a way that actually helped boost the branding efforts. Statements such as “other clinics can’t offer…” and “if you are a patient at another…practice, we can offer…” were a creative solution to working with forbidden terms without associating them with the brand. With a little creative maneuvering, you can work around branding restrictions and actually help further develop your brand identity.
- Remember that branding isn’t the sole objective of your marketing strategy, though your branding plans may have been written that way. If you’re getting started with SEO, it may be time to revisit your branding and rework branding strategies to fit an integrated marketing plan, including SEO and other online strategies. You may find, as you revisit these plans, that vernacular has changed and the values of your customer have changed—use SEO as an opportunity to freshen up your overall branding strategy and maximize your potential online.
My experience isn’t unique, it’s the epic branding battle of “hospital” versus “clinic,” and “mobile phone” versus “cell phone.” A good SEO firm or consultant will come to you with these issues, explain the hurdles that strict branding guidelines can cause, and will show you the numbers regarding qualified traffic that your branding strategy will bypass. Be open to compromise when it comes to stringent branding standards and focus on maintaining a consistent message and image for your company.
Branding is your chance to define your company and SEO is the opportunity to own that image online. When branding and SEO work together you’ll see it in traffic, sales, search rankings and leads.