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Building Online Brand May Require SEO Sacrifice

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Online brand marketing

Search engine optimization is the single most important marketing tactic for sites that are pure Web brands and that rely on organic promotion.

But is SEO always the most important tactic for every site and every situation? The answer is sometimes no. For some sites, online brand management is more important, especially if the site is an extension of an offline brand.

I have worked on many websites going back to the mid-90s that are either pure online brands or extensions of offline brands.

The pure online brands usually get the great majority of their traffic from search engines.

There is no question they must emphasize SEO tactics to attract the maximum number of visitors, especially if they have little to no money to spend on promotions.

Brand Extensions are Much Different

The situation is quite a bit different for online brand extensions, such as the Web presence for a TV station or local business.

Over and over again, I have seen Web metrics for online brand extensions showing two characteristics that stand out from the pure brands.

The first characteristic is a much higher level of direct traffic, meaning that people come to the site already knowing the name of it. They may guess the web address, but more likely the offline brand has promoted it. A great example is a newspaper that has its website address displayed prominently through the newspaper and in newspaper promotional ads.

In the same way, businesses that advertise in traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, TV stations, radio stations and cable channels also display their Web addresses.

On a related note, these sites also tend to have a much higher return visit rate.

The second and more revealing characteristic is the list of top keywords visitors use in search engines to reach these online brand extensions. Nearly all of the top 10 keywords relate to the brand in question.

How Searchers Use Brand Extensions

Let’s say a local, well-known small business in the Pittsburgh suburb of Bridgeville is Joe’s Auto Body at JoesAutoBody.com. The top 10 keyword list might include the following:

  • Joe’s Auto Body
  • JoesAutoBody
  • JoesAutoBody.com
  • www.joesautobody.com
  • http://www.joesautobody.com

That’s right, many people who know the actual URL of the site will enter it into the search engine box rather than the address window of their browsers.

More importantly, the top keywords for reaching the site are not generic, such as “auto body shop.”

It leads to an interesting problem. Should site publishers adjust page titles, meta descriptions, anchor text and other methods to match how visitors actually get to the site and use it? Or should they modify them to reach both those visitors and niche audiences that lie beyond them?

The answer of course is both. It’s just a challenge to find the right balance.

Brand Changes SEO and Navigation

The simplest example of how online brand management may impact SEO is through the use of internal and external links. For example, links to the site homepage that all say the same thing, such as “Joe’s Body Shop”.

I have been to many sites that vary such links because of the belief that search engines favor a variety of phrases, such as “Body Shop”, “Bridgeville Body Shop”, etc.

I’m not smart enough to claim those sites are right or wrong about varying backlinks to home. But I will offer three reasons why sites should consider using the brand name even if search engines don’t like it:

Visitors landing on an inside page might not realize they are on a Bridgeville auto body website. Believe it or not, many people don’t look in the address bar of a browser.

Every use of the brand, even in link text, is another opportunity to build awareness and remind people that the business has a Website.

Brand mentions build ranking for brand search terms. A business with a similar name in another town might grab the top spot in search results.

Are your visitors’ user experiences more important than what Bing or Google think of your site? Or is it the other way around?

Are Online Brand and SEO Mashable?

Some sites have perfectly good reasons to limit or vary the link text to homepages if Bing or if their analytic numbers back up such a decision.

It is understandable why SEO is so important for these sites and why they may not have time to devote to anything other than SEO.

But I believe brand is an important consideration in any site’s marketing efforts, especially when online competition is becoming so much more intense.

The point could be made that the brand is often a keyword, and therefore brand and SEO are mashable.

But it also can be dangerous to focus on brand keywords exclusively — which I have seen done many times — if the offline brand is declining.

It also ignores potential visitors who don’t know the brand at all and who would have found the site through generic keywords.

In the end, it’s all about results rather than opinions. So let the numbers decide the future course for this complex strategy.

At least for brand extensions, some important results come from sacrificing pure SEO for the sake of brand.

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