At a basic level, both branding and SEO are important elements in ensuring your website’s success. Getting your website ranked highly in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for your target keywords through SEO is an important part of generating a steady stream of free visitors back to your pages. At the same time, establishing an effective brand is vital to helping your website stand out from your competitors and developing the staying power to outlast changes in the search engine algorithms.
But what should you do when these priorities conflict with one another? Let’s look at an example to see how and why this might happen….
Suppose you run a website that sells high end, custom women’s shoes under the brand name “Tootsies”. You’re new to the market, and although you don’t have the name recognition of some of your larger competitors, you’re confident that your product will speak for itself – if you could just get it in the hands of a few buyers!
At this point, you have a few alternatives. You could go the SEO route and identify a few potential keyword phrases in your niche to target. For example, after conducting your keyword research, you might find that potential visitors in your demographic are entering the SEO keyword phrases, “top quality high heels” and “best leather heels” into the search engines most frequently. By structuring your website around these keywords, you could increase your rankings within these particular results pages, generating traffic and interest to your website.
On the other hand, building your website around these generic phrases doesn’t allow you to build up the Tootsies brand. Ideally, you don’t want to rely on a few high SERPs rankings to be responsible for the bulk of your traffic – search algorithms change every day, and it’s entirely possible that a future implementation could knock your site out of the top spot and put an end to your natural search traffic.
From a business standpoint, you don’t want to rely on search rankings either. You want people to fall so deeply in love with the Tootsies brand that they come back to buy again and again, while recommending your site to their friends and family members at the same time (both of which occur when you’ve built up a solid brand). With this in mind, you might decide to optimize your website for the keyword phrase, “Tootsies shoes”, but there’s just one problem with this – no one is searching for this phrase yet!
Because your brand is new, your branded keyword phrases have little to no search volume. Even if you were to snag the top spot in the SERPs for these words (which, frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult!), it wouldn’t matter to your bottom line, as no one is using these phrases in the search engines to find you yet.
As you can see, this interaction between SEO and branding can present a potential challenge for website owners who are trying to figure out how to best optimize their pages in order to bring in traffic and revenue. If you’re feeling stuck about how to proceed with your website’s marketing strategy, consider the following advice on balancing SEO and branding on your pages:
Step #1 – Analyze Your Website Goals
First of all, it’s important to note that not all websites need to focus on both branding and SEO. Although both of these pursuits are valuable, a website doesn’t need to have both marketing models in place to succeed.
For example, consider the way a site like Twitter developed. At the time, no one was searching Google for “ways to share mini-blog posts”, but the company’s brand was strong enough to create this need in the marketplace. Alternatively, consider a business like Lowes, whose brand is strong enough that the company doesn’t need to worry about optimizing its pages around branded keywords.
On the other hand, if you’ve only recently launched a website and are in the process of determining which product lines will perform most successfully for your audience, it may not make sense to start building your brand until you know more about how your business will look down the road.
Investing time into optimizing your site for a particular brand doesn’t make sense if you think there’s a chance you’ll change your branding down the road. However, this doesn’t mean that the “branding versus SEO” debate is an either-or situation – in fact, most websites will find that a balance between the two pursuits works best in terms of capturing visitors in the short term and creating business stability in the long term. What’s important is that you understand what you want to achieve with your website, as well as which type of promotional method will help you best meet these goals.
Step #2 – Analyze Your Current Position
The next step in determining how much of your energy should be dedicated to SEO versus branding is to understand your site’s current position. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
1. How much traffic does my website currently receive?
2. Where does this traffic come from?
3. How established is my brand within my industry?
If, for example, you determined in Step #1 that a combination of SEO and branding will work best for your business, take a look at your analytics data and your keyword research to find out how your site is performing. If you see that most of your traffic is coming from SEO keywords, you might decide to focus more of an effort on your branded keywords until that aspect of your marketing plan levels out.
Based on your stated goals and your existing site performance, try to nail down a ratio of how you’ll spend your time – for example, promoting SEO keywords 75% of the time and branded keywords the remaining 25%. These figures don’t need to be set in stone, but having concrete guidelines will help you to ensure your marketing strategies are on track.
Step #3 – Launch and Reevaluate Your Strategy Over Time
As your website grows and changes, you might find it necessary to adjust the ratio you set in Step #2. If, for instance, you’ve settled on a brand that your customers are responding well to, you may find it worth your time to invest more heavily in promoting branded keywords. Again, be sure to consult your website’s analytics data to determine how people are finding your site and how strong of a penetration you have in both SEO and branded SERPs.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to revisit your existing data and your proposed marketing strategies every few months or so. By doing this, you’ll ensure that your website receives the best balance of both free traffic from the natural search results and the long-term benefits of having an established brand within your industry.