Branding Vs. SEO Which Is More Important?

I hear a lot of questions that make me want to bang my head against a wall. This is one of them.

 

Make no mistake, this is a legitimate question. It is a good question. It is simply that I have had to field it so often, I am now going to write this post for posterity and hopefully not ever deal with this question again, apart from in passing as I send hoards of interested folk to this page. Dreams are important.

 

Seriously, let’s put the question another way:

 

“What We Do vs. Who Knows About Us. Which Is More Important?”

 

What You Do (A.K.A. Branding)

What you do is vital to who you are as a corporation. Your image, reputation, customer loyalty, competitive advantage, market share, market strength and so much more depend on your brand; who you are and what you do.

 

Who Know About Us (A.K.A. SEO)

If your market is limited to the number of business cards you hand out, not enough people will know about the great brand you are trying to build. Conversely, if the entire world knows about you but thinks that your business is the corporate equivalent of a douche-bag… not so good.

 

I am referring to people ‘knowing about you’ or ‘finding you’ online as opposed to offline via traditional marketing methods. Why?

 

·    More than 215 million people in the US are online, 71% of the population. The rate of internet adoption in the US is growing faster than the rate of population growth.

·    11.5 billion searches were conducted on major US search engines in June. People are researching online, buying online, investing online, banking online, auctioning, selling, chatting, meeting, romancing, and on and on.

·    Local search is becoming more and more important, a sign that more and more smaller businesses are jumping on the internet bandwagon and learning what works, fast. Local search results are enormously impacted by both number of and ‘quality’ votes of reviewers. This local search review factor is making smaller businesses realize that their brand name and reputation is important, while it consolidates that thinking in bigger businesses.

·    74% of internet users agree that they choose companies and brands based on what others say online about their customer service experiences, the survey shows. (Society for New Communications Research, May 2008)

·    77% of online shoppers use reviews and ratings when purchasing. (Jupiter Research)

·    58.7% of shoppers said they used product reviews to make decisions. Reviews rated higher than clearance sale pages and featured sale pages. (Shop.org, November 2007)

 

What to do?

1.       Brand your business strategically. Focus on your competitive advantages. Provide the best is customer service and support. Manage your reputation on and offline.

 

And at the same time;

 

2.       Employ best practice SEM (SEO and PPC) strategies to boost your online exposure in the search engine results, paying particular attention to geo-targeting if you are a non-ecommerce SMB servicing specific geographic areas.

 

How to know your SEO is doing it right

 

This part of the post assumes some basic knowledge of what SEO is, and what the important elements of SEO are. It also assumes that you have ensured effective keyword research prior to embarking on any site plan blue print with included SEO elements.

 

SMB Title Tags

All title tags should include your brand name, or an obvious variation thereon. If your brand name is something like Francine & Fido Pet Grooming Parlor Inc your ‘brand’ is ‘Francine & Fido’.

 

Your title tags should therefore all include ‘Francine & Fido’. You home page title tag should include your entire business name.

 

All title tags should include your primary geographic location if you are a one stop shop. If you have multiple locations, then all locations should be included on the contact page in full, with primary locator mentions in the footer of each page (within reason), and each location should be entered into Google local search. I think the best thing to do in this case would be to create sub-domains for each location, reworking to copy and navigation for each location while maintaining basic branding.

 

Keep title tags to a maximum character count of 70. Sample examples:

 

·    Home page title tag

Francine & Fido Pet Grooming Parlor | Dog Grooming Portland WA

 

·    Deeper page title tag for ‘Dog Baths’

Dog Grooming Baths in Portland WA | Francine & Fido Grooming Parlor

 

·    Potential brand only deep page identifier page

Dog Electronic Nail Clipping Service Portland WA | Francine & Fido

 

SMB Meta Descriptions

All should follow through on your title keyphrases and include geo-locators. They should also be motivational marketing copy, and accurately reflect page content.

 

Meta descriptions should be kept to a maximum character count of 170:

 

Example:

·    Home Page Meta description

Francine & Fido, Portland’s premier dog grooming parlor offers dog baths, nail clipping & full grooming services. From $55 (small dog) to $125 (large). Book online…

 

SMB URLs

During this post I am not going to deal with dynamic URLs. I believe that keyword use in URLs is important. Not the most important, but a part of the over pie that needs to be considered, within reason.

 

The URL is not the place for SEO to stuff your keywords, nor to ‘locate’ your business.

 

·    This URL is overkill:

www.francineandfido.com/dog-grooming-baths-portland-washington

 

·    This might be better:

www.francineandfido.com/dog-baths

 

SMB Headers, Copy and ALT Attributes

HEADERS: The H1 header should mimic as much as possible the title tag without repeating the brand name.

H2 headers should continue the primary theme of the page utilizing longer tail variations and, most importantly, aimed at assisting the user make sense of the content.

 

COPY: A lot of people pooh-pooh the idea of keyword density. I don’t. I think it is very important to pay attention to it when you are starting out. I think your SEO should at the very least know what it is and understand that over-optimization is a bad thing.

 

·    If your keyword density is too high, you may well be at risk of spamming, and you might need to rethink the usability of your copy from a visitors perspective.

·    If your keyword density is too low, you are not targeting your phrases well enough. Not only will this fail to ‘convince’ the spiders of the topical relevance of your page, but it may also be too little focused for the specific needs of your searches based on their search query intent and need.

 

ALT TAGS: A contentious issue. Keywords should be utilized where possible without creating a paragraph – up to 15 words maximum, and the image should itself be described for non-compatible browsers and the visually impaired.

 

SMBs and W3C

I think that good, clean code is important. I do not think that your site has to be 100% W3C compliant.

 

Brand names and SEO go hand in hand. Don’t ignore one in favor of the other…


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