SEO and branding are both integral elements in online success. Making sure your website ranks highly in search engine results pages, SERPs, for your business keywords with SEO is an important part of driving a steady stream of visitors back to your site. Equally as important is building an effective brand to help your website stand out from your competition and developing a staying power to survive search engine algorithm changes that happen over time.
But what do you when these two priorities conflict with one another?
Let’s say you operate a website that sells high end, custom men’s shirts under the brand “Oakwood Shirt Company”. You’re brand new to your market, and although you don’t have the name recognition of some of the large competition, you have the confidence that your apparel will speak for itself – all you have to do is just get it in the hands of a few customers!
At this point, you have options. You could focus on the SEO route and pinpoint a few keyword phrases within your niche. For example, after researching keywords, maybe you find that potential visitors in your target demographic are searching for “top quality men’s shirts” and “best cotton dress shirts” into Google most frequently. By structuring your website around these keywords, you could increase your rankings within these particular search results pages, driving customer traffic and interest to your website.
However, building your website around these search phrases doesn’t necessarily allow you to build up the “Oakwood Shirt Company” brand. Ideally, you don’t want to rely on a few high ranking search results pages to be the main bulk of your online traffic. We know search algorithms change frequently, and it’s realistic that a future change could drop your site out of the top search spot and put a quick end to your natural search traffic.
Smart marketers will also tell you that you don’t want to rely on just natural search rankings either. Ultimately you want your customers to fall so in love with the “Oakwood Shirt Company” brand that they continue to come back and buy regularly, all while recommending your website to their friends and family. Keeping this in mind, you might make the decision to optimize your site for the phrase, “Oakwood Shirt Company”, but – there’s one significant problem with this – no one is searching for your brand yet!
This is the ongoing challenge between SEO and branding that can present a problem for business owners who are trying to figure out how to drive traffic to their websites and generate revenue. Below is my advice on how to balance SEO and branding for your business:
What Are Your Website Goals?
It’s important to remember that not all business websites need to focus on both branding and SEO. Although both of these initiatives are valuable to success, a website doesn’t have to have both models in place in order to succeed.
An example of this is Twitter and how it developed over time. When Twitter was started no one was searching online for the phrase “mini-blog post sharing”, but Twitter created a need in the marketplace. On the other hand, consider a business like Nike, whose brand recognition is so strong that the they don’t need to worry about optimizing their website for branded keywords.
Consequently, if you just recently started a website and you’re in the process of deciding which product lines will perform the most successfully for your target audience, it may not make sense to develop your brand until you know more about how your business will look further down the road.
Putting time and effort into optimizing your website for a particular brand doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think there’s a possibility you’ll change the branding in the near future. This doesn’t mean that the “branding vs. SEO” argument is a this-or-that situation in fact, most businesses will find that a steady balance between the two strategies will work in the interim while creating a stable business for the long term. The important thing here is that you must understand what you want your website to to do, as well as which type of marketing method will help you best to achieve the goals you set.
What Is Your Current Position In The Market?
To determine how much of your focus should be dedicated to SEO versus brand you need to understand your website’s current position. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. How much traffic does my website currently receive?
2. Where does my traffic come from?
3. How established is my brand within my market?
Let’s say that you’ve determined that you need a combination of SEO and branding for your business, take a look at your analytics reports and your keywords to determine how your website is performing. If you discover that the majority of your traffic is driven from SEO related keyword phrases, you may decide it’s better to put focus on your branded keywords until that you find the appropriate balance.
Based on your set goals and your existing website performance, try to determine a ratio of how you’ll focus your efforts. For example, optimizing for SEO keywords 80% of the time and branded keywords for 20% of the time. These figures don’t need to be absolute, but having stable guidelines will help you to ensure your marketing strategies are on the right path.
Implement & Continue To Reevaluate Your Strategy
As your website begins to grow and adapt to the marketplace without a doubt you’ll find it necessary to adjust the ratio above. If, for example, you’ve built a brand that has your customers responding, you may find it beneficial to invest more in promoting your branded keywords. Again, be sure to study your website’s analytics to determine how customers are finding your website and just how strong of a penetration you have in both SEO and branded search results pages.
Continue to always revisit your data and your strategies, don’t become stale! By continuing to study your analytics, you’ll be on the right path to finding the best balance of both free natural search traffic and the long term benefits of having a well established brand within your space.
About The Author: Kevin Watts
Kevin Watts is the founder of Raincross, a premier web design, development and digital marketing agency headquartered in Riverside, CA.
Kevin got his start in online marketing and website design by working for some of the most prominent names in online retail. He's most recognized for helping to start e-commerce retailer Organize.com in 1998, and spent 12 years running the company's e-commerce and online marketing operations. He has been recognized and has received several online retail, marketing and merchandising awards throughout his career.
Kevin grew up in Riverside, CA and graduated from the University of Wyoming. In his spare time, Kevin is an avid fly-fisherman, college football fan, and enjoys spending time with his son Matthew, daughter Kate and wife Lindsey.
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