For example, if your small business suffers from low brand awareness online, optimizing your website to rank well for brand keywords in search results might not be effective. An example of this could be targeting the phrase "Best Buy" instead of "32 inch LCD TV." After all, few people are likely to be searching for those specific phrases if they aren't familiar with your company in the first place.
The converse also holds true. If you're looking to build a business that's successful in the long run, you need a recognizable brand, not just a few high rankings for generic search terms. Home Depot, for example, doesn't fare well in organic search results but still leads the home-improvement industry and enjoys enormous brand recognition.
Here's how to balance these competing opportunities to promote your brand and build traffic through search engine results:
Analyze the Potential of Branding Your Business
Decide whether to focus on brand building or SEO by analyzing your business model and long-range goals. Are you simply looking to make a few dollars selling products online? If so, there's no reason to build traffic for brand keywords. Concentrate instead on the buyer-oriented phrases your target customers will be looking for in search engines, as determined through keyword research and the search keywords found in your website analytics program.
On the other hand, brand building can be a must if you want to expand your company's web presence and become recognized as a leader in your industry. In that case, consider splitting your efforts. Increase brand recognition by commenting on and contributing to industry websites and social networking sites, which can also help to improve your rankings for brand keywords. Consider targeting generic keywords in your SEO efforts -- at least, until your recognition grows to the point that brand keyword traffic is self-sustaining.
Consider the New Role of Personalized Search
Recently, Google launched "Search, Plus Your World," which displays items a business determines will be relevant to it based on its personal connections. They appear alongside the traditional SEO-based results.
As an example, say you subscribe to the RSS feeds of several different blogs about bodybuilding -- a notoriously competitive search environment. When you search using keywords related to bodybuilding, you might get results from certain blogs because you're already following them. With Google's new feature, it doesn't matter that the blogs aren't strong enough to achieve high rankings on their own.
Because of this new development, a case can be made for the power of brand building. Companies with established brands are often more likely to be mentioned in blogs and on social networking sites than businesses without a strong image. Because these social mentions are now included in search results, brand building can be an important way to leapfrog the traditional SEO rankings and draw more traffic to your site.
Identify the Ideal Blend
No matter what industry you're in or the type of business you're trying to build, consider including both brand building and SEO in your marketing strategy. You don't have to focus exclusively on one technique at the expense of the other.
If you determine that brand building should pay off better, focus on building links from other websites pointing back to your own pages that use brand keywords as your anchor text -- the underlined text that people click on to follow a link -- and invest a significant effort in your social media presence. Mentions of your brand in social media are likely to lead to increased exposure and greater awareness.
But because it may take some time for your brand to permeate the digital world, also consider investing at least a small amount of time in generic search phrases related to your business. As your brand awareness grows, you can dial down the amount of time spent on generic keywords.
And even if you plan to rely on generic keyword search results for the bulk of your traffic, there's still value in doing some brand building activities. Google's expansion of personalized search, as well as its elimination of thin content sites through the Panda updates, seems to indicate the company's preference for strong, well-defined brands. Remember to include at least a few brand keywords in your SEO activities to reap the benefits they can bring to your website.
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