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Branding With Search Marketing

Paul J. Bruemmer

October 15, 2005

Branding is a major goal for marketers around the world. Large companies have typically allocated substantial funds for branding despite the fact that its effectiveness is long-term and difficult to measure. But much has changed since the commercial web became an advertising medium.

Online advertising started with banner ads that provided accountability through the clicks in the site's web logs. As search engine listings began to drive large volumes of targeted traffic to websites, search engine optimization became a marketing strategy.

While most advertising interrupts consumer behavior, search users are actively seeking information and want to be driven to its source. Search engine results page (SERP) listings are non-intrusive and function as a text ad. Little was it known in the early days that branding took place as users viewed the top listings.

Branding in the SERPs

The first hint of search engine branding surfaced in 2001, when NPD Group conducted a study to examine user interaction on three types of search engine ads: SERP listings, banner ads, and square "tile ads" alongside search listings. Results indicated the SERP listings were read and clicked significantly more often than banners or tile ads. Listings also produced more sales. The study concluded that SERP listings resulted in more brand awareness than any other ads in a search environment.

In 2004, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Nielsen/NetRatings conducted a study on "Internet Search Brand Effectiveness" to explore branding in SERP text ads. The study looked at various branding attributes based on SERP exposure and contextual ad placement. The branding attributes studied were: unaided brand awareness, aided ad awareness, familiarity and brand image associations. Results indicated that SERP branding is stronger than contextual ad branding and is particularly effective when the brand holds the top position in the SERPs.

The Importance of Branding

Your brand is what identifies your business to consumers. It resides in the hearts and minds of your customers and prospects as the sum total of their experiences with and perceptions of your company. Good branding results in loyal customers, and existing customer relationships are the key to profitability. So it's no wonder that branding is a major marketing goal.

SEMPO research on business marketing goals shows that most companies place "increase brand awareness" at the top of their list. Other goals include, "selling products/services online," "generating leads," "increasing traffic," "generating leads for distributors," and "providing information/education."

The Branding Component of Search Marketing

Up until now, the major goal of search engine marketing (SEM) has been to drive targeted traffic to your site for lead generation and online or offline conversions. It's taken a while for marketers to realize that during this process, another valuable advertising goal is achieved -- that of branding.

Some SEM firms don't hype branding because of the focus on driving qualified traffic to produce leads and sales. However, the branding aspect of SEM is important, accountable, and should not be overlooked.

How Search Branding Works

When indexing your site, most search engines will use your website's Title and Description, or the information therein, to create the text link that appears in the SERPs. This link, and the brief description of your site that follows, function as an "ad" when users view your search engine listing.

Every time your listing shows prominently in the SERPs, branding takes place. You can achieve better branding when you ensure that all your ad elements encourage maximum awareness upon click-through to your landing page.

There are two major factors of importance in an SEM branding campaign: your branding message on the results page (Title/Description or Paid Text Ad) and your call to action on the landing page.

Coordinating Critical Ad Elements

Your Title and Description Tags are critical elements in a professional search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. When your website structure and content are properly optimized, these elements will help bring you to prominent positioning in the SERPs.

With paid search ads, a professional SEM firm will research and identify key phrases, write the text ad, develop your bidding strategy, monitor bids, and track and fine-tune changes. Here, too, there's a Title and Description that shows in the SERPs.

Your landing page is an important ad element for both SEO and Paid Search campaigns. Copy and creative should be strategically composed as an extension of your "search ad" on the SERPs, with the landing page focused solely on the desired action. Ideally, these marketing elements should be prepared by SEM pros with some advertising expertise.

Measuring Search Branding

How do you measure the effects of branding in a search engine marketing campaign? A web analytics program such as ClickTracks or WebSideStory can do more than simply report statistics. These systems for compiling data will analyze your web logs to effectively manage your SEM campaign and measure your brand effectiveness. Below are some of the data points that can be used to measure the brand impact of an SEM campaign.

  • Average Time On Site: The longer your visitors browse your site upon arrival from a search engine, the better chance you have for future conversions.
  • Page Views Per Visitor: The more pages your prospects visit and read, the greater the odds of communicating your marketing message. This contributes to branding awareness.
  • Path Views to Registration or Subscription Sign-Ups: This is the same as the visitor giving you permission to form a business relationship. It starts a dialog and allows you to continue building your brand, moving the visitor closer to conversion.
  • White Paper Downloads: The more interest is shown in your products/services, the more branding takes place, and the user moves closer to conversion.
  • Navigation Report: This shows where visitors go next, pointing prospects to distributor or retailer sites. When search listings result in a click to a seller site, there is likelihood of purchase and proof of branding.

Maximize Your Branding Efforts

With the hidden value in search listings, it's wise to extend your branding efforts through SEM campaigns. The coordination of SEM and advertising expertise ensures that all critical ad elements work together for both conversions and the elevation of your brand.

Paul J. Bruemmer is president of trademarkSEO, a search engine optimization firm serving clients nationwide. Paul specializes in organic search engine optimization, competitor intelligence reports, web analytics and SEO consulting. He has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to over 10,000 websites, including many of the most prominent names in American business. Paul is a Search Engine Strategies speaker, and his articles have published at ClickZ, MarketingProfs, Search Engine Guide, Pandia, WebProNews, SitePoint and ISEDB.

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