Old-school SEOs (Search Engine Optimization strategists) may disagree or even focus solely on the technical aspects they know (and can see) have tangible results. Some strategists have told me brand means nothing to them, that brand involvement with SEO is a figment of some inexperienced marketer’s imagination they only pitch to prospective clients to try and hook them.
While I do believe inexperienced advertising executives say the silliest things, I’m about to share a story with you about a client who did not adjust their SEO strategy after we warned them about the brand concerns we had and the results speak for themselves.
How we Build Brands at ENDURANCE
First, let’s talk about how we build brands at ENDURANCE (to provide context for the situation). In short, we build brands by creating and defining five specific pillars:
- Brand Promise
- Brand Aspiration
- Brand Appearance
- Brand Audience
- Brand Assets
It’s not rocket science, and it’s not even that different from how other agencies do it. It is the steps we believe are necessary for Medium to Enterprise sized businesses to complete before their brand really takes off. Each pillar goes into much more detail, but here is a sentence or two about what each one means:
The Brand Promise is your Elevator Pitch. It’s what describes your uniqueness, your values, and your vision.
A company’s aspirations are the “greater good” desire(s) of the company. It’s the aspects of the business that should be projected out onto customers.
This is what people always default to when some states “make me a brand.” It’s the logo, colors, and other elements presented to customers
When creating a company (or developing a brand) it is important to put on paper the solutions your company solves for… It’s hard to be successful if this doesn’t happen. This includes defining a target audience.
This is probably the easiest to define of the five. It’s the company hierarchy, processes, and other intangibles that go into day to day operations.
So, when we (ENDURANCE) build or augment a client’s brand, we do so by using the guidelines and principles in each of these pillars.
Why SEO and Branding Matter – An Intro to the Client.
Let me introduce you to our client. Now the client name, situation, products, etc. have all been anonymized or changed (I would never discuss a client using their real information – especially an existing one).
Let’s use a dead car company as an example – Pontiac – our client was “Pontiac.” Imagine the Great Recession never happened, and Pontiac still exists. (Again, not our real client, we’re picking on a dead car company for our story).
We signed Pontiac (not really Pontiac) on search optimization services. Usually the first month of this service is a ramp-up and analysis period. We conduct keyword research, technical & conversion audits, competitor analysis, and more. We dive into the fire headfirst to get to know as much about our client’s business as they’ll allow. It was during this first month we discovered two branding problems with Pontiac:
The Two Branding Problems:
Our client had a problem that traversed two of our five branding pillars
- Brand Aspirations
- Brand Audience
To vaguely over-generalize the issue, it came down to:
- Who did Pontiac want to be?
- What products did they want to sell?
- And who did they want to sell them to?
Did Pontiac want to be a luxury car with all the bells and whistles? Did they want to focus on the top income earners (let’s say 10% of U.S. market) and sell cars that only the wealthy could afford (existing business model).
Or did Pontiac want to make good quality cars at a decent price? Focus on the middle-class (maybe 50-75% of the market). Become an option for everyone, making all kinds of different car models across the income-level spectrum?
We arrived at this problem while conducting our SEO services.
Traction was being lost for Pontiac in the luxury game. Not only was it a time when consumers were buying less and less of Pontiac’s power-hungry luxury vehicles, the consumer trend for purchasing luxury vehicles over the past five years was in decline. Competitors were also taking bites out of the market, amplifying the long-term drop in revenue.
From the SEO perspective, we needed to do one of the following:
- A) Own the luxury market out right and push out the competition,
- B) Not only win-back the luxury market but also expand (the client was very interested in competitors that made luxury cars and others in the goliath mid-range markets)
- C) Pivot entirely. Change brand aspirations, go on the offense by attaching a broader and larger group of customers (brand audience)
A DECISION HAD TO BE MADE…
Unfortunately, that decision was never made.
The client never decided on a clear direction. Instead, they elected to half-ass option B above without a clear strategy, plan, or budget. No changes would be made to products, pricing, place, or promotion. I pick on these four things on purpose. If all someone knew about Marketing were the four P’s that would be enough.
Not only did our client not provide clear direction on the future of Pontiac, but the only direction we were given was to satisfy both audiences within the existing commitments.
- Sell Luxury cars (Product) to the wealthy and middle-class customers without a change to the approach, messaging, or tactics.
- Make the sale with existing inventory. We will not be making new car models that align to middle-class price points (Pricing).
- The sales will occur at the same dealerships they always have. We will leverage the same sales staff whom are used to serving the needs of our higher-end customers (Place).
- The same advertising in the same channels will be used (Promotion).
The Results of Ignoring Brand in SEO
It has been over one and a half years since we initially consulted with the client on their plight. After only a few months our SEO services were converted to content development only (trying to message two audiences with products meant for only 1 of them).
We jumped out of a lake and into an ocean. Without spending another ten pages on why, trust me when I state that the audience to buy expensive luxury cars is vastly different and more targeted to that of an audience interested in general automotive consumption.
We Were in a No-Win Scenario
How did we know these Brand Decisions (or lack thereof) Impacted SEO?
Eighteen months of warnings and conversations never led to action, and just last month we decided to do an audit.
We wanted to know if the recommendation we gave (which I haven’t really spoken to) would have made a difference. Not only did we find out it would have, we discovered the results of inaction had been catastrophic.
From our audit activities, I present you a single key indicator (the silver bullet if you will):
Keyword movement and the resulting traffic implications (graphic on the right)
Parsing the results
See, what happens when you can’t decide on brand aspirations and audience targeting is you’re left to play somewhere in the middle. And Google doesn’t like somewhere in between.
Luxury Car ALPHA, a product ripe with luxury descriptions and imagery targeted to a finite individual, became Luxury Car ALPHA laced with keywords to satisfy both audiences. The content structure changed to accommodate both. ALPHA was priced high with all the bells and whistles; it was priced high with all the bells and whistles for a middle-class soccer mom.
We were sending signals to search engines that we had a high-end product with high-end equipment, amenities, and price – but someone looking for a mid-range Honda civic should buy it.
To the right is 18 months’ worth of SEO damage due to a lack of brand direction.
The Gist of the Story? Brand Matters in SEO… Immensely!
What if the client decided to continue with their existing trajectory?
Great! We can work with that. If someone shares with you that they usually sell 100 green apples a month but there is a problem and they can’t figure it out. Then, we (ENDURANCE) come back and say the green apple market is declining over the last five years by 1 apple a month, but it should stabilize around 75 apples per month in the next 18 months – oh and by the way, here’s some market size data on red, purple, and yellow apples – our recommendation is to do XXX… Client, what do you want to do?
If the client replies, we want to own the green apple market, all 75 per month, LET’S GO! We jump for joy and do our best to have our client #1 year-round.
The problem in our story was the client wanted to play in all four markets (green, red, yellow, and purple apples). However, they were offering only green apples at green apple prices to red, yellow, and purple apple consumers. A contradiction we advised against multiple times.
What if the client decided to do both (and do it right)?
Awesome! Plans could be hatched; actions could be taken. The client would need to product red, yellow, and purple apples and adjust the pricing, and where they were sold (understandably a lot to take on). Green apples could be sold to green apple customers, red apples to red apple customers, and so on and so forth. We would focus on success metrics in each of those markets
What if the client decided to pivot 100%?
Not a problem! If the red, yellow, and purple apple audience accounts for 1200 apples a month, and the client elects to ditch green apples all together, that may be a smart bet. We pivot with them and roll.
BRAND decisions were needed.
Decisions were not made.
As a result, SEO tanked.
How to avoid the Brand & SEO pitfall(s) described above.
The above example is only one instance, we see examples all the time where brand considerations impact SEO.
If you’re unsure, just ask!
No, we won’t charge you for a conversation. Heck, we give advice all the time to non-customers (if you don’t believe me, post your question below and we’ll answer it).
If you want to work with us and have the means, we really hope we can make you proud. If you don’t but need guidance getting pointed in the right direction, we’ll do our best.