This blog post looks at how you can use marketing tactics to improve your SEO and rank higher on Google in 2017. You can find more actionable B2B SEO tips on our site.
Everyday we’re discovering new ways to work Google’s recommended best practices into our favor, and it’s little surprise when you’ll expect to drive very little traffic sitting on top of page 2. But, in spite of overly crowded marketplaces, Google’s growing desire to humanize their ranking factors does open doors for opportunities to rank for keywords that we weren’t intending to target.
Ranking for multiple keywords at once
I worked with a client that recently rebranded. This happened between December 2016 and February 2017. The existing brand name had been in place since the firms’ inception in the 1900’s. It averaged over a 165k branded searches a month but the industry was in steady decline.
For confidentiality, let’s say the existing name was “Ali’s Cod Bar”
Branded search volume had declined 18% from 2014 to 2016 and then another 18% between 2016 and 2017.
The rebrand involved a slight (but substantial) change in the company name.
The new name contained a target keyword that had shown relative growth in the market over the last 5 years. For the sake of confidentiality, we’ll say that this keyword was “Squid.”
So, let’s now also call the rebranded name “Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar.”
Still with me? Great.
The rebrand involved both a site-wide CSS logo change as well as content inclusions of Squid where relevant.
In the months following the rebrand, branded traffic for the existing company name “Ali’s Cod Bar” dropped 17% compared to the same point the year before. This was at the same time the new brand name search traffic (expectedly) rose nearly 3,000% in the months following the rebrand.
During this period, Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar saw a huge jump in rankings for Squid Insurance. Squid Insurance, with an estimated 8,100 searches a month, jumped from position 16 to position 6 within 6 weeks. This insurance offering is a major product in the market.
The most interesting part of this was that at the same time, we also saw that a synonym of the keyword (worth 5.4k average searches a month) show a near identical jump in rankings.
Let’s call this Calamari Insurance.
Both ranking changes took Ali’s from Page 2-3 to Page 1 within 3 weeks.
There had been no direct mention of Calamari in any of the title tags, headings, body content, URLs or meta data across the site. Yet, we found that we ranked on page 1 for this term at the same time as we did for our target key term.
The rebrand likely had a part to play in the increase in visibility for the target keyword, Squid Insurance. But was it pure coincidence that we started ranking on page 1 for Calamari Insurance at the same time?
As Google continues to understand the way human minds think and search, it’s no surprise that SERPs are becoming much more aligned to user intent.
The introduction of Google grouping
If I were to now perform a local search for a holiday in Cumbria, I would likely initiate my search as per the below:
The first 3 organic results actually list an offering for the Lake District – a more common holiday destination that is based in Cumbria.
Google had announced that they were starting to group synonyms of keywords and provide a total result encompassing all search queries, but there remained inconsistencies across SERPs that this was completely the case.
This study also only focused on search volumes and not the rankings of similar keywords, but it could be probable that the provision of bolded synonyms within the SERPs is a result of Google’s keyword grouping and continual bid to humanize their search algorithms.
But what is the reason for Google to show me results for keywords I haven’t searched for?
Google’s objective is to solve the problem that the user has queried in the search box. Its algorithm has understood that, typically, users searching for holidays in Cumbria tend to also search and click on holiday offerings in the Lake District. Google has built associations between both keywords through user behavior. The result of this is that I’m shown SERPs from both Lake District and Cumbria, despite not mentioning Lake District in my initial search query. It falls down to intent, and my search intent for both of these is aligned.
So what affect is brand having on traditional ranking factors?
It allows search engines to understand specific data segments and directly display answers (+additional value such as reviews and NAPs) to queries on the SERPs. It reduces the users’ need to necessarily click and so inadvertently demands more competitiveness from webmasters for the remaining space. Google wants to provide answers, not just endless links to click. But it needs to know whom the authority links are when presented with a query and who also provides the most relevant answer to the query.
The introduction of Google Schema and Structured Data has been another progressive step in Google (and other major search engines) humanizing their search results.
Humans don’t make decisions in a shop based entirely on the functional attributes of a product (the technical factors), they base some part on the brand of the product. Humans make associations with brands. They build trust and personal association. Search engines understand this, and are bringing it into the online world.
Recent research on the effects of branding on traditional ranking signals
A study by Tom Capper showed that branded search volume is better correlated with rankings than Domain Authority is. Although, the correlation of this study was relatively weak, and further investigation seemed to show that Domain Authority was integral to ranking on page 1, but had little influence on the top 1 or 2 positions. The study placed a softer emphasis on relevancy and intent once a domain is ranking on page 1 for their target keyword. What does the user specifically want? And who are the brands/domains that they want to see in their results?
A 2017 study into “brand” + “product” search effects on rankings concluded that if the product wasn’t relevant to your brand in the consumer’s eyes, then it wasn’t in the eyes of Google either. This suggests that traditional weighted ranking factors (such as links) would naturally have lower impact on rankings longer-term and more focus on which brands best serve the user query.
A 2017 study into “brand” + “product” search effects on rankings concluded that if the product wasn’t relevant to your brand in the consumer’s eyes, then it wasn’t in the eyes of Google either.
With this in mind, jumping back to our example; are users building more of a correlation with Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar (the brand) and Squid insurance (the product)? The number of [brand name] + [insurance] searches improved by 700% during this period which would suggest an increase in brand association of Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar with their insurance product. This suggests brand association with that product type. Although, the volumes discussed are so small that it’s difficult to attribute how much weight Google placed on this.
Upon the rebrand, there was substantial investment made in external factors – communications (including a big PR drive and the official launch announced at a trade show), social media (the launch was streamed on Facebook Live) and PPC. There was also a landing page discussing the new brand with video content.
All these factors contribute to human psychology building associations with a brand. Google now understand that if a user is searching for this they are also searching for this.
How can this work for me?
Let’s not be mistaken, the technical optimization of your site is still fundamental. If you want any hope of getting on to at least page 2, then you need to at least still consider optimizing your URLs, Title Tags, Heading Tags and ensure best practice in canonicalising pages. In your content, it’s smart to sprinkle synonyms (or LSI keywords as it is commonly known) of your target keyword throughout to help build keyword association with Google. Also aim to get your target keyword in the first 150 words of your page.
I’ve ticked the technical boxes, why do I need to use other marketing tactics to build brand association?
In the case of Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar, there was substantial investment made in the external factors. Don’t underestimate the influence of branding and communications in human psychology. The end goal is to drive as many prospects to initiate a search that is “your brand”+ “product” (such is the case with most branded product searches) to build as much authority with that product as you can with Google. The more often a user searches “your brand” + “product”, the more brand association is built with that product within Google.
The objective should then be to communicate this message and those product values to your consumers across multiple online and offline media.
Research shows it can take up to 13 touch points before a cold prospect converts and this same approach should be considered when building association.
How can I use other marketing tactics to build brand associations and rank well on Google?
Social Media – easily the most scalable and cost effective way to drive association. Work with your social media team to:
- Communicate your brand messages in video and live streams
- Drive prospects to landing pages and owned media that communicate the associations and target keyword
- Use imagery that stands out and is memorable
- Regularly contribute blogs and articles that communicate brand associations with your target keyword
Press and Outreach are also good to reach out to relevant audiences at scale.
- Ensure you invest time in working on your outreach, that is, link-building with other media within your market. This helps to build both association and authority signals in your market place.
- Generate press pieces in local and regional magazines offline if resource permits
- Nurture streams can reach different segments on a personal level to discuss these associations and product offerings. Tell your email list about these associations and why you are the number one brand for that product or service
Use multiple touch points to build that brand association with your target keyword!
- A ranking increase for one keyword could also result in multiple rankings increases for similar keywords
- Brand is now an influencer on ranking. Brand association of a brand with a product is a clear indirect ranking signal
- Traditional ranking factors are still integral to visibility, but external factors are now also playing a part more than they ever have done
This study looked at just one example of how one high traffic keyword started ranking on page 1 at the same time as the target keyword did. Although it is just one example, it demonstrated how Google is now showing a correlation of ranking URL’s that have similar search intent.
Ali’s example had the target keyword incorporated in the rebrand and thus they experienced a higher search volume for their new brand (and any branded search terms) with this keyword.
This helped build association of the brand with this target keyword and bump them up to page 1 for their target keyword as well as a close similarity of that keyword as well. It’s clear that consideration of target keywords now needs to be looked at more holistically. Google clearly wants webmasters to humanize more of their content and web optimization.
As Google gives us more opportunity to rank for more keywords and seeks to better understand what product equity is best associated with which brand, we’re expected to answer the query that the user has searched for more effectively than ever before.