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Search Engine Marketing and Branding Challenges

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Search engines are recognized as one of the best ways to generate qualified leads online. What about branding aspects? Should search engine marketing be considered as part of a brand-building campaign?

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2004 Conference, March 1-4, New York City.

What is branding?

According to the American Marketing Association, brand image is the perception of a brand in the minds of persons The brand image is a mirror reflection (though perhaps inaccurate) of the brand personality or product being. It is what people believe about a brand-their thoughts, feelings, expectations.

"One of the things you can do with your brand, if you have a very well established brand with search, is you can take control of how your brand is interpreted, "said Kevin Ryan, Director of Market Development at Wahlstrom Interactive. "One of the key elements of brand presence is controlling search results."

Tony Wright, Vice President of Media/Interactive Marketing at Zunch Communications, presented the following tips:

  • Use all of your real estate - both natural search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) search engine advertising.
  • Make sure your keywords are what people are searching for.
  • Make sure your company name appears in all descriptions and creatives.

"I have some clients that ask why, if they have great organic listings, should they buy a PPC listing," Wright explained. "The reason is the more times your brand is displayed, the more frequency you'll receive and you can increase your brand image."

Search engines can also hurt brand image. Contextual ads can appear in inappropriate places, such as an incorrect geographic location. Descriptions in search engine results (SERPs) should be fine tuned so that your company appears to be the most relevant result. Additionally, search engine advertisers should stay on top of the ad game.

"If you are not appearing under your major keywords, potential consumers might not consider you a leader in your space," said Wright.

"The bigger your brand, more you have to protect it," Ryan continued. "At first you may think, why should I have to pay for my own branding? But if you're in a competitive category, it's a must."

Leslie Marable, Senior Analyst of eCommerce at Nielsen//NetRatings, breaks online ad campaign strategies in 4 different buckets: driving sales, driving traffic, positioning, awareness. Positioning campaigns position a brand in a market, change consumer perceptions of a brand, or to create an emotional response. Awareness campaigns work to communicate knowledge of a brand.

In 2002, awareness branding comprised 33% of all ad impressions. In 2003, it dropped to 25%. "Awareness branding has not played as large a factor as earlier, said Marable.

Even with this drop in ad impressions, awareness branding through PPC search engine advertising can still be an effective means of marketing a site. Marable cited as an example Expedia.com, which did multiple, large awareness campaigns.

"There is a positive correlation between ad impressions and traffic to the site, including a 50% jump in traffic over a three-month period," Marable explained. "As Expedia.com increased their ad impressions online, there was more activity specific to the Web Fares campaign."

Case study: Sharp Electronics

Doug Topken is Director of Internet Strategy at Sharp Electronics, a diversified manufacturer of consumer and business products as well as an OEM of electronic components. Sharp Electronics has a constantly evolving product line ranging from computers, computer peripherals, home appliances, computers, and audio/video gear. "Having all of these products makes branding and marketing awareness very, very challenging," said Topken.

One of the problems Sharp Electronics faced with branding includes domain name recognition and brand transformation. "We have a rather ambiguous domain name [sharp-usa.com”," he said. "Not too many people typed dashes. People would call customer service and ask, 'Where are you?' They couldn't find our Web site."

Since there is a huge market demand for high-tech product categories from more mature commodity products, the company felt it had to transform its brand via the search engines. Branding on the Web is often more important for such types of products, to make them seem updated and relevant with the latest ad mediums.

Search engine advertising, SEO, and metadata optimization were all part of the branding strategy.

"One item of special importance is effective copywriting, including keywords in the copy," said Topken. "We also did a keyword assessment against the competition. Our site used to come out very high without doing a lot of optimization, but it is getting trickier and trickier. It required better optimization on all of our pages."

"While a lot of our traffic is due to optimization, the best thing I see is that a large percentage due deep linking," he continued. "Visitors are not typing into sharpusa.com and getting the 'promotion du jour' from the home page. Site visitors are coming right to the page about the liquid crystal television that they are searching for."

Conversion rates have also increased. "Our studies show that we are catching prospects at the time they are considering a purchase," Topken explained, "delivering a highly relevant and compelling experience, and dramatically increasing the number that convert to locate a dealer."

The results are impressive. 55% of the site's traffic comes from the search engines and overall online visibility increased over 85%.

Conclusion

Since the release of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Search Engine Effectiveness Committee's study on the brand lift of textual paid search results, branding through the search engines has suddenly become a hot topic. Through both search engine advertising and SEO, companies can increase the branding effectiveness of their Web sites.

Related articles:

IAB Issues New Research From Nielsen//Netratings On Branding Value Of Sponsored Text Advertising
http://www.iab.net/news/pr_2004_7_15.asp

Search Engine Marketing and Branding
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2200961

Big Sites + Big Brands = Big Search Engine Marketing Challenges
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2160941

Branding Metrics for Search Engine Marketing
www.clickz.com/experts/search/strat/article.php/2230621

Yes, Virginia, There Is SEM Brand Lift, Part 1
http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/strat/article.php/3381241

Yes, Virginia, There Is SEM Brand Lift, Part 2
http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/strat/article.php/3384681

Grant Crowell is the CEO and Creative Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc.. He has 15 combined years of experience in the fields of print and online design, newspaper journalism, public relations, and publications.


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