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SEO versus Branding: Clash of the Titanic Egos

Mark Jackson
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Don't let your ego rule the day.

Too often, CEOs care more about brand positioning than increasing traffic, revenue, and profits through SEO efforts. Sure, CEOs are justified in building brand pride. Sometimes, CEOs can even make a business case for buying "CEO keywords." Those are the keywords that cost a lot of money, don't provide the desired ROI, yet are typed in by the CEO to determine how well the company's PPC campaign works.

Building a brand, though, seems to cause more trouble for SEOs than any other marketing activity. SEOs often find themselves in conflict with brand gurus.

Don't get me wrong. I know branding is extremely important. When you optimize your Web site effectively for search engines, you can blend in brand building initiatives. On the other hand, don't let brand building tear down proven SEO research, strategies, and tactics.

Here's a true example of what I'm talking about.

In my past life, I worked with one of the leading international cell phone manufacturers. Wait...sorry...I mean “mobile phones.” We had a big debate about what keywords to optimize. The argument centered around what customers called the product versus what the manufacturer thought it should be called.

German searchers may not always search the same way as Americans. Nor do they necessarily use the same keywords we do here in the U.S. Sometimes, though, the right keyword is the right keyword. All our keyword research supported the targeting of the keyword phrase "cell phones."

The debate? Fruitless. "Mobile phones" won the day. The branding team shot us down. We weren't allowed to target the keyword "cell phones."

What's the worst case scenario here? Someone searches for a cell phone and won't buy it because it's called a "mobile" phone?

Another current client asked us to change course in our SEO strategy. We'd been focused on targeting their product pages by adding the keyword "software." That's not the only keyword we used. More detail about the client might help you understand. However, I don't want to give away their identity, so you'll have to bear with me.

Their executive team had been coming down hard on the SEO team. The top executives were forcing them to change the description of their product from "software" (which it is) to a "solution" (which it is, only in a vague, conceptual way). Here's the thing: more people search for "software." Yes people want solutions to their problems. No, they don't type in "solution" into a search engine when they want to find one. Every industry is unique; there may be an instance when "solution" would be recommended. With this particular client, it isn't even close.

Why Do We Do SEO?

So, let's return to this debate. Why do companies optimize their Web sites? SEO can be a very efficient way to get targeted traffic/leads and sales from search engines. SEO can also be used as a branding tool. However, I can tell you we don't have a single client at Vizion Interactive who doesn't measure "success" by any other metric than rankings, traffic, leads, and sales.

If we had a client that was only concerned with ranking for non-competitive "branded" terms, it would make my life a lot easier. In fact, it might become boring. That's easy stuff!

Branding Gurus, Meet SEOs

What if the primary objective of your company's marketing efforts is brand building? Why not ignore SEO altogether? Even if your sole objective is branding, I strongly recommend you include SEO in the marketing mix.

Here's why...

Where else can you reach a global, targeted audience with high frequency in an unobtrusive medium at this kind of a cost? Certainly, SEO pricing is all over the place. But, even if you're working with a very large Web site, pricing shouldn't exceed $40,000 per month in a competitive vertical. For very large brands, that's certainly not a lot of money for global exposure.

In my previous life, I sold advertising space for some Internet properties, as well as print, radio, and television. A mere $50,000 per month? That level of spending is nothing for many marketers. Why doesn't SEO get the same amount of attention, when it can accomplish so much? Where's the love, people?

All of you branding people take note and share this with your teams. SEO should be in every company's budget, branding, direct response, or otherwise. It's a small price to pay for great exposure to your target audience. If you're measuring reach and frequency, the numbers are tremendous, so long as there actually are searches performed against the keywords you've decided to target.


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