Brand building tips and tricks for small businesses began with baby steps: keyword research and brainstorming; and choosing a name that tells a story. That name must stand out from the pack and -- in today's search-driven world -- must be for sale. To succeed in building a brand, the domain name you want must be available. The next steps: make your site easy to use and then buy some PPC ads.
Now you have a memorable brand. How do you get people to notice it?
SEO PR: Press Releases
Write some well-optimized press releases. That means using a great keyword phrase and your brand in the title of the press release. Include information on what you plan to offer that's unique and emphasize your brand name. Having a great name that's catchy or whimsical makes people stop and take notice.
Include why you chose your name in your press release. If it's a story you don't think someone might be interested in, you probably haven't chosen the right brand or told the right story. I recommend a test when writing press releases. Ask someone outside your business to read it and perform the "do I care or don't I care" review. Your press release to the world, just like a birth announcement, needs to impress everyone, not just you and your employees. As news, the release needs an angle that will encourage online and offline outlets to pick it up and run with it.
SEO 101: Directory Listings
The best traffic for a new brand will likely come from well-placed directory listings. Buy a good placement among the listings and use an eye-catching logo and brand message to draw attention. A listing in a category that states your business objective ends the toughest part of the battle. Use the space available to convince visitors your site is the best choice. A good experience will bring them back again.
SEO with Buzz
Ultimately the search engine rankings you'll receive are going to rely on SEO strategies and solid inbound links. You'll probably show up for your brand name without link building. Viral content will help your brand in more ways than obtaining links alone. Invent some fun sales and promotions that are well marketed to help you achieve your branding goals. Justilien Gaspard talked about creating link bait with hot content and promotions back in June. It was a great column and this part really stuck with me:
"Creating the compelling content is only part of the job. The next aspect is the promotion. This can be incorporated into your traditional media campaigns, such as print and radio. You can also take advantage of social media outlets such as Netscape and Digg."
That's key for small business Web sites. Two words of warning for SMEs: server crash. Netscape and Digg can drive huge volumes of traffic in short periods of time. You think you'll be ready. You won't be. Instead, participate in forums or social sites that serve your niche.
I've talked before about staying true to your online neighborhood and tips for Small Business social media success. Both articles highlight some great tools to apply to your online branding strategy. Social media is the online form of word-of-mouth advertising when people are searching for a brand they can trust. Don't forget, sometimes the best buzz will come from your competitors.
Here's an example. My kids are 10 and 6 years old. They're totally into Webkinz, furry stuffed animals in the offline world that have "second lives" as interactive characters on the WebkinzWorld Web Site. My kids drive me nuts asking for new animals and monopolizing my computer.
These things are everywhere. Commercials, banner ads, books, shelf-space, everything. The LimitedToo online retail store buys the keyword "Webkinz" on Google. On Yahoo!, eight online retailers buy the keyword "Webkinz." A store called Collector's Cache has "Webkinz Webkinz" in their Yahoo search ad. My daughter even gets an e-mail every day from WebkinzWorld telling her about new features, encouraging her to become even more obsessed.
They're kids and Webkinz are harmless, but where does the brand's success come from? The brand name (cute) and the brand realized as a stuffed animal (cute, too) play key roles. So does the Webkinz dominance of the top 10 rankings for their brand. Searchers see their official site, sites where kids can talk about Webkinz, hacks for Webkinz, Wikipedia listings, and more.
Of course, now Webkinz is far from a small business, but back in 1950, it started out that way for Ganz, the Canadian plush toy manufacturer now run by the founder's grandson. Finding a way to connect with your potential audience is the key to making viral content work.
So it's complex, not difficult. Bring your small business brand into the online marketplace, spend some time establishing it in key sectors and watch your traffic and sales grow. It's not a get rich quick scheme -- this takes time -- but if you do it right, your search-based branding efforts will pay off.