Why Do Brands Overlook The SEO Opportunity For Non-Branded Keywords?

Many of the large enterprises we work with have a significant brand. They can mount advertising campaigns to create leverage for all of their marketing efforts. Sometimes, this comes out a bit sideways from an SEO perspective. What I mean is that some of these brands view SEO solely as a means to harvest the benefits of their other marketing efforts, rather than a marketing effort on its own.

For example, one brand we work with is only concerned about ranking for its brand names (both the company and individual products). To them, that is the sole purpose of their SEO. This is not quite as trivial as it sounds, as the company has a large scale affiliate program effort, where many of their affiliates are quite aggressive at SEO. If they do not put the effort in, they can get outranked for their product brand names.

A Practical Example

Let’s take a real world example. If I use the AdWords keyword tool, I can pull a list of the search volumes on the largest brand names in diapers:

Diaper Brands in Search

click for larger image

As you can see, the top 2 are Pampers and Huggies. Both sport impressive search volume! This is great stuff.

Since these are the top brand names in the diaper biz, let’s take a look at how they fare in a search for their key non-branded search term, “diapers”:

Diapers Search Results

The screen shot shows the top six search results, and they are nowhere to be found! In fact, Huggies.com comes in at #7, and Pampers.com does not show up until the 3rd page of results. Not a good thing! Interestingly enough, the story is reversed if you search on [diaper], where Pampers comes in at the #8 spot, and Huggies is not on the first page. Still not good.

What’s The Opportunity Cost?

One way we can estimate the opportunity cost is by looking at the Google AdWords tool phrase match search volume for the major brand terms vs. the non-brand search terms:

Diaper Related Search Volumes

The phrase match volume shows us the total volume of all the search queries that include the word (or words) inside the quotes. This can give us a rough estimate of the long tail search volume associated with the word or phrase. Clearly, there is a lot more long tail volume associated with the non-branded terms than there is with the branded terms.

You could argue, and you would likely be right, that the conversion rate on the branded terms will clearly be higher, and that a significant percentage of the non-branded terms long tail volume will come from things that do not apply as directly, such as [diaper bags].

However, all of that non-branded long tail search volume represents a branding opportunity that is being missed in a big way. Note that if someone searches on your brand name, they already know it, and they already have developed a certain level of interest in that brand.

If they search on a non-brand name, chances are that they don’t have that same level of commitment. What we see in the above data is 2.5 million branding opportunities. You could also argue with me that you can get more impressions per month by other media. While that would be non-trivial, you could do that, but you would be missing the point.

Nearly 100% of the search impressions are from people who have a direct and immediate interest in diapers. Granted that some of the people who search on phrases like [Diaper cakes] may be researching cakes for a baby shower, but even some of them may buy diapers for the event. Nowhere else are you going to get anywhere near the same volume of people with such a focused interest.

In addition, there is a lot of business to be had among these keywords. This is all incremental business since the search query started with a non-branded phrase.

What Can We Learn From This?

The basic branding campaigns that major brands pursue bring huge benefits. I remember when I was first learning about marketing and branding. One of the key concepts I learned was the notion that it took 7 branding impressions to create a sale. Seems to me that there are a ton of those impressions still available in search. Right now, diapers.com is reaping far more of those benefits than the major brands.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Enterprise SEO


About The Author: is the president of Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy outside of Boston. Eric publishes a highly respected interview series and can be followed on Twitter at @stonetemple.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://twitter.com/sharithurow sharithurow

    Hey Eric-
    Great article, fellow Viking (and you must tell me that joke again, the one you told me at the pub). Do you remember the citation for that 7 impressions brand quote? I’d like to use it.

  • RyanMJones

    Three words: Corporate Legal Teams

    It’s amazing the things the lawyers will and won’t let you say on pages – for “branding” reasons. Corporate SEOs spend lots of time and countless meetings trying to change that type of thinking. Often times, style guides and branding rules prevent you from calling things what the general public calls them.

    Random example: most people say “mud flaps” – but you won’t find that term on any OEM brand site, because their official name is “splash guards.” Same thing with “used cars” – “used” isn’t allowed, it’s “certified pre-owned.”

    My guess: They’re not “diapers” they’re “pampers” because the brand manager insists that “pampers” are a different and better than ordinary run of the mill diapers, and doesn’t want his project talked about like it’s some generic brand..

  • RyanMJones

    grr. spellin gerrors. there’s a few extra random words in there, and project = product.

  • Kevin Chamberlin

    RyanM, I could
    not agree with you more Why spend $$$$ to promote your widget (that we the
    producers of said widget know it is a widget) when millions of our buyers and
    potential buyers are calling it a thingamajig, just as Eric points out. Nice
    Eric of what I have been chipping away out to so many HIPPO’s

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Eric, you must not have heard that there’s a Google big
    brand bias that makes it easy for large brands to rank for non-brand keywords regardless
    of whether they optimize for them. ;)

    What Ryan describes is common, but I honestly doubt that’s
    what happening here. Both Huggies and Pampers use “diapers” as the first word
    in their homepage title tag, so they’re not treating the keyword as a
    stigmatized one. They’re also ranking for hundreds of non-brand keywords
    containing “diaper” or “diapers” according to SEMRush, so it’s likely they’re
    targeting these keywords to some extent. More likely they’ve allocated most of
    their budget to broadcast media and don’t have enough time or resources to dedicate to SEO. This is a common problem with big brands as well.

    Another issue is that Google tends to rank retailers for
    these non-brand head terms, as they assume that the searcher is not brand-loyal
    and is looking for many options at this phase in the purchase cycle. Huggies is
    never going to offer Pampers on their site and vice versa, so their inventory
    is always going to be limited compared to Amazon and the Amazon-owned
    Diapers com. It’s still possible for brands to rank with brand sites if they
    target non-brand keywords, but it’s going to be more difficult for them than it
    is for someone like Amazon.

    That said, I wholeheartedly agree that brands should be
    looking beyond branded keywords and into qualified keywords across the whole
    purchase funnel. We do that with all of our clients, but I agree with you that
    there are some companies still who haven’t quite caught up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Enge/565117597 Eric Enge

    Short summary – ego got in the way! Does stink when you encounter it doesn’t it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Enge/565117597 Eric Enge

    Citation will be tough! It was in a marketing textbook that I used something like 30 years ago. I will see what I can find! Re: the joke, I will email you, but I need to remember which one it was first.

  • http://twitter.com/jwdlatif Jawad Latif

    Great post Eric. You have well highlighted the opportunities which are usually missed by many marketers.

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/ Ryan Hanley


    Great article. What’s funny about this from my perspective which is small business SEO is that most of the companies I work with don’t have a brand. They only consumers who know their name are the ones that already work with them. So everything we do is off-brand keywords.

    Completely agree with all your points just funny from my perspective that this could even be a discussion. Seems like a no-brainer.



  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I’ve run into scenarios where it’s the various product managers that won’t let go of their brand. They can be very protective of their product line and just like you mentioned they don’t want them talked about like “generic” products. You just have to keep working on them and reiterating that not everyone knows their all mighty and powerful brand! If you want to grow as a business you need to get the attention of those people that aren’t looking for you up front but rather what you offer.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HSKOSGOPYXU2OWPMD36SUICNHQ Waleed

    thanks more for this article

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HSKOSGOPYXU2OWPMD36SUICNHQ Waleed

    this article is the great way to understand the seo


  • http://www.facebook.com/jrgreenfield1 Josh Greenfield

    Hi all – I guess I’m the guy that can do something about this. And I will. Give us 2 months. That said, I understand the importance of strong placement organically for a term like diapers, but in this particular category, ECommerce is incredibly huge in the diaper business and having Diapers.com, Target and ToysRUs rank – who sell a TON of diapers insn’t exactly the worst thing.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide