Branded query optimization for SEO

Before jumping in to optimize for non-brand queries, columnist Clay Cazier reminds us to do what many paid search marketers already do: maximize our visibility for branded queries.

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In SEO, our daily job is to spot opportunities and capture them. This is often achieved through technical improvements, page optimization and content development and distribution. The leading edge of our success is often judged by rankings achieved — specifically, rankings achieved for non-brand phrases.

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight a valuable element of SEO that many marketers seem to overlook: SEO activities around branded queries.

What we are talking about

The first simple task is to define the queries we’re interested in optimizing. Branded keywords are any that — you guessed it — contain the brand’s name. For example, if the brand is Brandlicious, Inc., branded queries would include someone typing in:

  • “brandlicious”
  • “”
  • brand plus queries (e.g., “brandlicious + keyword“)
  • any proprietary product name or service offered by the brand

In contrast, non-brand queries are like:

  • shoes
  • plumbing services
  • how to tie a tie
  • best software for creating a brochure

Why brand terms are important

The base supposition of this article is that brand phrases are not only worth pursuing, but worth pursuing first when tackling a new SEO job.

Why? Conventional wisdom tells us that if people are looking for our brand or products by name, it is highly likely that they are consumers who are deep in the sales funnel — more likely to buy than those searching for high-level, non-brand phrases. But is this true?

First, let’s ask Google. A B2B study conducted in 2012, “The Evolving Path of Today’s Tech B2B Customer,” found that:

Compared to non-branded keywords, branded keywords have over 2x higher conversion rate

Based on my review of the retailers managed at my agency, PM Digital, I think this is actually a bit low; we have found paid branded keywords convert at least 2x more than non-brand keywords and often by 10–20x more. (One interesting sub-statistic: Clicks on paid site links for brand terms drive conversion rates even higher — approximately 15 percent more than clicks on traditional ad copy for brand terms.)

For the sake of this article, I think it’s safe to say that, by optimizing our branded keyword presence, we are optimizing keywords that will inherently have 2x or more conversions than non-brand keywords.

Organic sitelinks

When assessing a brand’s organic presence, the first thing I do is go to and and query their brand name. What I see most often are paid links followed by the brand’s website ranked first in organic results, including four to 10 organic sitelinks. We see this in the search results below:

Cavenders sitelinks

Disclosure: Cavender’s is a PM Digital client.

The sitelinks are my first focus. While we cannot directly tell Google and Bing what we would like to see featured here, we can use their respective webmaster tools to exclude URLs from being featured.

Sharper Image Sitelinks

In the example above for The Sharper Image, the sitelinks are pretty good — but given the conversion value of the sitelinks, perhaps one of the two catalog-focused links should be demoted. Another example, this time for a non-retail brand, also shows room for improvement:

PwC Sitelinks

Out of the four sitelinks, PwC has two for careers and two “about us” pages. Surely one of these should be demoted to allow another landing page to take its place.

Top branded keywords

My next recommendation is to hop over to your favorite keyword tool and do a search for your brand name to uncover what the most common brand plus phrases are. It may be your brand name + a product type (e.g., “brandlicious shoes”), but it’s highly likely that the most searched “brand plus” query is your brand name plus either “coupons” or “promo codes.”

Does your website have a page where you publish the latest discounts and coupons or talk about free shipping? If not, you should consider the value of creating a promo code campaign, a landing page and linkage from the site-wide navigation (or at the very least, the footer).

In my experience, Google wants to give the brand’s coupon page rankings over the RetailMeNots of the world. If you build a half-decent promo or coupon code page, it’s likely your site will take the #1 organic ranking.

Is your brand too ritzy for coupons or promo codes? I’ve only run into this a few times, but here’s one of my favorite ways one retailer handled it. Create a landing page that presents:

  1. your value proposition;
  2. an honest explanation of how you deliver the lowest price possible; and/or
  3. a description of any rewards or loyalty programs your brand does offer.

Calyx Flowers coupon page

It’s no revelation that brand queries are valuable. Similarly, the importance of organic sitelinks and competing for branded coupon and promo code queries is nothing stunning or new.

The message of today’s post is that, in the normal rush to compete for non-brand query rankings, it is crucial that we first have our branded house in order — that we make a point of addressing our organic sitelinks and the #1 position for coupon/promo code queries.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Clay Cazier
Clay Cazier is Vice President, Search Strategy for PMX Agency, an integrated marketing agency. Clay's resume includes more than 15 years of web development, search engine optimization and content marketing experience on both the client and agency side, including successful ventures in healthcare, travel, legal and retail verticals. At PMX Agency, Clay's role is to lead brands in the formulation of optimization and content plans to be executed in a joint effort between PMX Agency and clients' marketing teams. This not only requires deep technical knowledge but the ability to spot search trends and communicate the opportunity in a way that inspires C-suite executives to act. Clay graduated in 1996 from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi with a BA in Philosophy (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and a BA in Biology (Magna Cum Laude). His search marketing experience built over the years was solidified more recently by completing Rutgers University's Social Media Mini MBA in 2010. After living and working in the New York/New Jersey area for 16 years, Clay and his family have recently moved south to help grow PMX Agency's South Carolina office.

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