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In the second part of our look at how a brand identity developed online and in the real world can influence SEO we look at how it can all come together. Interplanetary alignment, karmic balance or divine synchronicity; whatever it may be, businesses are boosting their SEO efforts through exposure alone.
As we found yesterday, this is easier to measure in relatively new companies [see: How Brand Awareness Can Prove To Be an SEO Asset]. Trying to find how a Microsoft campaign may have influenced their site’s SEO campaign and link building efforts could prove more challenging – not least because their self-titled .com domain has over 127 million links currently.
The first part left off with a look at Wonga.com and its quick rise to prominence. We looked at how regular press coverage, full media marketing and sponsorship were helping to grow their search engine visibility and link profile.
Whilst this isn’t accidental per se, in-house efforts were clearly being magnified by external buzz.
So What Does This All Mean?
Wonga are benefiting from their brand identity. Through careful marketing, they have generated hype around the business and what they are trying to achieve.
The company has benefited from the financial turmoil of the credit crunch. With people looking for legitimate lending options outside of the usual banking system, they created an alternative. The discussion over whether that alternative is good or bad, whilst of no interest here, has fuelled their SEO efforts.
First, media organisations were interested in what made this start-up different to everybody else. Next, they wanted to comment on it – progress, success, funding, sponsorship and controversy. Then finally Wonga responds with its own PR – create an iPhone App, sponsor Blackpool. This just keeps the conversation going and ensures that the company stay in the spotlight.
Prominence leads to search engine authority. Google is indexing all of this information all of the time. So the more mentions you get and links achieved, the better your chances of getting picked up. Natural SEO in action.
It would be churlish to suggest that this was simply down to good fortune of course. Invariably this company, like many others, have invested heavily to get to this position. PR, sponsorship and SEO all cost money. But as with other online ventures like comparethemarket.com, moneysupermarket.com and Expedia, their success offline has helped online efforts.
The Music Analogy
Let’s take this away from the Internet for a moment. Imagine that a start-up is a fledgling rock band. Ultimately their aim might be to sell the most albums. But they can’t simply make an album and shove it on the shelves of HMV. Nobody would have a clue who they were, very few copies would get bought and they’d be well out of pocket as a consequence.
So first they need to build their identity. This means sending out demos to various radio stations – the equivalent of a press release. If the band are lucky, they’ll get some air time on the radio – just like an interview with a newspaper or online news source. This will sow the seeds of interest in their potential audience’s mind.
Now they have to start gigging. People begin to talk about them and a reputation – good or bad – will soon spread. The more they can do to improve the band’s visibility, the larger their potential audience becomes. If they can prove to be different to everybody else, the band creates a niche.
If they are ineffective at doing this, they will be confined to pub gigs and selling CDs to punters. Just like any website that has a weak marketing campaign or targets the wrong audience.
However, if it comes off, their music will attract more attention, lead to it being discussed at major radio stations and on TV shows, which will generate album sales. Whilst you have to feed this interest with marketing on the side, word of mouth and natural media coverage will do the rest.
In this analogy the album sale represents the site and earning a conversion. Media coverage, including radio exposure, is what points people in the right direction, therefore this represents your SEO efforts. Gigs and other appearances are your direct marketing tools.
So the quality of your album (site/product) and gigs (marketing) will have a positive influence on how the media perceives you (SEO); all of which brings in the punters. But media perception can improve without you actively doing anything, your prominence alone will ensure continued coverage and interest – natural SEO again.
Why We Can’t All Be Wonga.com
This just isn’t practical for all online websites though. Wonga, like many others have enjoyed substantial financing ($28 million if reports are to be believed) allowing them to afford the best PR, advertising and sponsorship opportunities – including half a million quid each year to Blackpool. Whilst money can’t guarantee success, it certainly won’t do any harm.
Most businesses have to make do with the standard online marketing techniques. Build a great site, work hard promoting it and target terms that will garner conversions. They might never get a link from TechCrunch or The Guardian, so will have to work harder to find the same equivalent link strength.
You can’t always generate a national buzz around your brand either. Whilst payday loans get widespread media attention, plastic injection moulding perhaps doesn’t. Work within your industry’s market and look to dominate here.
The big boys aren’t unbeatable, but you’ll often have to find ways of working around them. Going head to head with the same target terms might see you come up short. For example, if you were a new company offering payday loans, targeting that phrase might prove challenging. However, ‘Easy UK Payday Loans’ or ‘Bad Credit Payday Loans UK’ could be terms that you could go after early on.
Why the Same Principles Apply
Your main job though is to increase your brand’s visibility. Let other people optimise your site for you. When you get accepted as a leader in any industry, commentators and consumers will pick up on this. They write about you, discuss what you offer and provide links naturally.
To get to this position though you need a clear identity and strategy. Social media is a great way to establish yourself as an authority within any industry. If you can help people with their queries, provide useful links and generally converse with the wider world, your stock will rise.
Back up your SEO with a little PPC advertising [see: Pay Per Click Campaign Checklist]. Whilst this can be expensive, particularly for those with extremely limited budgets, it is a great way to ensure you are getting seen where it matters most. A blended online strategy will get you traction, maybe not as quickly as an effective offline campaign, but that is often an investment too far [see: What is the Most Effective Search Engine Marketing Strategy?].
The Joy of Branded SEO
If you want natural links, you need to be seen. Generating inbound links is time consuming, so having a recognisable brand behind you can be hugely beneficial. How you build this recognition is down to you and your limitations.
Market saturation, as in the case of Wonga, is probably the most effective. It will get you seen by a huge audience and encourage all sorts of natural optimisation.
You could however just create a series of free help videos on YouTube and become a useful free online resource. You might also invest time into Twitter; helping people with queries relating to your industry and company. Difficult to achieve, but by no means impossible. Basically, if you aren’t blessed with resources, being creative can be your best friend [see: How to Market a Website With Limited Resources].
Write press releases and send them directly to the editors who are likely to be most interested. Whether it’s a niche publication, local media or a national newspaper, getting yourself on their radar with something newsworthy can pay dividends.
Managing Your Reputation Effectively
You can generate news to a certain extent. If your business is doing charity work, celebrate it. If you are helping in the community, make sure the local press are aware. When you innovate, share it with the world. Editors want news to share, so don’t be shy about giving it to them.
The bottom line though is that brand recognition and SEO go hand in hand. With Google openly focusing on brand-based search phrases, this algorithmic bias is not likely to end any time soon. What Wonga has done so successfully can be replicated, you just need to find the best way to do so.
You can’t force people to talk about your business or link to your site, but if you are actually interesting enough they will do so automatically. Generating interest is both an internal and external process, your job is to ensure that everything that can be done on your side is being done. Offer great products, develop a user-friendly site and keep spreading the word.
This won’t do all your SEO work for you, but it can certainly provide a little additional benefit.
Search engine technology is evolving, and so is the digital marketing industry. The more experienced professionals amongst you may remember the days of gleefully stuffing keywords into your copy to boost your rankings, blindly spamming strangers to join your email lists and easily securing media coverage for your thinly veiled advertisements.
Site speed is an important area of website optimisation that people working in the world of Search Engine Optimisation are becoming increasingly concerned about.