Ah, if it isn’t SEO, the almighty internet boogyman that every business, entrepreneur, freelancer, and marketer is trying to tame.
In an age where over 90% of web traffic is fueled by search engines, everyone who placed a bid on digital is looking to up their game and get on the good side of search giants such as Google, Bing, and – for those with an edge – DuckDuckGo. And while most marketing gurus make it sound like a piece of cake, there’s more to ranking than meets the eye.
So, instead of writing a piece on how to use SEO to increase web traffic or top tips to get your website on the first page of Google (you can find plenty of these on the internet, no need for us to jump on the same bandwagon), we’ll focus on the key SEO information that every entrepreneur should possess when starting a business, embarking on a rebrand, or commissioning a new website.
Learning how to engineer an effective plan that takes into account elements such as brand identity, website UX, information architecture, and on-page optimization WILL set you up for SEO success, but it won’t guarantee it. And we’re about to tell you why.
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Branding and SEO: A Love-Hate Relationship?
Messaging plays a big part in both SEO and branding. A big conundrum a lot of companies face when approaching growth through web traffic is balancing the technical with the aspirational.
That’s mostly because, even though SEO guidelines are mostly centered around user experience, following them to the letter may leave you feeling… inauthentic, like you’re compromising creatively.
Take webpage copy. Did you know that only about 20% of users read paragraph text? The remaining 80% focus solely on the headings.
How do you manage to grab their attention with inciting copy when search engine best practices mandate including relevant keywords in website headings? Mind you, most keywords aren’t glamorous or aspirational, so good luck trying to fit them into your brand’s messaging.
Employing a skilled SEO copywriter can definitely help, but lots of small companies work on this stuff internally. And for them, it can get really difficult, especially when they’re building out landing or product pages.
You can get away with your messaging intact if you have a good number of backlinks, loads of relevant content, and impeccable site speed. But that’s a luxury only the established players can afford. That’s why you don’t see companies such as Workday or Asana compromising on their verbiage – they already have a fantastic presence that allows them to capitalize on their brand equity through branded searches.
So, in the end, what comes first: the brand or the SEO?
You won’t like this answer, but in truth, it’s both – you need a strong brand to connect with your audience, but you also need a good deal of web traffic for that audience to find you. The sooner you intentionally incorporate both branding and SEO into your business plan, the faster you can reap the benefits of a great marketing strategy.
Rule no. 1: SEO is a long game. Don’t expect anything to happen for 6-12 months.
Rule no. 2: 50% of SEO is educating your client about point 1 above.
— Dave Wilkinson, Project Manager @ Proof
The Ultimate SEO Tactic
In order to appear on search engine results pages (SERPs), you have two options: the first is to rank for non-branded keywords (think selling gardening equipment and ranking for “lawnmowers” or “garden shears”) and the second is to go all-in on branded keywords, meaning those that include your brand name and its variations.
Ranking for non-branded keywords is the bread and butter of SEO consulting agencies: their intricate knowledge of Google’s ranking algorithm enables them to provide guidance on the specific actions you can take to improve search visibility. From loading speed and Schema markups to internal link quality and content optimization, Google takes into account a plethora of factors when deciding what websites to show on the first page.
For a deep dive into Google’s algorithm, check out this list by Backlinko.
Brand Equity and Word-of-Mouth
The second route to SEO success is turning your brand into a household name. Haha, no, really. In their SERP race, a lot of companies neglect the importance of branded keywords.
While it’s much easier to rank for branded keywords, getting people to search for them is difficult – and herein lies the power of branding. As BrandExpert elegantly put it, it’s much like reverse-engineering the SEO process.
We’ve said it before: having a strong brand identity is about earning fans, building brand equity, and being remembered.
A brand that has a powerful set of values and a clear mission will easily implement its ethos across all brand touchpoints. Leading with customer experience and quality of service will allow you to capitalize on word-of-mouth marketing, which is identified by marketing execs all over the world as the most effective strategy for growing sales.
But the biggest advantage comes from its ability to drive up brand awareness. People who know your brand will start talking about it online. Seeing how Google knows EVERYTHING, it will pick up on that conversation and recognize your brand’s relevance. Et voila, better rankings!
Branding SEO Success: Function of Beauty
Ok, case study time. Let’s take a look at Function of Beauty, a haircare company making waves across social media for its custom products and great CX.
Founded in 2014, Function of Beauty managed to grow its first-page ranking by 450% between October 2019 and September 2021, with two of the top three keywords being branded – function of beauty and function of beauty reviews. Their web traffic skyrocketed, from almost 100k monthly views to over 700k in the same interval.
The secret? Branding. They built Function of Beauty’s brand identity around their unique selling point – personalization. The company’s key differentiator is that they formulate haircare products based on hair assessments that you can take on their website. You get to also choose your shampoo’s color and scent, and packaging is 100% custom, in that it has YOUR NAME written on the bottle – how cool is that?
Their promise – Hair, skin, and body care products made for you (and only you) – resonated with a lot of consumers tired of generic, overpriced products from big companies with out-of-touch marketing campaigns and insane PR.
In contrast, Function of Beauty partnered with relevant skincare influencers to get their message out, and that really got people talking. They managed to impress with their formulations as well as with their attention to detail and impeccable website UX. The results quickly followed suit.
Non-Branded SEO: Getting the Word Out
While branded SEO is the (perfectly achievable) dream, while you’re busy refining your brand and cultivating awareness through thoughtful marketing campaigns, your website should also start to generate non-branded traffic in and of itself.
The best game plan for SEO success is to nurture both dimensions at the same time, and a good approach for non-branded growth is to develop an SEO-friendly website from the get-go.
Partnering with a web design and development company rather than opting for freelancers or in-house developers can add an additional layer of expertise to your project, as most agencies are versed in SEO best practices for web development. If you decide to go a different route, make sure to specifically ask your developer to take into account the following:
- Keep a close eye on page load time. Google recommends keeping it under 2 seconds, but you can definitely do better than that.
- Ensure that your pages are properly structured and that the content is readable. More on this in a bit.
- Use Schema markup. It’s a code snippet that helps Google provide better search results for users.
- Prioritize internal linking. Make sure that your web pages are interconnected, as this sends a signal to Google to boost visibility for your most important pages. Like this!
- Don’t forget about alt tags. These are an accessibility best practice that helps search engines understand your on-page images better.
- By all means, be intentional about your metadata. Titles, descriptions, and links should not only be properly set up, but also include relevant keywords.
For a more in-depth analysis, feel free to check out Hackernoon’s article on coding a strong foundation for SEO.
Content Optimization for SEO
No matter how well you set up your website or how optimized your images are, the fact of the matter is that content is single-handedly the most important aspect of your non-branded SEO strategy.
Generating high-quality, unique, and relevant content should be your no. one priority, but we’re not going to lie, the process is pretty bumpy, especially seeing how Google still seems to prioritize length over quality.
Even though steps are being made in the right direction, search engines equate wordier articles with more informative content. Simply put, you still need to scroll down to oblivion to finally get to that cupcake recipe you’ve been searching for.
There are three things you should keep in mind if you want your content efforts to have an SEO return over time. You’ll need to fine-tune your approach as you keep publishing new material and keep an eye on your search performance to understand how various algorithm updates impact your ranking, but ultimately it all boils down to the following:
- Generating high-quality content. If you want your website to rank well on Google, having truly useful content that links to your main pages will help. Consistently writing optimized copy is essential, so we recommend you make content a big part of both your SEO and your marketing strategy. A good way to start is by creating topic clusters and organizing your content around specific pillar pages. Being intentional about what you write is also super important, which leads us to…
- Understanding search intent. We all know keywords play a big role in content optimization, but what’s more important than the keywords themselves is the user intent behind them – what is the reader trying to find by searching, say “lawnmower” – are they looking to buy, to educate themselves on how to use one, to find alternatives… what gives? A big part of SEO copywriting is identifying this intent and tailoring content accordingly. For a better chance at understanding search intent, check out this guide by Moz.
- Avoiding over-optimization. You know what they say about too much of a good thing, right? Adding too many keywords or links to your materials for the sole purpose of getting them to rank higher can not only be ineffective, but can actually decrease your performance. Over-optimization will inevitably hinder UX, which is one of the things Google cares most about. Sure, include keywords, links, and appropriate metadata, but don’t go overboard – everything needs to look and feel natural. Or else!
The Bottom Line
Hacking Google’s search algorithm ain’t easy, but it can be done. With patience and intentionality, you can ensure that your website has an infrastructure that favors ranking, with optimized content being your ultimate ally in all non-branded efforts.
Meanwhile, hone in on creating a powerful brand that delivers on its promises and promote it in an intentional way across channels that are frequented by your target audience. No matter how you go about it, remember that it’s not a sprint – it’s a marathon, and that trial and error is paramount to achieving good results.
If you want to learn more about non-branded SEO and content optimization, here’s a list of useful resources for beginners:
If you’re looking to improve your ranking on other search engines, check out:
And, as always, if you need help building a purposeful, passionate brand, drop us a line. We’d love to meet you.