It’s Not Just the Competition, and Your Family, Who Search for You Online
Much of the discussion surrounding search marketing is concerned with earning increased brand awareness through non-branded search traffic. This means that potential clients, who have never before heard of your brand, gain familiarity after finding your content online, and deciding that it is useful or interesting. By contrast, not nearly as much attention is paid to branded traffic, which comes as the result of people searching for you directly. Your branded search results are what you see when you Google yourself.
For example, one of your competitors performs a search for your business, and arrives at your website. This registers as branded traffic. Same result when you search for yourself, or your Mom searches for you. However, it’s not just the competition (and your family) that searches for you online.
Branded searches follow logically from non-branded visits. They are the gateway through which new business travels.
Let’s say you’re a lawyer. You write an insightful blog post that gives useful analysis of a common legal issue. The piece is shared by colleagues on social media. Other bloggers link to it, and it gains visibility in search. A potential client finds the post, is impressed by your expertise, and contacts your firm. The new inquiry arrived as the result of a non-branded search, but your branded search results may very well be the key to signing up new business.
Now that the potential client knows you, they’ll research you. They’ll Google you. What they find may determine whether they decide to get involved with your brand. To continue with the law firm example, perhaps the client searches for the firm, and individual lawyers in the firm. If they’re confronted with evidence of community, and professional, involvement, the firm brand is strengthened. If they’re instead confronted with negative reviews, the firm brand is diminished. The good will from the blog disappears in light of questions about how clients are treated.
Same Principle Applies to Restaurants
The same principle applies to restaurants. Here in New York City, there are literally thousands of restaurants to choose from. After hearing a new suggestion for dinner, the first thing I do is perform a Google search. I then scroll through the search results to see how many stars the place receives. Sometimes, I’ll make a call based on the search results alone. Others, I’ll click through and read reviews. The point is, that branded search has a big impact on my dinner decisions.
How Can I Improve My Online Reputation?
Create informative pages about your company, team, and brand
There are a number of ways a business can optimize its online reputation for success. The first place to start is with your website. Make sure that you’ve taken the time to create strong biography pages for key members of your team, and an authoritative about page that explains who your company is, and why it’s in business. Make sure the HTML title of each of these pages mentions your business name, and that other pages on your site link to these pages, where appropriate.
Utilize structured data to gain rich snippets
Part of the job of a search engine is to read HTML. In addition to standard HTML tags like the title element <t>, Google recognizes additional markups that provide extra insight into the content, and author, of a web page. This extra data is sometimes displayed in the form of a rich snippet in search results. Through its Authorship program, Google encourages both publishers, and companies, to sync their Google plus profiles with their online content. Google Authorship markup is a form of structured data, that produces rich snippets in search results. From the Google Webmaster Tools blog:
If Google understands the content on your pages, we can create rich snippets—detailed information intended to help users with specific queries. For example, the snippet for a restaurant might show the average review and price range.
Authors markup content with the rel=author tag, which causes their Google Plus profile photo to appear next to the title of their work in search results. Publishers use the rel=publisher tag, which adds company information to branded searches. Both tags are valuable for small businesses because they give users more information about you, and your business, right from the search results.
For example, consider this branded search for my gym here in NYC, Equinox.
You’ll notice the Equinox Fitness information box that pops up to the right of the search results. This occurs as the result of an HTML markup (rel=publisher) that adds a link to Equinox’s Google Plus page in the code of its website. Potential customers, who search for Equinox, will find information they control as part of their social campaign. This helps put Equinox’s best foot forward.
Create, and maintain social media accounts
Social media is a must have for any reputation management campaign. Google tries to return pages that have the greatest relevance and authority for its users. How that authority is measured is constantly changing, however, it’s safe to assume that websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Youtube, Linkedin, etc. will remain important for years to come. When someone searches for you, or your company, at least some of your social media profiles will appear in the search results, so it’s important to keep them up to date with good photos, and accurate information. Your social media presence provides digital evidence of offline activity, make sure it’s a good reflection of you, and your business. Take the time to add your name, address and phone number to each account. Cross link profiles, so that each one is accessible from your entire network. For Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter, use a cover photo that says something meaningful about you, or your brand. Take the time to share content you enjoy across these channels as well. Interact with peers, and members of your community. Active, engaged social media accounts will reinforce your brand, and provide a valuable source of information for potential clients conducting research.
Consider building a branded micro site
A good deal of reputation management strategy centers around controlling your branded search results. The idea is to control the information that people see about you when they search for you. One way to do this is to create websites that are devoted to you, and your professional life. As these sites earn links, build authority, and become associated with you, they’ll begin to appear more prominently in branded Google searches. For example, Elegant Themes has a WordPress theme that functions as an online business card. Creating an About.me page is another great way to populate the web with more information about you, and make you easier to find.
Use pay per click
Bidding on branded searches is a common practice used by bigger companies. It adds another piece of search real estate, that you control, to your branded search results, and prevents competitors from siphoning traffic. Paid search campaigns have a similar benefit for smaller companies, but with an added analytics wrinkle. In light of Google phasing out keyword data from analytics reporting, it is going to become much harder for small businesses to differentiate between non-branded, and branded, traffic to their homepage. Bigger sites can watch rankings, and landing page data for thousands of pages, to track success in organic search. If a landing page, with content unrelated to your brand, is receiving traffic from search, you’re witnessing micro level SEO success. This type of data isn’t as available to many small businesses. Small businesses often lack high traffic landing pages, and engage in local search campaigns designed around ranking the homepage for geo-targeted keywords. Conversions from branded search can’t be differentiated from non-branded, because both come through the same funnel. Running a branded PPC campaign solves this problem in two ways. First, it puts visitors on a landing page, or your homepage, from a source that can be excluded from conversion data in analytics. You can no longer see exactly what keywords led to an organic conversion, but you can still exclude conversions that came as a result of paid search traffic in analytics. If you’re interested in learning more about small business analytics in light of not provided, I wrote more about the issue here.
Encourage online reviews
I touched on the importance of reviews earlier, but the concept bears repeating. Good reviews are a great way to provide social proof that your business provides value, and that others have had a positive experience with your services. Many of the strategies I’ve discussed in this post have centered around tactics that allow business owners to give increased visibility to their company message. Reviews are even more powerful because they come from people outside your circle, who don’t have a vested interest in your success. They are seen as more trustworthy, and can motivate hiring decisions.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: invest in organic search to evangelize new audiences. Invest in your online reputation to convert them to paying customers.