Have you googled yourself or your company recently?
I bet you have, but this doesn’t mean you have a branded search optimization strategy.
Brand-driven search is so much more than URLs you see ranking for your brand name. It’s an ongoing process that will result in higher conversions and more predictable buying journeys.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What is branded search?
A branded (also referred to as brand-driven) search query is one that contains your brand or product name. Branded search includes search queries that include personal, brand-driven words, like your CEO or writers’ names.
Why should your branded search be your marketing priority?
There seems to be an obvious answer to this question. After all, great SEO starts with your brand, so branded SEO research should be any company’s priority. Yet, it’s quite unbelievable how many brands completely ignore search queries.
Branded search is crucial for several important reasons:
Brand-driven search is usually high-intent: People who type your brand name in the search box want to either go straight to your site or research you before making a purchase.
Branded search queries show which issues your current or future customers may be experiencing with your site or product.
Brand-driven search is important to analyze in order to understand the online sentiment around your (and competing) brand.
Finally (and obviously), any of those branded SERPs may influence buying decisions, which make them part of your sales funnel.
Like a branded hashtag, your branded SERPs don’t belong to you, and you can’t really control what people see there, unless you spend some time and effort optimizing for your own branded search.
How to research your branded search queries
Start with your immediate branded Google suggestions
What do people see when they just start typing your brand name into the search box?
Brand-driven Google suggestions should be your top priority for two important reasons:
Google suggestions show what people search most as far as your brand is concerned. They’ve historically relied on the search frequency data, so the more people search for a particular phrase, the higher that phrase shows up in Google suggestions.
Google suggestions may (and likely will) influence lots of your customers’ buying decisions. Think about someone typing your brand name in their mobile device address bar (in an effort to go directly to your site) and seeing “brand name alternatives” as a suggestion. What’s the chance that person will get curious enough to click that suggestion and discover your competitors? According to the recent study, Google searchers use one of Google’s suggestions 23% of the time. That’s almost a quarter of your customers who already know you enough to search for your name. Suddenly, you’re competing for the attention of someone who had been going directly to your site:
“This isn’t even a search box. This is Safari’s URL bar. Safari uses Google’s top suggestions, which may steer your current or future customers to competitors.”
Basically, this means that branded Google suggestions may influence your buyers’ decisions even when they aren’t really searching for anything.
I’m sure you’re wondering: Is there any way to change what Google shows when people are typing your brand name?
There’s no long-term way to somehow influence Google suggestions. Of course, you could try and hire an army of searchers to type some other combinations with your brand name to convince Google to include in those results. But even if it works, Google will remove that suggestion soon after you stop paying your army.
Another way to influence your branded suggestions is to go viral with some new product, report, or news. A quickly-rising search term is often included in those suggestions.
Yet, as soon as people stop searching for that query, the result will also be replaced with a different one.
That being said, chances are, you’ll need to deal with branded Google suggestion results as they are.
Types of branded Google suggestions
It’s amazing how often brands absolutely neglect their branded search suggestions. In fact, these as-you-type results may tell you a lot about your brand’s perception as well as your buyers’ journeys:
In our example, the brand’s domain ranks #1 only for four queries. All other branded suggestions are controlled by third-party domains:
Use keyword research tools
Your brand name is your most important keyword. You want people to search more for your brand as that helps you evaluate your marketing efforts and measure brand awareness. But you also want to make sure that your branded search results push those searchers further down your sales funnel instead of scaring them away for good.
Moz’s Keyword Explorer is perfect for that:
It will pull a large variety of your branded search queries.
It will show you the search volume for each query containing your brand name.
It offers a few cool filters allowing you to play with your lists. For example, you can filter your search queries to questions or group them by lexical similarity.
Keep an eye on branded questions
Questions often get additional visibility in organic search because they often trigger featured snippets. Additionally, Google has a separate section for questions within search result pages called “People Also Ask”.
I like using questions as subheads of whatever content I’m working on. When phrased as questions, subheadings seem to draw readers in deeper into the page.
The three useful sources of branded keyword inspiration include:
1. Moz Keyword Explorer
Moz Keyword Explorer offers you an easy way to filter keyword lists by questions:
2. Google’s “People Also Ask”
Simply searching Google can give you some question inspiration. Keep an eye on those “People Also Ask” boxes and keep a record of questions that need your attention there. It’s also your goal to rank your answer for each one of those:
For larger brands with hundreds of branded search queries and questions, it would be easier to use tools like IMN’s Content Optimization tool that collects People Also Ask results for your most important queries (Disclaimer: This is the company I work for).
If you feel like playing some more, People Also Ask boxes may also give you some idea as to what Google considers relevant, as Google will show different follow-up questions based on a brand-driven question you click:
3. Text Optimizer
Finally, my go-to tool for just about any SEO task, Text Optimizer offers a separate section for questions that helps you better understand searching patterns of your audience:
Take note of these questions to include into your content marketing plan.
Group your keywords
Like with any keyword lists, yours will have several variants of one and the same idea, worded a little differently. This will be especially true for larger brands in broad niches that are searched a lot.
This is where Moz’s Keyword Explorer will turn helpful again. Take a look at your Google suggestion results and use keyword modifiers from there to group your list by a common word:
[These are essentially keyword phrases to use within a single article.]
You can also use Moz’s keyword grouping feature to discover more groups to focus on:
Finally, for every keyword you choose to work with, you can also run a SERP analysis to see high-ranking results as well as Google’s search elements:
How to optimize for your branded search
Identify where you currently stand
I’m an SEO, and any of my digital marketing strategies starts with ranking analysis. For this, Moz comes with a powerful rank tracking solution.
The tool I’m currently using is called SE Ranking, because I like how they save a cached snapshot of each monitored SERP every day. For branded search monitoring where I try and rank more than my own website for each query (more on that below), this close-up view of each SERP (and all saved records) is exactly what I need:
Group your branded search query groups by intent and further action
Above I mentioned that I group branded keywords by a common modifier or close semantic meaning, so my plan of action involves those groups rather than an individual query.
This makes the work much more doable because I usually have to deal with no more than 20 branded keyword groups instead of hundreds of individual search queries.
When making my plan, I always note:
Further action, which largely relies on where my site currently ranks for each one
Your possible action item for each of identified branded keyword groups may be:
Optimizing your existing page
Creating a new page
Publishing a blog post
Adding a separate section to your FAQ page
Covering it in your Knowledge Base
As you may know, I love using spreadsheets for just about anything because they make data so easy to organize, and can even be turned into a schedule, if need be.
I break [cost] and [price] into different groups because the search volume is so high for both, they each deserve an individual marketing plan.
Go above and beyond
When it comes to branded search, the more of each SERP you control, the better your odds are at winning those brand-aware searchers.
Besides, branded SERPs (just like any other SERP out there) are more than organic links. They often include videos, images, “People Also Ask” results, and more. It’s worth noting all those additional search elements in your spreadsheet as well:
So optimizing your own site for each of these keyword groups may not be enough. To incur your brand’s visibility throughout branded SERPs, you may need to:
Create and optimize videos (as well as host them in more places, other than Youtube).
Create and optimize images (as well as host them all over available channels, including Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)
Create and publicize more diverse assets using content re-packaging
Maintain more long-form, content-based channels, including Medium and LinkedIn, etc.
Set up mini sites targeting some of your most popular branded queries (including coupons, reviews, etc.). Namify is a great tool to come up with cool domain names to register:
It’s a good idea to note additional assets to be created in your spreadsheet as well:
On top of that, it’s always a good idea to optimize for Google’s rich snippets to let your brand-owned search snippets stand out in search. Consider adding one of the following schema markup types to your brand-oriented content assets:
FAQ schema for just about any page that answers more than two questions (this is where your question research will turn useful)
HowTo for instructions
Video schema if you have a video embedded
You also do want other departments of your company to be aware of some or many of those branded search queries. For example, navigational search queries may be a signal of some serious usability issues to be fixed, and some product-related queries may help you identify some product flaws to work on:
Interlink and monitor
Obviously, you still need links to rank all of your assets on top of branded SERPs, so it’s important to interlink your assets effectively, especially if you’re using more than your website to optimize for branded search.
Use your website power to link to your third-party assets. This is the easiest to do. You can use your About page as well as your blog to send links to your other columns and channels to rank those higher.
Don’t forget to link from video descriptions back to your site.
Link all your channels together listing all your additional columns and accounts wherever possible..
Having to deal with so many channels and assets can be exhausting, but it is doable if you set up your monitoring routine right:
Again, use a position monitoring platform to keep an eye on your positions.
Use tools like LinkChecker to keep an eye on all the links and make sure you haven’t lost any.
Keep an eye on your branded search traffic. Google Search Console is a free and easy way to do that. All you need is to limit your queries to your brand name and then compare that to the previous period to see if you are on the right track:
If Google is not the only search engine you’re interested in (for example, if you target Russian and Chinese markets), you can use Finteza, which gives aggregate traffic data from all search engines:
Branding comes with many benefits, including higher conversions and revenue. But it also comes with one challenge not many brands are prepared for: a fast-growing branded search. As more and more people are researching your brand online, you need to keep improving your branded search optimization strategy.
As such, optimizing for your branded search is an on-going effort (since we all hope your brand will keep growing), but hopefully the steps above will help clearly define and implement it.