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Branding Online – How Big Brands Fail To Capitalize With SEO

The new marketing presents many opportunities and challenges for brands to get in front of customers, but many of them have yet to use the web to its full marketing potential.

While social media has been getting most of the attention recently, and online advertising is used to some extent, most brands have sidestepped one area that’s said to provide the best ROI either due to not understanding how it works or it’s enormous potential.

Online branding is broken down to a few main segments – online advertising, search marketing, and social media.

Within search marketing you have the paid side, and the natural listings. For the latter, there is search engine optimization, or SEO, where a website displays in the search results when someone is searching for a particular phrase.

Ranking has its benefits. If someone is searching, its often perceived as being in ‘buying mode’, and the brands that shows on that first page stand a good chance of converting a visit to a sale.

And its big business too. Ranking in the top spots for a highly competitive phrases like “life insurance” could be worth an extra $50 to 100 million to a company.

Search is a big part of how people shop now, or do their homework. Even the Yellow Pages companies know this and a few of them started offering their own SEO services this year.

Some say that branding is about being perceived as synonymous with a category or phrase. This is often related to top of mind awareness and owning a category. It stands to reason that if your website shows on page one for key phrases, you’re positioning your brand online.

Not everyone has a brand preference for every category, and will often search in more generic terms or descriptors. This is where big brands often fail to effectively promote, and where online branding and SEO are being overlooked.
Many brands will use paid search marketing such as AdWords or other types of contextual advertising (aka PPC, or Pay Per Click) to retain part of the search market share. What they may not realize is that hardly 20% are clicking those paid ads, and they’re missing out on the bigger piece of the pie. Paid search can be turned on quick, but months down the road when SEO is starting to perform, it can offset PPC costs later.

When someone goes online to search for something, they typically do it in one of three ways. They’ll type the brand name, the brand plus product name (such as “nike michael jordan”), or the category they’re after (like “running shoes”).

For most brands, they’ll often rank for their own name. Most Internet users would know to simply visit if you’re looking for their products, but many still google (or bing) it. Last month over 1 million searched for “Nike” in Canada.

And there are literally hundreds of thousands of examples like this, possibly into the millions. From “Toronto hotel deal” to “home renovations”, big brands are leaving a lot of money on the table.

Is this an opportunity for the smaller brands to get ahead? Probably.

In a report by Marketing Sherpa, SEO was considered the strongest tactic in terms of return on marketing investment. This was especially true for product sites. Other tactics, mentioned in order were email lists, ppc, pr, and media buys respectively.

Although social media traffic is now responsible sending huge amounts of referrals to many sites, its very possible that its because they’re SEO efforts have either failed them or haven’t been properly tested.

All too often companies have inexperienced providers which sours them on SEO as they see little or no return. Even though it’s a process that often takes a commitment of 10-12 months or more, there should still be evidence of making advances along the way. And as mentioned, it’s also proven to offer the best return for online marketing when properly done.

Will online branding become part of your strategy?


  1. Ian Paul Marshall
    Ian Paul Marshall August 13, 2010

    I think SEO for a lot of businesses is a lot like voodoo.
    The mention of the word conjures up a lot of mind junk and stereotypes.
    SEO is amazing once you get it working for you. And it puts your site on autopilot.
    Any business nowadays without an SEO strategy will quickly be left in the dust

  2. Esposito
    Esposito August 19, 2010

    I am always dumbfounded by the inability of large businesses to employ an SEO strategy. I think this was an excellent post: having worked at large companies on internal marketing teams, it is a struggle to convince C-level execs about the beauty of SEO – especially when those projects conflict with other work, or a budget is in need of expansion.
    I really enjoyed this piece, so thank you!

  3. Mark Nicholson - SEO
    Mark Nicholson - SEO August 20, 2010

    I couldn’t agree more. One thing businesses need to understand is its a process. Unlike advertising, where you can turn a campaign on and start seeing results. With SEO there is a sort of fermenting period to getting it going. But it does have a better return than most other forms of marketing once it’s working. For those that are unfamiliar, depending on the competitiveness of your target keywords it can take 4-6 months to over a year. Local targets always being easier to dominate than a product/service/ or category phrase. But it’s not a question of whether you use SEO, its more like when. And as you said, those without an SEO strategy will be left in the dust and forced to play catch up later.
    Some businesses might be interested in an SEO ROI calculator to see what kind of potential they’re missing out on.
    I would be interested in any insights you have about educating this. Will check your blog.

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