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Brand vs. Non-Branded Keywords: Does Brand Bidding Help SEO?

by | Jan 24, 2024 | SEO

Branded vs. Non-Branded Keywords 

Madlyn and Colby are a couple that were once featured on Netflix’s The Ultimatum. Spoiler alert: They’re still together and have a beautiful family. 

I’ve always admired Madlyn for her blunt honesty and ability to stay true to herself. Watching her journey into motherhood reflects a very familiar journey similar to my own. 

That said, in one of my favorite moments of her season, she explains to her new roommate/ temporary boyfriend – whatever you want to call him – the importance of sleeping with sheets. 

Now, I admit, I am just as guilty as her temporary partner of not sleeping with the sheets. But, her gentle shaming (lol), really forced me to think about what she was saying. 

Sleeping with sheets protects your comforter from the gross sweat that happens naturally while you sleep. This helps keep your comforter fresher longer (as Madlyn explains), so you don’t have to clean it as much as your sheets.

I know, I know. This is a post about brand vs non-brand keywords, Crystal. Get to it, already.

Well, just like you want to provide a protective layer between you and your comforter, you want to provide a protective layer of brand and non-brand keywords to your entire keyword portfolio.

Brand keywords are – in simple terms – the keywords related to your brand name, products, and business. They are unique to you. 

Non-brand keywords are all the other keywords. They range from general search terms to broader questions people might have related to what you do or sell. 

Without a healthy mix of both in your SEO strategy, you risk limiting what’s called “visibility,” or your “appearance” in search results. 

I’ve seen first-hand evidence that having both brand and non-brand keywords increases your organic search traffic overall.

Let’s examine how including both brand and non-brand keywords in your SEO strategy can improve your business. 

What is a brand keyword?

A brand keyword is simply the “keyword” people use to find your brand, its variations, and associated products or services. For example, “Nike,” “Air Jordan,” and “Air Force,” are all branded keywords for Nike. 

Generally, Google is really good at understanding which terms are branded and which are not. But that doesn’t mean Google will display only your website when people search for your brand. 

Competitors, random bloggers, and other websites that “talk” about your brand also have an opportunity to rank for your keywords. Particularly if those websites help your customers or clients better than you do for specific searches. 

For example, if you run an email SAAS company, your customers might google “[brand name] how to [thing they’re trying to do].” 

“Flodesk how to set up custom workflows.”

In this example, a blogger ranks for the “featured snippet,” for a branded search term. As a user, I am more likely to click this search results, over the #2 spot, which is from the actual email service provider.

In the examples above, you can see that the email provider itself takes up only one primary search spot. 

(Call me, Flodesk… we can fix this together)…

If you don’t have the answer to your customer’s questions available online, then your customers will seek those answers elsewhere. 

Having a grasp on what’s going on with your brand name when people search for your brand and products will give you more control over how you want your name to appear. 

Many business owners make the mistake of only focusing on non-brand keywords, but your top priority should be your brand terms. 

Why?

Because people who are already searching for your brand name, are the warmest customers you have. This means they already know about you and are interested in potentially buying from you. Nurturing the customer journey from this point is much easier and more cost-effective than trying to familiarize and gain the trust of people who have no idea who you are yet. 

What is a non-brand keyword?

Non-brand keywords are all the keywords people search for online that are related to your business, but are not specific brand terms, variations, or associated products and services. 

So, “lip gloss” is a non-brand term for Kylie Cosmetics, but “Dolce K Lip Kit” is considered a brand term. 

Other non-brand examples are:

  • Exfoliant
  • Hand lotion
  • Women’s maternity dress
  • Yellow throw pillows
  • Winter jacket for toddler boy
  • SEO
  • Brand strategy services

These are all general, broad terms that could belong to a number of different brands, products, sellers, or service providers. 

At the paid search level, these keywords can get really expensive depending on how competitive they are, how much search volume they have, and how close or far they are from relevance to your website and landing pages.

Ranking for non-brand keywords organically is a better long-term strategy, because the money you spend on strategy, resources, and execution will pay off later down the line, as opposed to paid search, which will usually see a strictly rationed performance. 

Basically, if you spend a dollar, you should make a dollar or more every time you “bid” on a keyword. With organic SEO, once you’ve spent the dollar, you can make more money over time without spending more dollars (generally).

TLDR: You should invest in brand terms for short-term wins, SEO for long-term wins, and both for a healthy digital marketing presence in search results for your most profitable and desirable keywords.  

Non-brand keywords allow you to reach people online who are searching for broader things and may not necessarily know about you or your brand yet. 

So, for example, let’s say I’m a consumer looking for a new razor. I hate the one I’ve been using, and I want a closer shave. I turn to Google to find out what options are available. 

Here’s what I search for: 

“women’s razor best for legs”

Notice the search terms aren’t brand-specific. I want to see multiple options for women’s razors, and more specifically, I want them to be the “best,” (which means I want to see reviews). And even more specifically, I want to use this razor for my legs. 

The top paid search results that I’m shown are from Billie, Amazon, Cosmopolitan, and Buyer’s Guide. Here’s what it looks like:

The top organic search result that I’m shown is from Good Housekeeping. Here’s what it looks like:

When you target and focus on non-brand keywords in addition to your brand terms, you can create smart and strategic SEO campaigns that ultimately support your overall revenue and growth. 

Should You Optimize For Your Brand Searches?

In short, yes. You should bid on your brand searches. Studies and tests (within my own personal career experience), have shown consistently, that bidding on brand terms subsequently results in higher traffic for organic search results than just organic search alone. Using both paid and organic strategies results in better performance overall for brand terms. 

What is brand bidding?

Brand bidding means you’re “bidding” on your brand search terms in Google Ads. So, a person goes on Google and searches for “Billie Razors,” and then sees both the ads and the “organic” or “regular” search results. 

Pros and Cons of Brand Bidding

Pros of brand bidding are essentially that you’ll dominate the search results for your brand terms, and decrease the likelihood of a competitor ranking for terms that you “own,” and that would potentially take away traffic or conversions to potential buyers. 

Cons of brand bidding means you’ll be paying for terms that you likely already rank for without paying for the ads. However, psychologically, people like to see your brand repeated in search results (such as stacked organically and paid) since it reinforces the brand and their search match. 

It also gives you an opportunity to have branded language within your search appearance, such as this example below, by Billie Razors, which adds personality to their ads by saying “Hi, Hello, We’re Billie,” and then reinforcing the value-proposition with the organic result below, which states “Billie | The New Body Brand.”

Both search types help reinforce one another and encourage you to click on the brand’s website rather than any of the others surrounding it, such as Target or Amazon. 

You’ll also notice that Billie dominates organic and paid brand search terms, including in the “product listings” and “People Also Ask” results types.

Brand Bidding Highlights Your Unique Selling Proposition

I’ve never used Tinder or any other dating app, but I love the analogy of optimizing your dating profile to attract your ideal partner. 

When your prospective partners are swiping through similar people to you, they immediately look for things that might be attractive or unattractive. Those indicators allow you and other app users to quickly decide if you’re going to match with a person or not. 

The same is true when you look online at different search results. So when you’re looking at a brand search, and you’re seeing the different terms, they’re reinforcing whether or not they match what you’re looking for when you type your query into the search bar in the first place. 

Brand bidding allows you to have more control over what your appearance might look like and how much “real estate” you take up in search results. You can add things like reviews, pictures, sales, and other “attributes” that allow someone to quickly decide between your search result and another. 

Brand Bidding Supports Your SEO Efforts

If you currently run an SEO program for your website, brand bidding will only help support those efforts. If you don’t already have an SEO strategy in place, paid search and brand bidding will help offset some of the traffic loss that might go to competition in organic brand search results. 

So, if there’s a blogger or a competitor or some other third-party website ranking for your brand terms, then bidding on your brand names can help offset some of that traffic loss. 

Benefits of Optimization for Brand Searches with SEO

At this point in my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies on millions of pages of websites. Sounds kinda braggy, but it’s true. 

And for some reason, brand search results, aka brand SEO is the last thing on anyone’s minds. 

Why? It’s so low-lift. People are already searching for your products and services. Just do a little research on the backend, throw up a couple of pages on your website, answer those questions, and there you go! 

I know, I know, not always so simple. 

But seriously, it’s time to address the brand in the room. 

So, why optimize for brand search results? Simply put, you can control your overall search appearance, increase your overall organic search traffic, and provide more value for your clients and customers.

Control your brand results and appearance

If you were the owner of an Italian restaurant, would you let a Domino’s or Little Caesar’s server waltz into your restaurant and start waiting tables?

NO! You wouldn’t.

You’d be like, “Scusi, time ta go.” And you’d give them the ol’ Italian boot. 

Now, you don’t exactly own the “restaurant” that is the Google search results page. But you sure shouldn’t let competitors just waltz into your brand results if you can help it. 

Where possible, you want to get a good idea of what people are searching for when it comes to your brand and develop an audit of what search results are appearing for those particular searches. 

Then, you’ll put together a strategy and expected outcome of what improving your overall brand rankings means in terms of traffic, conversions, and revenue. 

Increase in brand traffic

Generally, you’ll see an increase in overall traffic for brand terms once you start to optimize for them. Since your website is a branded website, you are the more likely “result” that someone is looking for when they search for terms unique to your brand. 

Therefore, Google is more likely to favor you and push your search results to the top of your brand searches, thereby resulting in improved and increased traffic overall.

Provide more value for your customers

Who would you rather answer questions about your services and products, you, or your competition? 

And remember, search competition is different than business competition. A blogger competing for your brand search terms is equally a threat to your search traffic as your business competitor (unless you actually want them to link to your site for social proof, awareness, PR, or backlinks, of course).

But still, it’s your brand. You need to take ownership of how you appear online. 

When you take the time to understand what people are searching for about your company, you demonstrate a sense of connection with them. Use this connection to create tailored content that helps you build and retain trust. 

When you provide value to your customers by anticipating their needs, you keep them in your growth loop, so they become mega fans and increase their LTV (lifetime value).

How to Optimize for Organic Brand Searches

I’m not sure about you, but I love folding laundry. If you’ve read my newsletter, you know I used to work in retail before becoming a marketer. 

The hours I spent folding clothes in a surf shop for three years helped me become really fast and efficient at folding clothes, and it’s how I can turn piles of laundry into neat piles faster than most. 

First, you fold your bulky towels and blankets, then your pants and sweaters, then your shirts, delicates, kid’s clothes, etc. By the end, your giant pile looks like a semi-manageable stack of clothes. (Don’t ask me to put them away, though.) 

Well, sorting through your keywords is a lot like folding laundry. You take a very long list of words and phrases people are using to find your website, and you sort them like a big pile of laundry.

You want to do the same when looking at your brand keywords. Which pages are products vs. how-to questions? Which pages would benefit from a map or directions? Which pages would benefit from a better product description or helpful blog content? 

You’ll sort through your keywords to help you decide the answers to these questions and more. 

Setting objectives

Like anything in SEO, you’ll want your brand optimization efforts to support your overall KPIs and business objectives. Where you can, quantify what changes you’re looking to make and what pages or changes will help you achieve that goal. 

For example, say you figure out there are about 10,000 searches per month for all your brand terms in a certain category of your products. But, on average, you rank position 5 or 6, where you want to rank position 1 and 2. You estimate an increase of 20% by optimizing for those searches. 

Your objective, then, is to increase the monthly traffic of that category by 2,000 visits per month, or 24,000 per year. Based on your conversion rate and average order value, how much revenue do you expect those changes to contribute to? Given this information, what is the budget you want to spend on allocating resources to that project? 

Well, if optimizing those pages gives you an additional $80,000 per month, then you’ll want to spend a fair amount of money ensuring you hit positions 1 and 2 for those search terms. 

If your traffic increase doesn’t have a large enough revenue gain to offset the cost, consider other ways optimizing for the brand will help. Whether it’s for overall awareness or building customer relationships, remember that not all marketing activities have an exact “ROI” to them. 

It’s great to have objectives when it comes to SEO, but don’t be ruled by them. Be gently guided. 

Execute on SEO strategy

You might not be in the part of your SEO journey where you can go back through your brand terms and optimize for them with specific numbers, estimations, and budgets. That’s okay. 

In general, optimizing for brand SEO terms is a smart decision, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned throughout this article. 

When discussing “SEO strategy” for brand terms, we’re talking about why we’re doing what we’re doing. For the execution, we’re talking about what we need to do to get there. 

That said, you’ll want to review the keyword research you’ve set aside for brand searches and define a clear path to ranking for that keyword or cluster of keywords.

Next, you’ll create new pages or optimize existing ones and ensure that the content aligns with reader expectations. In other words, what are people looking for? Make sure the answers are there. 

  • Finally, you should make sure your pages are accessible to users. This will help your website start to build backlinks and create some structural understanding by Google. 
  • Add your high-level “help” pages to the navigation or footer. These serve as “internal links” throughout your site, which helps with Google crawling and indexing. 
  • Ensure the pages are in the HTML and XML sitemaps. HTML sitemaps help readers find pages on your website, while XML sitemaps help Google find pages.
  • Share the brand pages in either a PR campaign or generally with your clients and customers. Your customer support team can also use them to help smooth processes and improve overall service. 

Measure impact

When I was first starting out in digital marketing, I would hold my breath before reviewing reports. Sometimes, when I work on really big campaigns that I have high hopes for, I still do the same thing. 

I hold my breath, and then – relief. The numbers look great. All is well. 

Hopefully, you’ll find the same experience waiting for you once you’ve optimized for your brand searches. Sometimes, the results are minimal. But, sometimes, they pay off in a big way. 

Traffic flows better, conversions increase, and revenue grows steadily thanks to anticipating customers better when they get to the bottom of the search funnel, versus only serving users at the top. 

Here are some of the metrics you’ll want to track:

  • Brand Impressions
  • Brand Keyword Rankings
  • Share of Voice
  • Brand Clicks
  • Entries
  • Sessions
  • Engagement Rate
  • Conversions

I also encourage you to talk with your customers during this process to help discover where in the buying process or customer experience they’re having the best and worst experiences. 

Your interviews will give you insight into what to include in your page creation and content optimization, and will also give you a way to reach out to your customers and ask for feedback on the improved resources for them. 

Essentially, measure customer sentiment. What are your customers saying about your changes, and do they find them helpful?

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth bidding on your own brand name?

Yes, it’s generally worth bidding on your brand name as it generally increases traffic to your website overall. Further, it can discourage your competitors from bidding on your brand name and give you more “real estate” on the search results page. 

That said, talk to a professional about bidding for your brand name before investing significantly in paid search channels, as there are always nuances to consider before investing in any search marketing strategy. 

Should you optimize for your competitor’s terms?

I don’t recommend optimizing for your competitor’s search terms, unless the competition is low, and it’s a cost-effective strategy for you. You’ll want to weigh the financial risk versus reward, and also consider how loyal customers are when they search for your competitor versus you. You might find that while your traffic increases, your conversions don’t because your competitors’ customers are already loyal to someone else. 

That said, talk to a professional about bidding for your competitor’s name before investing significantly in paid search channels, as there are always nuances to consider before investing in any search marketing strategy. 

Is it worth creating an SEO strategy around brand terms?

Absolutely! You want to consider SEO at every stage of the buying journey. Customers looking for brand terms are indicating their familiarity with the brand. Now, you’ll want to convert customers at the finish line by making it extremely easy to buy from or inquire with you. 

Why do brand terms matter to SEO and SEO strategy?

Brand terms are just as important, if not more important, than non-brand terms. While they likely have a significantly lower search volume in general, the people who are looking at your website that enter through a “branded search,” are already familiar with you and are finding a reason to purchase from you. 

Let’s Optimize Your Organic SEO Brand Terms

Now that we’ve chatted through brand vs non-brand, I hope you’ll consider the importance of optimizing for both. Not “either, or.” When you command your customers’ search journey, and your website’s appearance, you take the lead in showing your customers how you can best help them.

I’d love to help you with your organic SEO brand (or non-brand) strategy. I offer 1:1 SEO Consulting, Strategy Power Hours, VIP Sprint-style strategies, and monthly support. Contact me and let me know a little bit more about your biggest challenges right now. 

Written by Crystal Ortiz

Crystal Ortiz is the Founder of Socialhart. She's a Marketing and SEO expert with 8 years of experience in digital marketing. She's worked with local businesses, founders, marketing executives, and global brands across many industries, both in-house and agency-side. She's taught digital marketing programs at several universities, including NC State and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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