Search engine marketing is about getting your rankings increased, working your way to the top of the search engine results, and boosting your number of qualified leads. Branding is about making your company’s name a household word, getting customers to react instinctively to your product, and engendering trust. Two completely separate marketing campaigns, right?
Not if you’re smart, says Michael Stalbaum, CEO of UnREAL Marketing, a full-service marketing and advertising agency based in Narberth, Pa.
“If you think about it, branding is nothing more than getting your company’s name associated with an action,” Stalbaum says. “In the case of SEM, you want that action to be a mouse click. You pick keywords that you want associated with your brand. The search engine listing is a platform for building awareness of your product.”
If you type “cola” into your search engine, Stalbaum explains, you can pretty easily guess which companies will be listed as numbers one and two on a search results page. Both of those companies have spent years branding themselves to be synonymous with the word “cola.” Seeing the company’s trusted name at the top of the listings solidifies that brand in consumers’ minds, making them more likely to click on that Web site.
“You relate your company or product with a certain keyword,” he says, “and by dominating that keyword, you brand yourself. Remember that branding is a push medium, where you’re presenting your image to the consumer. Search engines are a pull medium — the consumer comes looking for something and finds you. You’re using one to drive the other.”
Finding, then dominating, relevant keywords is all-important, Stalbaum says. If your business sells fine watches, for example, simply going after “watch” as a keyword lumps you in with the thousands of watch sellers, makers and repairers on the Internet. But “discount watch,” “gift watch” or “platinum watch” may be just the keywords you’re looking for. The more specific and relevant your keyword choices, the better your chances of dominating them.
Where SEM and branding diverge is the fact that search listings can be manipulated through artificial means, as demonstrated by certain “black hat” optimizers. Branding can only be the result of building trust, rapport and awareness with consumers. In fact, according to Stalbaum, black hatters work against the goal of branding through SEM, and in the end will do your company more harm than good.
“If your Web site is artificially or unethically boosted to the top of the search engine listings, you’re there at the top all right, but if you don’t have what consumers are looking for, they’ll resent the fact that you dominated a keyword without relevance,” he says.
Trust, say experts, is the key to branding. When consumers click on the link to your site, they want content that’s relative to their search, they want functionality that will allow them to navigate the site smoothly, and they want to do business with a reputable company that will give them what they want at a fair price.
Using SEM to enhance brand loyalty is a fabulous two-for-one offer, says Stalbaum. While you’re positioning your Web site to appear near the top of search engine results; you’re also building relevance, consumer trust and making your company a household name.