Before starting any project, whether it’s a website or a brochure, creative designers first characterize the client’s brand – the look they’re going for and the promise that the brand delivers on. Clients would often like to evade this process – all they really want is marketing collateral; they feel sidetracked by big questions that are difficult to answer. But there’s a huge benefit to clients who define and develop a brand identity: They’ll have better visibility in search engine results.

As the World Wide Web pervades everything we do and the decisions we make, brand identity becomes ever more important to an organization’s success. According to experts in search engine optimization (SEO), the extent to which people recognize and search for a brand is an important driver of search engine ranking and visibility. This means that SEO and your overall marketing efforts, especially building a brand identity, go hand in hand.

Going beyond the logo

“Brand identity” is hard to pin down; it’s an abstract concept. This challenge is reflected in the responses I received to an informal poll of several creative people I work with. When asked, “What is your favorite definition of ‘brand’?” they said

 – A brand communicates your values and personality.
 – Your name is the “gold standard” that defines the product for your competition (i.e. Kleenex, Coke).
 – Branding is your promise to your customer. Branding is all about perception.
 – What people say about you – how they describe you. It’s also the feeling and experience people have when interacting with you and your company.
 – It’s a unique combination of a logo, words, etc. working together to convey the essence of what your company, product, or service stands for.

They agree that you and I come to recognize a brand based on what we see and experience. The feelings and expectations we associate with a brand are important to us – being able to trust a brand to deliver on its promise helps us navigate and get ahead in a world with exponentially more choices than there were just a generation ago in the pre-Internet world.

Quantifying feelings

But how do these experiences and feelings relate to machine processing? Can search engines learn to recognize a brand even though it cannot see design, experience products or services, or assign it meaning?

Yes, they can, to a degree. Through data, search engines detect people and society’s interests. They track and measure what people search for and discuss. They take the context and perhaps sentiment of those searches to attribute characteristics to the things, such as a brand, that are discussed.

For example, of the 1.5 million online searches per month that include “Tesla” the context is sometimes about “electric vehicle,” e.g. “Does Tesla actually make the best electric vehicles?” or in comparison to luxury cars, e.g. “What’s so awesome about owning a Tesla? Do they brake, accelerate, and turn as well as a BMW?” (These questions were asked in Quora, a public forum.)

A search for “luxury electric cars” displays Tesla models prominently in the search results – for a non-branded search, i.e. the query did not include “Tesla.” Tesla incorporated just 17 years ago, 87 years after BMW, yet its name and what the brand represents – status, cutting edge technology – is firmly established in search engine data.

Google search results for luxury electric cars

Tesla is prominently displayed in Google’s search results for a non-branded keyword: luxury electric cars

Google values trust and branding

Key to brand building is trust building – delivering on the promise that’s explicit or implicit. We develop trust for a brand that delivers on its promise, we’ll shop for it by name, and endorse it so our friends and family feel as though they can also trust it.

Google sees evidence of trust and loyalty when a brand is in demand, and then uses that information to make its users happy. Rand Fishkin, who has long followed SEO trends, advises that search engines have learned that people are much more likely to click on a brand name they’re familiar with than on a generic result or name that seems less familiar. It’s a trend that Google values and it can lead to big wins in online visibility.

The goal of a smart SEO and online marketing strategy is “demand creation,” according to Fishkin. In other words, trying to dominate the search results for a huge array of keywords is not as effective as getting people to seek out your brand, online and offline.  He advises, “Rather than fighting over the scraps of ‘vacation rental’ [in search engine results], you could become the ‘AirBNB’ of your space. Even if that goal feels too lofty or unachievable, investing in that path may bring greater returns than you expect.”

The reward for staying focused

A brand which becomes synonymous with the need it satisfies or the problem it solves might get a bit of a boost from search engines: Competitive placement in the search results for both branded and non-branded searches.

While building that connection with words, links, and mentions is the essence of optimizing your website, brand building through creative visual, emotional, aspirational, or experiential triggers builds deeper enduring connections.

Everything you do to create familiarity – email marketing, a distinctive logo, TV ads, Instagram posts, sponsorships, etc. – prompts people to respond to the brand, online and offline. That’s the point of marketing. What’s not as obvious but just as real is the impact of brand familiarity on SEO.

Additional Resources:

Google Update 2019: Winners and Losers o the March 2019 Core Update

The Future of SEO Has Never Been Clearer (nor more ignored)

Wil Reynolds – The Human Ranking Algorithm: The People Behind the Queries