Opinion

Brand signals and the new SEO

6 min read

18 February 2014

Richard Branson once wisely pointed out that “your brand name is only as good as your reputation.” While this might be a truism in traditional business, this wasn’t always the case through the eyes of Google, or rather its search algorithm.

For Google, links were king

The fact of the matter was, that until recently it was pretty damn easy to game Google and get pretty much anything you wanted ‘to the top of Google’ – within reason. Now, thanks to Matt Cutts and his Penguin updates, Google is getting better at evaluating key signals to help it organise its search results. Google has become much better at judging reputation and categorising businesses based upon their offering.

Slowly but surely as web spam is becoming redundant, PR and marketing is playing an increasing role in telling Google about the reputation and relevance of the businesses in its search index. And while there are literally hundreds of other ranking factors, the strength of a brand and its reputation is an increasing influence on search engine visibility.

Brand builders and accidental SEOs

It is true that many PRs and marketers are contributing to the SEO effort without even realising it. They have been for years, simply by building a brand, creating natural content and of course using links. The majority of these marketers didn’t realise the unintended consequence of their efforts. These people are what I call ‘accidental SEOs’.

If marketing and PR is planned and executed correctly, marketers can simultaneously build a brand’s reputation and improve its search engine visibility in one fell swoop.

So what can we learn from how Google ranks and classifies big brands?

A big brand will have invested in media relations

Public relations is important – I have written enough in the past about how media relations and blogger engagement influences SEO. The fact of the matter is that,bigger brands have larger PR budgets. They will naturally acquire links in editorial. Heck, if they are canny and know about SEO PR they will have acquired a lot of links.

A big brand will be doing marketing

And while the savvy PRs are demonstrating how their output is influencing search results, so are marketers too. Links from sponsorship should technically be nofollow but this rule is often ignored. Commercial partnerships, trade accreditations and attendance at exhibitions present linking opportunities too. 

A big brand will have won awards

Big brands win awards for their work. The savvier big brands will negotiate links from the award website when they win them. You’ll be surprised how few businesses go back to an event organiser after winning an award to negotiate a link. 

A big brand should have a bigger content rich website

A bigger brand will generally have a larger budget to spend on their website. Their site will have more content, a better, richer experience and not only get more traffic but just be more link worthy. 

Smaller businesses can learn from this too. The more pages a site has, the better it should perform in search. Landing pages are crucial and a blog is pretty much free to create apart from the time it takes to write each post. Be smart with what content you spend time creating though.

A big brand will have a bigger social footprint

A bigger brand will have a large social footprint, it will have more people working for it and generally will have a larger social signal. While the link between social signals and SEO is more correlation than causation, social search does have an impact and is becoming increasingly important.

A big brand will have its own community

All PRs and marketers probably understand that creating and curating brand owned communities is a good thing. Sure, lots of people advocate Facebook as a place to build communities, but nothing is quite the same as your own bespoke, custom built online community which is perhaps even part of a client’s website. Oracle’s online community is a great example.

These content rich areas attract advocates for a business and these often will become brand ambassadors – leaving positive feedback or even blogging and linking to the website of the business.

A big brand will engage its stakeholders

Stakeholder engagement sounds like PR jargon but if done well, stakeholder engagement is, for me, the number one biggest ‘missed trick’ in the SEO PR armoury. Suppliers, universities, politicians, students, employees are all would-be components of a stakeholder engagement campaign. 

Spend time to nurture real-world relationships and you will be surprised how many high quality links can be earned.

Let’s not forget, a big brand will have an SEO company

Yes, let’s not forget that while we can build high quality links with traditional marketing techniques, there are still SEOs out there overseeing very successful websites and contributing magnificently to the visibility of a website.

Traditional link building for SEO might not be the only game in town any more but it is still the SEOs who have the most influence on search engine visibility.
SEO is far from dead. 

James Crawford is managing director of PR Agency One.

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