Search engine marketing works best with branding



To many search engine marketers, branding seems like something other types of marketers are doing.

Researchers generally think their job is to get rankings or buy keywords and the traffic (and sales) will follow.

But as I discovered the hard way, branding is absolutely tied to search marketing performance.

Several moons ago I started a paid search for Gateway Computers.

We did a good job.

In fact, we did such a good job that the ROI of paid search far surpassed any other channel.

One day I got a call from the Marketing Director of the entire Gateway.

Now realize that was in the early 2000s.

Searching as a string was seen as an afterthought.

Research was something you tried because everyone else was doing it.

It wasn’t a strategy, but a tactic that most marketers ticked off a long to-do list.

After the search box was checked, most major brands didn’t review the search unless something went wrong.


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But our efforts had caught the attention of Gateway’s senior management.

The CMO’s call was brief.

He congratulated me on the numbers, amazed that this relatively new channel is more effective at generating sales than his newspaper, print media, radio and television.

In fact, when he did the math, he estimated that search could almost quadruple sales at half the cost of his other channels.

He was in full swing.

He then announced a piece of news to me which, at the time, would change everything for me.

It shifted the vast majority of the marketing budget into our search marketing efforts.

In about 15 minutes, my budget has multiplied by more than 10.

As I hung up the phone, I did a happy dance.

Finally, a big brand was taking research seriously.

I was going to show the world that our channel was the best channel.

The case study was going to be epic.

Things went very well for about two months.


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As the budget increased, our percentage of return on investment actually increased.

We all congratulated each other and planned out all the money we were going to make after other brands saw what we had done.

But then something strange started to happen.

The overall search volume for some of our most popular products has started to decline.

We attributed it to seasonality, or maybe the economy was starting to weaken.

But about a month later, the numbers continued to drop.

Our once triumphant ROI numbers were starting to look average.

We’ve tweaked the landing pages and the creative, trying to recapture the magic.

But no matter what we did, the search volume kept dropping.

We spent our days trying to figure out what was going on, while also trying to keep the panic at bay.

By month six, the company’s sales were generally down.

In fact, it was the worst quarter for the company in three years.

What happened?

If no one is looking, no one is buying

In the early 2000s, Gateway was a well established brand.

The pioneering spirit of the company paired with boxes adorned with cow prints has made the company one of the most recognizable names in the computer industry.

But the early 2000s were also a time of tremendous change in the personal computer industry.

Each day brought new competition for established players.

And what drove the sales were the new products.

Search behavior was a little different back then, but one thing remains the same: If consumers don’t know a product, they aren’t looking for it.

Gateway continued to create innovative products, including a touchscreen tablet ahead of its time.

But in a world where touch tablets had never existed before, no one was looking for them.

If no one is researching your products, search engine marketing is not working.

Research doesn’t live in a vacuum

Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see what happened at Gateway.

Unfortunately, the company was sold to a competitor shortly after my saga unfolded and we never really got to wrap up our all-inclusive search engine marketing experience.


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But now I know that when the overall branding was suspended, the volume of search queries for the company’s products started to decline.

The drop was slight at first, but started to snowball until about the sixth month, we were seeing about half the search volume we had seen the year before.

There is no doubt in my mind that a good branding gives great search engine marketing results.

Just spell my name right

There is an old adage repeated by politicians and others that is disparaged in the print media.

The saying goes, “I don’t care what you say about me, just make sure you spell my name correctly.”

The implication here is that name recognition is, in many cases, more important than what is said about a company or an individual.

In today’s world, this general adage is questionable. But it remains true that if consumers know your name, you are more likely to get the click away when your site appears as a query response.


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Today we work with many clients who use radio advertising.

Customers who use radio effectively have significantly higher click-through rates than their non-radio counterparts.

We have seen the data and we know it is.

When consumers are looking for something and they see a name that they have heard or, they are more likely to click on that list.

Even if they don’t know where they got the name of the brand from.

There is also a correlation when it comes to bonding.

The links naturally go to brands with significant notoriety.

A few years ago, there was a significant debate over whether Google favored big brands in organic search.

In my opinion, Google doesn’t consciously favor big brands, but the algorithm favors sites with more links pointing to them.

Brands with name recognition get more links.

So Google favors these brands.

In paid search, brands that have good brand awareness get more clicks.


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This in turn improves the level of quality and these brands pay less per click than their unknown counterparts.

Sure, unfamiliar brands can be a big part of that ground with better creativity, but ultimately name recognition is going to continue to drive clicks.

A good creative fades over time, and you need to practice a rinse and repeat cycle.

Final result

Don’t think that branding has no place in search engine marketing.

Branding supports search engine marketing results.

Now go out there and look for ways to increase brand awareness and preference.

Your search engine results will thank you.

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Featured image by author, January 2021



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