Your most important business card is on Google and it is generated tens, hundreds or even thousands of times every day by Google’s artificial intelligence algorithms. In this article we will explore what it means to be judged by a machine, how you can use Google as a window into your content marketing and how you can teach your website to speak to Google in its “native language”.
First things first. What do we mean when we talk about Brand SERPs?
A Brand SERP is the result Google returns for a search on your exact match brand name (Reminder: SERP = Search Engine Results Page). I’ve been tracking, studying and optimising Brand SERPs since 2013.
Every year, I find another great reason why they are important.
I am convinced it is the single most important Key Performance Indicator you have never thought about. Read on. My bet is that you’ll end up agreeing with me.
Why are Brand SERPs so incredibly important?
From the perspective of your business, your Brand SERP is
- Your new business card
- A reflection of the impact of your content strategy
- A window into your digital ecosystem
Now, there you have 3 VERY good reasons you should open an incognito window in your browser and google your brand name right now.
And now you have done that, take a good, long look at that SERP (Search Engine Results Page) Google is returning for your brand name. Take a BIG step back, get away from your own bias about your own company, and think about this:
What does your Brand SERP tell you?
- It represents the brand message your audience sees (clients and prospects)
- It shows you what is right (and wrong) with your content strategy
- It gives you an unbiased reflection of the world’s opinion of your brand
Let’s examine those one by one, then take a look at what the insights from each enable you to do to improve your digital marketing strategy.
Your new business card / The brand message your audience sees
How many people google your brand name every day? Probably more than you think.
Have a look in Google Search Console to see an approximate number.
Isolate the homepage and the exact brand name like this.
“Impressions” is the number you need to look at here.
Whether that number seems like a lot or not, look at each one as a person, a member of your audience, and someone close to or already doing business with you.
My bet is that with that perspective, your Brand Search Number (big or small) probably now feels more significant than it did before.
Now, read on…
Step 2 – compare that to the total impressions for your site…
Exact match brand searches represent anything from 2% to 90% of all search queries a website ranks for in Google. There is no typical proportion.
If you are at the top of that range, obviously that Search Engine Results Page is phenomenally important to your bottom line – your digital strategy is very much based on brand-awareness and the vast majority of the people coming to your site are looking specifically for you.
But one thing all brands share, whichever end of that spectrum they are, is that every single person who searches their brand name is essential to their bottom line: clients, prospects, journalists, investors, partners…. That is the A-list of people you REALLY want to keep on board if you want your business to flourish. Your Brand SERP is a great way to get and to keep those people on board.
Now the obvious question here is “can I control what Google shows them?”. The answer is a resounding “yes”.
How does Google decide what to show them?
Simple – it shows your audience the results that it feels are most relevant and most valuable to them. And that is where you can take control. Simply put, all you need to do is demonstrate to Google that the content you feel it should be showing your audience is truly valuable and pertinent for that audience.
To make your “Google Business Card” attractive and convincing to your audience, you need to
- create content that is attractive and convincing to your audience
- get that content in front of your audience
- ensure that Google sees that your audience appreciates (engages with) that content
So simple. And, intriguingly, not so much SEO as good, old fashioned marketing.
Which brings us neatly onto the next point.
A reflection and a critique of the effectiveness of your content strategy
Look at your Brand SERP. If the results do not reflect the efforts you are making content-wise, then your content strategy is missing its target.
A typical example is a blog. Brands often invest resources into their blog, producing one article a day / week / month simply to be seen to be doing something. Look at your brand SERP. Is that blog even present? Perhaps in the sitelinks underneath your homepage? If so, that is a start. But is that enough to justify the investment?
Writing article after article after article is only a good strategy if each and every article interests your existing users and, preferably, appeals to a wider audience that is searching for information on that specific topic and is pertinent to your business.
If you are investing in your blog, but it doesn’t appear as a rich sitelink, then either you are bringing value to your audience and Google doesn’t see this, or it doesn’t bring real value to your audience.
Here’s an example of a brand that provides blog content that is valuable to their audience… and Google understands that to be the case. 🙂
If you are investing in blog content and that blog link is missing from the rich sitelinks on your Brand SERP (or you don’t have rich sitelinks at all!), then the remedy is simple:
Take a step back and be self-critical. If you are writing blog articles that are not actually pertinent, helpful and valuable to your audience, then rethink your choice of topics.
If you are bringing value, then you need to demonstrate that to Google. There are many, many ways to demonstrate the value to Google, but here are some ideas: better internal linking, adding user generated content (comments or reviews), social shares…
You can apply a similar judgement on all sorts of content.
Let’s take a quick look at a second example – Are you investing in video? If you are, and your Brand SERP doesn’t have video boxes, then either your investment is ineffective, and your audience is not engaging or you are not communicating to Google that your audience is enchanted by the videos you are producing.
As with the blog, you need to take a step back, make sure you ARE providing videos that are engaging and truly helpful for your audience on a platform they use (YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook…). Then make sure that your audience are engaging with that content and that Google can ‘see’ that they are engaging with your amazing (relevant and helpful) video content.
Interesting sidenote: although YouTube dominates with 80% of all places in video boxes, Kalicube has identified a stunning 10,000 domains that provide videos to video boxes on Brand SERPs. Here are the leading contenders…
So, although YouTube is likely to be your main platform, be flexible, and use your imagination since Google considers many factors when choosing the platform to show such as your industry, audience, geo location, the type of content and, most importantly, the quality of your site. Yes, you can get your site to rank for videos on your Brand SERP, and I strongly advise you to make that a BIG part of your video strategy.
Here’s an example of a brand that ranks videos on its own site in the video boxes on their Brand SERP.
A window into your digital ecosystem/an unbiased reflection of the world’s opinion of your brand
Now, the content you produce is the part of your brand’s digital ecosystem that you control.
The content you produce and host on your site, you control 100%, but as soon as you place it on another platform – Twitter, Youtube, Medium, Quora etc – you relinquish some control.
Then think about articles written about you (with or without your knowledge), forms, bloggers, other people’s social accounts, review sites… The list goes on and on. Keeping tabs on all of that content is an impossible task.
But your Brand SERP gives you a quick-and-easy, cheap-and-cheerful and yet very reliable overview of your digital ecosystem – it shows Google’s opinion of the world’s opinion of you at a glance.
We saw earlier that, on your Brand SERP, Google ranks the results it considers relevant and valuable to your audience searching your brand name. Those results, taken as a whole, offer a very good, very accurate and very simple overview of how your brand is perceived online.
Importantly, don’t stop at page #1.
Try this exercise. Set aside a morning or an afternoon (or perhaps an evening) to go through the first 100 results of your Brand SERP. Click on any that incite your curiosity. What triggers that curiosity can be anything about that result: the title text, the description underneath, the URL, the domain name, the image… Visit the page and take a BIG step back and think about what you’re seeing in the context of your brand and Google’s opinion of the world’s opinion of you.
Why has Google chosen to rank this particular result? It has to be for relevancy or value to the user. What makes it relevant to your audience? What makes Google see it as valuable to them?
As you go through, write out a task list for yourself, both to deal with the individual results, but also any wider issues and ideas the results inspire for you. That list will get pretty long 🙂 When you’ve finished, spend 3 minutes writing an executive overview of your perception of Google’s opinion of the world’s opinion of your brand and its ecosystem.
My bet is that neither that task list nor the Executive summary will be what you would have expected before starting this exercise. And my experience doing this exercise with clients tells me that is a safe bet for me to take 🙂
What is the key to your Brand SERP? Understanding
There are three pillars to your SEO strategy: Understanding, Credibility and Deliverability. Read more about that in my article on Search Engine Journal here.
Why do I say the key is understanding? Google aims to represent your business to your audience on your Brand SERP. It can do that accurately only if it understands
- Who you are
- What you offer
- Who your audience is
Without that understanding, it will present a confused representation of your brand to your audience. It is up to you to communicate to Google who you are, what you offer and who your audience is so that it can build a Brand SERP that reflects you in a great light with information that is relevant for your audience (accurate, positive and convincing).
We often think that Google can just get on with things and gather information and understand. It can. But it definitely performs better when it gets some help. And for your brand, you are the best person to help drive understanding.
Where Can You Start? Structured Data.
Communicate to Google clearly on your site who you are, what you offer and to whom. The main on-site ingredients are: great site structure, clear copywriting and structured data.
The first two are things you probably already have in place or are working on as part of your SEO strategy. Structured data, perhaps not. If not, why not?
Put simply, structured data is a representation of the content in your page in a format that a machine (in this case Google) can easily digest and be confident it has correctly understood.
Imagine that structured data is Google’s native language.
It is super smart and adapts to all sorts of situations and almost certainly has a good understanding of who you are and what you have to offer your audience already. But when you reiterate what you are saying in Google’s native language (structured data), it goes from (let’s say) 40% confidence it has correctly understood, to 70% confidence. Why not 100%? We’ll come to that 🙂
At 70% confidence, it will represent your brand to your audience on your Brand SERP reasonably accurately.
WordLift is one tool that does an amazing job of adding that structured data (Google’s native language) to reinforce Google’s confidence in its understanding of your explanation of who you are, what you offer and who your audience is.
There is a very, very obvious question here. What stops me from building the truth that suits me?
It is logical that Google looks to you for the information about your brand. It is obvious that it won’t believe you on your word alone. You need corroboration.
How can I cement Understanding? Corroboration.
Whatever you say in your copywriting and structured data on your site about yourself needs to be corroborated by multiple independent trusted authoritative third party sources.
If you have a solid and well-focussed digital strategy for your brand, then those certainly exist. But does Google make the connection? Not necessarily.
That last vital 30% of confidence is all about corroborative information on trusted, authoritative, relevant third party sites. We can call these trusted sources.
Those sources can be structured, for example DBpedia, Wikidata, Wikidata. Or unstructured, for example IMDB, Google Books, Bloomberg. You’ll find a non-exhaustive list of trusted sources here (filterable by industry and country).
Once again, it is up to you to help out. Prove to Google that what you are saying about yourself on your site is true. It’s as simple as pointing that corroboration out to Google using structured data. Once again, Wordlift helps with this by automatically adding the correct structured data to your site that reassures Google by clearly identifying these corroborative sources, and also by feeding some of these sources with information.
What is truth to Google?
Google will favour information that
- Is clearly stated
- Comes From a topically Authoritative source
- It can digest natively.
When your “Google Business card” (Brand SERP) reflects your brand message accurately, then Google has understood who you are, what you offer and who your audience is.
When Google is favouring your content to show to your audience on your Brand SERP, then your content strategy is on the right track.
When your Brand SERP is positive, accurate and convincing, then you can be confident your digital ecosystem is healthy.
In short, having a great Brand SERP is both the reflection and the foundation of your entire digital marketing strategy.
Jason Barnard is an author, speaker, teacher and consultant in digital marketing specialized in Brand SERPs. He writes regularly for leading digital marketing publications such as Search Engine Journal and SEMrush and regularly features on leading sites such as Authoritas, Search Engine Watch, Searchmetrics, and more. He also frequently speaks at major marketing conferences worldwide.
Jason has over 2 decades of experience in digital marketing, he started promoting his first website in the year Google was incorporated and built it up to become one of the top 10,000 most visited sites in the world (60 million visits in 2007 – and this is a site for kids up to ten years old!).
Today he is a full-time 100% digital nomad, host and keynote speaker at conferences around the world, whilst interviewing industry experts for his “With Jason Barnard…”. The conversations are always intelligent, always interesting… and always fun!