Branding is a major goal for marketers around the world, and companies will allocate big bucks for brand awareness. It’s always been hard to measure branding -- until the Internet came along.

Online advertising started with banner ads, and it didn’t take long before marketers realized search listings drive large volumes of targeted traffic to websites.

Search traffic is golden because it doesn’t interrupt consumer behavior. Users are actively seeking information and want to be driven to its source. As they view the search listings for their query, the text descriptions function as ads that produce awareness.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

In 2001, NPD Group examined the effectiveness of three types of search engine ads: search listings, banner ads, and the tile ads next to search listings. The search listings were read and clicked significantly more often than banners or tile ads, and they also produced more sales. Conclusion: Search listings provide more brand awareness than any other ads in a search environment.

In 2004, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Nielsen/NetRatings explored branding for search text ads versus contextual ads, focusing at various branding attributes (unaided brand awareness, aided ad awareness, familiarity and brand image associations). Conclusion: Branding in search listings is stronger than contextual ad branding, particularly when the brand holds the top position in the results page.

The Value of Branding

Your brand is what identifies your business to consumers. It resides in the hearts and minds of your customers and prospects as the sum total of their experiences with and perceptions of your company. Good branding ensures loyal customers, and your existing customer relationships are the key to profitability. So it’s no wonder that branding is a major marketing goal.

SEMPO research on business marketing goals shows that most companies place “increase brand awareness” at the top of their list. Other goals include, “selling products/services online,” “generating leads,” “increasing traffic,” “generating leads for distributors,” and “providing information/education.”

The Branding Component of Search Marketing

Up until now, the major goal of search engine marketing (SEM) has been to drive targeted traffic to your site for lead generation and online or offline conversions. However, it’s now evident that during the search process, another valuable advertising goal is achieved -- that of branding.

Some SEM firms don’t hype branding because of the focus on driving qualified traffic to produce leads and sales. However, the branding aspect of SEM is important, accountable, and should not be overlooked.

How Search Branding Works

When indexing your site, most search engines will use your website’s Title and Description, or the information therein, to create the text link that appears in the SERPs. This link, and the brief description of your site that follows, function as an “ad” when users view your search engine listing.

Every time your listing shows prominently in the SERPs, branding takes place. You can achieve better branding when you ensure that all your ad elements encourage maximum awareness upon click-through to your landing page.

There are two major factors of importance in an SEM branding campaign: your branding message on the results page (Title/Description or Paid Text Ad) and your call to action on the landing page.

Coordinating Critical Ad Elements

Your Title and Description Tags are critical elements in a professional search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. When your website architecture, linking and content are properly optimized, these elements will help bring you to prominent positioning in the SERPs.

With paid search ads, a professional SEM firm will research and identify strategic key phrases, write the text ad, develop your bidding strategy, monitor bids, and track and fine-tune changes. Here, too, there’s a Title and Description that shows in the SERPs.

Your landing page is an important ad element for both SEO and Paid Search campaigns. Copy and creative should be strategically composed as an extension of your “search ad” on the SERPs, with the landing page focused solely on the desired action. Ideally, these marketing elements should be prepared by SEM pros with advertising expertise.

Measuring Search Branding

How do you measure the effects of branding in a search engine marketing campaign? A web analytics program can do more than simply report statistics. These systems for compiling data will analyze your web logs to effectively manage your SEM campaign and measure your brand effectiveness. Below are some of the data points that can be used to measure the brand impact of an SEM campaign.

  • Average Time On Site: The longer your visitors browse your site upon arrival from a search engine, the better chance you have for future conversions.
  • Page Views Per Visitor: The more pages your prospects visit and read, the greater the odds of communicating your marketing message. This contributes to branding awareness.
  • Path Views to Registration or Subscription Sign-Ups: This is the same as the visitor giving you permission to form a business relationship. It starts a dialog and allows you to continue building your brand, moving the visitor closer to conversion.
  • White Paper Downloads: The more interest is shown in your products/services, the more branding takes place, and the user moves closer to conversion.
  • Navigation Report: This shows where visitors go next, pointing prospects to distributor or retailer sites. When search listings result in a click to a seller site, there is likelihood of purchase and proof of branding.

Maximizing Branding Efforts

With such value in your search listings, it’s wise to extend your branding efforts through well planned SEM campaigns. The coordination of SEM and advertising expertise ensures that all critical ad elements work together for both conversions and the elevation of your brand.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
September 16, 2005

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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