If your company's name isn't a "real" word, then in all likelihood you don't have to work too hard to get top rankings for your brand. There are some exceptions such as if your brand represents a product that is sold by many retailers, in which case you'll be competing with them for top visibility in the organic SERPs. However, in many cases top rankings are essentially automatic even with a new brand.
As a result, the inclination of many SEOs is to not bother tracking brand terms since there isn't any way to improve their performance. While I agree with the notion that SEOs shouldn't take credit for traffic from brand terms, I do think that data on brand keyword performance is a valuable diagnostic tool.
Is Search Volume Down?
Sometimes unbranded organic traffic to a site declines unexpectedly. When you first notice such a decline, it can be difficult to determine if there's a real problem or if users just happen to be doing fewer searches. Yes, you could wait weeks or months to verify the trend, but most people want to know if they need to react to the decline or not. One way to determine if there's a real issue is to look at traffic from brand terms. If brand traffic is also down, then there's a good chance you're dealing with a decline in search volume (assuming other marketing efforts have remained steady), which in turn means there's no reason to panic.
How Are Competitors Doing?
Over the years SEO has increasingly become intertwined with a company's broader marketing program and less of just a technical endeavor. So if you're wondering if your company's other marketing efforts are effective, you can take a look at search volume for your brand and competitor brands. An increase in search volume for a competitor's brand name implies that they are somehow capturing more market share. You could use this information as support for increasing the resources allocated to targeting generic terms that consumers are likely to use earlier in the purchase funnel, i.e., introduce your brand early and often.
Is the Data From Google Webmaster Tools Valid?
Ever since Google released impression and click data in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) I've been waiting for the day when the data was trustworthy. At first Google was doing odd things like averaging the ranking of multiple listings, which resulted in meaningless data. For example, if you had a number one ranking and a number 10 ranking, Google would report an average ranking of five, which of course you couldn't distinguish from a single listing ranking at number five. The latest I heard was that Google fixed this issue.
A challenge remains to determine if there are other issues with the data from GWT and looking at the data for your brand terms can help answer this question. What you should be able to do is compare the impressions reported by GWT with the search volume reported by Google's Keyword Tool. You should also compare the clicks reported by GWT with the visits reported by your web analytics tool. Will these comparisons be spot-on? Not likely. However, the differences between two sources shouldn't be orders of magnitude different. If they are, you can probably toss the GWT data out the window.
For the record, I'm still not comfortable with the impression and click data coming out of GWT.
Is Your Rank-Checking Tool Working?
If you're grabbing rankings daily you'll see a lot of variability from day to day. These constant changes can make you question whether your ranking tool is working properly. One way to provide some proof that all is good is to look at rankings for brand terms, which shouldn't fluctuate much and in most cases should return your site in the number one position. In most rank-checking programs you can categorize or tag keywords so spot-checking a list of brand terms is not difficult.
None of the above tactics will take much time out of your day, and you'll be better informed about the validity of your data sources while also gaining additional insight into what's happening in your market. Not too bad for keywords that you might've otherwise chosen to ignore entirely.
Upcoming Webinar: PPC Pause and Reflections for 2013
Thursday, December 12 - 2013 was a major turning point in search advertising. With Google's Enhanced Campaigns and Bing's innovative Smart Search capabilities in Windows 8.1, now is a great time to pause, reflect, and plan for the new year.
Webinar attendance is free. Sign up today!
Marios Alexandrou is the East Coast Director of SEO for Steak's Search Marketing team and has a background in web development and project management. While he loathes to tell people just how long he's been working with computers, he will admit that his first computer had just 16KB of memory.
His SEO experience includes work with both in-house and agency teams ranging from one-man shows to 20+ dedicated SEO strategists. He has worked with organizations of all sizes and across multiple industries including hospitality, financial services, publishing, and healthcare. He particularly likes to use his combination of skills to identify ways to scale SEO activities through process standardization and automation.
In addition to writing about SEO for ClickZ, Marios also writes on the broader area of Internet marketing for Infolific.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT