Remember when the first desktop publishing systems appeared? For most designers, it was heaven. They suddenly had so many graphic tricks at their fingertips; they couldn’t resist using them all at once on even the simplest Web page.
Branding became vulnerable to the overdesign impulse. The technology was so seductive, its tools and tricks so intriguing, only the most controlled designers could contain the desire to plaster everything with graphics and splashes and fonts of every kind. Branding and its core message, so carefully designed and refined over decades, risked being confused by inept elaboration.
We’re now facing a similar threat. The potential of new technology could lure brand-builders away from clearly communicating their brands’ core values and messages. We must be particularly careful not to fall into that same trap again.
This time, the threat to branding clarity comes from advanced search engines. Recently, to keep my brand intact, I’ve had to restrain a desire to secure top ratings on the most popular search engines. You’ve probably at least considered optimizing your site’s ranking on the leading search engines.
In the good old days, the process was relatively simple. You exchanged links and fixed up your metatags. Now, Google’s technology (to name one example) influences the graphic sector. Search can heavily influence not only metatags, but also copy and site design.
I asked my search engine optimization (SEO) company what I should do to reach the number-one spot. The answer was simple: Redesign the entire site, rewrite all the copy, and upload content I’d ordinarily never consider including on the site. The process has become so advanced, certain words, phrases, and sentences can be constructed to help push the rating. If you’re aiming to secure top ratings, you may have to turn your site’s structure upside-down, and perhaps use language and phrases with only limited relevance to your brand.
I didn’t do it, tempting as a top ranking might be. But I did learn a lot from the experience. I’ve come up with some guidelines to help deal with the temptation.
SEO or Brand Clarity?
This is a chicken-or-egg situation. Would you prefer to have a brilliant Web site nobody visits, or a rubbish Web site with lots of traffic? Hard choice. Search engines are vitally important to online operations and will become more so in the future. You can’t overlook the need to optimize your site’s search engine ranking. If your site comes up on page two of the search results, it may as well be being lost in space.
Determine your level of compromise. Define mandatory site elements that must be represented. Have you established a characteristic navigation that’s become associated with your brand? Do you use a special structure on your site? Do you use special phrases or write copy in a unique fashion?
Decide what’s essential and what you can compromise on. Then, take a deep breath and deconstruct the entire site. Take into consideration all the components that affect your ranking, using the mandatory elements as the basis for site changes. Let these elements keep you on track.
Leaving your brand to SEOs, without restrictions or limitations, can be a dangerous, potentially fatal game. Yet leaving site reconstruction to graphic designers and brand and communication teams is dangerous, too. In the latter scenario, your site’s likely never to secure a top position. Cater to both sides, before the site gets lost in space.
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