Building Brands Using SEO

At just about any large corporation, a brand manager’s responsibilities usually include developing a brand’s long-term strategic goals based on volume and profit objectives. A brand manager is usually the lead for preparing the brand’s annual marketing plan, including budget and strategy development for the brand’s entire marketing mix.

Typically, brand managers don’t understand how search engines work. Why should they? SEO (define) is pretty far removed from their brand-based responsibilities. I’ve yet to met a brand manager who understands why a big brand name means nothing to search engines. Brand managers with distinguished brand name products assume it’s easy for their Web sites to rank highly in search engine results. In actuality, the situation is precisely the contrary.

The bigger the brand, the harder it is to attain and maintain highly ranked organic results in the major search engines. Competition for top search engine positioning among big brand names comes from rivals and resellers alike. The challenge is to get the brand manager to expend some of its resources on an organic search campaign.

What does it take for a brand manager to recognize his product line isn’t heir apparent to page-one results on the major search engines? It takes a wakeup call that includes substantive Web research to redefine the brand marketer’s perception of his brand’s online universe. Sparking this transformation takes communication and plenty of education about SEO and SEM (define). The knowledge transfer often redefines the brand manager’s long-term branding strategy.

Less Is More

Brand marketers love building standalone brand sites. Problem is each brand site usually gets its own brand marketing team consisting of different copywriters, Web designers, and programmers. When there are 20-plus brands in a portfolio, some brand sites are created simply to better target different demographics within a broad consumer base.

This creates issues an in-house search marketer must resolve. Namely, why does the brand merit optimizing at a standalone site in the first place when a PPC (define) campaign could provide improved market segmentation with less similar-product cannibalization?

Standalone brand sites work when a site is designed to sell a concept or provide information about products that will engage and entice the targeted audience into being loyal to the brand. In a nutshell, effective standalone brand sites should be an entertaining format designed for lead generation and community building.

It’s usually not cost-effective to build fully functional e-commerce capabilities into an entertainment- or information-based brand site. Consequently, standalone brand sites don’t work when the sites are too far removed from transaction-oriented e-commerce sites.

If product sales are the primary motivator for building a brand site, sending the prospect to another site to perform a transaction must be absolutely seamless. If it’s the least bit clunky or requires too many steps for the prospect to perform the transaction, a standalone brand site should be avoided in favor of a subdomain at the primary e-commerce site.

Where standalone brand sites are concerned, it’s often best to help the brand manager determine that less is more when building a successful SEM strategy. Simply stated, fewer sites often translate into superior sales.

Before, Not After

A large corporation often has different brand managers for different business divisions. Sometimes these divisions are geographic, others are more market-oriented. So one product line can have a consumer-based brand manager and a business-to-business (B2B) brand manager. Other organizations set up regional brand managers who report to a global brand manager. Still other organizations are structured with both business and geographic divisions in place.

Division brand managers can splinter a search campaign into an infinite variety of ineffective initiatives. Convincing disparate collections of brand managers to embrace a unified search strategy can be a lot like herding cats.

Since there’s usually a small, centralized team of in-house search marketers, working with separate brand managers offers big challenges for big brands. The simple act of communicating with different brand managers can build synergy toward producing a unified search strategy and change job responsibilities along the way.

Organic SEO and usability elements should be core building blocks when a new brand site is being developed. Too often, in-house search marketers are called in to “fix” a brand site with underperforming search results.

For in-house search marketers, the time to get involved in building a brand site is before, not after, the site is launched. It’s the difference between giving a person a fish and teaching a person how to fish. If you need to feed a big brand on the Web, teach the brand manager about search engines.

Build Up

Building a unified search strategy for big brands takes communication and education about how search engines work. Brand managers should work hand in hand with SEM staff toward fulfilling a common goal.

The “build it and they will come” days are over. The key to building successful brand sites on the Web is to build a relationship with brand managers who are motivated to perform.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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