Can Big Brands Own “It”?

Big brands have a place in sun when it comes to top positioning for their company’s names. Unfortunately, many big brands fail to own “it” — those elusive categories of goods and services they sell — in unbranded search results.

When search engines perform well, they produce relevant results for search queries, results that offer users clickable Web destinations of their choice. The search results are relevant because users find what they seek. The search results make sense to search algorithms and users alike when a click occurs. If those results don’t make sense, users refine their search queries until the engines deliver tangible results.

Some big brands don’t perceive the relevance of unbranded search results in the same light. Some big brands believe that they’ve earned top positioning for different categories of goods and services by brand name prominence alone.

Regardless of how much they desire search prominence for “it,” the fact of the matter is many big brands fail to organically optimize for “it.” Consequently, the search engines don’t recognize “it” is relevant to the big brand’s Web presence.

Don’t Get It?

If a searcher initiates a [brand + category] search query, it’s logical to a certain extent to believe the searcher should find the big brand’s category page prominently placed in the natural search results. It’s illogical to assume the same results should appear for [category only] search queries. Yet this is precisely what many big brands feel they deserve, similar unbranded recognition for “it.”

So big brands, we ask you, what have you done to earn top natural search results for “it?” Do you have “it” prominently featured and linked to from your homepage?

Remember, you can’t count Flash navigation as a factor that helps search engines determine relevance for “it.” Search engines can’t crawl Flash files in search of embedded links. Search engines spiders are a bit lazy that way. Spiders want to efficiently crawl a site, see what’s new, then efficiently exit.

Don’t count JavaScript or appended links throughout your site, either. Neither help determine relevancy for category or sub-category pages within a site. Furthermore, appended URLs tend to split inbound links into different factions, making it challenging to accrue link juice for potentially prominent category pages.

If your site creates dynamically-generated pages topped off with a session identification string, hundreds of URLs are temporarily generated for the same category, subcategory or product. Spiders hate that.

How can the information possibly be indexed to produce relevant results when all the dynamic page generation capabilities add up to producing equally irrelevant results? If you site architecture and internal navigation don’t contribute toward making a specific series of pages relevant to “it,” your site will struggle to earn top categorical positioning for “it” no matter how big your brand is.

Go For It

All too often, big brand Web sites present structural complexities that inhibit deep content indexing, so there’s no chance of achieving natural search prominence for core product categories. This opens the door for rival sites and smaller competitors to out-optimize big brands for “it,” sufficiently equalizing a big brand’s categorical natural search prowess.

This doesn’t mean big brands should give up going for “it.” What it does mean is “it’s” going to cost you. Big brands often end up buying top search positioning for optimal keywords and phrases with elaborate pay-per-click campaigns. At the same time, big brands should be getting to work on improving their natural search visibility.

Big brands can choose their structural remedy. They can redesign the entire site to make product categories and subcategories more search-friendly, or, at the very least, visible to search engine spiders.

Since a site redesign is usually a long-term proposition, if attainable at all due to content management complexities and programming requirements, a short-term fix can sometimes grow into a long-term solution.

Using rewrites and redirects in-house or by way of a proxy solution could quickly help make category pages more visible to the search engines. But rewriting dynamic URLs in to static URLs, or crafting templates to replace uncrawlable navigation with spider-friendly text-links, isn’t enough to optimize big brands’ category pages alone. The issue of including relevant content on category and subcategory pages looms large for big brands, especially for those big brands operating in highly regulated industries.

Have It All

While big brands own their part of earning relevant results for branded search, many have a long way to go to claim categorical relevance in the major search engines. Problem is, an organic solution must scale in a manner that smaller rival sites needn’t concern themselves with.

That’s not to say big brands can’t have it all when it comes to earning prominent placement for branded and unbranded search results. They just have to be prepared to work a little harder for “it.”

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

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