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What Does "Branding" Actually Mean?

 10:17 pm on Apr 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

I see lots of advice to "focus on branding" but have yet to see anyone authorative actually spell out what that means.

I suspect what it means to you could be quite different from what it means to her, and her ideas could be very different to mine. Then you mix in the variations that come when people have a different ethnic background and language.

Obviously I have my own thoughts but no idea if my planned approach is sensible or a total waste of time and effort.

So... if you are responsible for introducing branding to the Widgetville Auto Parts site, what are some of the things you would do?

Specifics please.... not sweeping motherhood statements.



 10:59 pm on Apr 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

To me, a "branding" is making your company/product known so that when someone mentions your company/product, other people know exactly what it sells/does/is.

For example, I've never heard of Widgetville Auto Parts. But from the name, I gather that it sells auto parts. Specific: make sure the site's focus is on sellign auto parts. Don't show cutesy cat videos or employee vacation pictures or a lot of non-car content- that's not helping the brand.

I live in Doohickeytown, which is 1 hour away from Widgetville. So I assume I'm not going to use the place unless I move closer, or they happen to have a much better price than my local auto parts store and offer quick/cheap shipping. Specific: for something that is very location based, the brand needs to focus on the things that will makes people want to buy from there instead of their local competitor.

Given the name, I am guessing they are a generic auto parts store, without specialization. If they were called Widgetville Foreign Auto Parts, that would let me know they focus on parts for foreign cars. Specific: if the store does have a specialization, make sure you focus on that as part of the brand.

Also, the brand goes way beyond just products. Is quality service part of the brand? Or a money back guarantee? Or free shipping every day? Emphasize it whenever/wherever possible.


 11:28 pm on Apr 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

It takes repetition for most people to recall a brand name. Some say the customer needs to see the brand name up to 21 times before they recall it.

So the first part of branding is placing the name in front of the customer enough times so they remember the name without annoying them. I don't find the small banner ad for webmaster world in the upper left corner at all annoying.

Getting new customers is harder than getting to purchase a product a 2nd time from the company, "The Brand." If the customer does not remember where they purchased a product from that brand has a brand marketing problem.

Another aspect of the brand is as a promise of service or quality of product. People recall only leading brands by a descriptive promise. And, normally only a few words. The less words the easier it is for people to recall.

"How do you spell relief," is an example of excellent brand marketing. "Where is the beef?" is a little old now but is excellent. "Where do you go when you need a break today?" is excellent branding. Where a kid can be a kid only brings up thoughts of one brand. "Miller time" is brings up only one brand.

Anything, and I would dare say everything, which helps the customer think about the company or recall the company so they will become a repeat customer is branding.

It is more subliminal than a list of 1, 2, 3, ... so limiting what is considered branding to inside the box thinking reduces its effectiveness. Online trust can be created by providing information repetitively on a website. In the off line world this form of trust can not be created the same way. Earning the trust of customers by constantly providing correct information, having them bookmark your site, etc. Was not a type of branding effort done in the past, (but it works).

Another good example of branding in my local area is "Smell Good Plumber." They promised reasonable rates and quotes over the phone. The only other plumber brand I recall by name had a song, "Roto-Rooter away goes problems down the drain," I do not recall any of their brand promises though.

For Smell Good they thought outside the box to the name of the company for brand marketing. Everything is fair in brand marketing.

I started my reply before LifeinAsia who pointed out company name before I did. I think I know which company he is referring to for free shipping, they compete with most of use.


 11:52 pm on Apr 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

Branding is pretty simple. We have fine examples we as webmasters can relate to: Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. and each has an audience which knows their purpose, strong points, weaknesses, et al.

Branding is nothing more than being so big large swaths of the population know who you are "by name".


 1:12 am on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

nothing more than being so big large swaths of the population know who you are "by name"

Most of us on this forum would do well to think more narrowly than that.

More important than being known to "large swaths of the population" would be that your name and abilities are known to your actual target audience.

Don't spread your money around merely to spread your name around. Targeting is what wins the game here.

Invest in marketing efforts that will aim at your ideal customer, not the population at large. And, do things that will cultivate repeat business and deeper relationships with existing customers.

"Brand" is not something to chase for its own sake; it should grow as a by-product of profitable sales and service to satisfied customers.

Example from real life: I have zero interest in fixing my own car, so I'm not the person that Widgetville Auto Parts (WAP) needs to reach.

My brother, on the other hand, is exactly the sort they'd want to connect with. He restores old cars and has been known to spend crazy sums to import just the right part. If WAP succeeded in cultivating profitable relationships with my brother and his ilk, they would end up with the branding they need.

Aspects of "trade dress" such as logo, slogan, colors, uniforms, jingles and more will all help the cause, but the core of brand-building is service.


 4:05 am on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

Brand big, brand small, all the same. One becomes "known". Where brand is beginning to hurt is mega bucks sites perennially at the top of the serps... and no way to break in by any of the not mega bucks sites.

So, brand for the rest of us is just doing what we can to get known. And it's all just another term for link/page rank which has been the measure since day one. A fancy SEO term that embraces more than links: tv, radio, other media, etc., too.

Don't think narrow: Think big! How do I get MORE... and even if you are the small fish in a little niche, you always want to be the biggest. Hard work, but pays off in the long run.

Look "brand" up in the dictionary. It's pretty simple:

1 product or manufacturer: a name, usually a trademark, of a product or manufacturer, or the product identified by this name
2 recognizable type of something: a distinctive type of something
3 mark burned on animal: a mark burned into the hide of a range animal to identify it as the property of a particular ranch, farm, or owner


 6:08 am on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

The first group of responses are essentially about creating a recognisable name, finding the right customer base and successfully converting enquiries. All good comments that reinforce the basics of marketing and things you would do even if there was no internet.

Tangor's last post brings us to the issue of "branding" through the eyes of a search algo which is unable to read all that fantastic marketing 101 stuff that makes your site stand out from the crowd. So when a Google spokesperson talks about the benefits of branding when it comes to search results, what are they talking about? What are the indicators they are looking for that will have an effect on ranking? As Tangor suggests, is branding just a current buzz word that really means links and PageRank…. just as before?

Or are there other indicators of branding, specific to websites, that are now essential for improved rankings?


 7:05 am on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

you always want to be the biggest

Only if you stay solvent.


 2:56 pm on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

Brand big, brand small, all the same.

Not at all- completely different strategies for how to get there and stay there.

It would be a waste of money for WAP to spend the huge resources to become a big brand- it needs to focus on developing its local brand. Again, If I don't live near Widgetville, I'm probably not going to buy from them. So they are just wasting money to try to build name recognition with me (and everyone else outside their locale).

If they're a nationwide company (or planning to become one), part of their branding strategy should probably be to change the company name to something that doesn't sound so localized.

Like Buckworks points out, you should spend your resources on your target audience. It's seriously diminishing returns to build name recognition among people who will never buy from you.

So when a Google spokesperson talks about the benefits of branding when it comes to search results, what are they talking about? What are the indicators they are looking for that will have an effect on ranking?

To me, that means being talked about in news articles, blogs, review sites, social media. Everyone focuses on links in regards to Google, but Google is smart enough to figure out that a news article about Widgetville Auto Parts refers to the company behind the Widgetville Auto Parts site, even if there is no link, *IF* the WAP brand is strong enough.

In regards to that, a key to branding is consistency- WAP needs to make sure that it promotes a consistent message. If some places on the site use Widgetville Auto Parts and other places use Widgetville Auto Supply or Widgetville Auto Parts, Inc., those differences are more likely to spread across the Internet and dilute the brand. Key information (address, phone number, etc.) must likewise be consistent- especially in online yellow page listings, Google Places, press releases, etc.


 3:05 pm on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

It would be a waste of money for WAP to spend the huge resources to become a big brand- it needs to focus on developing its local brand.

Okay... I think I said that, but if you want to beat it to death that's okay, too.

Small companies/sites brand for their niche... they aren't global in aspect (mega bucks) and thus market (brand) for their locale. Pretty simple concept, just dang hard to accomplish. There's no magic bullet, just hard work and keeping after it.

But "brand", in these new SEO times means breaking into the top 10 on the serps... and that's not likely to happen for most folks. You try for it, you really do! It's just that some brands are just that pervasive and it's difficult to get a toe-hold.

Not doom and gloom, just reality and how to work in the environment.


 3:44 pm on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

links and PageRank…. just as before?

Yes, to links and PageRank ... but more nuanced than in the past.

Matt Cutts's recent video on "popularity" versus "authority" is worthwhile to watch with branding in mind. His concept of "topical relevance" would go a long way to explaining what branding is these days, as seen by the algo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfLaC325S6M [youtube.com]

The algo that is "unable to read all that fantastic marketing 101 stuff" can, over time, read how users are responding to your business.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 6:38 pm (utc) on Apr 26, 2014]
[edit reason] made link to video live [/edit]


 5:19 pm on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

I just re-read Yoast's take [yoast.com...] on SEO, Branding and link building and it is an attainable goal without being the biggest pervasive brand but it can take more work to have your online presence merit instant recognition among your target group. Much of what he suggests is industry participation, whatever that may mean to the brand you are establishing. Defining your interests narrowly is another tip. One line stood out in relation to this discussion:
Content marketing without branding is…

Like an airplane without wings: it won’t fly. You can have the best airplane chairs in the world, if you don’t put engines and a wing on that plane, you’re not going to get very far. In discussing this topic I got the counter argument that the best content for any specific topic should rank. I think that’s (BS). Search engine result pages based entirely on the quality of content would look like **** too, just like results based on the number of links are. This is not simple math.

He goes on to list all the ways he has seen success in branding for a small business. (Catering to a very pinpoint niche of service helps a lot in this specific case IMHO)- but it portrays the meaning of branding quite well in this context.


 8:19 pm on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

+1 buckworks and not2easy for other commentary regarding branding which still boils down to being a new buzz word for the same old stuff we do each day. However, these days that word actually means mass market big box (no names), travel giants (no names), news/media (no names) etc. The mega bucks.

I know I sound perverse, and I don't mean to be, really don't! Just don't buy into the buzz word "brand" as being something new we have to chase. It has been, and always remains LINKS, WORD OF MOUTH, that makes you either "found", "famous", "viral", or "brand"... and it all comes down to site content (info, services or commerce) and presentation and incoming LINKS.

Large or small, be the best in your venue and you become a "brand". Do it better, or have something unique, and you can be at the top of the serps. Your "brand" is your site, sweat, and content. "Brand" is just a distraction in terms that has some folks chasing after something other than what they should be chasing.


 10:50 pm on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

Branding is simply how your customers feel about your service(s)/product(s).


 9:31 am on Apr 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

So when a Google spokesperson talks about the benefits of branding when it comes to search results, what are they talking about?

IMO the single biggest factor is being searched for by name. The sites I've seen that do the best get a sizeable proportion (thinking 20-25% and upwards) of their traffic from their brand name.


 12:21 pm on Apr 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

Branding's been around a lot longer than the internet. It's not new.


 5:46 pm on Apr 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

I see lots of advice to "focus on branding" but have yet to see anyone authorative actually spell out what that means.

In ecommerce terms to me it means that just being high in the SERPS isn't enough. The prospective customers need a "feelgood factor" as well.

"Fred's Widgets" comes number one but a company you have heard of comes number two in the search. Which one gets your money?

Big name brands dominating the SERPS is another matter but when I do UK based test searches I find that localising the searches pushes out the nationals although listing type sites like Yell and Time Out push real business below the fold. Even with a national search there are mail order outfits on page 1 that I have never heard of.


 9:24 pm on Apr 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

OK... this question is specifically about Google's interpretation of branding as it is applied to website rankings.

Never mind branding in its wider marketing sense... just focus on what MC and other Google spokespersons are talking about when they refer to the advantages to a web site that come from branding.

Algos cannot read the written words that appear on your pages so I suspect they have no knowledge of, or interest in, your fantastic offer of 30 day exchanges, free shipping, guaranteed stock, 24 hour delivery, real people answering your phone etc etc. Those are factors to sway a person reading the words, not influence an algo.... and for a person to read those words, they have to first be able to find your website. So ranking has to come before the message can be delivered.

Algos are not aware that you advertise on TV and radio, highway billboards, the side of local buses, magazine placements, skywriting etc. All of those are about getting some name (brand) recognition so people might go direct to your site.... but once again, algos know nothing about any of that.

Yet we are being told that branding is an essential element for website success... so what are the factors that an algo can respond to that would relate to branding?

an entry in Google Local (for b&M businesses)
an entry in Google +
a business account in Facebook
mentions in Twitter

All of the above... none of the above... or something else entirely?


 9:31 pm on Apr 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

If I say to you "Samsung" you know instantly what it is they do. Most people probably think phones or TVs first, but more broadly, you know they do electronics. Now, you might have your own opinion on their products, but you can't argue with the fact that they manufacture electronics.

If I say to you Barnes & Noble, or Sears Kenmore, Purina or McDonalds - you know what they do, without having to hear anything more than the name (assuming you're in the US at least)

On a smaller scale, if I say to you WebmasterWorld, you know what that is, and what you'd be likely to find here, because WebmasterWorld is targeted to people who want to improve their websites, and if you're here, that's probably you.

That's branding. Your target audience knows who you are and what you do. Their opinion of how well you do it doesn't matter (at least not for this definition) but they are aware of your place in whatever niche it is.

And branding happens when ALL of your marketing efforts, online and offline, are focused on making sure people know who you are and what you do.


 10:46 pm on Apr 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

When looking at a limited vertical of what Googlebot can see or could see and in terms of improving their search index in regards to brand names.

Number of searches of a brand name, This can could also use knowledge graph technology to determine what products the brand is most known for.

References to the brand name across other sites and media formats, Newpapers, social media, videos, tutorials made by others, maps, personalized map data, tourist points of interest, quotations used made by others using the brand as an authority.

Links to the site.

Higher than average level of interest in materials related to the brand on other sites and interest in the social media sites of the brand, (as shown by links to it, quotes from it, appearances of citations (linked or unlinked) on social media accounts not related to the brand, etc).

Most of what I've mentioned as can or could I don't have any indication are actually happening. None the less all of what I've mentioned helps build an online brand.

Unless one can get a Google programmer drunk who actually knows what is going on behind the scenes. Nobody outside of Google has Google trade secrets. The spokes people are not the programmers.


 12:21 pm on Apr 28, 2014 (gmt 0)

There is a brand and there is a corporate identity. These two should not be confused. Many who think they have a brand do not have a brand, they only have a corporate identity.


 12:32 pm on Apr 28, 2014 (gmt 0)

Or are there other indicators of branding, specific to websites, that are now essential for improved rankings?

I see branding = reputation.

I see that your position of branding is relative to others. At the pinnacle you have global reputation, at the base you occupy a segment shared by others.

Where you pitch your reputation depends on your resources and success tactics.

For Google, I see it more simply.

Reputation = the predictability of the phrase/s you are able to command.

Google "auto suggest" and "personalised behaviour tracking" must play a huge part in this with it's statistical referencing to popular predictable phrases.

Word of mouth, following on from this would seem to be the core driver as people type in their phrases from popular branding campaigns - many of them offline.

The higher up towards the pinnacle, you need to be a firm leader in that term. You may have a better chance if you are a small player attaching yourself to a niche phrase using combinations of words, because those are cheaper to promote, yet maybe not so memorable amongst a larger audience.

Get too niche and narrow, you may as well lift the phone and talk to the person/s you're targeting . But really, sometimes this works far better - especially in B to B. Such a scenario doesn't need to primarily benefit from Google's algo. The closest one may get to this is an authoritative article pitched at a known audience - hardly broad reputation building, rather endorsement supported by a link or two freely given [ half cough / splutter in most cases ].

The advantage and disadvantage with the Google algo recognising branding is that it can [ I imagine ] be self perpetuating at the expense of innovation and responsiveness in some markets. Not always the best product or site will be allowed to surface, to gain and maintain it's reputation. Google is thus old hat, in this context.

And from an algorthimic point of view, link influences are probably still a distant second best solution for Google to recognise brand until it has enough data to overcome link abuse completely [ it's clearly nearly there - if it hasn't already scared the pants off of any half aware webmaster or business ].


 2:24 pm on Apr 28, 2014 (gmt 0)

So... if you are responsible for introducing branding to the Widgetville Auto Parts site, what are some of the things you would do?

First find out the baseline - what percent of your visitors find you now by either direct browser type in, or by searching your company name in a search engine. Its a rough gauge but it will provide some type of measurement to tell you if what your doing is working or not.

If you take action to build the brand, that number should grow. Most people that find frustration with the whole "brand" concept have spent the bulk of their marketing efforts on rote SEO - getting traffic via people searching for relevant key words.


 2:27 pm on Apr 28, 2014 (gmt 0)

Branding is a fascinating and inspirational topic. I've been reading books by Marty Neumeier and following him on Twitter. Here are a few basic things he has to say about Brand but I encourage you to read the books. There's far more substance to them than what I quote below.

What a brand is not:

A brand is not a logo

A brand is not an identity

A brand is not a product

How a brand is understood at the personal level:

A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service or organization... Brands are defined by individuals, not companies, markets, or the public. It's not what YOU say it is. It's what THEY say it is.

It goes without saying that trust is part of brand. What I really like about Marty Neuemeier's books is that he doesn't lose sight of why we're doing all of this.

The main purpose of branding is to get more people to buy more stuff for more years at a higher price.


 3:17 pm on Apr 28, 2014 (gmt 0)

I agree with martinibuster. As an anecdote, I will often use Amazon to purchase products I need quickly, even if I know that some other place has a better price. Why? I know they will get me shipment to me quickly, and on time.

Bezos and co. know they can get a lot of repeat business by giving good service on shipping, so they've a lot of time making it better and better. They've even convinced people like me to spend more money to get better shipping.

A brand is definitely mostly personal perception, based on giving good service and/or producing a quality product. However, I do think things like logo and identity are good for making people remember the brand. So you should spend some time on making a memorable logo, but not at the expense of providing a good service.


 6:01 pm on Apr 28, 2014 (gmt 0)

Blah blah blah branding. This is the relevant question:
OK... this question is specifically about Google's interpretation of branding as it is applied to website rankings.

What exactly is Google using to measure brands? A three page thread, and almost no specifics.

I'm no expert at this, but here's my take based on what I see in my niche:

1) a small number of VERY high quality backlinks. government, 'real' .edu, stuff like that.
2) a decent number of backlinks with your company name or url - not all the keyword optimized stuff.

and maybe beyond that:
- searches for the company name
- time on page.
But those last two are speculative.

If I was starting a website today and looking to rank, those would be the factors I'd be looking to show Google. I'd be figuring out how to get a handful of super high quality links, then backfill with links using my name.

In other words, a site with 3-4 .gov/edu (or national news) level links and a 100 mediocre backlinks will outrank someone with 500 'strong' links.

That's what you need - the seed of some high quality links. If you don't have those, I don't think you'll be measured as a 'brand'.


 10:57 pm on Apr 28, 2014 (gmt 0)

Brand and ranking are two different topics. There's some crossover in that some of the promotional activities might help build citations. But that's not exclusive to being a brand. That's promotion.

SERPs that are full of .edu's or .govs are that way, imo, for reasons other than backlinks. Just a general observation, not meant as a response to anyone in this thread: The SERPs are not ordered 1-10 in descending order of most or best backlinks. Google's well past that.


 12:57 am on Apr 29, 2014 (gmt 0)

When people talk about branding, I can't see how it is measurable. How does google measure brand level?


 1:12 am on Apr 29, 2014 (gmt 0)

typing in sitename or sitename +keyword(s) will do the trick. :)


 10:52 pm on Apr 29, 2014 (gmt 0)

When people talk about branding, I can't see how it is measurable. How does google measure brand level?

1) a small number of VERY high quality backlinks. government, 'real' .edu, stuff like that.
2) a decent number of backlinks with your company name or url - not all the keyword optimized stuff.

Feel welcome to disagree, and you may be right. BUt all the hippie feel-good nonsense about branding doesn't make any difference in this context. people are saying google is ranking brands. So when they ask about branding, they're asking how to rank. I supplied my beliefs.

Those two criteria remove pretty much anyone doing SEO and all the small-mid sized players. It combines the requirements of being an authority as well as having name recognition - the makings of a brand.

Perhaps I'm wrong - but it's what I see in my niche. It's all fortune 500 size companies,and me still hanging on. All my competitors, even those with really strong backlinks, are gone. And everyone else that's ranking has 500-1000 times as many links as I do - seriously. So what's my site got that lets it sit there? I think it's those two things I mentioned.

Forget the word branding. It's about ranking. Calling it branding is obsfuscating the question, and the answer. If it's not measurable, Google can't use it.

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