Brand has been an important business tool and concept for more than a century. Search engine optimization (SEO), on the other hand, has been a serious concern for scarcely a dozen years. So what’s the relationship between the two? This is a surprisingly deep question, so we’ll devote a number of blog posts to exploring it.
At one level, SEO and brand are closely related. Brand marketing can be seen as a way of attracting attention to your company that defines it in ways that are authentic and compelling. SEO can be defined as a way of attracting traffic to your web site based on compelling, relevant content. So those are complementary things, right? Good branding supports good SEO, and vice versa, it’s tempting to conclude.
Except that when you dig a little deeper, you find that the two are often in conflict. Consider naming, the topic of today’s post: the question of naming a new product or business concept. The classic branding approach to naming is to find a trademarkable name that is unique, ownable, memorable, and reflects the personality of the company. One thing you cannot do is pick a descriptive name: that is, something in plain English. Descriptive names cannot be protected with a trademark, and establishing a defensible trademark is one of the prime objectives of branding.
But for SEO purposes, a descriptive name in plain English is far superior. Why? Let’s explore an example.
Imagine your company has developed a completely new technology for measuring and improving software usability. Now imagine that you’ve engaged a branding agency, and that agency has delivered a unique trademarkable name for you: “Usabilification”[Full disclosure: This word was actually coined by English professor Randy Harris, with whom I had the privilege of studying. Go ahead and Google it – I got one hit, and it’s from a 15 year old talk he did with that title. Now I’ve probably gone and ruined it and added a second result. And yes, the name is entirely ironic – Randy is not only brilliant, but witty as hell too.]
So great – you can go and buy the domain usabilification.com, register the trademark, design a great swoopy logo and print the business cards. Here’s the problem, though: nobody has ever heard of “usabilification” (other than my former classmates), so nobody will ever Google it. If they did, you’d rank #1, count on it, but #1 on a search term with approximately zero searches per month, give or take a few.
So to get some SEO juice, you will need to fill your site with a lot of terms that do get searched on, things like “usability” and “tool”. But by hitching your wagon to “usabilification”, you’ve missed out on some great SEO opportunities.
The domain name itself. As this post on keywords in domain names from SEOmoz points out, having one or two important keywords right in your domain name gives you instant Google juice – before you even start adding content, you’ll be scoring well with Google’s search algorithms.
Internal keyword frequency. Your website will probably mention your product name more than once, it’s fair to say. If every time you mention it, you’ve got a made up word like “usabilification”, you’re simply improving your rank with a search term nobody uses. On the other hand, if your product name includes one or two keywords, every mention and every internal link will boost your SEO strength.
Incoming links. Probably the single most powerful way to boost your Google ranking is to get a lot of links from high quality websites – popular blogs, online newspapers and the like. But not all links are created equal: a link that includes the relevant keyword will deliver more SEO mojo than a link that says click here. Most likely those referring websites will have your product name as the anchor text. So if your product name has the keywords built right into it, then the incoming links will contribute even more to boosting your search engine ranking.
So, that means forget about unique, memorable, and trademarkable? No, all that is still important – you want to build a global brand for the ages still, right?
There are different ways to handle the naming challenge that make for a good brand with good SEO characteristics, but that’s for another post.
– Director of Marketing