Use SEO to ruin a good brand name: 3 easy steps

In Building a Brand by Distility0 Comments

Brand name and SEO

In our first post on SEO and Branding, we explored how the competing demands of search engine optimization (SEO) and brand strategy can make decisions like naming rather difficult. Here is the basic problem: core branding principles tell us that when naming a company or product, go unique or go home. But some basic mechanics of search engine optimization – having key words in your domain name, content, and incoming links – favour the plain English approach.

On other words, a rose by any other name might smell as sweet but would be impossible to find on Google.

Here are a few options to help you be in two places at once, along with the pros and cons of each approach.

The do them both strategy. This one may be hard to swallow, because when you’ve found the perfect company name, you want to have the nice clean URL to go with it. If your new company name is Rawsome Corp., then you want to put Rawsome.com on every business card. But if your company sells deodorant, then RawsomeDeodorant.com is a much better domain name, because it contains what is probably your top keyword. All other things being equal (that is, content, incoming links, SEO hygiene) RawsomeDeodorant.com will rank better than Rawsome.com on any search containing the word deodorant. All you have to do now is put a 301 redirect from Rawsome.com to RawsomeDeodorant.com so that anyone who attempts the obvious won’t be left staring at an error page. For this strategy to work, however, it’s vital that you use the longer domain name as your main URL. That’s the one that will have all the content you want to rank for. If you just put everything on Rawsome.com you get none of the advantages of having the keyword in your domain name.

Pros: Instant Google juice. If your marketing strategy relies heavily on drawing organic search traffic from people researching their deodorant choices, then it may well be worth it to go with the longer name.

Cons: You better be damned sure that you are happy to be in the deodorant business. If, on the other hand, your business strategy and your brand strategy both tell you that long term you want to branch into shampoo and conditioner, then you have a problem. Don’t let a short term SEO advantage drive your long term brand strategy.

The plum pudding strategy. A sneaky way to avoid having to choose between plain language and unique names is to embed a prime keyword within your unique name. If your company sells ice, then a name that is unique but contains the word ice within it – say, NicelyDuzIt (come on, this is an example, you can’t expect me to come up with names that are actually appealing) – might actually offer some SEO advantages. And hey, if your company eventually branches out from ice into acne medication, NicelyDuzIt.com is already optimized.

Pros: No awkward gluing together of words.

Cons: The temptation to force a keyword into your brand name can result in some pretty terrible brand names. See: NicelyDuzIt.

The don’t sweat it strategy.Here’s the thing: If your marketing strategy doesn’t depend heavily on organic search traffic, then just stick with finding a name that is unique and appealing, and don’t worry about the SEO implications. Right now there seems to be a blind rush to embrace SEO as a core marketing strategy. Unfortunately, this is often the case even for companies and products where an inbound marketing strategy makes no sense. If you serve a small, well-defined market where it is possible to easily find your customers, then put all your energy into that. If you have the resources and pocketbook of Procter & Gamble, and you can buy all the attention you want, then have at it, Mr Fancypants. An inbound strategy is great for when your customers want to find you and your business model doesn’t support or require a high touch sales model.

Pros: You don’t have to worry about SEO now.

Cons: You may have to worry about SEO later, in which case you have some painful choices to make.

So, as you have probably guessed already, there is no single answer to the SEO / brand debate, unless you count “it depends” as a single answer. The choice must be made in the context of overall brand strategy and business strategy. In the mean time, you can fill out our Are You Ready? qualification questionnaire to see if your company would be a good candidate to have Distility help you sort through these difficult brand strategy decisions.

If you have a bit more patience, stick around for the next post in this series, wherein I explore the deeper connections between brand and SEO.

Pete Kloppenburg

Director of Marketing