Search engine optimization is commonly thought of as simply the services that get a website ranked highly on the top search engines.
Branding is commonly thought of as nothing more than the application of graphic design.
Neither definition is quite accurate. They are incomplete. SEO has become an entirely valid form of branding in its own right. The rules of marketing have changed greatly in the last decade; SEO is now much more than a matter of search engine position for your website. It’s a field of branding for your business.
At its inception, search engine optimization involved the careful lacing of keywords into articles and webpages. Many attempted to game the early search algorithms by “stuffing” keywords into their content. Unfortunately, this worked for quite some time before the technology improved.
The biggest improvement in search engine technology was the use of links to weigh the value of sites. While the content of a site is checked by algorithm for readability and subject matter, the introduction of backlink counting meant that search engines tracked how many sites were linking to a given page. They would then rank this page according to its perceived importance.
This too was gamed thoroughly by marketers looking to poach easy sales from online shoppers searching for quality products on the web.
The warring of search engine moguls against marketing hawks is a long and storied series of events that continues today. However, we are seeing a marked decrease in the effectiveness of more active, exploitative marketing tactics. Search engines seeking to improve the content they serve up are succeeding in restricting marketing tactics.
What is now used to determine the viability of a site for search engine rank isn’t just a matter of how well their webmaster has gamed the system. Search engines now take into account a comprehensive look at the site’s role on the web. The best thing you can do for your placement is have a diverse series of connections all over the web that shows your site is valuable to the people that care the most.
How you build this network of connections is very solidly a means of branding your site and business. This is why:
One of the key factors in search engine optimization has become social networking. Most backlinks hosted on social networks are “nofollow” links. These offer no direct benefit to a site’s search ranking. However, cultivating a healthy social media portfolio will encourage consumers to discuss your site and business on the web. While social media itself will not provide much algorithmic benefit, the conversation that will spring up around your site will.
How you market yourself to different audiences says a lot about your brand. Social media is a matter of who-knows-who extrapolated to the maximum possible degree. The groups and hashtags you introduce on your site will bring in very different kinds of people. Marketing to young adults means pursuing the groups most relevant to them. Pursuing more venerable citizens means looking into retirement-focused groups, and so on.
These associations in turn create impressions. If your site is commonly associated with a given audience you will begin to craft impressions in people at the edges of your sphere of influence. If they match the presented impression, they are more likely to join in.
Management of these associations directly mirrors the new values of the SEO industry. This is why:
The volume of backlinks pointing at your site is no longer the be-all, end-all of optimization statistics. Search engines now account for the quality of the links that point at different sites. A single link from a highly-respected site will count for more than thousands of links from no-name sites.
Pursuing links now mirrors the same standard you would want to use pursuing a professional recommendation or plug on a related site. Once again, search engine optimization techniques build your brand if you follow them with respect to future-proofing. Much like carefully selecting which social media communities you introduce your site to, carefully selecting what backlinks you pursue is a double-edged sword: both search engine algorithms and live humans will take notice.
These associations are growing much more valuable as a form of branding because people are flooded with so much more information than they used to be. There was a time when the brands used for traditional impression-based advertising were sufficient for keeping a healthy market and bringing in new customers. With so many people on the web receiving a constant bombardment of primarily-visual advertising, impressions-based advertising has become a numbers game that few can win. Without considering association alongside impression, it simply isn’t a game worth playing for a business trying to establish a new brand.
The decreasing value of impressions also means an emphasis on qualitative content rather than quantitative. This also correlates with the most recent changes in the SEO industry. This is why:
Customers are growing savvier, and are beginning to pay more attention to what is said – not less. And they are figuring out what to ignore.
Straight advertising language is losing its effectiveness as Generation X comes to the forefront of the marketplace. Studies are beginning to indicate that modern consumers know when they are being marketed to directly. The effectiveness of the hard sell is decreasing as consumers begin to reject material intended to market to them simply because that is the intent. This demands that companies attempting to brand themselves focus on content that will engage beyond offering a sales pitch.
Promoting engagement draws potential customers in and allows them to grasp a more thorough view of a company. The more attention customers pay, the more valuable engagement becomes to truly define where they perceive your company as standing. In other words, what you mean and how you say it is becoming just as important as what you say with your slogan and how you look with your logo.
Rather than focusing on snappy slogans, writers now need to focus on material that will give consumers something to chew on, think about and feel validated by. It’s a parallel to search engine optimization. One of the more pervasive new values to account for is ‘bounce rate’, or how long users stay on your page. Getting them to stay means engaging them while still pleasing them. This has meant that marketers on the web can no longer rely on keyword placement alone; the quality of their site material is what adds value and gets recognized.
This all means that a modern brand has to consist of more than a quality logo and a slogan. These do not engage users and hold their attention. As the value of raw impressions continues to drop the construction of a brand is only growing into a deeper task. The evolution of branding is a perfect parallel to the evolution of search engine optimization. As search engines grow more efficient in their consumer appeal they begin weighing information much more like consumers themselves. Keeping up with search engines is therefore an effective and comprehensive means of establishing a brand.
None of this is to say that the value of more traditional methods is decreasing. Graphic design is not devalued by the increasing value of search engine optimization techniques in establishing a brand. Indeed, graphic design is one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization, and the increased pervasiveness of visual media via the world wide web is in fact expanding the impact of quality graphic media. Consumers are paying more attention, and as search engines get better at indexing different kinds of images, they are paying more attention as well.
The changing landscape of the market instead means that graphic design can no longer be regarded as a silver bullet. It is now a component of a greater whole, and the industry with the best toolkit for encompassing this whole is SEO.
Establishing a brand has always been a comprehensive and painstaking process emphasizing graphic design and catching eyes. That has not changed and is not about to. What has changed is the pervasive influence of the world wide web and the way consumers now consume those graphics and eyecatches. With so many people under a constant barrage of information the only way to truly establish yourself is to carve some notability out of the barrage.
It should be noted as well that the web will operate with or without the influence of a business. The effect of this is that businesses that do not brand themselves comprehensively and take the web into account will allow the web to establish their brand for them passively and reflexively. Every detail a business does not project about itself deliberately will now be inferred passively. The importance of this reality can’t be overstated.
Businesses looking to establish their brand are now best served by following search engine optimization principles because these best mirror the comprehensive process that now must be taken to thoroughly establish a brand. Because both consumers and search engines seem to be progressing in the same direction, keeping on top of search engine optimization and wedding optimization to your brand will likely continue to be the best and most viable option for maintaining a comprehensive look.
In other words, leveraging the principles of quality search engine optimization into your brand-establishing tasks is both the easiest and best route to success, both currently and in the foreseeable future.