Brand is so, so important. Having a website and a product, a Facebook page and the Yoast SEO plugin on your WordPress won’t deliver you to the top of Google SERPs on its own.
All those things will help, of course, but if you want to create leads, convert hits and be at the top of your industry in both SERPs and effective sales, you need more than that.
It’s well known in the digital marketing world, and those of us that have followed Google’s algorithmic movements over the past 20 years, that the search monolith has always – always – favoured brands. If they do something wrong, Google punishes them – and then returns them to the top of the SERP soon after.
They’ll get fantastic rankings off just a percentage of backlinks that a smaller company may have managed to build.
On the flip side, small brands struggle. You may be able to, with immense effort, get near the top, but Google will never favour you. Get loads of backlinks and it might help. Get penalised and you’ll never get back to the top.
This unequal tipping point is not changing for the better: it’s increasing. Google has always insisted it is for ‘the user’, but when you’re on the other side of the coin, Google is equally for ‘the big brand’.
But why is this, and what does it mean for your small- to medium-sized business with a storefront webpage?
1. Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are constantly changing – to dramatic effect
We all know that Google changes their algorithms constantly, and we’re all very good at keeping on top of it, right?
But it’s not just algorithms that play a major part in your rankings. SERP changes have a major effect on user preference. That is, how a user of Google interacts with what appears in their search. Think Featured Snippets like the screenshot below.
These have by going up and up in number for a fair amount of time, but recently Moz Blog saw snippet appearances plummet in number over just a few days.
Add to this the Knowledge Graph, seen below, and you have your answer as to what Google’s doing: they’re answering user queries without needing click throughs.
Now, this movement has been occurring for a long while, and we knew about it when brands started suing the search monolith years back for not giving proper credit when displaying definitions, but things are different now.
Another Moz Blog study showed a 60% click through rate from SERPs last year. That’s expect to drop.
That means that 4 out of 10 searches aren’t resulting in a click through to another website. Which is really scary if you’re a business dependent on organic reach.
2. Brand recognition is absolutely critical to getting clicks
Think about your latest Google search. Or – because we probably can’t even remember what we last searched for, right? – go to Google and type in anything you want.
What comes up? A variety of results, many of which are probably fairly similar. But what one do you click?
The brand that you know.
That is how important trust is to the standard consumer. We see the importance of trust through surveys showing that people pay attention to online reviews before deciding on a product. We see it in listening to a friend’s recommendation for where to eat.
Having a brand that people recognise is not just helpful – it’s critical. We spend so much time worrying about our Google SERP ranking that we forget to pay attention to what is, potentially, more important: our brand. Do people know us? Do people trust us? Will people choose our product over a higher-ranked competitor who they’ve never heard of. Or worse, vice versa?!
A helpful tip to improving brand awareness lies in social media marketing. Pay Facebook just a little bit to get your brand in front of thousands of fresh eyes. It helps, even subconsciously, build a bit more brand recognition, which as we look at below has massive implications. Because…
3. SERP Click Through Rate (CTR) is starting to mean more than actual rankings
There is a lot to be said for turning up high in Google rankings. That’s why we do what we do, right? But what is becoming clear is that showing up at the bottom of the SERP and getting more clicks than the top result is not only good business – it’s becoming common.
So baring that in mind, work on what we’ve talked about above. Build your brand. Get your name in front of as many people as possible. And focus on having a company that people in the market for your product learn to trust.
So what does all this mean? Well, you need to focus on brand. For years now Google has given preferential treatment – sometimes alarmingly so – to big brands. Some SEO professionals argue this is due to user trust and the improved user experience on wealthier, better designed websites. Others say Google is unfairly downlisting smaller companies, leaving the poor to struggle whilst the rich feast on easily garnered clicks.
And as those increase, the gap widens and brands get more (and less) recognised.
To improve your CTR, your SERP results, and your overall marketing as we look to 2019, start thinking like Google does: brand matters, and the bigger yours is the better off you’ll be. Build trust, gain followers, get known.