Google has had an active summer, much to the chagrin of many, from a high-profile Penguin update to changes to its link scheme guidelines. But, as Eric Enge pointed out in an article about Google's quality control process, the search giant doesn't really care whether it ranks your site accurately. Google is interested in increasing overall search quality, not in small, individual cases. The best way to stay ahead of changes – which will continue – is to meet their demands for value and diversity.
In the wake of the latest round of algorithm updates, some trends appear to be emerging. One, relevant to businesses large and small, is that the websites of companies with a comprehensive branding strategy have been least affected by the changes. This confirms the advice that reputable marketing companies have been giving for years: shortcuts and schemes don't work (at least not for long). Good search marketing requires time, effort and a multi-faceted approach, and branding is emerging as an important piece of more holistic search marketing efforts.
Branding is a frequently cited marketing buzzword, in many cases incorrectly. It is often used interchangeably to refer to things like advertising or logo design, each of which are just pieces of a brand. The process of branding itself is far more comprehensive. Your brand is the sum of everything your firm does. It is your voice in both on and offline communications, a promise of quality and consistency that you offer potential clients. Through various outlets, your firm creates an expectation of a certain experience, and when your client service matches that expectation, your brand has a very high value. The story you tell your clients, through things like advertising and design, must match their reality when they begin working with your firm.
How does this help with SEO?
Brands existed before the Internet. Think about what you would have done to market your firm before everyone got excited about online advertising. You would probably run ads, maybe on television and radio, as well as in the Yellow Pages. You might send press releases to local papers and do interviews with local reporters, or get your name in the news by sponsoring events. And you would rely on word-of-mouth marketing by offering value to your clients.
This translates to online activity as well. Google is looking for authenticity in your overall web presence, which is a huge part of building a brand. Expectation must meet reality. Google wants to see sites that educate, engage and show leadership within an industry – and they want to see others confirming the usefulness of these sites. Cheesy link strategies and keyword stuffing do not reflect brand value, and they will not win any points with Google. Here are some brand-building strategies that will be looked upon much more favorably:
Be present in multiple arenas: You wouldn't sink all of your marketing dollars into hiring someone to stand on a corner and shout, “Get a Des Moines family law attorney! Do you need a Des Moines divorce lawyer or Polk County mediation services?” So don't do it online either. Branch out. If your firm presents seminars, make sure your deck is available on SlideShare. Write press releases about real news and offer meaningful commentary. Answer questions with podcasts or video. Frequently update your site or blog with educational content. All of this reinforces your firm's brand and your ranking.
Do real company stuff: Doing real company stuff requires thought. Before taking an action, you must analyze whether your idea is a true reflection of your brand and whether it adds anything of value to the dialogue. Pre-online branding campaigns were often more thoughtful from just a cost perspective alone – print marketing is expensive. Somehow, though, firms have moved online and expect to get the same results, only cheap and fast. But Google has caught on. They are rewarding content that others think is worthy of linking to and sharing, and activity that actually engages other users. If you do real things, like writing relevant articles and providing good customer service, you will likely get positive feedback, good reviews on Google+ Local or Yelp, and a bump in your search rankings.
Share, share, share: This can be difficult for attorneys who, understandably, do not want to give away free advice. But online, sharing is a necessity. This includes posting items on social networks as well as showcasing your expertise. Outside of social media, having targeted FAQs is an excellent way to share. Anticipate what people are searching for by pulling from your own experience. Clients are full of questions. You can also do some sample searches starting with open ended “how” or “what” queries and see what Google suggests. Answer those questions, and you will receive high value leads from people looking for specific advice or help.
Smart companies have built their brands on anticipating consumer needs and offering solutions. They have focused on telling a consistent story through marketing and action. Having a strong brand is now proving to be helpful for search marketing as well. You do not have to be a big, national brand to incorporate these same ideas into your own search marketing.