‘Searching for Yourself: Branding + SEO’ with Alison K Consulting was recorded at our SEO Brunch (February 2021).
Alison Knott specializes in rebranding small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Is your business maturing, but the brand stuck in adolescence? Alison K Consulting combines 15 years of marketing web and design experience to help you glow up and propel into the next level of success.
So, let’s talk a little bit about searching for yourself.
What’s going on when it comes to that linkage between SEO and branding? It might not be such an obvious thing. We get this sense, and it is, to some extent, true with SEO. There’s not a heck of a lot that you can do. A lot of branding happens offline. People begin to recognize your brand, and that pulls into the questions they’re asking.
But I want to touch on some tips and trips, tricks, maybe some trips, too if you get really deep and start thinking about it.
What can we do from a branding perspective? And what does it mean in the larger scheme of things?
So, I want to talk about what it’s like searching for yourself and what that means for others.
What do I mean by branding?
When I’m talking about branding, I’m not talking about your logo and your colour palette in your messaging. That is part of it. But branding is so much more than that. One of my favourite authors and speakers, Seth Godin, puts it really well. He says, “every interaction, in any form, is branding.”
If you keep that in mind, as you start to understand the linkage between branding and SEO, this becomes easier to work with. Because what your brand says and who you interact with within a community will link right back into SEO.
So thinking about that, where can we start? Well, one way to begin is with is a quick brand audit. In other words, making sure that you own the story and the messaging you’re currently trying to put out.
Quick Brand Audit: Own Your Story!
- Search your company name incognito
You’ll want to search your company or nonprofit name in an incognito or private tab to see what you look like when you show up in those results.
- Is your own site toward the top?
What you want to hope for is finding your site near the top. If it is, you’re already halfway there. If it’s not, then there’s some work to be done, right? When it comes to your brand’s name, you want to make sure that you own what’s happening in those results to the best of your ability.
- Don’t forget image and video search.
Be sure to check image and video search, not just the main SERP, if that’s of value to you. Perhaps you are a video production company or do a lot of work through Pinterest or recipes or photography. Don’t forget to have a little look around! They’re a little harder to control, but you want to make sure your name comes up in a way that makes sense.
- Review your Google My Business content
Of course, make sure you review your Google My Business content. I don’t know what we’re going to do when/if Google decides to start charging because currently, it is the best way to carve up the right-hand side of those search results for free.
So, you want to make sure you’re reviewing your Google My Business content. And if it’s up there, but you don’t ever remember making your Google My Business? Bloody well claim it. It’s getting harder for folks to claim businesses that aren’t their own, but if you see your business showing up in Google My Business, then go ahead and claim it. Start owning that story because it is primo real estate.
- Is the information online accurate? On your site and others? Contact sites linking to an old brand or outdated content.
Is the information you control accurate? If not, make sure the information in your site results is up-to-date, and you’re still telling the proper story.
Next, check out other websites to see if their information is accurate, too. Perhaps you no longer offer a product, and they don’t realize it. In my case, when it comes to rebranding small businesses and nonprofits, once we do the rebrand, post-launch, we make sure to reach out to websites with old information and say, ‘Hey, is it okay if you just update? We used to be called Acme Co., and now we’re Bananas Incorporated. Could you go through your content for us, please, and thank you?” Do that to the best of your ability.
Now, if there was bad PR linked to your site, that’s a more delicate issue. Still, I would recommend speaking with someone in the PR world to see if you can spin up new content that more accurately reflects the culture and the messaging of your community and business today.
Quick Brand Audit Example: Alison K Consulting:
So, a search for Alison K Consulting turns up my website at the top of the page, which is fantastic. Google is forever noodling around with what it wants to show. And now it’s showing my about and rebrand consulting pages, which is excellent.
I’ve done a lot of work on that rebranding consulting page, SEO-wise because it’s a service I want to promote. I was known for years as the WordPress guru, which is fine. But these days, I focus on rebranding and all the components that come with that. So that’s working out in my favour.
Alison K Consulting also pops up in search results for Digital Nova Scotia, the Better Business Bureau, and the Center for Women in Business directory. I’m no longer a paying member of BBB, so I wouldn’t be able to update any information there. But certainly, with Digital Nova Scotia and CWB, I can submit updates. And it looks like I’m going to have to do that for DNS.
You never know what will show up in a search, so it’s great to make sure any listings you are a part of are telling your brand story.
Finally, Alison K shows up in results for three sites I neither own nor asked for inclusion on, but they have written about me. The first is Amplify East, a wonderful initiative that profiles entrepreneurs and owners across Nova Scotia who identify as women. And so that piece came up in the search. I’m happy about it because I believe it elevates my brand. And I’m a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to women’s roles in work, entrepreneurship, and business ownership.
The final two results are posts that stem from counterparts of mine. Originally, these were attributed to Eraserheader Design. Despite rebranding in September of 2019 to Alison K Consulting, these results still came up as Eraserheader, so I emailed to thank them for showing me on their site. I let them know about the rebrand and asked if they could change the URL link to my new web address and update my company name. And they did, which is great.
Finally, I know I keep harping about it. But damn, if it isn’t important. Own your Google My Business and fill that thing. Stuff it with all the value you can.
In my case, I made sure to include pictures, which I update. I made sure I got reviews, too.
You can get reviews by asking people who’ve left feedback on other platforms like LinkedIn or Yelp. Just copy and paste that review into an email, email them and let them know you’re doing some work on your Google My Business. Ask if they wouldn’t mind placing their review on your site.
I even made a Google My Business post, which many don’t bother doing. But by taking advantage of that, too, I’m carving up more digital real estate. Maybe some folks searching for me didn’t realize I do speaking events? So, this adds to my brand story. You want to make sure you do everything humanly possible on Google My Business to reap that benefit fully.
Google Search Console: Reality Check
Next up? Google Search Console. And this is where reality can really sink in.
Here we get to see what comes up in the SERP when our company name gets searched. And we can compare that with the results for queries when our name is unknown but focused on the products we sell, services we offer, changes we want to make in the world.
First, you want to do a search and query for your brand name.
Now, results will likely depend on seasonality, the lifecycle of your website, and how much data you have on Google Search Console.
Are things jiving? Are your results balanced? How much traffic is branded traffic, and how much is not? Often, when I do rebranding work for clients, we find things either heavily skewed toward searcher intent focused less on branding than solving a problem via the product or service you offer or in entirely the other direction where it’s all about the brand.
The latter is great if you’ve built a large social media audience, if you’re an influencer, or if you’re well known for who you are. But don’t you also want some of that traffic from people seeking your expertise, learning about your brand, and becoming dedicated customers during their journey? Absolutely.
This exercise can be an eye-opener in that sense.
For example, in my case, I knew that I was still getting searches back from Eraserheader Design. And I wanted to open up a little bit to Alison to highlight something in particular. So, I filtered my queries to include anything containing the word Alison.
Now, I give Google Analytics talks and training. As it turns out, there is a UK company called Alison, sort of a Lynda.com. For quite a while, I got all kinds of queries showing up for Alison in Google Analytics. And I got all excited, only to realize that’s not actually for me. So, this can be a great way to quickly understand how your company name exists in the world of branded search.
And then, on the flip side, you want to go ahead and make sure you’re checking out your non-branded queries to see if there’s an area of improvement you want to work on if your goal is to elevate your brand.
Suppose you see a lot of return on one of your key products or services; you might want to reevaluate your titles and meta descriptions. Perhaps you need to include the name of your company? Maybe that page has nothing more than a tiny logo at the top identifying who you are. Maybe a lot of your traffic comes through blog posts from people trying to solve a particular problem and less concerned with who is doing the solving.
You’ll want to use this information from Google Search Console to assess how you might quickly introduce your brand, so people distinguish you from other insights.
Questions to ask about these Google Analytics results:
- How do you feel about them?
- How are you doing? Does it feel okay? Is this what you were expecting? Are you full of glee? Are you disappointed?
- What does this tell you about search intent*?
*When I talk about search intent or searcher intent, it’s with the understanding that SEO isn’t just about keywords, but what people are trying to do, what action they are trying to take, what kind of job needs doing.
- Do you see things like your brand name and returns? Does that mean those familiar with your brand are mainly customers looking to return a purchase? Or speak to your customer service?
- What pages receive this organic traffic—why?
- You can switch how you view Google Search Console to be more about pages, which allows for insights about which pages are getting traffic, which aren’t, and how you might rework page content so searchers land where you want.
- What countries—why?
- Like my experience with Alison, in the UK, check your countries. While I was crestfallen to find out that Alison.com was a teaching platform and searchers weren’t looking for me at all, it was also traffic I needn’t be concerned with.
- Consider seasonality.
- When you’re looking at long-haul information, be aware you may have seasonal traffic. Maybe you do business more in the spring and the fall. Perhaps a new movie came out with a similar name, and that threw Google Trends for a loop.
Keep these things in mind, but remember, it’s a quick look to help you understand not only what you hope to be saying but how much Google understands from an organic search intent.
One note about this data: there is this weird, unexplained drop that begs the question, what the hell happened? Because this is Seo Brunch, I want to talk about it.
That was intentional. Back in 2016, I wrote two blog posts about Toastmasters. Now, it’s a wonderful organization. Totally join it if it’s for you, but I’m no longer a Toastmaster.
But didn’t those two damn posts run much of my traffic forever?
I tried every which way to get people into my funnel, onto my newsletter list, or even just move off those pages. But it wasn’t working.
So, in case you’ve got a couple of blog posts that have nothing to do with your business today, and they still get traffic, and you don’t know what to do…
Start with due diligence, auditing how you might improve those results, but learn from me! I’m still here. I didn’t catch on fire. The website is still standing. But in particular, when it came to Toastmasters, it did drop. On purpose. I sloppily, and very sadly, put those two blog posts on a peer, lit it on fire and pushed it out to sea.
On-Page Branding: Better UI/UX
I know; I started off talking about how logo and colour don’t really matter. Obviously, it does. But sometimes we get really anal about that.
But I do want to talk a little bit about one aspect of your website’s design from a branding perspective that will make for better UI/UX.
When it comes to SEO, we know not only do you have to get folks to your site, but we want them to stay. We don’t want people coming and leaving, less your Google search ranking suffers. One reason people come then leave is not knowing what to do once they get the information they need. Another thing to think about is passing the authority of pages or posts that are doing well. You want to pass that authority on to other pages by linking out to them.
But, back to my first point. Something I commonly see with branding is people get really stuck on their brand colours. Often to the point where the interface and experience both suffer. In the case of my website, my brand colours are white and cyan blue. But, I make it crystal clear that if you want to click something or if I really want you to read it, I make it a hyperactive pink. And that’s really important.
So, if you have a logo or a brand colour scheme, perhaps you’re an eco-friendly company, and all of your colours are very soft and subdued, very calm. That is excellent. I would still encourage you to make links, buttons, and form pieces; anywhere you directly ask folks to communicate and engage, brighter. Amp up that contrast!
There’s a great website called webaim.org that has a contrast checker. You can post in your background and link colours, and it’ll tell you if that contrast meets accessibility standards. And doing so is not just for people with specific accessibility needs; I have a hard time with contrast, too. It’s probably why I made my brand so friggin bright.
Just make sure you consider that while your brand and what your designers created is excellent from a printed material or feelings standpoint, your website is supposed to be an interactive toolset for your business. So make sure those elements are clickable.
A neat bonus tip about webaim.org: you can take your brand colours’ hex value and plop them into the contract checker. It has a little slider that scales the colour lighter or darker. And sometimes, just changing the shade value just slightly makes legibility stronger (and it shouldn’t anger your designer). So, check that out and let’s make the web easier to read. That’s the bloody job of the thing.
Backlinks = Authority = Community
The last thing I want to talk about is how backlinks equal authority equals community. So we’re going back to that whole Seth Godin piece about every interaction is a brand moment. We understand in SEO that backlinks are critical. You need other websites to vouch that what you’re talking about is true. Without that, no matter how well you optimize your content, you may never meet the needs of websites that have more authority due to other sites saying, ‘Yes, they are the best, and you want to go and shop with them.’
So what can we do when thinking about branding and backlinks and authority from that perspective?
- Keep your listings up to date
- wherever you can herald your content, make sure you do so.
- Be a guest on podcasts.
- If you are an expert in your field or feel strongly about the movement you’re trying to bring to the world, try to be a guest on podcasts. A lot is happening in that space, and there is a lot of opportunities for backlinks.
- There’s a vast difference between someone reading about what you think is important and hearing you say it in your own voice. You may have seen some of my content before, but when you hear me, you’ll never read me again and not hear my weird, nasally voice. More importantly, you’ll hear the energy I bring. A podcast is a fantastic way to build your backlinks and give people who don’t already know you an introduction, so they want to learn more.
- Contribute to articles. Try HARO!
- Not all of the content you create has to be yours! You can be incredibly helpful to reporters and writers trying to meet deadlines. HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, is a free service you sign up for online. Three times a day, you get emailed a list of articles that need expert content. Read through the descriptions and reply to the reporter through an embedded link.
- Be open to other media opportunities, too. There was an article about me in the Chronicle Herald recently because I helped a reporter out with a simple question that morphed into an entire piece.
- Contributing to articles is a great way to get backlinks to your website but try to have that agreement in place, so it’s clear you’re going to benefit from backlinks for your efforts.
- Roll up your sleeves for some wholesome backlink campaigning.
- There’s nothing wrong with a backlink campaign. First, you’ll need to figure out what content you want other sites to link to. Next, do some sleuthing to determine who’s resources are out of date or might be interested in your content. Finally, reach out! Don’t use a script; make sure you write an authentic note and make sure that you’re offering return value.
- And, when you get backlink requests, pay attention! There might be some gold tucked in there. What they’re offering might be something that’s going to make you look like you really know your stuff.
- Use SparkToro to find like-minded audiences.
- If you have not heard about SparkToro, I am in mega-love. I have the biggest fan crush on this platform. SparkToro is incredibly useful for finding like-minded audiences. In a rebrand situation, especially, you may find you need to kind of pivot the audience you’re engaging. And no one wants to try to grow an audience from scratch when you don’t have to. With SparkToro, you can research a topic, and it will give you the related hashtags people use, top social media accounts they follow, top podcasts they listen to, and top websites they visit. It’s pretty incredible. And it’s got a free version that allows ten searches a month. The only sticky bit is it won’t show you all the results. And you can’t export what you’re looking at, but you can screenshot it instead.
- It’s a great way to understand the audience that other folks have. And you can follow that audience, start a conversation with them, and begin the introduction to the name, nature, and messaging of your brand.
And that’s that, my darlings. Thank you so much for your time! I do want to let you know that I’m beginning a series of mini-SEO workshops. I’m not sure when the next one will be, but sign up for the waitlist at mini-workshops if you’re interested. Or join me on LinkedIn. Otherwise, I will see you out in the Twitter-verse.
- What’s the best time to rebrand? I mean, I haven’t helped people rebrand, but is it someone who looks up their name? And they’re like, oh, like, yeah, like Damn, there’s an Alison Analytics. I don’t want to compete with that, or is it just one day they want to be cooler?
The biggest one would be the old joke: don’t change your logo until your accountant tells you to (because something’s not working). But rebranding, in my sphere, it’s mostly about pivoting, scaling up or scaling down. Most of my clientele comes from folks with a personal brand who want to scale up to be an agency or someone who was kind of unknown, like, in my case, “Eraserheader Design”. What the hell is that? “Alison K Consulting” makes a lot more sense. I actually became a consultant and not another graphic designer, right?
So I would say you would do it when you find your audience, your buyers, your community, your customer base is shifting, but you feel like your online messaging is not speaking to the right crowd. Either this is holding you back, or you think there’s a new untapped market, and you can’t get your little woodpecker nose in there until you do some work. Great question!
2. When you do a rebranding, do you run comparison reports of old branded traffic? Old name versus new so that people can see when the change happens?
Answer: Yeah, I do. I mean, part of it is just catching those errant redirects you didn’t pick up, right? So when you’re doing a rebrand, that’s probably the more significant part. When I do rebrand work, there’s usually a website component. And people are like, I’m excited for the logo and the name. And I’m like, I’m excited for redirecting 695 pages.
Regardless of the before and after, if you’re doing it from a rebranding perspective, there’s a shift. So there’s going to be pages that disappear and pages that come up. And that’s an interesting one. I would say the real meat and potatoes comes out almost three to six months later. But I think anytime you do anything large on your website, especially if going from HTTP to HTTPS, make sure you’re pulling up two versions. And you are capturing all of the in-between. So absolutely my goal, in any big rollout of a website, it helps just to stop and be like, the old me is done, and keep that data. And then make sure you’re parsing it here. Because there could be some wins, some losses, and we don’t want any shoes to drop, in that sense.