The Importance in Balancing SEO and Branding Terms on Your Site

Dana  Larson

January 15, 2014

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Keeping up with the changes that search engines such as Google make to their search algorithms is no easy feat, but one tip you can run with is the importance of using natural language in your web content.

Pros and Cons of Branding Word Play

Brand strategists are great at defining guidelines for the look, tone, and voice of a brand. Often brand strategists will use words and phrases that hype up the products, solutions, and the organization. However, in doing so, these brand strategists sometimes avoid the most obvious ways to describe a product in an effort to differentiate it from competitors. For example, if every company in an industry is selling "cement" then one company might choose to differentiate itself as a "provider of robust building materials." Brand strategists will also change the description of an organization and its products to heighten the perceived value of a product and make it seem valuable to a broader set of audiences. For example, in an effort to make a specific bank stand out as superior, a brand strategist might describe the bank's loan products as "highly competitive personal financing solutions."

There are positive and negative examples of this sort of word play in the marketing world. A cynic can imagine the carnival barker screaming, "Step right up! See the most mysterious mystical sites to be seen. You'll be amazed. In this tent is the eighth wonder of the world. Don't dare to miss this!" The strategy is understandable. If the carnival barker said, "Come see a bearded woman with a lot of tattoos and a tiny man wearing a dress," the show would be appealing to a much smaller audience. There are examples of this type of showmanship all over the web.

Attempts To Differentiate May Be Too Alienating

There are two significant problems with hyping a brand in this way in the online world. First, for companies that do not describe the products and organization in the same vocabulary as the customer, SEO targeting becomes very difficult. Second, when prospective customers do get to the website, they may actually be confused as to what the company does, thereby driving abandonment up and driving actual conversion down.

Search phrase data from organizations like Google shows that prospects and customers don't typically look for products and services using the type of vocabulary that brand strategists use. In fact, the data suggests that prospective customers start with the most common phrases (typically devoid of marketing hype words).

Finding the Middle Ground

So what is a brand strategist to do? Should brand marketers stop using phrases like "ultimate driving machine" because their prospects are Googling "sports cars"?

From a brand perspective, there needs to be a middle ground. Content strategists can push brand strategists to come to a happy compromise, including the vocabulary used by the prospective customers as well as the marketing hype. Make sure the audience knows that you are speaking their language while building value.

From an SEO perspective it can be argued in either direction. Search engines like Google put a lot of weight (and scoring) in the text surrounding referring links. Sites like don't mention the phrase "credit card" with a significant key phrase density but they rank very well in search results for that competitive phrase. That's because external sites such as media sites, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. that all link to describe it as a site with information about credit cards. This allows to use just about any language on its site and still rank very well for important phrases. Sure, this is not common, but if you happen to have this luxury and you have a good handle on the text that external sites use to describe your site, go ahead and speak more liberally.

Lastly, it's important to remember that search engines typically favor exact matches. If you refuse to use common phrases to describe your products and services, you are likely missing opportunities in search.