Why Startups and Small Businesses Should Adopt a Search-Centric Branding Strategy

  • May 24th, 2011
  • Scott Cowley

Why Startups and Small Businesses Should Adopt a Search-Centric Branding StrategyGeorge Wright, former marketing director of Blendtec (the “Will it Blend?” campaign masterminds), tells the story of when he first came to the company. One of the first things he did as the new marketing head was gather all of the print advertising, brochures, promotional products, newsletters, and anything else that was official branded material and spread it out on the floor.

What he found is typical of many small businesses and startups. All of the material looked different — in look, feel, style, color, typography — as if it belonged to 20 different companies. Naturally, he went to work bringing cohesion to the marketing by creating a company style guide, etc.

This is just one example of the many branding problems small businesses encounter. One approach that can help small businesses define the brand, and their place in the market, is to tackle the question of positioning in a search-centric way.

“Search-centric” suggests that regardless of the industry you’re in, you should learn to define yourself in terms of keywords that people can remember, relate to, and may enter into search queries. Not only should you hope to get some unsolicited inbound leads for your business, you should expect it in the digital, algorithm-driven age we live in (if you’re doing it right).

Every company website has a home page and every home page has a title tag, where the company name should go, along with the appropriate branding keywords. Your home page title is going to show up in search results, so what you do and what you offer should be apparent (within the 65-or-so character cutoff).

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Follow these guidelines to maximize your effectiveness:

Be Consistent With Search Trends In Your Industry

How do you find out what people are searching for? Tools like Google Adwords Keyword Tool can show you how search volumes of keywords on a monthly basis. Google Insights can show you trends over time so you can tell whether keywords are increasing in usage frequency or the opposite.

For example, if you’re an e-mail services provider, you may be trying to determine whether to say “email marketing” or “email advertising.” Using Google’s tools, it’s easy to tell that “email marketing” is used much more frequently while the usage of “email advertising” has been on the decline.

Forget Taglines and Slogans

Your site and particularly your home page should speak to what you do. You’re not trying to win awards for creative copy.

MckinleyWoods is a consulting company that says “Helping companies grow through strategic innovation” on their home page and in their title tag.

Branding with taglines and mission statements isn’t always a bad thing, but in many respects, those things take more prominence after the core product or service is well-established in the minds of your customers, which takes time.

Nobody goes to Google searching for “strategic innovation companies.” No, seriously. I just checked the data and nobody searches for it.

If you’re McDonald’s, you don’t have to tell people what you do because you’re huge, and most humans are going to learn about McDonald’s before they’re even old enough to use a computer. Even a company as big as Microsoft makes it plain on their website and in their title tag what they do as a means of brand education.

In truth, branding is just as much about communicating exactly which boring products and services you offer as it is about creative taglines and product differentiation.

Make Your Company ‘Relatable’

A lot of new startups will maintain either that their product or service is truly revolutionary and unique or that there’s no commonly accepted terminology for what they offer. This may be entirely true, but it doesn’t excuse companies from finding effective ways of branding themselves. You have to make yourself relatable so you can bring people up to speed quickly before you take time to differentiate yourself.

Just a couple of days ago, I had completely forgotten the name of a location-based app startup I had heard about at SxSW and wanted to learn more about. In most cases, this would be a lost cause, but then I remembered that they were pitched as a cross between Foursquare and Quora.

A quick search of “foursquare meets quora” and LocalMind popped right up. Of course, LocalMind doesn’t use this language on its website and realistically, many marketers would be resistant to the idea of referencing other businesses (or even competitors in the next example) when branding themselves.

I managed to find them because other tech journalists decided that “Foursquare Meets Quora” was a better way of introducing the company to readers than by using LocalMind’s own branding statement: “Know What’s Happening. Now.” You may want to rely on journalists and press releases to do this kind of “relatable” branding for you if you’re not willing to do it on your own site.

Another perfect example is the ZAGGsafe extended warranty alternative we just began offering for Apple gadgets. The marketers have already come up with the perfect tagline: “Your warranty doesn’t cover this.”

Points for creativity.

The search-centric approach to branding this new service should really be to draw upon what people are already familiar with. People would relate better to the service if they know it’s “better than AppleCare” or a “SquareTrade alternative” because people do search for those things and they’ll be able to find you even if they can’t remember your company name.

There are, of course, historical instances where a search-centric approach to branding wouldn’t have worked out so well, but those are usually the exception. Even the Hula Hoop was marketed as an “exercise ring” initially.

A few other suggestions that you can benefit from:

If your desire is to serve local clientele, make sure you use city and state words on your website.

If you’re in a commodity or crowded market, use more descriptors – “for small businesses, good, best, green, red, creative, cheap, fast, etc.” Peoples’ search queries are getting longer and more descriptive in these areas, so your business branding needs to adapt to stand out.

Why Startups and Small Businesses Should Adopt a Search-Centric Branding Strategy

Scott Cowley, Internet Marketer for Zagg

About the Author
Scott Cowley heads up search engine optimization at Zagg. He is a frequent speaker on SEO and social media. He also covers search, social and acedemic marketing on his blog, Scottergories.

About the Author

  • Scott Cowley

Comments

  1. While I appreciate the concept of making sure that you are simply expressing your business in ways that align with consumer search queries (read: thought patterns), I think this needs to carry a step further. Simplify your messaging, but still clearly define who and what you are through marketing materials, packaging/site design, and yes, logos and slogans. What George Wright did is what all marketers and small businesses must do and that is to ensure that all touch points clearly communicate the core message in a cohesive manner. Brands are built by the experience a business provides and the way the business frames that experience for the consumer.

    • I appreciate the thought James and I think we’re on the same page. For the purposes of inbound lead generation, the website branding should be search-centric. For the purposes of branding the customer experience – it really exists outside the realm of messaging. Look at a company like Zappos, notorious for delivering a highly “branded experience” and yet the website is about as traditional as an ecommerce site can get and doesn’t leave any room for confusion about what they sell. Just because Tony Hsieh writes a book called “Delivering Happiness” doesn’t mean he has to pitch the company that way. Thanks!

  2. Fair point. Thanks for the article Scott.