Search is evolving.
Google has announced that their machine-learning algorithm, RankBrain is now the third biggest factor in determining search results (behind site content and links).
Many people believe this machine-learning part of the algorithm will eventually become the #1 factor.
This means is it is going to get progressively harder to manipulate a bad result into ranking above a better result.
Search engines base their whole business model on delivering the best answers to what people are looking for, not just the page with the most keywords and exact-match anchor text.
A large part of delivering good search results has to do with figuring out the searcher’s intentions, and then delivering results that meet their expectations.
A lot of businesses that used to do well in search, but have since been surpassed, are going to hate the rest of this article. But if you’re one of those businesses, you really need to hear it.
The future of SEO efforts will have a lot to do with the strength of your brand.
Content Marketing As A Foundation Of Brand-Building
By now, you’ve heard me (and many other people) talk about content marketing. (Blogging, videos, podcasts, books, seminars, etc.)
Content refers to any sort of consumable information that educates customers about specific problems they may be facing. The other half of content marketing is filling that void by teaching them about solutions.
In the customer journey, they are the student, and you are the mentor. You are teaching the customer how to overcome whatever obstacle it is that they’re facing.
In other words, you are helping them become a better version of themselves.
Answer The Questions People Are Asking
So one thing you will notice in search results today is many of the tippy-top search results go to large, well-established brands.
So here’s where things get interesting.
Any type of search marketing — whether it’s on Google, Facebook or social networks, it’s really dependent on how people feel about your brand.
If you deliver stuff that answers people questions, and answers the intent of their search, you’ll rise in the search rankings. If you fail to make people a better version of themselves, you will eventually fall in search rankings.
Here’s a couple examples. If every page on your website is about sales or self-promotion, that usually won’t do much for the customer, and they will leave your site to find better results. However, if your site give customers a ton of information that will help them make better decisions about their problem, they will end up spending more time on your site, and have a more positive overall perception of your brand.
The next time that they need to find more information about a problem, what site will they go to? The one that only wants to give them a sales pitch? Or the one that gives them ample information to help them make the best decisions about their problem?
See, a funny thing happens when you actually commit to publishing all the information, insight, and expertise your company has about your industry.
Eventually, you end up outranking all the shallow, completely undifferentiated websites that offer the same services that you do.
Old School SEO Spam Is About To Die Forever
Sure, back in the day, you could keyword stuff the heck out of your web pages. You can build back links with perfectly optimized anchor text. You can even buy an exact match domain name for your target search phrase.
And I still see this work to a degree. But I’m starting to see this work less and less. And every day, it works a little bit less. Pretty soon, it won’t work at all.
Because people don’t look for a spammy page filled with keywords. They look for the companies and people they can trust to solve their problems.
That’s what building a brand is all about.
Being dependable. Having folks know what you do. And being a relentless market leader in educating customers around your area of expertise.
Optimizing for how the search engines used to work — without optimizing for answering people’s questions? Somewhere along the line, Web companies and business owners alike convinced themselves that this was the right answer.
Too bad it was the wrong question.
Being Helpful Builds Your Brand
When people search on Google they want answers. They want help. They want information. They aren’t looking for a site with only the bare minimum to offer.
Brochure sites that haven’t made the effort to establish a strong brand are soon going to fade into obsolescence when it comes to search results.
If your site is not helpful, it’s not going to continue to rank. Plain and simple.
Your Company Voice Matters
I had a prospect reach out to me the other day, looking for help with their search rank. The prospect told me how other web professionals had already advised them to publish more on their site. The owner had told these previous people to just “grab some words off the internet. They are all the same!”
Of course, not all words are the same. If they were all the same, then no one would have to worry about customers finding their website.
It’s not the words, it’s what you do with them that makes up your unique brand voice.
Without a distinct brand, you are nothing but a commodity.
There are thousands of other companies that sell what you sell. Figuring out what makes your company different is part of figuring what your brand is about.
An Analogy About Content
Think about music. There are only 12 notes in the Western chromatic scale. So presumably, it doesn’t matter what notes you use or how you assemble them, because they’re all same. They’ve all been used before, right?
Of course, that’s absurd. There’s an infinite number of ways you can use notes (or words) to tell a story.
We all have our own way of speaking. Our own way of thinking. Our own company processes and philosophies. It’s being able to define those differences, and then tell people about them that makes one brand different from another.
It’s a real tough challenge to create a brand when you never publish anything. Because no customer will ever be able distinguish what makes you different from anyone else without content on your site.
So here’s where it gets weird to me.
Almost every business owner I’ve ever talked to says they “don’t have time” to write. But almost to a person, they all have a wealth of knowledge. When you site down and talk to them, it’s obvious how deep their knowledge is about their industry.
Maybe this is just spit-balling, but if writing is difficult, why not just record a video? Or pick up your phone, record yourself talking, and turn that into your blog posts?
Pretty much every business owner I talk to has a ton of knowledge. But for whatever reason, it’s hard for them to get it out in a way that can be published on their site.
It crushes me to see people not share more of what they know. Because they have so much to offer.
Your words matter. Your opinions, your stance, your expertise, the way your customers feel — these are all the things that make up your brand.
When people come to your site, and they see the same old stuff that they see everywhere else — or if they see no information on your site, they just assume you are the same commodity service that they can find anywhere else.
Zero opinions, zero insight, zero customer education on your site means zero search rank.
There are tons of businesses that treat their website as nothing more than a contact form, and then wonder why they are getting slain in the arena of customer acquisition.
Brand Signals Separate You And Your Competitors
If your website sounds uncomfortable close to what I’ve been describing, I’ve got bad news.
The competition for what you are selling is deep. Even if it’s for a niche product.
If you’re in a competitive category, the more that you can make your voice heard, and the more that you can stand out from the crowd, the more visible your brand is going to be.
So why do I say that Google is looking at brand signals for SEO?
Well, they’ve said it themselves.
Brands Are The Solution
Brands are the solution, not the problem…brands are how you sort out the cesspool.
Eric Schmidt – Former CEO of Google
To be fair, brand signals aren’t just about how big your company is. Brand has a lot to do with how well-established and consistent you are.
Some factors that well-established brands may have that smaller, less-organized companies may not have:
- A website full of rich, informative content, that gets updated on a regular basis.
- Profiles and reviews on sites like Google+, Yelp, and Better Business Bureau.
- Memberships in local organizations like a Chamber of Commerce or other sites that provide a profile.
- Mentions in local press, blogs, magazines, and news.
- A large social media footprint, with active, verified accounts.
- A verified company Facebook page that responds to customers.
- A LinkedIn company page. Employees that have LinkedIn accounts would normally list themselves as working for your company.
- Strong brands tend to sponsor local or industry events.
- Brands get mentions on other industry websites.
- Brands occasionally do PR releases. Make sure what you announce is actually newsworthy before you do a PR announcement.
- A physical address and contact information listed on their website.
- The ultimate sign that you are a brand: people do Google searches for your information by your brand name.
You’ll notice a pattern here. Strong brands have some signals that are hard to fake or manipulate. If you’re not invested in your community — whether that’s your brand, industry, or local community — it’s likely that your company doesn’t have a strong brand.
We actually came up with a classifier to say, ok, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side.
Matt Cutts — Head of Web Spam At Google
Brochure websites have a hard time winning the battle, because they do very little to establish brand authority on a given subject.
But the things your company does in the physical world can go a long way to establishing your online brand authority.
Speaking at your local Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters, or Rotary help your brand, as these events are often posted on the corresponding websites. Going to trade shows, setting up a booth at the local fair, or teaching a local seminar create brand mentions on other websites. All these are mentions of your brand on the web, and eventually, they start adding up to create a larger picture of your company’s community footprint.
Google Isn’t Out To Get You
Why does Google make the bar so high for your company to rank against the bigger players in your space?
Always remember that Google survives by giving their users the best results possible. Google wants to make sure you’re not just manipulating rankings by being a spam artist. It’s nothing personal.
If you want to have the top results for a search, you just have to deliver the best results for a search.
Look, the opportunity is ripe for the pickings. But many businesses are still looking for the silver bullet that will rocket them to #1 without doing any work.
Lucky for you, that silver bullet doesn’t exist. If you put in the wok to establish a strong, legitimate brand, and you’re committed to long term improvement, you’ll get results.
Search Results Aren’t The Issue
Search results are never the real issue. The only issues that ever exist are getting more customers in the door, increasing revenue, or increasing profitability.
Brand signals aren’t a made-up illusion, meant to fool Google into giving you more customers. Brand signals are a real-world refection of how the market truly perceives your value. If you fix that, you’ll fix a lot of your SEO problems along the way.