Which probably leaves you thinking: “I don’t stand a chance.”
But because you run a small site doesn’t mean that you deserve to be bullied by your branded competitors. I have helped my small business clients build strong online brands. Although we are small, we lay the beat down on Fortune 500 companies in Google.
And you can to.
You just need to know: a) what brand signals Google uses and b) how to get them.
How to Look Like a Big Brand
Obviously, the best way to build brand signals is to actually build a brand.
Building a brand can take years.
And if you’re going toe-to-toe with companies with a massive offline presence, your dinky brand signals won’t be enough.
That’s why it’s important to proactively build brand signals.
When you do you’ll be rewarded with more traffic, more trust and a nifty shield against future updates.
Step #1: Get a Branded Social Media Presence
Social media is a huge brand signal. Google uses social media to gauge the size of your user base and overall popularity.
Social Media Followers
Almost all big brands have a lot of followers.
Even boring brands. Walgreens has over 2 million Facebook likes (!):
At a bare minimum you should have a full-functional account set-up at Twitter, Google +, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
But a lonely account with zero followers isn’t going to get Google’s pulse racing. You need to do whatever it takes to acquire thousands of fans, followers and likes. That’s what makes you look like a brand.
Social Media Activity
Followers is step one.
But engaging on these social media sites is another important brand signal. Brands large and small have conversations with their community:
There are two ways to leverage LinkedIn for brand exposure:
1. A business profile: shows that you’re a legit business and not a one-man show (you need to have at least 10 connections to your personal profile to build a business profile on LinkedIn).
2. Employees: If you’re a brand it makes sense you’d have at a few employees. LinkedIn profiles that show people working for your business is a fantastic way to showcase your site as a legit business:
Step #2: Build Search-Based Brand Signals
It’s something you probably already know but never thought much about: people search for brands.
In fact, people love to type brand names into Google:
And, according to this cool chart from SEOBook, Google is very adept at determining brand keywords. How? Based on the percentage of people that click on the top result:
Most searches have clicks all across the board. But brands have a much higher percentage of clicks on the #1 and #2 results.
Searching For Your Brand
There are some easy ways to get more people to search for your brand in Google:
1. Say Your Brand in Videos: Next time you make a video, instead of saying “This is Bob”, say “This is Bob from Big Bad Brand Signals”. I use this trick all the time and it works great: I almost always see a surge in the number of people searching for my brand name.
2. Reach out on Twitter: I love to bug big brands on Twitter because it shows off my brand name to a new audience…which entices them to do a Google search.
3. Brand Images on Pinterest: Put your logo somewhere on photos that you post to Pinterest:
When people see your brand name in the image, they’ll search for it on Google.
4. Display Ads: Offline ads, like print and billboard advertising, and the Google Content Network is another way to get people to type your brand name into Google’s search field.
The way people interact and talk about your site is another important brand signal.
Pay particular attention to:
User Interaction: Blocked sites in Google and via Chrome is one way for Google to determine a spammy site (and spammy sites usually aren’t beloved brands). Do everything you can to keep people on your site and loving their experience.
Repeat Visitors: Google may see how many people bookmark and return to your site. People tend to go back to sites they like over and over again. And those sites tend to be brands.
If you run a content-heavy site, you probably have multiple authors contributing to your site.
And multiple confirmed Google+ authors is a strong brand signal:
Step #3: Branded Links and Co-Citations
How people discuss and link to your site is an important brand signal.
It’s well known that over-optimized anchor text was one of Penguin’s pet peeves.
But switching some of your anchor text to “this site” and “here” doesn’t look natural either.
And it sure doesn’t make you look like a brand.
That’s why it’s important to use branded anchor text whenever possible.
Just look at the anchor text distribution for the entire domain (not just the homepage) of TechCrunch.com, via MajesticSEO:
Now that’s what I call branded anchor text!
Let’s say your site was Sandals4Less.com. It should have a variety of anchors, with an emphasis on branded anchors:
Sandals 4 Less
Low Cost Sandals
According to SEOMoz (see what I did there?), co-citations are the new anchor text. Co-citations are simply instances where people tend to mention your brand name, but not necessarily link to you.
And it’s a powerful ranking (and branding) signal.
The best way to take advantage of co-citations is to drop your brand name on pages about your target keyword. This could be in the form of blog comments or online reviews.
Over time Google will begin to associate your brand with that keyword…and give you a rankings boost.
Google has stated publicly that they algorithmically penalize sites with lots of negative reviews. If this is something that affects you, it my be time to do some reputation management to clean up as many negative reviews as you can.
Step #4: On-Page Brand Signals
Here’s how to turn your site into a beacon of branding.
Address and Contact Information
Real businesses have offices and transparent contact information, which includes a valid phone number and address.
Don’t think Google pays attention to this stuff?
A good chunk of a leaked Google Quality Guidelines Document discusses transparency and signals of legitimacy, including contact info:
Make sure you include a real address (even if you operate your site out of your mom’s basement) and phone number on your contact us page. A contact form doesn’t cut it.
Extra credit: Verify your address in Google places.
Logo and Unique Design
It goes without saying that your site should have a unique theme, including a logo. No brand has the same WordPress theme of a thousand other sites.
About Us Page
It may be time to rethink your About Us page.
All big brands have insanely-long About Us pages to brag about their history and mission statement.
Some sites even list their staff:
Now It’s Your Turn
Building a strong online brand presence can give you a massive edge over your competitors.
I hope you realize that it doesn’t take a 6-figure marketing budget to look like a large brand.
It just takes a concerted effort to build the brand signals that Google pays attention to.