Brand Awareness is SEM Fuel

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As I’m returning from SMX Advanced in Seattle, I keep thinking about the presence of Bing and the lengths at which Microsoft is going to promote their new search engine.

Between lighting up the space needle during the launch party, the television commercials and $100 million in advertising, I couldn’t help but question the extent. As a whole, the search marketing industry tends to frown upon traditional marketing. Tracking metrics and proving ROI is ingrained in us. Failure is a lack of conversions, visits, rankings.

But there is something to be said for that kind of visibility and brand awareness. After all, search demand needs to come from somewhere. Branded search terms are always by far the top traffic drivers. Top non-branded keywords drive much of the traffic in part because of name recognition.

Searchers need legitimacy in the information, products and services they are seeking. And if I’ve never even heard of a company before, but see that they are ranking number one for my search term, I’m not going to be completely convinced to click without doing a quick scan for something I recognize first. Maybe the only thing going for them is a really great SEO firm. I need more than just a number one ranking.

We as search engine marketers are doing ourselves a major disservice by not valuing traditional marketing efforts. Not only is it narrow, but it takes away from our own efforts. We simply can’t, in one breath knock the validity of a radio or television ad while championing the value of social media or contextual advertising in another breath.

Given the youth of the SEM industry, we’ve still got a lot of holes to fill until we can get on a soapbox about the ROI centricity of search. Social media, first click vs. last click attribution, content network conversion and tracking nightmares that regularly stem from all flash booking engines and complex shopping carts to name a few.

The point is that it may not be worth turning the wheels to calculate ROI for social media. Or to shy away from other online marketing tactics that may not directly result in increased conversions or sales. There will always be an element of search marketing that cannot be measured and turned into a percent figure.

The key is to gain a deeper understanding between causal relationships. What happens to organic traffic when paid search for branded terms stop? Traffic drops that can be attributed to algorithm changes, seasonality, etc – can these be mapped back to a change in offline marketing efforts? Effectively illustrating these connections will soften CFO’s, empower marketers and fuel the search marketing industry on a new level.


Rachel Andersen works for the Portland based SEM agency Anvil Media, Inc. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine marketing and specializes in SEO for large sites. Andersen has been responsible for the development and execution of dozens of search and social marketing campaigns over her time spent with Anvil.

Rachel Freeman

Rachel Freeman

Rachel Freeman works for the Jive Software, the pioneer and leading provider of social business solutions. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine... Read Full Bio
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  • Michael Flint

    I agree Rachel. Getting visitors to the site is only the first step. You’ve got to offer real value once the visitor lands on a page. A company’s brand includes so many things including image, value, and trust.

    Check out my take on how branding and web page design work together.

  • Patricia Skinner

    Good post Rachel: thanks. I agree totally that for the majority of companies, offline advertising has to work hand-in-hand with SEO and search marketing efforts. I’m all for expanding exposure everywhere–the multi-pronged approach always works best.

  • Brian Carter

    Great point, Rachel. I made a point in agreement with you on with the effect of brand ppc on natural search conversions here on SEJ a few weeks back-

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    Well I almost didn’t reply, since I’m all #JealousYouWentToSMX but then I got over it.

    Seriously Rachel, you’re spot on. This is no different than graphic designers ignoring the SEO aspects of a web site when they’re designing it.

    If we remain myopic, we miss a whole lot of opportunities that would otherwise benefit our clients, and it also means we’re not really in tune with our clients visitors.

    How can I truly and best serve my clients if I’m not able or willing to look at these other scenarios, perspectives, channels and value generators that don’t necessarily fit into my snug little comfy-couch corner of the world?

  • Matt Leonard

    You are so correct, Rachel, and it’s great to hear. It’s easy to stay locked in our search bubble and forget that traditional advertising still represents the vast majority of dollars spent. From an industry perspective, I think you’re touching on the difference between a niche specialist and someone that can incorporate entire ad campaigns while still understanding the specifics of each niche. Great points and very refreshing.

  • Tag44

    Thanks Rachel, thanks for this great post, its really very useful and to the point. Keep posting more post..!!

  • Christopher

    Great post Rachel. Seems like marketers are moving away from a keyword-level-ROI to a more holistic approach of cause and effects.

    I’m struggling to find evidence on this, maybe somebody can help me out: How valid a measure of brand awareness is average monthly search volume ( the exact brand term)?

  • Tad Miller

    TV, Radio, Print and even display advertising are media that build brand recognition and they “push” searchers online. This is absolutely necessary for big brands. PPC ads “pull” those searchers into websites to convert them.

    The problem with traditional marketers is that they want to treat PPC like it’s a “media buy” without regard to ANY ROI metrics. It seems they can excuse the failure of all this with the explanation that those are “branding” clicks…

    I’ve seen a lot of truthfully un-excusable keyword buys in the name of branding that were obviously never going to get any ROI – all they really did was get the ad agency managing the account their management percentage of media spend…and got nothing for the client but the bill.

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