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Why Brand SEO Is Good For Humanity

John Doherty —  February 27, 2011
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Do you ever long for the days of 1950′s or 1960′s America, where most Americans lived in small towns, walked to the corner store for groceries, knew their neighbors across the white picket fence, and used word-of-mouth as their gauge for knowing where to eat and who to do business with? I think we’re heading back this way with the advent of brands and, in my work circle, brand SEO.

A Bit of Explanation

A lot of talk in SEO circles recently has revolved around domain and author authority. Bing’s Director recently said on SEOmoz’s White Board Friday that they are taking author authority into account as a ranking signal. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Anti-Spam team, has also said that author and domain authority are ranking factors for GOOG’s SERPs.

The recent talk I just referred to is brands. More namely, the increased importance of brands on the Internet, of recognizeable, established brands that have earned the right to speak in their specific space. When I talk about smartphones, what brand come to mind? When I mention MP3s, what brand? How about tablet computers? What makes this brand stand out? Yes, they make great products (I’m writing this post on one), but what else?

Why Are Brands Good?

My answer to the above questions? Transparency. Openness. No, I am not talking about throwing all possible ideas out into public for everyone to see. I’m talking about Steve Jobs responding to customer emails (even if they’re not always nice). I’m talking about Bing’s Director, Stefan Weitz, talking to Rand Fishkin on White Board Friday. Shoot, I’m even talking about SEOmoz’s TAGFEE code of conduct.

Brands encourage openness. Personal openness, fiscal openness, corporate openness (treating employees well comes to mind). Over the past decade, and especially the last 3 years, America has been rocked by corporate scandal after corporate scandal. Enron. The 2008 US recession. Circuit City. Obviously the idea that corporations should keep all expense sheets, CEO salaries, and employee bonuses behind closed doors has not worked.

How Might Brand SEO Look?

Brand SEO will also have to involve transparency from the practitioners. I think that as established physical brands increasingly move to the online space (and there is talk that they should not), they should be more concerned than JCPenney was about their marketing professionals and online reputation. This will involve a greater push by the internal marketing execs to have more oversight over their contractors and consultants, which in the end will provide a more robust ethical approach to search, business, and marketing.

How will the details of brand SEO be different from current day? Maybe they will not differ significantly, but I would bet that the practice of buying links will become less widespread, as more SEO professionals seek to be white-hat because of the increased exposure, which we have seen in recent weeks, when the dark-arts practitioners are caught. I think linkbuilding will become more of an art, requiring skilled writers and PR professionals, which will also cause SEOs to become more well-rounded than currently (which is saying something).

Concluding Thoughts

I love working in SEO. I get frustrated when I have to keep things secret, when I have to try to cover someone’s unwillingness to be transparent about their business. I think using brand recognition and authority, and thus author authority and recognition, as ranking signals will make our lives, and search results, better because some voices, the trusted voices, will count more than others. We can no longer trust a number (PageRank) because it can be tricked.

We once again have to trust people. Yes, we trust that these people have not been paid by someone to endorse a product, and also have to trust that even if they have been, they would not agree to the money unless they truly believed in the product. We are returning to the spirit of the days when we would call Mom when wonding where we should eat, instead of stopping a stranger on the street to ask their input, which is essentially what we have been doing with many search engine results.

Long live brands, I say. These are exciting times.

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

6 responses to Why Brand SEO Is Good For Humanity

  1. John,

    I enjoyed your post. To paraphrase your point, Brands = Trust and we as SEO’s should cultivate trust through honesty, integrity and transparency. I agree.

    That said, it’s up to individual businesses to determine how to build their brand. I recently took a Devil’s Advocate Approach to SEO that suggests that companies approach SEO from a business perspective. While I’m confident that building a brand through trust and transparency is best, there are those that obviously disagree. Hopefully we can win them over to our side.

  2. Bill -

    Thanks for your comment and for the link to your article. I agree that businesses need to approach SEO from a business perspective, as a legitimate expense especially since so much business today revolves around search. The recent examples of JCP and Overstock also show the importance of following guidelines. I guess I try to ascribe to the “If it’s against rules/guidelines, it will eventually come to light” mantra. You can’t hide forever.

    How do you think this emphasis on brands and authority will change actual SEO practices, if at all? Do you think this will be good for the industry?

  3. I do agree that brands generate trust, if they constantly deliver on their promises.

    That’s why I as an SEO always deliver on my promises. This is more my personal brand at stake. This is the honor associated with my name. The thing is, I don’t understand how my integrity as an SEO will change the executive culture of my clients.

    For instance, I promoted several extremely popular brands in Hawai’i… hotels, apparel, clubs, athletes, etc. How does my effective and transparent SEO affect whether or not those brands will deliver excellent customer service? Or affect the quality of their services/products?

    Brands are important, yes. But remember what people/companies can do with brands. They can rebrand, and they can have child brands.

    If a brand were to experience serious negative press (say, BP), it rarely impacts the brand equity of their child brands (say, Arco). If it does, the brand can change either brand name, and few would associate the new shiny brand (a.k.a. company name) with the history of the other, tarnished brand. This happens all the time with banks.

    Brands don’t necessarily generate trust. A good reputation does.

    ==
    Note: I really, really like your site. Great content here John!

    • Glenn – Once again, thanks for the comment and the kind words! I think you bring up some good questions. What is your SEO work doing for these companies? Hard to know/answer. I guess I hope that being ethical in your SEO dealings will rub off on your clients, and will speak well of you, that you’re not willing to compromise your integrity. Of course, some people look down on that…and I say that’s their problem and I don’t need their business. Though that’s in an ideal world…but you have to draw the line somewhere, no?

      It is true that brands do not necessarily generate trust. In the eyes of Google, they do for now. This is why I like the move towards social signals, because if people are sharing it, then it probably means it is more trustworthy than not. Popularity does not equal trustworthy, of course, but it could be a signal?

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Please stick around and comment more!

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