SEOs: Forget Keywords, Focus on This One Thing to Zoom Up Search Rankings

Every time there’s a whiff of a Google Search update in the air, SEOs around the world lose their minds. Everything from rumors to conjecture to plain fiction flies around, till the dust settles and search rankings go back to “normal.”

Every time there’s a whiff of a Google Search update in the air, SEOs around the world lose their minds. Everything from rumors to conjecture to plain fiction flies around, till the dust settles and search rankings go back to “normal.”

This environment of confusion and Google’s famed reluctance to divulge the real details of its search updates means we see any number of “SEO authorities” publishing their “complete list” of definitive search ranking factors. Most lists are pretty interchangeable, with keywords and links dominating lists in various avatars: keyword in backlink, keyword in TLD, keyword in title tag, link anchors, number of links, authority of links and so on.

The problem is, everyone reads these same articles. And implements the same advice. You and your competitors.

So how would you break out from the cage of keyword and backlinks? By leveraging that one thing which is uniquely yours: your brand.

Your brand is what will help you beat the competition to the top spot on SERPs; everything else remaining constant. Rand Fishkin explained in detail Google’s site-quality-score-related patent in one of his Whiteboard Fridays, and implied that the algorithm might give additional prominence to brand names used in search queries. This could be taken to infer that the more often users search for a keyword along with a brand name, the higher the brand moves up in the rankings for that keyword.

Credit: MOZ

Let me explain.

If users search a lot for “Skechers” + “running shoes,” the brand “Skechers” gets an automatic rankings boost for the keyword “running shoes.” This means when people search for just “running shoes,” the likelihood of Skechers running shoes coming up in the results is a bit higher.

So you see, your brand does help your search rankings. How, then, do you boost your brand salience to nudge along those rankings? Here are some thoughts.,

Invest in Your Brand (and Get Partners Along for the Ride)

The one thing that business owners worry the least about could prove to be their online graveyard. With the plethora of options out there, it’s simply unforgivable to not even lay a foundation for your brand.

Starting with a memorable brand name and logo, work on creating a definitive identity for your brand. Brand colors, typography, imagery, all come together to give your brand that elusive “X” factor that is rewarded by search engines. That saves you from spending big bucks on something as frivolous as chasing the Google algorithm, as Fishkin explained.

Partnering with a complementary brand that talks to your same audience is one of the most cost-effective ways of reaching a large pool of potential customers. Whether you care about your SEO ranking or not, this is one tactic every business must leverage.

In essence, brand partnerships are about reaching out to your partner brand’s audience at zero cost, in exchange for offering visibility to your brand partner to your audience, bartering free gifts for your partners’ users and more.

This partnership between Starbucks and Spotify exemplifies how customer experience can be improved, while retaining individual brand identity of both partners.

Here’s another example from the marketing industry: Online visibility platform SEMrush (disclosure: author’s employer) and inbound marketing software HubSpot frequently partner to do webinars for the benefit of their shared audience, which is digital marketers.

Credit: HubSpot

Don’t Miss Trade Events

Do you operate in the B2B or SaaS space? Then trade events are a must-do for you, no matter what. From getting visibility and growing brand awareness in your niche to meeting potential buyers face-to-face, a tradeshow (which could be a conference, a seminar, or a meetup) is a no-brainer to promote your brand.

There are many ways you can milk a tradeshow for SEO traction:

  • Tradeshow website linking back to your website with a URL linked to your brand name. Even if there’s no backlink, a brand mention from high-authority sites helps your own brand visibility and ranking.
  • Blog posts on your own site promoting your participation in the tradeshow.
  • Speaking opportunities at the event that mention your brand and your business or workshops that show potential customers how to use your products.
  • Using tradeshow hashtags on social media to promote your business and brand during the event.

Go Multichannel (Both Online and Offline)

The offline and online worlds are increasingly blending together. While even the most traditional retailers and businesses have now gone online, we’re also seeing digital businesses dip their feet into the physical world. Amazon and Apple are leading the charge with their brick-and-mortar stores. For lesser retailers (or even Facebook), the concept of pop-up retail is also catching up fast.

Credit: Go—PopUp

Integrated marketing involving digital and physical channels has a lot of advantages in branding:

  • More touchpoints for engaging the customer
  • Better brand awareness and recall
  • Broader, but consistent, brand messaging
  • Contextual and relevant audience targeting
  • Personalization in terms of channel and viewing/interaction preferences
  • More (and accurate) data on the customer

No surprise, then, that e-commerce platforms like Shopify are offering e-tailers the option to sell natively on multichannel digital platforms, making it easy to build visibility from the ground-up and convert visitors once they arrive via digital sources, like search or referrals. This visibility and brand recall cycles back to organic search results via branded searches.

Make Influencers Your Ambassadors

With every second person on social media claiming to be an “influencer,” the up-and-coming niche of influencer marketing is already getting muddied. However, the reason why we see so many so-called influencers out there is simply because brands can’t get enough of this absolutely punchy marketing tactic. According to research, a whopping 94% of marketers believe influencer marketing has a positive effect on their brand awareness and preference.

Credit: Social Media Today

Connecting with the right social influencer can be a total game-changer for your brand. Take Bach Flower RESCUE as an example. Their line of homeopathic remedies was a perfect match for a number of natural and healthy living bloggers. So, RESCUE gave these influencers some of their products to try and asked them to share their thoughts. They also included a “buy one, get one free” code to share on their posts to encourage people to give the product a try.


Credit: Real Clever

The results of their campaign? An impressive 258% increase in Instagram followers, 6,000 clicks to claim the BOGO special, and they were even a top trending topic on Twitter.

When your brand receives social signals, backlinks, endorsements and mentions from celebrities and niche thought leaders who command high search volume themselves, the authority rubs off on your brand and domain, boosting your rankings.

Crush Local SEO With Citations and Brand Mentions

Everything that you can do to get your brand out there potentially contributes indirectly to your rankings. As you work on strengthening your local SEO via citations, directories and business listings, the fact that your brand name is going up on multiple niche websites, probably getting backlinks from many of them, and also drawing reviews (engagement) from users, helps boost your visibility slowly but surely in the SERPs.

In fact, mentions and citations might be almost as powerful as links. The Google Panda patent refers to citations as “implied links” —

An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource, but is not an express link to the target resource.

Using Google’s own platforms and tools is an obvious win from a brand awareness, as well as SEO, perspective. So, waste no time in creating your own Google My Business Page and fill out every last detail about your business, adding images and videos to push visibility.

It’s also important to keep updating your business pages to keep your listings fresh and relevant when Googlebot comes crawling again.

Who’s Afraid of Keywords?

Even though it’s ingrained into digital marketers’ psyche that content and links are the two pillars of SEO, we need to realize that there’s more to this game than just pulling longer and longer lists of keywords to rank for. Sometimes the most “human” of marketing strategies is what it takes to get the bots and algorithms to take notice and deliver results. Onward and upward, brave brand custodians!