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How Search Rank Beats The Brand
(Article first published in February '11. It has been modified slightly to suit its publication on our site)
In the old days you had to spend money on marketing your business in order to have people find you. Therefore, by definition, your success was almost directly tied to brand recognition. Think about the Yellow Pages (Golden Pages in Ireland). In its heyday you open it up to find a specific company and you would be hit by full-page ads. You would flick through page after page of full page ads and then the half-page ads would appear, followed by the quarter-page and then the line listings. The bigger ads would typically get the most calls, but they would also be the most expensive. It wasn't unheard of for companies to hand over €20,000 or more for one ad!
Then Google came along and something interesting began to happen. Slowly at first and then with increasing frequency Google's search rank began to replace the need for us to buy from recognised companies. In other words, Google's search rank became a de facto brand identity for unknown brands.
You might disagree with me and in some instances you'd be right to. However, the fact remains that these days most start-up businesses will spend more on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) than they do on brand marketing. Obviously the ideal is to have a well recognised brand backed by a first place, or at least first page, rank in search results. When you look at the Google search results, the listings are all the same. You might be on the same page as a major brand and visually you are both on a par. The Yellow pages approach of "bigger is better" is meaningless in Google's listings. So, the question is 'can having a good search ranking can be more valuable in this "search-engine" age than brand?'
I think yes and the reason for this is the relative difficulty and high cost (in both time and money) of getting a good ranking in search results. If a website costs you €1,000 to have designed and implemented, then you can expect to pay at least that again for a base level of SEO. If you're in a particularly competitive sector then you might pay up to €10,000 to rank well on popular search terms. That's a lot of money, but based on the traffic and level of enquiries a good search ranking can generate, it's actually very little when spread across the lifetime of your website and certainly a lot less than you would have to spend on developing a brand.
Think about how you search. Do you scan the results looking for brand names you know? Perhaps if you are specifically looking for branded products, but otherwise no. Instead (and depending on the type of search user you are) you either pick the first or second listing you see or you pick the one that you think most matches your needs.
This is why Google's search-related advertising program (Adwords) has done so well. It's a pay-as-you-go online advertising system that can bring your website traffic immediately, unlike SEO that takes weeks and even months to become effective. Turn on your Adwords campaign and your ads can even appear above the top search results. Of course in the long run you will pay more through Adwords and it does nothing for your long-term search rank, but it's a very effective system for bringing potential customers to your website.
With all this said, please don't get me wrong. I am at heart a marketing guy and I believe in brands, but my view is that unless you're a Nike or Coca Cola, brand building will provide far less return than good search engine ranking. In essence, for SMEs, brand building is a supporting mechanism that reinforces their ranking when viewed by potential customers.
|Franco De Bonis has worked in the field of sales and marketing promotion since 1990 and was most recently the global marketing manager for a major international technology company before setting up The DG Group in January 2007.
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Franco De Bonis is a marketing professional with a unique view on the world of marketing and co-owner of The DG Group. Franco has worked in the field of sales and marketing promotion for over 20 years and was most recently the global marketing manager for Creative Labs before setting up The DG Group in January 2007.