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Your brand SERP is your business card and cannot be ignored




Jason: Welcome to this first webinar of 2020 that I'm going to be hosting. I've got three amazing guests to talk about my favorite topic, which is brand SERPs. What appears when somebody searches your brand name. Who searches your brand name and who is important to your business? That's clients, prospects, journalists, partners, maybe investors, but also your existing clients. 

What do people see and what you can do to make it look much better. Google is your new business card. What people see when they search your brand name affects the way they think about you fundamentally.

We've got Dixon Jones, John Morabito, and Jono Alderson. I'm going to introduce you very quickly. I'll start with Dixon. We last met at Brighton and you were talking about the knowledge graph, looking at Brighton Pier, and it was a lovely conversation. You’re in Wales.

Dixon: I've been in the industry for 20 years. Most people probably know me from Majestic and InLinks, but I had an SEO consultancy before that. And yeah, happy to be here and hello everybody.

Jason: Jono, you're a super expert in schema markup. What I love about schema markup is it really is entities, name-value pairs. That's your thing, isn't it?

Jono: I genuinely spend quite a number of evenings falling asleep thinking about how different bits of schema and different entity representations stitch together and work. It's a big part of what I've been doing at Yoast for the last year and a half or so is trying to work out how you build systems and design them that automatically write that logic.

Dixon on one side is working out, what the heck is this page about and what's in it and what are those things? I'm trying to solve the other side of that to say, "Okay, now how do we draw the lines between those?" Then when Google's got that, it knows what all those things are and the relationships between them.

Jason: Okay, great. We've got the entity expert, we've got the schema expert, and now we're going to talk to John who is the brand SERP expert. You're the first person I met who is almost as interested as I am in brand SERPs. I think you do actually a better job in the sense that I only focus on exact match brand SERPs, what turns up when you search for my brand name or my personal brand name... you go much wider.

John: Well, thank you for that introduction. I like to nerd out about not only our brand names, but what are those searches that maybe even if there's no apparent search volume, our tools tell us 10 to zero or whatever, but we know that they have to be an important question. Something like “my brand name plus shipping”, or “my brand name plus return policy”, or “my brand name plus contact information”. Either way, there is someone who really matters to our brand and those are the types of queries I like to think about.

Jason: A lot of that is the after-sales or the just about to buy query.

John: Lower funnel or after-sales is absolutely a place I like to spend a lot of time thinking. I think SEO probably doesn't spend a whole lot of time thinking about after-sales anyway, and so there's probably an opportunity for us to use what is the number one marketing channel for driving traffic to our clients' websites to also retain that traffic and to further convert that traffic.

What Are Brand SERPs and Why Should You Care About Brand Keywords?

Jason: Today, we're focusing on exact match brand searches. To start with, John's going to present to us brand SERPs, what are they? Why are they interesting? 

John: The title of today's presentation is Google is Your New Business Card. What are brand keywords? Brand keywords are those that either include your brand name, your product names, or your domain name. For the purposes of today's webinar, we're going to primarily focus on those that are exclusively your brand name, the exact match brand SERP.

Google is your new business card and your brand SERP is really that first stop within that, so search your brand name and take over what you see. What types of features are there? Do you like what you see? That's really the crux of what we're going to discuss today.

But before we talk about that, let's talk about why it's actually important that we are optimizing for these brand queries. To set this up, I'm going to share a quote with you. This quote is from Amir Kassael, and it goes, "A brand is not a product or a promise or a feeling, it's the sum of all of the experiences you have with a company."

When we think about the way that people first experience our brands, that's very often first through Google search. What type of experience are we delivering for our customers? We talked a little bit more about, why should we be optimizing for these queries?

The first answer or the first key point here is the fact that they almost always represent an owned or already-aware audience. Right now I'm speaking to you from a marketing agency where we do a lot of stuff beyond SEO to essentially grow brand awareness, to make people aware of our brand. People who are brand aware or people who are searching your brand terms are very likely to convert.

In 2012, Google ran a B2B case study that showed that conversions for brand terms are twice as high as non-branded. I think if you were to look at that in like a consumer setting, that you would find that that is even higher. We also know that it's harder for our competition to feel and own these terms.

Generally, it's easy for us to rank for these terms; oftentimes it's more of a question of not are we ranking, but is the right stuff ranking? Is the right page ranking? Is the right title tag ranking? Am I communicating the right things?

The other interesting stuff about the way that brand search impacts perhaps non-brand search is this concept of how they can affect search suggestions and related searches. In this example here, Jono I'm sure is happy to see, we do a search for WordPress SEO, and within the search results, Yoast is virtually synonymous with this concept of WordPress SEO. This is a search that very clearly communicates to Google that there is an entity connection between this non-brand term and this other term, (in this case Yoast), Yoast is tied to WordPress SEO.

Jason: Google is putting the pieces together and making these associations...all these brands are being pushed into the correct ontology or category, which helps them rank better because they're being understood within the context of what it is they do. We all need to explain to Google who we are and what we do.

The idea of topic and ontology, if you search for your brand name within Google images, you can immediately see what ontologies, what categories Google is saying you are associated with. That's incredibly powerful as an insight into how Google's understanding it.

How to do a Branded Search Audit

John: Now that we know why these keywords are important, let's talk a little bit about setting the stage for doing what I call a branded search audit. This is one of those deliverables that I added to our agency toolkit a couple of years ago because I felt like it was something that maybe we weren't looking at enough. The first thing that you want to do is ask, what is the ratio of your branded search?

We've dealt with websites that have 98% branded search and have dealt with websites that have 98% non-brand, so get a sense of what your ratio of brand to non-brand queries is so that you have a better understanding. 

Also, are you measuring the growth of your brand queries? Are we measuring monthly search volume? Are you measuring in Search Console? Your queries separated into brand and non-brand separated out looking at year over year growth. This is something that I've found to be critical to having a better understanding of where brands sit within the importance of a brand and how it's trending. 

For the purposes of today, we're going to talk about what we can do to focus on optimizing that, but my point is that there's a whole world of other terms out there that have their own intent, latent within them that we can better understand what that user wants from us as a brand and we can better deliver on that promise by making sure that whatever is ranking at the top of that page satisfies that need.

Once you have your top queries, you'll go to the search results and actively execute searches on those. Start to ask yourself, do I like what I see? Some of the other questions you might ask would be like, are all of these pages that work? I've seen instances where we have 404s ranking for a branded query.

Does the title tag and meta-description here adequately speak to the intent that the user has? Are we satisfying that user’s intent? What about task completion? Does this page help the user to complete the task that they elected to search for? But then what about subsequent tasks after that? These are important things not just for ranking, but also for making that page useful for users.

The Different Types of Branded Search Intent

Jason: I had a really quick question about intent. The idea of intent, and Jono, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this is my intent as a potential client is to discover more about the company or the brand, and as an existing client is to navigate just to my site. That intent is very different? 

Jono: Yes, I was thinking about this. Unless you're buying something completely inconsequential like a packet of crisps, you're going to think about the money you're spending and you're going to think about the time you're spending. People search multiple times in multiple different ways and they use the sum of experience to make a decision, so it’s from lots of different directions and quite early on in that research journey. They might be checking the opening hours of a store, or whether it's nearby, or whether it exists.

Later on, they might be trying to mitigate risk, they'd be looking for returns policies and warranties, sorts of things, so it's not enough just to win for the attractive direct match brand queries for the people right at the point of purchase, but you need to be answering all of those questions because chances are those aren't different people making different decisions, it's all part of one decision-making process. 

Yes, there are lots of different intents and it's quite hard to optimize for all of it, but these are individual people going through journeys and stages, so you need to convince them from all those different angles.

Jason: Somebody who's searching for my brand name, it could be anywhere in that process. What I need to do is make sure that when they search my brand name, what comes up is relevant and is valuable to them.

Dixon: There's another side to it I think. My brain was on a slightly different track in that when you're putting in a brand, the larger the brand, the less likely it is that you're thinking about a commercial decision. If you think about a brand like Microsoft, the perfect example really, you put it in Microsoft there's going to be a huge number of things that could be going on as to why you're looking at that.

It's not because you want to buy Office 365, it's not because you want to buy a PC today, it's probably a combination of a whole load of things...it might be something to do with the share price of Microsoft, it might be something to do with who the new CEO is. There's a lot of things going on with a big brand. 

Dixon: All those things that are around that brand beyond the actual commercial transaction I think are really, really important. 

John: Just to wrap up here, we want to look at, “are we claiming that knowledge panel?” Are we having maybe pages that we don't want to be showing up in site links? Just really looking at anything that we can control about this SERP

Then once we start to understand where there might be opportunities in our own, one of the places that we can look is at your competitors' brand names. Do they have people “also ask” boxes? Are they tweeting enough that they have Twitter showing up in the top of search results? Do they even have a knowledge panel?

Looking out to your competitive set and having a better understanding of what types of certain features they have. I want to now start to think about what are some of the ways that we can actually impact change, or optimize against some of these brand terms? That's it from me.

Jason: What we now have is what appears on your brand SERP? When somebody Googles your brand name, what do they see? Is it impressive? Is it interesting? Is it positive? Is it accurate? How much can we affect that? 

Should You Bid on Your Own Branded Keyword?

Some people bid for their own branded keyword, their own exact match branded keyword, is it worth it? My figures show 16% of brands pay for their own keyword.

John: I would say it's definitely worth it if you have competitors doing it, and I would say there's probably benefits to doing so even if not. But one thing you learn a lot about like what brand terms people actually are interested in. Another thing is that you can control the messaging better if you have a sale going on. There's a lot of benefits I would say to doing so.

Dixon: I'm one of the 84% that tends not to. But I think one of the things that I would say is on the reverse of that you should be using DCMA legislation or trying to stop your competitors where you can. In some countries, you can stop people from bidding on your brand name. 

If you can, I would try and do that because your competitors being there isn't very nice. One of the problems we do have is that I often work with generic words in brands, and that gives a generic problem which maybe we can talk about a little bit sometimes.

Jono: I thought that was a really interesting point that you have to wait until somebody's bid, so it's reactive. But I also just wanted to say, it feels like a really artificial distinction to say, "Should I pay money for this bit and not for this bit." The ad slot at the top is an opportunity, as John says, to control the messaging, to have more real estate.

You're also paying for the organic listings in your time and effort and content; it's just a different pot. It's only your organizational structure that makes that look like an issue. It's just more advertising space that's all the SERP is. If we're saying it's the business card, this is another piece, why would you say, "Because it's paid for by a different team that we're not interested." I think definitely go for it.

Jason: That makes me think of another thing is it might actually be cheaper because it's quicker and easier.

John: For some of the small brands that we're talking about here, if you're like, "Why would I ever pay for my own brand name?" For one thing, it can have a really, really, really strong return on investment. Regardless of the idea that you might have gotten that any way through organic, we've done tests and we do see a balance there.

Jason: You can actually optimize your message for the person. Whereas with the organic branded SERP, you have no opportunity to do that and you're trying to shoot all the bullets into all the targets at the same time. That brings me onto the question from Simon Cox which Jono wanted to answer. Who in an organization would you expect or hope to be the person managing the brand search terms?

Who is Responsible for Managing Branded Search Terms?

Jono: This was such a great question. John said right at the beginning that isn't it unusual SEOs don't often think about what happens after the purchase, and that's all the support and ongoing things and all of the how do we keep people and how do we keep them coming back? 

I think the answer to who owns this then isn't the SEO team...it's everybody in the business. Because if you're Googling your brand name and exact match and the result... even if you're winning, even if it's great, but at the bottom of the page there is a two-star review of your products or your customer service, then the thing you need to be dealing with is your product or your customer service. 

 All these different parts of the business have to be aware that they're contributing to what's on that search results page and how that's presented. Quite often that will mean that people have to think differently about what level of focus do we give, how customer-centric are we, what's the right balance between our cost of manufacturing and delivery and all these other bits? If you undercut in certain areas, that's going to show up on your search page and you're going to suffer for it.

Jason: For me, the question also is who is responsible? I think we all want to point the finger. Everybody's responsible for their little part, but who's responsible for the overall picture? 

Dixon: I think a company's employees should understand the brand. John started with that brilliant quote that a brand is the sum of the parts of all the stories that the company has and that includes each of the individuals within that.

Viewing Brand SERPs from Different Locations

Jason: Moving onto a different topic, Jennifer Cote was asking, "What's the best way to discover brand SERPs when you're an online-based company and you want to know how businesses look in different regions?" I think that's an incredibly interesting question because brand SERPs are incredibly varied across countries. 

I've got a tracking tool which I will now plug for Kalicube.pro where I actually track across five different countries and you see phenomenal differences between the brand SERPs in these different countries. 

Dixon: I also use a VPN. There's lots out there, Tunnel VPN, Private Tunnel, Strong VPN, NordVPN, there's loads of them. A VPN system can then allow you to actually look from a country an IP address in the country that you're in. It doesn't completely fix your issues, but it's a good place to start.

Jason: I think the fundamental point there is when we're sitting at home searching on our browser with our search history and our location, we don't see what everybody else is seeing. We need to get out there and see what our real clients are seeing, all our real prospects are seeing in different countries, especially as an international brand.

Two very quick points. Matt B just pointed out to be very clear, anybody can bid on your brand name at any time. The only thing that you can stop them doing is using your trademark in the copy. 

But the thing about that is if they can't use your brand name in their copy, they're right at the top, the click-through rate will be awful and their quality score will be very low. They will be paying an absolute fortune. The fact that they can't use your brand name is actually a very big plus for you, a negative for them. Andy Simpson's now asks, "My brand appears differently on mobile, should we be checking both?"

Dixon: Yeah, absolutely. Well, if you're going to select one, concentrate on mobile for now...but I think you definitely need both. It depends a little bit on your industry as well.

Consumer brands, I think mobile is really, really important. Maybe Yoast or InLinks or SEMrush can... more people are using the desktop because they're business to business technology. I think it really depends on your brand.

Rich Elements on Brand SERPs

Jason: I've got 7,500 brands that I've been tracking for a couple of years now and I've been looking at the rich elements, and what I find very interesting about brand SERPs is they have very few blue links. I was interested to show the data I've found, but also to ask you guys what you think about how we can best work to trigger all these different rich elements?

What I called rich elements is any of the new stuff we've got, anything that isn't the old traditional blue links like knowledge panels, Twitter boxes, videos, images, features, deficits, so on and so forth, which tend to dominate the brand SERPs as we will see.

I'm sharing my screen and we have here SEMrush. These rich site links, one would imagine that every decent brand has them, but in fact, less than half of brands in my dataset have rich site links.

There are over 20% of brands that now have that knowledge panel. Actually having that knowledge panel makes you look incredibly professional. The more I look at brand SERPs today, the more I see that when I don't see that knowledge panel, the more I think that brand isn't legitimate or isn't credible.

Then we move on to “people also ask”, 33% of brand SERPs have “people also ask”. When Google is showing you a brand SERP, it's also saying, "What else might you want to know?" In this case, it's all questions about SEMrush, but it can also be more general questions about your industry, which could be owned by your competitors, which is frightening. 

Twitter boxes, I love Twitter boxes. If you search my name right now, you should see the Twitter boxes and you should see that I tweeted. What I love about Twitter boxes is it's a method or a way for brands to give real-time information to anybody who is searching for them. 11% of brands have these boxes, the other 89% simply don't have a decent Twitter strategy in my opinion. It takes 17 seconds for me to post something to Twitter, get the Twitter box and get what I want to show on my own brand SERP.

If you look at videos, seminars, SEMrush have got videos. 25% of brands have videos, the other 75%, in my opinion, don't have a decent video strategy and should perhaps start looking at it. If we don't have these video boxes, maybe we should start thinking about a video strategy. 

If we look at SEMrush's SERP, they've got the Twitter boxes, they've got the video boxes, there are only five blue links. We're now looking at a situation where instead of the 10 blue links we traditionally expect, there are only five blue links on a typical brand SERP.

Now we come to Yoast. Images come up an awful lot, but in fact, six months ago it was 36%, now it's 24%. Google seems to be getting bored with images and is tending to push other rich elements in its place. Yoast’s SERP looks absolutely brilliant. 

We have five blue links and an awful lot of rich content. The people also ask the rich site links, the Twitter boxes, the images and the knowledge panel that really help Yoast control their brand SERP and make them look incredibly good. 

That was a really quick run through the rich elements that I've been looking at and it's a great way to make our brand, our business card look incredibly impressive. And if we look at images, Yoast posts loads of images, loads of videos. I've seen Yoast videos all over the place. John who knows all about video boxes. How do you get them? How do you trigger those video boxes to make yourself look great?

John: Obviously, create video content. We see that that video content is predominantly coming up from YouTube. Put it up on YouTube, put it on your own website, mark it up with structured data so that Google explicitly knows that it's a video, and in that sense, you may get some of those carousels to point back to your website. 

When we look at that brand SERP for SEMrush. If we go back to it, we don't have to pull it up on screen, but I believe it was like SEMrush overview, and then it was like SEMrush platform overview...and then the next one was keyword research. 

If we think about the hierarchy or the order of questions that I'm going to have about SEMrush, well, geez, those videos fit pretty nicely in terms of the early experience of someone being introduced to that brand. 

I would say that you have to think about what are those moments that are at the beginning of my brand story? Do I have video content that speaks to them? If so, I believe that Google may see those as a positive thing to put up in that search result. 

I would say that the traditional sort of YouTube optimization things ring true there. If no one ever engages with that video and no one ever watches that video, no one ever embeds that video, no one ever likes that video, and no one ever subscribes to your channel, you're probably not going to have a video character.

I would say the engagement, having the first off, producing the content, secondly, having the right content fit to the intent of that query, which is going to be very high level.

Jason: You said a very important thing there, which is engagement. What Google is looking for to put on your brand SERP is something that's valuable, relevant, and useful to people who are searching your brand name. Engagement gives that value and it shows that value to Google.

I've actually got a client who's got five pretty awful videos that they made themselves and they've got a thousand views and nobody ever likes it, but the people who have liked it have been very relevant, and the engagement has been very relevant, and their videos are showing. Definitely, engagement by a relevant audience is always going to be terribly important.

Tips for Getting the SERP Knowledge Panel 

Jason: Moving onto the knowledge panel, which is Dixon's favorite subject, loads of questions about that. How do you get it?

Dixon: The easiest way, out of the box, to get a knowledge panel, is have a Wikipedia entry. Once you've got a Wikipedia entry, then your challenge to develop a knowledge panel is so much easier. You don't have to have a Wikipedia entry, so John's putting in my own chat, "What about Wikidata?"

Wikipedia has a secondary side, which is Wikidata and you can start working on the data side of the Wikimedia set of companies and create an entity. What you have to do is get Google to understand that you are an entity in your own right and that your brand is an entity in its own right, and it's not an easy thing to achieve. 

You can check whether you have an entity at all using Google, and there's a tool out there that you can use to have a look at the knowledge value graph with an API and there's a web interface on Google. 

Jono: I've just linked to my own Wikidata page in the YouTube chat. I spent about an hour setting up and I said, "I am a human male, British consultant, he is my Twitter page, here is my Crunchbase profile, here's my LinkedIn URL, here's my date of birth, a few of the best." 

Within a day or so, suddenly there's this big rich knowledge panel. It's got half a dozen images and a much more up to date, it's got a little biography. As you say, it's really impressive., it validates me and my relevance and expertise.

Jason: Jono, there was a question very quickly there that you actually answered on the way through about does the organization schema markup help?

Jono: It's definitely part of it. Anecdotally, I know when we first rolled out the new Yoast schema that we built, we rolled out on our site before it gets to the rest of the world. The organization schema we had directly influenced and changed what was in our knowledge panel and a whole bunch of our brand SERPs. It enriched a whole bunch of stuff and changed some of the results, which is really nice. 

What's interesting I guess then is the question of how impactful that is. I know the different bits of Google are going in different directions on this, so some of the people you talk to are very much of the opinion that schema is going to power all of this and all of this manual verification and filling out forms and doing paperwork is going to go away. The other half say exactly the opposite thing. 

Google deprecated the social icons thing from the knowledge graph recently where you used to say, "Here's my Twitter profile, here's my LinkedIn profile," and your schema. They're saying they don't need that anymore because A, they can work it out themselves, but B, also people will fill in their Wikidata profiles and similar so it feels a bit all over the place to do both. 

Definitely go do the paperwork in Wikidata, et cetera, but also get top of the line schema so that you're covering all bases because different bits of Google are going to read different bits and who knows how it'll come together.

Jason: I did the test with the Yoast schema markup FAQs, questions about myself on my own site and I could get featured snippets in five minutes with information about myself. I believe that's because Google trust what I say about myself because I have proven to be a reliable source over the years. Would you agree with that, Jono or am I pushing it?

How to Get SERP Twitter Boxes

Jason: To finish this off, we've got a few minutes left. We've talked an awful lot about schema markup and Wikipedia, and getting into the knowledge graph. Somebody asked about the Twitter boxes. How do we trigger those, or how do we start that? 

Dixon: The thing I'd say about the Twitter feed is that you've got to make it two ways. You've got to put the schema in, Yoast plugin, brilliant, put the Twitter profile stuff into your website, but then you've got to make sure that it goes to the Twitter handle and then the Twitter handle has got to link back to the website, otherwise, Google hasn't got any kind of verification in the system. That's the easiest way to do it.

You then just have to be a big enough brand and a big enough entity for Google to think about the Twitter results. One of the things you've got to do with that is make sure you use Twitter. 

When it comes to tying it all together, it's not just the brand page of the Google business card, behind the business card is all of those site links, and rich snippets, and news articles and all these other bits and pieces. They have meaning too.

Incorporating Branded SERPs into Your Wider Content Strategy

Jason: The idea that you're going to appear as a Twitter box if you haven't tweeted for six months, it's completely ridiculous. You need to be active, but you also need an active content strategy if you want the video boxes or the image boxes that Yoast had, or the Twitter boxes that Dixon was talking about. John, why the content strategy to make that brand SERP your own?

John: Why have the content strategy?

Jason: Yeah, why have it?

John: To go back to some of those earlier points about nurturing and providing answers for your own audience. These are people who are either going to convert or already have converted, so you should do your best to support them. 

Whether that be through video content, whether that be through keeping them updated with the latest on your Twitter, but then also thinking about what are the other types of information pages could I have ranking in the search result?

We talked about that exact match SERP for the brand name, and of course, your homepage is going to rank there, but think about what other types of pages. Do you have a really awesome About Page? Are you making your About Page also rank for your brand SERP? Is that something that's applicable for you? 

I would say think about the pages on your website that tell your brand story and make sure that you're optimizing those against your brand name and try to get those to rank for your brand terms.

Jason: That was absolutely brilliant. We've run through our time of an hour. The next one is all about the brand SERP for local search. Absolutely perfect. I thought that was wonderful. Thank you, Dixon, thank you, Jono, thank you, John.

John: Thank you.

Jono: Thank you, Jason!

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