How much does brand name matter to SEO and marketing?

These guys will be fighting an uphill branding battle

I was asked recently, “how much does name matter when it comes to setting up a new company? Is it more important to have a distinguishable brand, or more important to be found in generic search?”

This is an excellent and more complex question then you might first think. Being known for something is important; when you’re tackling a space which is very crowded with generics and commodities, having a distinguishable brand matters a great deal. Ideally, the brand is something that is not already in heavy use in the space. Ideally, the brand is also easy to spell and passes the Siri/Google now text where you read out the brand name and domain name to a computer and see if it gets the website address correct. An easy to pronounce, easy to spell brand name is an easy to share brand name.

Naming a company after a generic category would mean that you might capture some portion of generic search about it, but you’re better off creating product pages that are appropriately tagged and structured for a generic search while working to make a distinguishable and distinct brand.

Let’s say you own a coffee shop. You might attempt to create a coffee shop named Boston Coffee Company, on the assumption that people searching for coffee at Boston would find it. However, since Google has given more prominence to existing brands there is a good chance that you would lose what little search ranking you’d get to companies like the Boston Bean Company.

Rather than challenge at a company brand level, you might be better off creating a distinct brand-name for your coffee shop, but have individual coffees that are reflective of the geography and the market you intend to take. You could have, for example, the Jamaica Plain coffee, the Roxbury espresso, is the Newton cappuccino, the Dorchester doppio. This will accomplish your goal of geographically named/obviously named products and services for the purposes of search, while still retaining a sense of individual identity.

A real-life example of this? Look at the brand name of the bread in the photo above. Are you likely to forget it? It’s also easy to find in search, and the domain name is easy to find and share via word of mouth.

Remember also that one of the key drivers of search is inbound links. One of the key drivers of inbound links is public relations work, building word of mouth and endorsement through third parties and media outlets. A clever, fun, easy to pronounce brand name that’s unique will likely be better remembered and linked in stories about you.

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When bad data can be okay

As marketers, and especially as marketing technologists, correct data, correct metrics, correct information is prized by us (or should be). Incorrect data, faulty data, and misleading data are anathema to our profession and our ability to do our jobs. So it might seem absolutely absurd, even heretical, to make the statement that sometimes, bad data can be okay.

When could wrong data, bad data ever be okay? Here’s a thought exercise for you.

Office clock

Imagine for a moment you wanted to know what time it was. On the wall was a clock that was clearly the wrong time. You know for sure it’s noon but the clock says 3. When you check the clock later that day as you head home, you know it’s 5 o’clock but the clock says 8.

Is the data bad? Yes. Can you still use it? Yes, as long as you know the clock is three hours ahead. The data is bad but predictably and reliably bad. You can develop a mental model (just subtract three) to compensate for the error.

Now imagine the clock shows 3 when you know it’s 12. In an hour, it shows 5. Then it goes backwards and shows 11 within a few minutes. Is the data bad? Yes. Can you still use it? No. In this case the data is bad and unreliably, unpredictable, seemingly random. It’s not something you can develop a model on, and thus it’s totally useless.

Many of the measures we use in marketing come from other derived sources, such as Klout scores and other social influence measures or estimated web traffic. When you’re looking at metrics and tools, the question you should be asking yourself isn’t necessarily whether the data is right (though that’s an important question) but whether it’s reliable.

You can model reliably wrong data that you understand. You cannot model correct data with surety if you don’t know what it’s made of, because things could be changing behind the scenes that you can’t see or compensate for. One day you wake up and what seemed like right data became wrong data overnight.

No better example of this exists than Google’s algorithm. No one knows what’s in it, and thus trying to “win at SEO” is an impossible task because what you think is right today may be wrong tomorrow, but you have no way of knowing it until you lose search rankings. Even worse, because you don’t know what’s in it, you don’t know how to fix what’s wrong except by random experimentation.

Ask how reliable your data is!

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The secret of future SEO

SEO tricks continue to get devalued. Google keeps getting better at picking up tricks and rendering them valueless.

So how do you know what’s a trick that is a waste of time or at worst will get you penalized?

Here’s a simple rule.

Anything that can be repeated and scaled can be automated.

Anything that can be automated can be detected and discredited by Google.

It’s very easy to buy into a bot network and spam links across the web. Google caught on and has applied massive penalties to people who do so. It’s very easy to hire massive numbers of people through services like Amazon Mechanical Turk or Fiverr to mindlessly create links in blog comments or social networks. Google can catch those, too. It’s very easy to buy an absurd number of press releases and stuff them with links. Google caught on and slapped penalties liberally to companies that behaved badly.

If you’re considering a marketing tactic, if it can be automated and scaled, it can be caught by Google. They have more robots, more machines, more Ph.Ds, more networks, more everything than any one SEO company or marketing department.

So how do you know what won’t earn you a punishment from Google?

Google values what doesn’t scale. Google values great content, which is exceptionally difficult to scale. Google values innovative ideas, and heaven knows innovation is a struggle. If it’s unique and difficult to do, Google will probably value it. Being a great content provider? Hard to do, even harder to scale – ask anyone with a successful website or team blog just how difficult it is to consistently crank out great content. Being an innovative developer? Very hard to do, exceptionally hard to come up with consistently great new ideas, and incredibly hard to scale well.

Do what’s unique. Do what’s hard to replicate, hard to scale, hard to automate. And every proposal, pitch, or offer you get that says they have an easily automated system to do X, you now know to be a trap just waiting to happen.

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