Brand Protection is an aspect of online marketing that is often overlooked. To be clear, reputation management is not what I am talking about in this post. What I’m talking about is the strategy of using paid search and/or SEO to crowd out competitors who are using the brand name of your company or product as part of their online marketing efforts. The truth is that in certain industries, brand protection is an essential component of a healthy online marketing strategy and if you are not working to crowd out competitors targeting your brand, you are losing customers. The more upsetting news is that those potential customers are low-hanging fruit and are relatively easy to get back by allocating even limited resources from within your overall online strategy.
What is Branded Search?
For search engine marketing purposes, branded search terms are keywords containing all or a portion of your law firm’s brand name. For example, someone typing “Nike shoes” into Google is conducting a type of branded search. They want shoes made by a certain company and aren’t looking for products outside of that brand umbrella. Just show me shoes made by Nike, Google. That’s all.
Searchers looking for products or information in this way have already heard of the brand they want to find. Maybe they’ve seen ads or commercials about the company and now want to get more information about their products or services. Maybe their friends recommended the business. Maybe they’re just bored. Either way, something motivated them to give the company a closer look. How the business appears in terms of rankings for its own branded keywords plays a large role in how the searcher engages and where they click.
How common is brand-hijacking and what does it look like?
The short answer is fairly common. In fact, competitor’s brand name keywords are built into nearly all (correctly set up) paid search and display advertising campaigns. The bad news for you is that those campaigns work; and they work well. I know because we run them in the e-commerce space. The other bit of bad news is that most companies don’t even know that companies are targeting their brand keywords.
Here is a screenshot of a very basic search I just did for a major products brand – Ford. Brand-hijacked results are circled in red.
You’ll notice that Chevy was able to sneak their competing Silverado into a decent paid spot for that search term. According to Spyfu, Chevy is heavily targeting almost every competitors’ branded keywords using Adwords paid search – something to the tune of ~150k/month. That is bad for a company like Ford which is undoubtedly spending resources (~850k/month in Adwords according to Spyfu) toward online visibility. They are clearly not positioned correctly. It should be noted that qualityplusford.com is actually a local dealer who is outranking the Ford.com site as well.
How do you know if other companies are targeting my brand names?
You can quickly find out who is hijacking your brand by performing a search for your brand. Open an incognito window, set your geography and perform a search for your company or product name. That should return both paid and organic sites that are targeting those terms in that geography. Here is a step-by-step guide that we put together on how to perform that search in a way that is free of any personalized or history-based influence.
How vulnerable is your brand?
That depends on your competition, their level of sophistication, your product, industry, saturation, sales funnel, and market share. The main takeaway is that if your competition (direct or indirect) can get an ROI by devoting resources to appearing for your branded searches and your company is not doing anything to lock your brand down, then you are vulnerable.
What does a well-balanced brand protection campaign look like?
Here is the search result for “Geico Insurance”. You’ll notice that they have structured data markup for their Adwords ads that includes pages on their site. This takes up space. They also have a knowledge graph entry with an attention grabbing photo. That takes up space. They also have structured markup that displays pages underneath their organic search result. Then they have local listings, indexed Twitter integration and finally Yelp pages for local Geico dealers. The first non-Geico result organic result is in the 10th spot. This is how you do it.
Geico has leveraged markup and the weight of its online properties to crowd out the competition. They are also most likely running up the bid price for competitors by throwing a decent budget at their own branded keywords. The other thing to keep in mind is that bidding on your own branded keywords is cheaper than a competitor because of your site’s quality and relevance scores in relation to your branded keywords. This makes it very expensive for the competition to appear those keywords. They can either throw a lot of money at it to appear for longer stretches right below you and try and capture as much traffic as they can at a lower click-through spot or they can burn through their budget trying to appear ahead of you.
In the Geico example, it is highly likely that Geico’s competitors are devoting major resource to targeting Geico keywords in organic and paid search (you can see the degree to which by checking the second page of results). Kudos to Geico for staying one step ahead by running up their paid bid price and crowding them out.
Steps to Fix Branded Search Problems
Careful planning during business formation is often the best strategy to make sure your firm’s brand gets off on the right foot. If you’re just starting out your practice, here’s what you should consider:
- Unique Business Name – Your firm’s name will become synonymous with the services you provide. Aside from the legal requirements your state imposes, you want the name brief enough to make it memorable, yet distinct enough to avoid confusion with other practices.
- Choose Your Logo Wisely – Going with that gavel and/or balanced scales is tempting, but you’ll be joining a field clogged with the unimaginative. Choose an image that melds with your brand name to provide a cohesive image for the viewer. Pick a font for the business name that communicates your firm’s professionalism and unique perspective – avoid stock imagery at all costs. The last thing you want is to end up in a Reddit Photoshop Battle.
- Don’t Get too Wordy – Your law firm’s branded name doesn’t need a long string of superlatives that increases its total character length. Doing so actually makes it harder to market that name online and incorporate it into your page titles, meta descriptions, etc. Starting your law firm name off with ‘The Business Law Offices of’ and ending with an ‘LLC’ or ‘PC’ has taken up a third of the space Google allows for title tags.
Once you’ve chosen your business name and logo, remain consistent in how it’s published online, including your social media profiles and local directory listings. Diligence in that area is necessary to bolster and grow branded search rankings for your business. If you’re not starting your law firm from the ground up, don’t worry, there’s still a number of things you and your marketing team can do to increase brand awareness and relevancy.
Established Law Firms: Achieve Brand Consistency
I’ll be the first to point out that social media outlets continue to limit their organic traffic, which hamstrings their utility for businesses looking to reach new leads or customers. They’re all going the pay-per-click route for abs because, as it turns out, shareholders like to see a steadily increasing revenue stream.
These networks, despite the blatant cash grab, are still useful for law firms. Chances are, your firm has a Twitter account or a moth-balled Facebook page. Check out the business name, business address, and business phone number across these networks – are they exactly the same? Are the logos for the firm on each social network profile – G+, Facebook, Twitter, (yes even) Pinterest – exactly the same? Fix them, and while you’re at it make sure each page has a link pointing back to your firm’s website homepage with your firm’s branded business name as the link anchor text. Ex: My Law Firm LLC
Maintaining brand consistency across your web properties is a key ingredient to improving your site’s ranking when it comes to branded search. If you changed business names in the past, have your SEO company or in-house team go through those old social profiles and cleanup the incorrect listings. You don’t want to confuse visitors (or Google) about the name of your law firm as it relates to your brand and your business location. This can have a significant impact on your strategy and SEO for personal injury law firms and other types of law firms.
Consequences of Losing Branded Search
We’ve talked about the click-through rates for branded queries, but maybe that doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining the potential problems your business might face if it’s not the top result. Let’s try this scenario out: let’s say your company’s Facebook page is the top organic result for branded search queries in Google. Maybe that page has a couple negative reviews on it from disgruntled clients. There’s also a low number of page likes, missing business logo, and no contact form to get in touch with the firm’s lawyers. Think those visitors are going to learn into leads? Here’s a brief breakdown of the risks:
- Main Site Loses Traffic: When branded searchers opt for other pages outside your own domain to engage with your company, your main site loses that traffic. Losses in search traffic can cause drops in organic rankings for non-branded search terms due to reduced authority based on user signals.
- Missed Conversion Opportunities: Because searchers are looking for your business when they conduct branded searches, you could lose out on revenue-generating opportunities. Unless your law firm’s Twitter page is optimized for conversion, you won’t see very many leads make it through the funnel to make contact.
- Reduced Revenue: If the business loses its chances to sign leads, it stands to reason that the firm will also experience a corresponding drop in revenue. Less money in the door means fewer free dollars to spend on things like marketing, support staff, and other services crucial to practice development.
Losing the branded search battle is a preventable injury that your law firm and website don’t need to suffer. There’s no reason, outside of battling with a commonly used practice name, that your main website can’t rank number one for its business name on any search engine. Stay diligent in maintaining your firm’s brand online, give customers a great experience so they leave positive reviews on Google+ and other social outlets, and you should begin to see your firm’s branded search results shift in your favor.
If you’re looking to boost your law firm’s reach, SEO for criminal defense lawyers and other law practices is the best place to start. Contact Majux Marketing today for more information on how our SEO experts can help.
The bottom line is that regardless of your product or industry, if your product is able to be purchased online, someone might try to hijack your branded search. Lock it down.
For more information about what a healthy brand protection campaign looks like and how your company can lock out competitors, I invite you to give us a call.