How to Balance SEO and Branding
Trying to balance SEO and branding is a lot like finding a happy medium between art and structure.
When it comes to balancing a strong brand message and SEO best practices, your job is similar to that of a poet trying to write a sonnet.
You must learn the structure and rules and keep them in mind while remaining dedicated to your style and message.
If, for example, you’re running a family company with a sentimental, feel-good brand, you won’t want to litter your copy with keywords that make the content sound like a robot wrote it—that won’t fit in with your brand’s message. But you can’t just omit those key words either—and this is why it’s important to strike a balance between SEO practices and your brand.
Before we dive into some of the more common SEO best practices and how you can balance them with your brand message, it’s vital to give your brand some TLC first.
Define And Develop Your Brand
It is difficult to balance SEO best practices and a strong brand message, but it’s even more difficult when you don’t have a strong brand established in the first place. The best way to define and develop your brand is to create brand guidelines.
These guidelines will define all aspects of your brand—from the colors and whitespace used in the logo to how content is published on the site. Some companies will even publish their brand guidelines directly on the website so partners and members of the public can adhere to the brand rules. UCLA offers a fully developed set of brand guidelines and information on their site—including details on copy tone, positing and personality, and imagery.
So, why does a well-defined brand matter? Because it will help you decide the best methods for balancing SEO practices with your company’s message.
Case in point: A successful poet already has a certain voice or style they bring to the paper before they fill in the lines of a sonnet. So the words chosen by Edgar Allen Poe would be completely different than the ones selected by a romantic poet like John Keats or William Wordsworth. In order for the sonnet to truly resonate, these poets need to establish their tone of voice first. This tone of voice can even dictate when the poet can throw away or bend the rules of the sonnet’s structure—like in the case of E.E. Cummings or Ezra Pound.
When we apply this concept to branding and SEO, established brand guidelines will inform how you can flow your company’s personality into the SEO practices. These guidelines will even empower you to know when and where the brand can afford to bend, break, or ignore SEO rules.
Get Familiar With The (Current) SEO Rules
Before any poet can set out to write a sonnet, they need to know the details and rules of the structure. So, as a marketer, your first step is to gain a general knowledge of current SEO rules and best practices.
Both the internet and technology are consistently evolving and changing, so search engines need to adapt. The result is increasingly sophisticated algorithms and artificial intelligence that enable search engines to get a more accurate assessment of rankings. Staying up to date on the latest SEO best practices is an absolute must.
Yes, it’s difficult to play the game if the rules are constantly changing, but there are a few basic practices to know. Let’s go over each of today’s most current and basic SEO best practices and discuss how you can balance them with a strong brand message.*
Improve The User Experience
This is where it’s important to have competent user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) designers working on your site. SEO practices show that user experience stats—like click through and bounce rates—are taken into account when ranking a site. If you want to make sure these stats are trending upward, then your UX and UI teams can help. Not only can they ensure the overall user experience is on par but they can do so in a way that adheres to branding strategies and guidelines. This will ensure the brand’s message is not diluted.
Optimize For Mobile
And speaking of improving the user experience—in our mobile-driven world, having a mobile-optimized site is a no brainer. Regardless of branding, your company should absolutely have a mobile site that is easy to navigate and quickly loads. Google is very focused on mobile optimization, and they are moving into a mobile-first world. It will count against your ranking if you don’t have a mobile-first design or if the current mobile site has a poor user experience.
In this case, the only way you need to balance this SEO practice with branding is to make sure you’re creating a mobile version of the site that adheres to your brand’s guidelines. This site should present the same type of on-brand and quality content the desktop site offers.
Add Some Authority
Google takes your website’s link profile into account and uses it as a way to measure the site’s authority. If you want to gain some authority, you need to include quality links woven throughout quality content across your site. You’ll also want to make sure you’re not pushing out the same old links, topics, and copy over and over. This is yet another reason why it’s important to have a strong brand message.
Your brand will dictate the type of content and links you include across the site. This content must make sense to the brand. For example, a health food company’s page would focus on providing authoritative content related to healthy foods and linking to articles within that vertical. If this company started linking to random articles and wrote blog posts about topics that don’t align with the business, it could damage the brand image—and the SEO rankings.
Use Related Keywords
Keyword usage is one of the most well known of SEO practices, but it’s also one of the most abused. Balance is essential here.
If you want to include a key word in a blog post or any other site page, the goal is to make it sound like it is a natural part of the messaging. If it sounds forced, you’re at risk of A) making your brand sound inauthentic and robotic and B) it could count against you in SEO rankings.
A good content team or copywriter can pull off this balancing act with ease and include keywords a natural part of the brand’s messaging. But there are other tricks to take into account. You can also:
- Use keyword-rich text at the bottom of every main category page
- Include keywords in the alt tags of images
- Fill out meta descriptions with the key words
- Include the keyword as a part of the URL (where it makes sense)
Form and function can coexist in harmony. And while being on brand is important, following Google’s best practices is equally as vital to your business. Ensure your brand is well-defined, that you understand the latest SEO best practices, and are applying them to your brand’s message in a way that makes sense. It may take some time, but eventually you’ll strike a beautiful balance that will drive even more traffic to your site.
*Keep in mind, this is not a fully exhaustive list of current SEO best practices. For the purposes of this article, we’re presenting some of the more fundamental and popular practices and showing you how and why to balance these practices with your branding. There is a whole world of SEO knowledge out there if you want to dive a bit deeper.