Brand awareness and its impact on SEO

When it comes to your search performance there are a lot of factors to consider: is your content high quality with relevancy to the user’s search? Have you got all your technical SEO in order? Is the page tagged up semantically, and easy to navigate and understand? The list goes on. But have you considered whether brand awareness also has an effect?
As Google and the other search engines strive to deliver the most relevant and useful content to their customers, surely at some point in the future how much your brand is talked about, and in what way, could play a part in the overall ranking factor (even if only a small element of the analysis)?
If this seems far-fetched or nonsensical then consider a patent that Google put forward where they detail what constitutes a link:
Google Patent March 24, 2014
“A link for a group of resources is an incoming link to a resource in the group, i.e., a link having a resource in the group as its target. Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. An express link, e.g., a hyperlink, is a link that is included in a source resource that a user can follow to navigate to a target resource. An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.”
So Google has two versions of a link:

  • Express link – a full-fat hyperlink
  • Implied link – a reference to a target resource, but one that is non-navigable

We know for sure that a legit hyperlink pointing to your site/page from a respected source helps improve rankings. But what about these implied links? Will they also play a part? I think yes and here’s why I reckon brand awareness/mentions could play a part in search rankings in the future.

Do people trust your brand?

We know that Google takes a long hard look at bounce rates to sort rankings. The logic being (rightly) that if a user lands on a page from a specific search but bounces off quickly then the content is probably not useful for someone using that search.
Could Google do the same surrounding brand mentions and sentiment? If Google can see through implied links and other factors that your brand has a lot of negative sentiment, or for a specific service or product you offer, then would they push you down the rankings so that customers find a brand that performs better (with the idea being that the positive brand better serves customer needs)? More importantly would they be right to?
Should Google be deciding whether a brand gets seen based on what people think about it? And what implications could that have for online “witch hunts” where people mobilise against a brand for a particular reason? After all maybe a vocal and active minority of people dislike a brand, that’s fair enough and they can voice their opinion. But should that brand’s search performance suffer because the majority of people who have had favourable interactions don’t go to the effort of giving positive sentiment online?
These kinds of issues could come into play if brand awareness and online sentiment begin to be factored into search rankings.

Brand mentions and local SEO performance

Google definitely looks at non-linking brand citations when working out local SEO results. Name, address, and phone number information (NAP) is taken from your site and Google uses the NAP data to serve up your business if someone searches for something like ‘burger bar in Exeter’.
Having accessible and correct NAP information definitely helps with local SEO results, but Google also reinforces this by cross-referencing any local citations found. So your level of brand awareness and brand mentions on a local scale can really help this kind of search performance.
But does it go further than this?
If there are several other burger bars in your area, but Google can see a lot of brand mentions on other local sites (implied links only) will they drive you up the rankings? It would make sense for that to be the case, but then what if most of these were negative brand mentions? You can see things starting to get sticky quickly.

The power of social media in brand awareness

It’s also worth considering just how much activity goes on through social media these days. More and more people interact with brands directly, or indirectly, via social media. When they like a post, follow an account, share some content, or post directly to a brand or @mention them, a user is signalling their awareness of the brand, and potentially whether they approve or disapprove of the brand too (as we covered when looking at brand sentiment earlier).
The number of people who have active social media accounts must outweigh, by quite some margin, the number of people who run active, quality blogs that can provide express links to your site. So it follows that as the way in which we interact with brands shifts into social then brand interactions, mentions and sentiment on social might come into frame for ranking.

Build your brand authority now

Personally I believe that brand mentions, sentiment and awareness will begin to have an impact on search rankings, and that it will only increase in importance over time. However, even if it doesn’t (or its impact is kept small in the grand scheme of things) it’s still important to focus on building brand authority.
How many times have you been in the supermarket and chosen a brand name, one you’re aware of and feel positive about, over an alternative brand or a supermarket own-brand? Brand recognition has a major part to play in driving sales and growth.
Bringing the analogy back to SEO and SERPs: you do a search for a product you’re after. The second result is for a brand you know and like, the first result is for a brand you’ve never heard of, or don’t have any connection with. Which one would you click?
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