Well, it’s the new year and it seems that it there’s an interesting change to the way pages are getting ranked now. That’s good, right? Shaking things up and all that…
So what’s the change?
It looks like, according to an SEMRush study, that direct traffic is the top organic ranking factor.
That’s right, direct traffic, of all things.
Correlation. Causation. Google Analytics dumping traffic in the ‘direct’ bucket when it shouldn’t be again. Blah blah blah.
Just like everything else with SEO and Digital Marketing (especially all the ‘2018 Prediction’ articles that recently came out, which are really just wild guesses based on trends that could end up being completely wrong – yes, even mine!), it all depends on who you ask.
Ask ten different digital marketers, you’ll get ten different answers with ten different studies to back it up.
Look, all that doesn’t matter.
All you need to know is that getting legit, non-bot direct traffic is good. To get an increase in direct traffic, one of the things you need to be doing is investing in solid general marketing techniques. Part of solid general marketing is taking part in brand building activities.
“Well, if it hasn’t been proven to be a direct ranking factor why should I do it?”
Glad you asked because if you didn’t, I’d have no article this week. So now, without further ado, I’m going to run down a few reasons you need to be doing brand building campaigns regardless of whether or not it’s an actual thing in terms of ranking.
Brand Recognition Has Been Shown To Increase CTR – A Lot
This just makes sense and I shouldn’t really have to explain it so I’ll be brief.
If people have heard of you and have an idea about your business, they’re more likely to click you in the search results. This is a good thing, right? I mean, getting the right people to click your link is basically the goal, isn’t it?
What do I mean?
Well, if you did a search for ‘Running Shoes’ and you see results from ‘Nike’ and ‘Uncle Al’s Fancy Foothuggers’, which link are you going to click and subsequently give your money to? Thought so.
Wordstream did a study in February 2017 about how Brand Affinity increases your CTR dramatically and even though a lot of things have changed since then, this probably isn’t going to be one of them. If people don’t know you, unless you have a very unique value that you can’t get anywhere else, a monopoly on a certain product or unless your general ad campaigns are killing it, they most likely won’t click you.
Then again, to have shown people your unique value add or your exclusive products, you’d have to have at least some brand recognition in the first place or how would anyone know?
Brand Authority Can Lead To Social Proof
Whether right or wrong, when they’re looking to make a decision on whether or not to buy a new product, people will usually ask their friends on social media, check out reviews online and check out more information online before deciding.
I personally did this just the other day. I’m getting into home automation and so I was looking into updating my old home thermostat to a Nest. When I first thought about getting one, I went to Amazon and read the product reviews and the customer Q&As. I googled around for ‘Nest Thermostat Reviews’ and read articles here and there and everything sounded great. But I still wasn’t ready to buy.
Before I put that money down, I went straight to Facebook and asked my friends if they had one and if so what they thought. Within 24 hours, I had over twenty overwhelmingly positive replies from my friends who owned one and guess what…I bought a Nest.
Also, think about this: why did I even know ‘Nest’ was a thing in the first place? Why was I looking at the Nest instead of another brand? Because I had heard of Nest long before I even considered buying one for myself. Brand and product awareness in action! I wasn’t ready to convert at the time I first heard the name, but when I was ready, guess what the first name in my head was.
According to a study in 2016, over 80% of people get recommendations from friends before making a purchase and I have no doubt those numbers have continued to rise.
Think about it. I do it, you do it. Almost everyone does it and I only say ‘almost’ because there is always that one guy somewhere but for now, lets just go with everyone because forget that guy.
It’s called social proof and if your brand’s got it, you’re golden. You’re up there with the Pepsi’s, Cokes, Googles and Chevy’s of the world – to one degree or another. If you can get actual people saying good things to their friends about your business without having to pay them to do it, you’ve basically won. You can get all the celebrity endorsements, case studies, paid testimonials and whatnot you want, but nothing beats good old-fashioned word of mouth recommendations from your friends.
Look, even though we know that likes, shares and comments can be vanity metrics if you don’t actually do anything with them, social proof is not. You can calculate it, measure it and, more importantly, it’s actionable. There are lots of ways to gain social proof – some are more reliable than others – but the easiest is to work on your brand’s authority on a certain product or topic like Google does for search, Coke does for soda and Adidas does for shoes.
You might never be the only name in that space – even Coke has to deal with Pepsi! – but the goal is to be a name in that space that people recognize. Not only will this help with general social proof, it can down the road start to help with organic search by making people make the change from searching for things like the generic term ‘wrenches’ to searching branded things like ‘Craftsman Wrenches’. It won’t happen overnight but constantly putting out quality content people actually like and want to consume can go a long way in helping.
You Need Backlinks, Brand Authority Can Help
Backlinks are crucial for ranking. Getting good quality, relevant backlinks in a way that will actually help you and won’t get you penalized ain’t easy. Since the Penguin update, the penalties aren’t as harsh as they used to be but acquiring quality links is just as important.
As regular readers of my blog will know, when it comes to telling people how to actually get backlinks, I sort of just wash my hands of it, link to other sites that offer advice and wish you all luck. That’s not my thing, I don’t deal with skyscrapers, influencers or any of that even though I hear these are all extremely beneficial if done right. As for me, I’m too worried about what happens to your site if you mess it up.
At any rate, you need links. Period. Having a trusted brand that puts out great, useful content on your topic (and properly promoted!) can help. We’ve already talked about what useful content is many times here on the Smokehouse and it’s literally everywhere else on the web as well so I won’t get into that here.
Why? Because we know they usually have quality information that we can trust. On that same note, when we in the industry are sharing out articles and, in my case at least, citing source, who do we go to? Usually those same names. Why? Because we all know their brands and the quality of information you can find on their sites. When most of look for reliable stuff, we’re not looking to ‘Jim-Bob’s House O’ Rankin” or even ‘Smokehouse SEO’ (I ain’t there yet!), we’re looking for tried and true brands and sites.
If you can get your brand to the point where you’re the trusted voice on a topic, provide a fresh look on your industry or product or another aspect that people can trust, answers their questions and they don’t have to go to fifteen different pages to find something, you’re good. I won’t say ‘the backlinks will come rolling in’ because they won’t – not without time and proper content promotion – but you’re more likely to be the site that gets the link rather the one people look at and go ‘pssh, who even are these people?’
You Want To Sell Me Something, You Better Make Sure I Know You’re A Legit Brand
There are a million scammers on the internet and a million phishing and spoofing sites. If you want me to go to your site and put my credit card number in there, there had better be no doubt in my mind that you are a real company. Brand building and awareness can go a long way in terms of this.
On a similar note, if you’re selling self-branded high priced, big ticket items or services, you had better be able to show me that your company is worth the money. Who’s going to drop $400 on a product when they can get a similar item somewhere else online for $40 and you can’t show why you’re charging that much?
You say that you charge that much because you’re the leader in your industry and your quality is better than everyone else’s? Then why has nobody ever has heard of you?
You’re Not First For Every Single Keyword But Somehow You Still Make Money
Imagine if you will the most horrifying scenario possible: Google disappears tomorrow.
Worse yet, the Internet goes away completely.
Ok, calm down, I was just making a point. Now, to scare you like that, I better have a really good point, right?
Well, I do and here it is:
Imagine if that happened or if the internet was never invented. Do you think suddenly Coke, Nestle, Pepsi, Disney, Adidas or almost any other non-internet-only based business with names like those would crash and burn the next day? Would they go out of business? Of course not.
They were around before the internet making money and if the internet was never invented, they’d still be around. Why? Because people know and trust their brand. They know what they’re getting when they deal with those companies.
Oh, also because they have a solid multichannel marketing system so they’re never dependent on just one channel, another must- have for everyone.
So what does that mean for you? Let’s say you’re an eCommerce business and this whole internet thing is your bread and butter and you literally couldn’t survive without the internet. Well, I have good news for you, too:
You can stop losing your mind about your ‘keyword rankings’ if you have a quality brand.
That’s right. I said it.
If you built your brand to a point where people know you, you don’t have to obsess over ‘RANKING NUMBER ONE FOR THE WORD ‘THE’ ON GOOGLE!’ anymore.
Why? Well, I’ll put it to you like this. Do a quick experiment. Open up a new tab on your browser and google the word ‘soda’. What do you see? If your results were anything like mine, you just saw a whole bunch of articles about soda. Not in one spot did you see a listing for Coke or Pepsi.
How much in lost revenue do you think Coke and Pepsi are dealing with because they’re not ranked first for the word ‘soda’?
Google the word ‘shoes’ or ‘sneakers’. Not one mention of Adidas or Nike. How much money did they lose?
But wait, you say, those are manufacturers! It’s different because I’m a retailer! Ok, google ‘online shopping’. Amazon is FIFTH on my SERP. How much traffic do you think they lost to whoever ‘Zaful’ is, the person who is in the first organic spot here? Or whatever ‘Boohoo’ is that’s in the second position?
Yeah, I’m sure Jeff Bezos ain’t concerned.
The point is that when you think ‘soda’, you immediately think ‘Coke’ and ‘Pepsi’. When you think ‘Shoes’, you think ‘Nike’ or ‘Adidas’, when you think ‘Online Shopping’, you think ‘Amazon’. You can do this too! Remember it wasn’t so long ago when Amazon was literally just a small site that sold books. It’s giving people what they want and building your brand.
WARNING: THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO PROPER SEO, SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING, PPC OR OTHER FORMS OF DIGITAL MARKETING AND ONLY FOCUS ON BRAND BUILDING. THIS MEANS YOU HAVE TO DO BRAND BUILDING ALONGSIDE OTHER FORMS OF DIGITAL MARKETING.
You’ve still gotta put in the work on your site, social media and your content but this will make your life a lot easier until your brand is a household name. Also, these days, realistically, you can’t build your brand unless you’re doing all of those things, anyway.
The Bottom Line:
Right now, in my personal opinion, I’m going to say the jury is still out on Direct Traffic being a direct ranking factor for organic search but really, as I said before, who cares?
Whether or not the amount of direct traffic you get effects your organic traffic doesn’t matter. The channel your traffic comes from is less important than the quality of the traffic and that’s less important than how your brand is perceived in the public. Why do I say the perception is more important than traffic? Because if everyone hates you, people will still click, they’ll just never convert and also probably leave some nasty messages for your customer service people to wade through, two things that do no good for anyone.
Using brand building techniques, I have personally seen huge increases to my day job’s landing pages, video views, membership, training and product inquiries, traffic and follows to our social media pages when compared to when we simply ran ads for our products alone. We are a very niche industry and don’t use huge marketing budgets and yet our simple brand building efforts on social media are already paying off.
So go forth and create a name for your brand that will resound throughout history….or something.