Keywords reside at the heart of all SEO and PPC campaigns. The terms and phrases leveraged directly influence the type (and quality) of the audience reached and outcomes obtained.

Naturally, conducting thorough keyword research is the foundational task that the previously mentioned campaigns are built upon, thereby informing sellers about how consumers search for brands, services and products.

However, during this investigative phase, merchants are likely to encounter branded and unbranded keywords. Moreover, there is a fair chance that sellers will be unaware of which will better serve a campaign or what role each might be capable of playing.

Understanding how to leverage branded and unbranded keywords for SEO success is crucial knowledge for marketers who aim to advance domain authority and enhance SERP visibility. Given that billions of searches are processed by Google each day, this is an undeniable fact.

That said, branded and unbranded searches are often presented as a juxtaposition, an either/or scenario. However, this is an inaccurate view of the two. In reality, branded and unbranded terms work in tandem to cultivate greater gains in search.

The Roles of Branded and Unbranded Keywords

For those who are unaware, branded keywords are those that are connected to a specific company. These terms could be the company name, a proprietary product or any other copyrighted moniker.

For example, if a consumer searches “Fender guitars,” they would be conducting a branded search as this is the name of the company.

Those who utilize branded keywords tend to be individuals who are already familiar with a company and its offerings and are aiming to locate the brand’s website or information on the company or its products.

Given that these searchers are already aware of the brand’s existence, such searches are often aimed at making a purchase. Therefore, those who land on a company’s site after a branded search are likely to convert. Often, consumers who conduct these types of searches are returning customers, which means that targeting branded keywords can potentially have a higher return on investment than their unbranded counterparts.

However, the downside to branded keywords is that they do not expand a business’s audience, which is where unbranded keywords enter the fray.

Unbranded keywords are those that are not attached to a specific brand. Keeping in line with the previous example, an unbranded search might appear as “acoustic guitars.” This general phrase is more indicative of someone seeking out a product or service from any company that will fit their needs. Since consumers who conduct unbranded searches may not be aware of which companies offer which products, they are likely seeking out more information about the landscape.

Unlike branded searches, unbranded keywords often result in unique pageviews, thereby introducing a company to new prospects that can help the business grow by acquiring new customers.

Therefore, branded and unbranded keywords each play a critical role in SEO and PPC efforts for acquiring and retaining customers.

Acquisition and Retention Efforts

As touched upon earlier, consumers who conduct unbranded searches are highly likely to be brand-agnostic, meaning that they are not attached or loyal to a single company to resolve a specific query. Therefore, unbranded keywords present businesses a substantial opportunity to boost discoverability and begin cultivating loyalty among new consumers.

This notion is particularly true given that unbranded keywords wield far higher search volumes than branded searches, for obvious reasons. Therefore, identifying the most relevant terms for a business, its products and specific pages should be of prime importance.

However, when speaking to PPC budgeting and bidding, it is highly probable that unbranded keywords will be more expensive to target than a brand’s name. Therefore, it is wise for merchants to optimize their website for unbranded terms as part of their SEO strategy.

Alternatively, users who search a brand name combined with a specific product or service (e.g., Fender Telecaster) already know what they want and are lower in the sales funnel than the searchers mentioned above. Therefore, it makes sense for retailers to target branded keywords with their PPC efforts to prioritize conversions. Given that Google research has shown that branded searches generate conversion rates double that of unbranded keywords, a campaign’s ROAS is likely to be quite rewarding.

However, this is not to say that branded terms should not be utilized in SEO efforts, as these keywords should easily dominate in the SERPs, particularly for businesses with unique names such as “Lego.”

Through this framework, the synergy of branded and unbranded keywords starts to become apparent, particularly since SEO and PPC are intrinsically linked.

Moreover, by employing such keywords in a wise and witty manner, sellers can get their offerings in front of the competition’s audience.

Outsmarting the Competition

When it comes to competing with other companies who offer similar products or services, there are some cunning tactics that sellers can use to steal customers for themselves.

One way to meet this end is by implementing competitor brand bidding, a process by which a company targets competitor branded searches.

keywordsRetailers can employ this tactic directly, bidding on rival brand names as PPC keywords. However, this strategy can also be used more indirectly by utilizing broad or phrase match keywords with competitor names not listed as negative keywords.

For instance, sellers targeting “running shoes” will also target Nike running shoes if “Nike” is not included in the negative keyword list.

However, as far as the direct strategy is concerned, retailers can target competing brands to help lure customers to their site. For instance, Reebok can bid on the keyword “Nike” to potentially help convert Nike customers to Reebok devotees.

It should be noted that attack ads are not the right course of action as this not only cheapens the advertiser’s brand, but it runs the risk of violating Google’s policies. According to Google’s Trademark rules, sellers cannot use a trademarked name in ad text or display URLs.

On the whole, these types of advertising tactics are acceptable as long as sellers are not attempting to be deceptive. Therefore, intentionally misleading searchers will not only result in high bounce rates, but it could also bring down the wrath of Google.

Targeting the branded keywords of competitors with PPC ads is fine (and potentially fruitful) so long as merchants are clear about who they are and why customers might prefer their products over other companies.

Implementation and Maintenance Tips

When it comes to branded keywords, these should be relatively easy to rank for as many merchants tout unique names. Again, it is unlikely that another company will outrank Lego in the organic SERPs.

For a company to ensure that it tops the results pages for branded searches, it is necessary to optimize on-site components like homepages, headers, landing pages, press releases and other forms of content, as well as local SEO elements (if applicable).

By optimizing pages for branded searches, consumers will have an easier time finding a company that they are aware of and interested in what it has to offer. After obtaining considerable visibility through branded keyword optimization efforts, maintenance should be relatively minimal. However, it is still a good idea to check in on these keywords regularly and produce content and copy that targets branded keywords to help maintain dominance.

At the point that sellers top the SERPs for branded keywords, their attention should shift to unbranded terms. Again, organically ranking for these types of keywords is going to be the more fruitful (albeit challenging) route as organically ranking is far more cost-effective and durable than PPC efforts.

Targeting unbranded keywords for better SEO performance requires diligent content creation, link building efforts, metadata and title tag optimization and a variety of on-site SEO strategies for optimization. This process must be constant if sellers wish to rank highly and maintain such positions for unbranded terms.

However, many online industries (such as eCommerce) are highly competitive, which makes ranking well for unbranded keywords quite difficult. For that reason, it is advisable to partner with an eCommerce SEO agency that can pinpoint prosperous keywords and optimization opportunities to help a site climb the SERPs.

Branded and unbranded keywords are both an essential part of a business’s SEO and PPC marketing strategies. Where one helps to elevate awareness and visibility, the other drives conversions and revenue.

Learning to implement each of these types of keywords successfully is of prime importance for brands that aim to dominate the SERPs over the next decade.

Ron Dod is the chief marketing officer and co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end e-commerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.

Keywords stock photo by WindNight/Shutterstock