Understanding how to rank for both branded and unbranded terms in organic search is critical for marketers looking to build domain authority and capture share of search online. After all, over 3.5 billion searches are conducted each day on Google alone.
When we talk about branded versus unbranded search, it isn’t an either/or proposition. Both are critical. But to rank in search results at moments of high intent, a business must have a strong grasp of the value of each — and where along the customer journey people are most likely to search for unbranded versus branded keywords.
Unbranded search helps you win new customers.
Unbranded keywords refer to search terms that do not specify a specific brand or business name (e.g., a Google search for “NYC restaurants with valet parking” or an Alexa search for “best beignets in NOLA”). Consumers making unbranded searches are more likely to be brand-agnostic shoppers making a general search – or new prospects who are unfamiliar with your brand. As such, this is an opportunity to boost discoverability, start establishing brand trust, and win new customers.
Unbranded keywords often have higher search volumes than branded terms, so identifying the relevant terms for your business and strategies to rank for them should be a top priority. It also means that bidding on these terms in paid search will likely be more expensive than bidding on your brand name, so focus on optimizing for unbranded terms as part of your organic strategy.
Here’s how can your business win at unbranded search.
Optimize for unbranded keywords.
It’s important to think about the entities that are fundamental to your business. Ask yourself this question: What products or services might a customer interested in your business be looking for? If you’re a bank, the keyword “bank” is an obvious start — but what about customers searching for loan advice, nearby ATMs, or other financial services?
Make sure you optimize for these essential keywords. It’s critical to have clear copy and structured data identifying your fundamental business attributes, both on your local pages and across the many places online (think third-party sites, like TripAdvisor or Yelp) where your brand information appears. Without structured data and copy specifying that each of your bank branch locations has an ATM, for example, search engines won’t be able to find this information — and therefore, neither will your customers.
Manage your business listings.
To show up at the top of SERPs for an unbranded search — particularly in Google’s local pack — the fundamental rules of local SEO still apply. Your business needs to be listed accurately everywhere, so that new customers making a general local search can find you at moments of high intent. This means you need to manage your listings so that your address, hours, business category, and other basic details are correct and consistent.
To rank for the unbranded local search “great breakfast eats,” for example, search engines must be able to identify both:
- that your restaurant is near the user’s geolocation (“near me” is now implied in many searches, both unbranded and branded)
- your operating hours
Having accurate and consistent information about your business, across listings, is what provides these essential details to search engines.
Invest in branded keywords to generate repeat business.
Users searching for a brand name paired with a product or service already know what they want, and they are closer to taking action than those performing unbranded searches. It makes sense to leverage your paid search budget and focus on strategies prioritizing conversion and loyalty.
All of your work to optimize for unbranded search will come into play here, too; these two types of search work together. By optimizing online listings and your website for the products, locations, services, and other entities that you offer, you’re giving search engines with the information they need to deliver structured, verified answers to specific questions customers are asking about your brand, like “where is the nearest Denny’s?” or “Which Courtyard Marriott in Chicago, IL has a pool?”
Winning business today means understanding that customers today have grown used to searching for exactly what they want — meaning products, services, and attributes — and receiving structured answers in search results for their increasingly specific queries.