SEO Case Study #6: Branded Down; Unbranded Up

March 18, 2018 , 5 minutes
branded and unbranded case study

For our next SEO case study, we’re looking at the consequences on SEO rankings on slow-down of other marketing channels.

You can break keywords into two simple groups: unbranded keywords and branded keywords.

A branded keyword is one that features a specific brand name that someone is searching for. A good example of this would be ‘Hilton hotel Brisbane’. That’s an organic search but it’s also a branded organic search. The user is clearly looking for a specific brand’s website and isn’t interested (initially anyway – we’ll talk about hi-jacking search terms below) in other brands. Chances are they’ll only select one result, the one closest to their specific need.

An unbranded keyword would be something like ‘hotels Brisbane’. People searching under this term are looking for choice. They are yet to make a firm purchasing decision and are in a researching phase. This means for most hotel owners, these are the prime targets simply because by their use of a unbranded keyword means they haven’t made a purchase decision yet.

If we were looking at this from a B2B business perspective, the situation is much the same – with a branded keyword it’s highly likely that the user has engaged with some of your previous promotion material or met one of your sales teams and has come to Google to find out more about the business post-introduction.

This definition of unbranded and branded search terms is what makes the seo case study table below – created from the new beta version of Google Search Console – so interesting.

I have blanked out the search terms for obvious reasons but I have labelled them to help you understand what’s been happening with the organic traffic on this site.

SEO Case Study: initial observations

The ‘company name’ query is a branded keyword. That should be relatively obvious. You can see that in the last three months, year on year, there has been a largedecline in clicks under this keyword.

What are the reasons behind this and the consequences of it?

There could be a number of reasons for this decline – but a drop of this significance, losing almost 70% of branded traffic, indicates there could be other serious changes in the business – for example, a reduction in the sales force which would have a flow on effect with the number of people out on the road, cold calling, networking at events, etc.

The secondary terms here are keywords related to channels the business operates in but aren’t considered core channels. An initial amount of optimisation was activated for these terms but nothing much else has been done since then. They are quite narrow and long-tail terms with little competition in. They were getting an initial amount of traffic a year ago (due to some legacy work on the site) so we took advantage of that. It’s questionable as to the value in business revenue from this search terms but it’s practically free so….there’s that.

The primary terms are the ones we’re really interested in here. As you can see, there is a significant growth in unbranded organic search terms here. Four primary terms that have had 32 clicks across the last 3 months. That might not sound a lot but these terms are quite narrow for specific industries and people searching on these are looking for specific services; services that this business can supply. And perhaps more importantly, services that have a high revenue opportunity.

seo case study

So what does this mean?

If you look on Google Analytics, for example, the organic traffic appears to be massively down because, well, it is. On the face of it, this appears to be a poor job from the SEO agency. However, as we can now see when we delve deeper, the work being done on unbranded keywords is paying off, whilst the rest of the business marketing appears to be faltering.

The point of this analysis is that a red flag for falling traffic isn’t necessarily clear cut as it might seem in the first instance and that it often pays to take the time to break the result down into smaller groups of keywords.

A quick note about hi-jacking branded search terms

This is in itself a longer blog, but just a quick note on hijacking a competitor’s search terms.

In SEO, it’s much harder to hi-jack another brand’s name, mainly because to do so, you’d probably need to have a page on your site featuring their brand. And that’s just giving them free marketing, so I would always advise against it.

HOWEVER, if you were to run an article or page that compared your product to a close competitor, and about how your product was superior, then that could be one way of working in their brand name to your website.

With hi-jacking keywords in Adwords, I would caution against it. It opens a massive can of worms that you don’t need. And it’s expensive.