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Experimenting With Branding Online

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If you pursue branding online, you need to realize that you may be at odds with the search engines in terms of your ultimate goal, but that is nothing new in a pay-per-click campaign.

You, as the advertiser, want the visitor to spend as much time as possible on your website, while the search engine is interested in getting as many people to click on ads as possible, thus leading to their wanting visitors to leave sites quickly and move on to another.

As a rule, a branding campaign is going to be more costly than regular PPC campaign, because you will need to include many more generic keywords in your campaign than you might have otherwise, and having more generic keywords is generally more costly.

Because the key factor in branding is a high degree of awareness of your product, you need to capture as many site visitors as possible.

Thus, you want to select the generic keywords that people who are just beginning the buying cycle will plug into the search box.

In addition, you must bid high enough on the keywords to end up high in the list. Keep in mind that you do not have to pay for these sometimes expensive keywords unless someone actually clicks on the ad.

Research reported in February 2005 by DoubleClick and comScore, using 1.5 million consumers who had purchased online, revealed how important generic keywords are if you are pursuing a branding strategy.

The results of their study showed that, generally speaking, the buying cycle within a 12-week period.

During that time, it is usually not until the final when for many consumers the decision to purchase has been made, that searchers use specific keywords that include company names and other branding-related terms.

Even during the last week of the buying cycle, almost one-fifth of the searchers were still generic in nature.

This implies that branding opportunities can net even at this late stage, in that a small business could be the choice over an already-known brand name.

If this happens often enough, you could see the beginning of your own branding starting to occur.

If you have kept your company’s name and identifying characteristics in the forefront over the entire buying cycle of an individual consumer, comScore believes that you have a relatively good chance of not only converting that customer to a purchaser, but more importantly, of increasing your brand awareness within that consumer.

It is also important to plan your strategy well and to decide in advance all the details of how you want your brand to be perceived.

What are the key factors you want to portray? These need not necessarily be unique selling points, but are aspects that consumers seek and expect, and that will encourage them to become repeat buyers.

Examples include being open 24/7, having a wide selection of goods, low shipping costs, and so on.

When brainstorming these kinds of things, consider the companies that you think of as brand names and then come up with a list of what made them, and continues to make them, a name that is instantly associated with a product.

After you have identified those items, figure out if you can duplicate a similar type of aspect in your products.

Equally Important to your ad campaign is ensuring that your website itself is clear, clean, and very intuitive for a potential visitor to use.

Reassess your web design and make sure that there are no inconsistencies in your content, particularly that centered around purchasing requirements or the purchasing process itself.

Be sure to include testimonials, especially if you have a customer who is already well known, because some of their own branding will rub off on your site (the user will think, if “X” company uses these people, then they must be good”).

Remember that ad impressions from a regular PPC campaign or a contextual advertising ad campaign can go a long way toward helping brand your products.

Repeated exposure on content based sites, and impressions gained through organic search results, will put your ads in front of the consumer repeatedly.

Because many studies have shown that it is rare for a single exposure to an ad to result in a purchase, the more times your acts arc seen by potential customers, the more likely you are to convert them into buyers.

There are some specific concerns to keep in mind if you do set up a branding campaign:

• A branding campaign is usually long-term, and call yield a lower return than a campaign developed for direct response.

For one thing, the majority of online purchases go through a sales cycle that averages 12 weeks.

During this time, the consumer researches the product, researches some potential sellers, mulls the situation over for a while, and then decides from whom to purchase.

And as stated previously, the generic keywords that are key to branding tend to be much more expensive than the “niche” keywords that may be part of your PPC search advertising campaigns.

• Monitor your branding campaign to ensure that the number of impressions without clickthroughs does not wind up disabling your search terms.

Otherwise, it may take you some time to recover your traditional PPC ad campaign once your experiment with branding is over.

• Continually rethink the campaign, tweaking keywords where necessary and varying your ads ever so slightly if your initial results don’t bear fruit or if you see that a slightly different approach works better.

• Consider setting up a very short mini-poll on your thank-you page or on a page appropriate for earlier in the buying cycle asking why consumers made a purchase, whether or not your efforts met their expectations and how you could improve the experience for them.

A good customer experience is key to branding, not just in the quality of your product, but in the interest you show in your consumers.

You may receive some insightful comments in return, and the poll serves as a further reminder of from whom they have just purchased a product.

A study conducted by AdKnowledge in late summer of 2003 found that conversions that occur long after the initial click through to the PPC ad were on the rise.

In fact, around 44% of total conversions in the study were repeat conversions, indicating that building customer loyalty (and eventually branding) is not only possible on the Internet, but perhaps a larger player than currently realized.

Another study undertaken in the same time period revealed that the top 50 most visited sites (resulting from online advertising) were not the largest companies online, but rather companies such as Amazon.com, eBay.com, eToy.com, and so on.

These sites have become successful because they also offer items that they realize someone coming to buy books might be interested in.

This includes such things as music, movies, children’s toys, and a variety of other products they have carefully researched and identified as being of interest to book purchasers.

At Amazon.com, for example, every time you look at the details of a book, you will also find a list of other books or products that people, like you, looked at in more detail while on the Amazon site.

All of this is designed to keep the visitor on the site as long as possible, and perhaps tempt them to place more items in their shopping cart than they originally carne prepared to purchase.

If the consumer is happy with the related items they decided to purchase, it’s a certainty that they will come back to Amazon the next time they are in the market for a book-and the branding process has begun.

Of course, Amazon has already branded itself online, precisely through such methods. It evolved from a simple bookstore founded many years ago to a complex site where you can purchase any number of related products.

You will also be exposed to unrelated products that Amazon has found make good Impulse buys.

The example of Amazon leads to a very important consideration. How can you tell if your branding approach is working?

In short, what indications should you look for to see if the ad campaign you are running is working and actually increasing your brand recognition?

Not surprisingly perhaps, the types of statistics that you need to analyze closely are quite different from those in PPC search ads.

They are, in fact, closer to the type of statistics one looks at to evaluate contextual advertising, because both branding and contextual advertising share one thing in common-both depend upon people repeatedly seeing your ad.

Therefore, the key analytics to track- after you have let your branding campaign run through at least one complete buying cycle (about 12 weeks, plus tacking on ,a week or two on either end if you can afford to) are:

• Traffic-keep a close eye on the traffic to your site during your branding campaign. Not only does this tell you how many people are visiting your site, so that can compare those statistics with a similar PPC search engine ad campaign.

It will help you recognize the impending disabling of specific keywords if their clickthrough rate is falling below the search engine’s default percentage.

• Average Position (ranking)-a study conducted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in mid-2004 strongly indicated that top ranking in search results increased brand awareness by about 27%.

Top positions tend to reach partner networks more readily as well, thereby increasing the number of people who will see them.

• Impressions-this analytic is, of course, the main key to branding. Just as with offline advertising, your goal is to get as many “eyeballs” on the page as possible, as marketers term it.

Online, this obviously means getting as many people as possible to see your ad, even if they do not take any further action.

The repeated viewing of your ad will, over time, increase your chances of achieving some success in branding your product or your company name.

After all, in the course of about seven years, Google went from a two-person start-up in a dorm room at Stanford University, to a company currently known worldwide as the top search engine.

If you are sufficiently motivated, manage to find the finances needed to carry on a long-term branding campaign, work hard at pleasing the customer, and can find a unique presence you may become the next “Google” or “Amazon.”

Although it may seem impossible to break through that invisible barrier as a small business, there are cases that show it can be done.

Additional Tips on Branding Online
There is no doubt about it-branding and its possibilities of success versus the cost involved is a very controversial topic.

It is not a cheap option, nor is it foolproof. One should enter into such a venture knowing full well that initial results will be slow in coming and that you may never reach your ultimate goal.

However, you may be able to increase the number of repeat customers along the way and move a little closer to that goal.

Here are a few final tips to help you if you decide, to undertake a branding advertising campaign on a PPC search engine:

• Keywords-although the general approach is to bid on generic keywords, do not overlook including keywords of any trademarked products/services you may have.

If the product/service is not officially trademarked, but it is unique to your offerings, also add keywords for those items to your branding campaign.

These keywords will cost very little, since they are trademarked and/or unique to your particular company, and these terms may be what stuck in the mind of a previous buyer or visitor who can’t remember your URL, or your company name.

Do consider the legal implications of using keywords that are the names of products not yet trademarked, if you decide to include them.

• ROI-in a branding ad campaign, Return On Investment is not the only key analytic to worry about.

The goal of a branding campaign is not just to sell products right away, but rather to imprint your company’s name and/or products on the visitor’s mind in order to prompt future visits.

Expect the ROI on a branding campaign to be smaller at first, and you won’t be disappointed if it turns out that way, as it almost invariably will.

• Experimentation-keep in mind that a branding ad campaign, especially when you first dip your toes in the water, is an experiment.

Don’t expect great results from the beginning, but carefully analyze and compare the number of impressions and amount of traffic between this campaign and a regular PPC ad campaign.

A comparison will not be easy, since the keywords used in either case will not be the same, but enough data should be available to give you a rough idea about whether or not you want to invest more money and time in more branding approaches.

• Competition-if you run an organic search on “soft drinks,” you will not find websites for the top brand names coming up in the first pages of a search result.

Instead, you will typically see informational sites talking about soft drinks. The large companies, such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, don’t need to be top ranked online because they already have well-established brand names offline.

Therefore, your competition for what may be considered a highly relevant generic keyword may not be other companies selling soft drinks, but contextual websites.

There are significant opportunities available to help you brand your particular soft drink in such an environment.

• Contextual Advertising and Branding-if a search for a generic product is more likely to turn up informational websites rather than the large brand names that control the marketplace, consider using contextual ads within those sites as a means of indirectly branding your Product.

In this article, we’ve considered a number of types of pay-per-click advertising available and some different approaches that map help extend the reach of your product and your company.

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