Branded, Non-Branded Keywords Must Share Mix

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As I sat through my third meeting this month to help clients develop tactical search marketing budgets, it became clear that quite a few misconceptions and fears still exist concerning non-branded keywords.

Let's say you are a niche high-end retailer trying to increase your online business. You like your branded keywords and the ROI they provide, but you need to reach more potential customers and lift overall revenue. Could non-branded keywords be the solution?

On one hand, it's critical to get in front of non-brand searchers, as they are potential new customers who will help expand your business. However, it's hard to stomach that decreased ROI. Which tactic wins out?

If you look at the results, you'll find that the combination of branded and non-branded terms wins long-term marketing wars.

Owning your branded terms is key to protecting your brand-loyal customer base from competitors and even affiliates, but click-stream data will show that owning non-branded keywords is also essential.

Searchers clicking on your non-branded campaign often sign up for newsletters, visit store locator pages and frequently return to click on branded terms and make purchases. These behaviors are tougher to track, but equally valuable.

So how do you include non-branded terms without breaking the bank? Here are some things to remember:

Compare apples to apples: Measure non-branded keywords separately from branded. If you traded in your fuel-efficient Honda for a family SUV, you wouldn't be shocked when your fuel economy tumbles. Set expectations and be prepared for lower returns. This is about overall growth and increased revenue, not necessarily sticking to traditional ROI equations.

Be smart about keyword choice. Relevancy is crucial for most marketers. If you sell high-end men's footwear, then you probably shouldn't start with the term "menswear," since 97 percent of searchers for that term are shopping for items other than expensive men's shoes.

Remember the non-branded search funnel. A branded conversion often begins with one to three generic searches. After considering several brands and choosing one, a shopper often returns to convert on a branded term. For example, our travel industry clients often see a funnel resembling this:

• Search 1: "beach vacation" - trying to determine where she is going without brand consideration.

• Search 2: "Mexico beach vacation" - she's picked a destination; multiple brands vie for attention.

• Search 3: "Playa del Carmen hotel" - branding heavily informs hotel choice.

• Search 4: "Brand name" hotel Playa del Carmen - searcher knows the brand and the hotel name. In other words, she's yours.

Choose what is important: volume/branding/growth or return on advertising spend? Sole reliance on the latter can be dangerous. You have to ask yourself, "Do I want $215,000 a month at 18:1 or $500,000 a month at 11:1?" Setting expectations at the outset is the first big step in any marketing effort.

So why is non-branded search so important? I'll let the results speak for themselves:

• A major retailer we work with decided for budget purposes to stop running non-branded keywords. In just two months, it saw a decrease of more than 20 percent in its branded keyword impressions.

• We recently ran a test for a client in travel to see how branded and non-branded terms interact. While holding branded keyword spend and positioning stagnant, we launched a much more aggressive non-branded keyword campaign. The results showed branded keyword revenue rising $25,000 per week, which equated to a lift of 22 percent.

It allows for growth beyond the realm of your brand. No matter how strong your brand, you should look to expand. Being as widely present as possible is integral to expanding your presence and market share.

It boosts your core branded terms. Not only are you trying to grab new markets, you also are funding future branded efforts within those new markets. A large portion of returning non-brand converters will click branded terms for subsequent purchases, thus boosting your main business.

So, knowing that each marketer has unique budgets and campaign performance goals, what are the rules of engagement? You need to use your entire arsenal, including branded and non-branded search terms. Determine distinct measurements for each tactic and be agile enough to adjust lackluster performers. With these tactics, you will see results quickly.

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