There’s ongoing debate about the roles of branding and search engine optimization (SEO) in growing your online business. One school of thought holds that branding in the internet age is an outdated and limited concept. Being held hostage by a brand, and letting it drive your online marketing program, severely limits your ability to find and attract qualified prospects. On the other hand are those who believe that branding is everything, that your brand should drive your marketing efforts, including SEO, so that you project a consistent and compelling image and message that truly speaks to your audience.
Time to inject some reality into the debate! The fact is that you have to know yourself, your company, and your customers before you do either SEO or branding. How can you build a brand if you don’t know what you stand for, what your customers want, or what you can deliver? How can you generate the best keywords or generate inbound links if you haven’t done the competitive market research, don’t understand your customers, or aren’t 100% comfortable with your products or services? Both SEO and branding are built on the same foundation.
So, given that you need the same information to build your brand and your SEO campaign, which one should you do first? The answer to that really depends on your business but, generally speaking, branding should come first. Even small businesses need a brand. This can be as simple as clarifying your personal values and injecting them into your online messaging (e.g., speaking about “integrity,” “going the extra mile,” or “quality”) to something as complex as developing a complete brand image, logo, and marketing campaign (think of Coke or Nike).
The point of branding in the context of a small business isn’t to be the next Nike. What your brand should do is help keep your message and image consistent across all media, whether that’s print advertising, YouTube videos, customer meetings, or search engine optimization. People searching the internet are pretty savvy – they quickly realize when your website doesn’t reflect the search engine listing generated through your SEO efforts. You’ve got only a couple of seconds to capture and hold their attention once they hit your website. Make sure you understand your brand and follow it in everything you do online – your customers will thank you, and so will your bottom line.