Search Engine Branding
I often explain to new clients the importance of what I call “search engine branding.” By that I mean, how the listing for your web site appears on a search engine’s results page after a user has performed their search. What does the link text say for your listing? What does the description that accompanies it say? Are the elements of your listing compelling enough to get someone to click on your link? And, most importantly, is your brand being done justice on the search results page?
These are important questions because the the way that people use search engines. People are more likely to click on a link that more precisely matches the search they’ve just performed than a link that only vaguely resembles their search.
When doing research online, people often perform many and slightly different related searches. As a result, your site may very well show up during their research, resulting in multiple and reinforcing impressions on the searcher. Those reinforcing impressions can harden into a positive or negative image of your organization, depending upon how your listing is presented.
I recently came across an issue that helps to illustrate one of the pitfalls of using Flash technology (See last year’s post Website Redesign about the problems Flash presents for search engine marketing) as well as the importance of search engine branding.
Since search engines thrive on eating text, and there is no text to be found in Flash files, the likes of Google, Yahoo! and MSN.com tend to starve from Flash-centric web sites. They take what text they can find.
Two of Minnesota’s most prominent web sites, those belonging to the Mall of America and to the Minnesota Vikings, are built extensively using interactive Flash technology.
Doing a search on MSN.com, I found an example of where Flash technology has had a negative effect on both organization’s brands. When I searched for “mall of america” or “minnesota vikings” on MSN.com, the link text did not match my search at all.
In the case of the Mall of America site, the link text read “Home” because that is the only text MSN.com could find on the Mall’s site. In the case of the Vikings, the link text read “http://www.vikings.com” because MSN.com couldn’t find any text at all on the site, so it did the next best thing and took the text it found in the web site address itself.
The link text in both instances do not match the search query, so people are probably not going to click on the link and the listing is a negative reflection of the brand.
When you check Google and Yahoo!, however, the listings look just fine, matching the search query exactly.
Why is that? Because unlike MSN.com, Google and Yahoo! are taking the data not from the web site itself but from directories where the web site is already listed. Google knows, for example, that both the Mall of America site and the Minnesota Vikings site are already listed at the open directory project, dmoz.org. Seeing no helpful text on the actual web site, Google makes the connection and pulls the information from dmoz.org to fill in. Yahoo! does the exact same thing, but it uses it’s own directory.
Unfortunately, with a little understanding of how the major search engines work, this snafu in online brand management could have been avoided.