What are Brand SERPS?
As part of your normal marketing strategy, how many times do you Google your company’s brand name? Once or twice a month? Less than that? Almost never?
Believe it or not, taking the time to Google your own brand and analyze its search results page (known as your "Brand SERP") is actually an incredibly useful exercise that will provide you with all sorts of vital information regarding your business’s reputation online. So much information, in fact, that you should consider searching for your own brand online an absolutely vital part of your regular marketing operations.
How will regularly spending a few minutes to Google yourself do anything for your digital marketing? To give our users the full rundown on all things "Brand SERP" we’ve partnered with Brand SERP expert Jason Barnard.
Jason hosts the digital marketing podcast With Jason Barnard, interviewing the top industry experts in all things digital marketing. He also happens to have tracked and studied Brand SERPs since 2014, making him the definitive "Brand SERP Guy".
Working with Jason, we’re publishing a series of articles all about what Brand SERPs are, why you should care, how to optimize your own Brand SERP and how to track your Brand SERP success. All culminating with a live Q & A with Jason hosted by WooRank.
What is a Brand SERP?
The definition of a "Brand SERP" is exactly what you would think it is:
The set of results that appear when someone searches for a brand on a search engine online.
Or, to put it another way, it’s what you see when you use a brand name as a keyword.
And really that’s all there is to it!
As an example, here’s what the top half of the Brand SERP for Netflix looks like:
And if you scroll down a bit you’ll see the second half of their Brand SERP:
Note: A company’s Brand SERP is not the same thing as that company’s (or website’s) branded keywords. Branded keywords include all the keywords that use the brand in the search. So keywords such as:
Nike air zoom cage 3 reviews
UPS delivery tracking
Amazon delivery disputes
...are branded keywords, but the results that show aren’t the Brand SERP for those companies because those keywords are used by people looking for information other than researching the actual brand.
For those companies, the Brand SERPs would be the results for these keywords:
It’s a subtle difference that might seem like splitting hairs. But trust us, the importance of the distinction will become apparent when trying to identify a Brand SERP from a non-Brand SERP.
So, just to recap, Brand SERP refers to the set of results displayed by search engines when people search for a brand name online. And while they’re triggered by someone using a brand name as a keyword, they’re not the same thing as results for other branded keywords.
How do you recognize a Brand SERP?
At the end of the day, Brand SERPs aren’t really any different from other search results for keywords with informational or navigational search intent. So knowing with 100% certainty that a set of results represents a Brand SERP is technically impossible.
However, there are a couple of hints you can look for that can clue you into whether or not you’re looking at a Brand SERP.
These hints are the SERP features that appear on the page. Results for an exact-match brand name search generally contain more of these than other results.
Let’s take a look at the Brand SERP for Dollar Shave Club. Here is what users see at the top of the search results when they search using the "dollar shave club" brand as a keyword:
What about these results clues you into the fact that the user is searching for the Dollar Shave Club brand? Here they are again with the hints highlighted:
Within these search results we see the following SERP features:
Rich sitelinks for the Dollar Shave Club website
The Knowledge Graph panel for brand
Video cards from Dollar Shave Club’s YouTube channel
Twitter cards from the brand’s account
Now compare this to the search results for a branded keyword ("dollar shave club prices") for Dollar Shave Club:
The difference between these results is night and day. Gone are the video cards, Twitter cards, Knowledge Graph panel and rich sitelinks. What we see now instead are a featured snippet (that links to a Huffington Post article, not the brand’s website) followed by People Also Ask results followed by 10 regular blue links.
If you look closely you’ll see the result for the Dollar Shave Club website includes sitelinks, but they aren’t rich results (meaning they don’t include the page descriptions) like we see in the Brand SERP.
Why does this distinction matter?
It’s important to understand the difference between Brand SERPs and branded keywords because it will prevent you from focusing on the wrong things when analyzing your business’ own Brand SERPs. Just think: if the marketer for Dollar Shave Club spent a week analyzing the results for "dollar shave club prices" hoping to find the brand-wide insights that are clear as day in the company’s Brand SERP (which we’ll get into in a second), that would result in a lot of wasted time at best and some seriously erroneous conclusions at worst.
So now that we’ve covered what a Brand SERP is, and given some clues you can use to identify Brand SERPs and differentiate them from "regular" results, it’s time to get to the real heart of the matter...
Why Do Brand SERPs Matter to Businesses?
Brand SERPs are your modern digital business cards
The best metaphor for the importance of your Brand SERP is the business card. Imagine you meet two potential vendors or business partners at a networking event. One hands you their card that has their full information:
The company name
Maybe even a short description of what the company does, the benefits they offer (even if it’s just a company slogan)
Plus the information is well organized, clear and designed in a way that looks good and it’s printed on relatively high-quality paper. Or maybe it takes it to the next level and is made of wood or metal. Maybe it looks something like this:
The second person, on the other hand, hands you a card that’s missing key things everyone expects to be on a business card but isn’t such as contact information and company name. Maybe it looks something like this:
Or, God forbid, the text is written in Comic Sans font.
If you’re in the initial phase of researching both potential suppliers, it’s pretty obvious which person comes off looking like a professional who represents a reputable brand.
The same concept applies to a business’ Brand SERP.
This digital business card is the first impression they’ll get of who you are and what your brand is all about. And just like a business card in the real world, your Brand SERP has to give people a great first impression.
Think about the people who are searching for your brand name
They, by definition, already have some sort of familiarity with your brand and are either in the process of deciding whether or not to enter into some sort of relationship with you. Or they’ve already entered into that relationship with your brand and are currently evaluating whether or not to continue that relationship.
For both groups of people, what they see when they Google your brand name is vital. That Brand SERP needs to be positive, accurate and convincing.
As an example, let’s take a look at the Brand SERP for Netflix again:
This is exactly what you’d expect when searching for a brand of this stature.
It’s got all the information someone would want to get on the company and covers pretty much every situation someone might be in that results in them searching for "netflix"
They want to go to the Netflix website to log into their account or sign up for a new account
Access various movies and TV shows
Find something in the Netflix help center
Research more information about Netflix as a company, its offerings and its prices before signing up
See the latest Tweets from the company to potentially engage with the brand
Watch trailers and announcements about upcoming projects and releases
See the latest headlines involving Netflix
In fact, you don’t see any "regular" blue links until you get to the very bottom.
Now, let’s compare that to the Brand SERP for this company:
These search results are nothing but blue links. There are no sitelinks, no Knowledge Graph panel and no video or Twitter cards. No SERP features at all, in fact.
Because they’ve become so ubiquitous in Google search results in the last 5 years, the lack of SERP features make a company look pretty unprofessional and unconvincing as a brand to searchers.
In fact, many of you likely thought I made up that Acme Global company as an example, which is the perfect underscore to this idea of your Brand SERP as a first impression for your brand’s credibility. (I assure you, however, it’s a real company.)
So, just to put a final point on it, a company’s Brand SERP is absolutely vital in projecting your brand’s messaging, benefits and values. And having a good Brand SERP is what allows you to do that in a positive and convincing manner.
Brand SERPs show your digital ecosystem
At any given moment in time are you able to answer the following questions about your brand:
What is the prevailing opinion regarding your company’s products and/or services? Is it overall positive or negative?
What conversations are people having about your brands? Do people understand who you are and what you do?
Are your efforts across various marketing channels coming together to project the brand identity and messaging you want people to see?
Not sure how to answer one or more of those questions? It’s no big deal. Just check your Brand SERP!
Brand SERPs are perfect for finding the answers to these questions because they are the exact questions that lead people to search for a brand in the first place. And Google is all about providing content that answers the user’s ultimate question: "Should I do business (or continuing doing business) with this brand?"
Why is taking a birds-eye view of your brand’s digital ecosystem so important? It’s the first thing the majority of people you want to reach will see when they start to research you.
The information Google recommends (and it is a recommendation, not just a ranking!) through a Brand SERP is what will impact a person’s decision to continue forward with their purchasing decision. Information such as:
What people say about your products, services, support and overall quality as a business.
What people are saying back in response to those reviews/recommendations. Are people saying the bad reviews are untrustworthy? Are people rating positive reviews as helpful and accurate?
Do you present yourself as a credible and legitimate brand? Meaning, does it appear you’ve invested in establishing a relationship with your customers that is dedicated to meeting their needs? Or do you come off as a desperate used car salesman who is just pushing your widgets to make quota?
These are all things prospects will look at when researching a brand and deciding whether or not to move forward with it. And the results shown in your Brand SERP will be what Google sees as the answers to your audience’s questions (is this a quality, legitimate brand?).
And, since it’s Google, the information presented in a Brand SERP will be taken at face value. There’s a reason Google has a 98% share of the search engine market after all.
Use Brand SERPs to analyze your marketing strategy
Take a moment and think about all the different channels you use to reach, engage and attract your audience online. Depending on your business, you likely use multiple channels for your digital marketing:
Search engine optimization and maybe some paid Google Ads campaigns to reach people searching on Google.
Posting to your brand’s Facebook page
Sending Tweets and engaging with people on Twitter
Publishing videos on YouTube
Maintaining a Google My Business listing for your business’ locations
Publishing content on third-party websites such as industry publications, forums and review sites
The thing is, Google is using all these channels to find answers to user queries as well. So when it detects that someone is searching for a brand it will naturally look to these sources for content that is relevant to the brand.
Ideally, Google will see your various channels as the most relevant to your brand and recommend your Facebook page, Twitter posts and YouTube videos on your Brand SERP.
And if it’s not, that means you’ve got a problem with either your marketing strategy or execution.
Take the following hypothetical.
Two businesses, Brand A and Brand B are both investing in a coordinated multi-channel marketing strategy. These channels include social media, video and SEO.
When you Google "Brand A", that company’s Brand SERP includes their homepage with rich sitelinks, Twitter cards and YouTube videos. When you Google “Brand B”, that Brand SERP has Twitter and Facebook cards but no YouTube and no sitelinks.
What does this tell us?
For Brand A that tells us there’s a problem with their Facebook page. For Brand B we can immediately see they have issues with their video marketing and the way they’ve organized their website — the lack of rich sitelinks shows that their site is not well structured for Google or users to understand.
While analyzing your Brand SERP won’t necessarily tell you what you’re doing right or wrong with your various marketing channels, it makes a quick Google search one of the best ways to figure out where to invest your time, effort and resources.
Even better, the process of improving your Brand SERP (by, say, increasing your Twitter post frequency and engagement) will necessarily improve your overall marketing performance.
Your Brand SERPs: What Comes Next
So now that we’ve established the basics behind Brand SERPs (what they are and why they matter), it’s time to take the next steps. To that end, we’ll be continuing our series with Jason Barnard on Brand SERPs to answer the burning question: "How can I optimize my own Brand SERP?"
But, before that, take a quick moment for a little exercise. Head to Google and do a search for your brand name and spend a few minutes looking at what you see on your Brand SERP:
Does your website appear at the top? Do you see rich sitelinks that link to important pages?
Does your brand have a Knowledge Panel along the right side?
Are there any People Also Ask results that include relevant questions?
If you’ve got a social media presence does Google show Facebook, LinkedIn or perhaps Twitter cards on the first page?
Is Google showing any videos from your YouTube channel? Is it recommending videos from other YouTube channels?
The answers to these questions will help you decide where to focus next when we get into how to actually go about shaping and influencing your Brand SERP.
If you want a deeper dive into all things Brand SERPs, check out Jason's Brand SERP Fundamentals course now available.