How brand marketing helps improve E-A-T signals: An introduction
If you came to SEO from a non-marketing or technical background, it can be beneficial to have a broader understanding of brand marketing. This helps you better ally with your marketing communications colleagues to contribute to improving your website E-A-T.
In this article, I will share some of the core principles of brand marketing and how they may be reflected in criteria that can positively demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
Note: This is a deep dive into the first part of my SMX Next presentation, which takes place next week on Nov. 16. Register here for free.
Why SEOs should care about brand marketing
In a previous article, I shared the extensive E-A-T auditing process my agency uses. The process is varied and detailed, covering the evaluation of work that may not be under your control.
For example, one of the checkpoints is to look at the business’s key people to see:
- How they are referenced and promoted on the site.
- How much of their research, work, patents and other evidence of expertise is displayed, marked up, and validated through linked references.
Representing and marketing key people, particularly media-trained spokespeople, is usually the remit of the PR team or agency.
If you work for a small or micro organization or you are an owner-operator, then perhaps all aspects of marketing communications fall to you.
In either case, it is really important to understand some of the basics of brand marketing and how mid to large-sized brands behave. This way, you can ensure that the output of brand marketing is communicated in a way that Google can process and evaluate.
Finally, while some aspects of the work that can help validate your E-A-T may not be under your control, you can use this topic to further internal education efforts as to what SEO is and how it can harness the efforts of all marketing teams.
You can explain to your colleagues how their work has dual purposes and benefits outside of their primary goals.
As an SEO, this is an exciting opportunity for you to:
- Coordinate a broad project.
- Drive awareness of the benefit of SEO in a more accessible, non-technical manner.
- Implement meaningful improvements for the business.
Let’s get into some principles and commonalities of good brand marketing behaviors so you can replicate this approach for yourself and understand more about how other teams’ work can dovetail into your E-A-T SEO goals.
Why does Google care about brands?
Google cares about brands because consumers care about brands.
While E-A-T is a relatively new concept coming to life in August 2018, I would argue that it is an evolution of work that can be traced back to updates as early as Vince in 2009, which was informally known in the industry as “the brand update.”
This update appeared to favor brands, but Google re-framed this as a “trust change.” That the new ranking order appeared to give more weight to brands is more symptom than cause, because [good] brand activity and behavior evince a greater variety of trust signals.
This matters because this is an example of giving the consumer what they want. Quite simply most consumers are reassured by familiarity and trust brands to deliver on expectations.
Researchers found that 7/10 consumers will buy more from brands they trust and that people abandon purchases if trust is broken, according to the 2021 Future of Marketing Research study by Adobe.
Moreover, 63% of respondents who indicated they trust a brand, will recommend that brand to their friends.
Trust is vitally important and can be broken quickly, with the top three reasons respondents gave for leaving a brand relating to misuse of data.
This a cautionary tale for those who invest time and effort in building brand value, only to lose all benefits through aggressive targeting or failure to remove someone from marketing after opting out.
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What brand accomplishments communicate trust to consumers?
Strong brands have a purpose outside of commercial goals, commonly referred to as a company vision or mission.
Similarly, a set of values or beliefs should be shared by founders, leaders and team members which are aligned with the vision.
Brands have identities that are instantly recognizable, helping to expand reach and familiarity which engenders trust.
Finally, brands should behave to a certain standard aligned with values and do so consistently. This is what generates trust.
When consumers see clear and consistent values and ethos around what a brand stands for, purchases move outside of pure necessity and begin to become a part of our perception of identity. This is social identity theory.
“Social identities are most influential when individuals consider membership in a particular group to be central to their self-concept and they feel strong emotional ties to the group. Affiliation with a group confers self-esteem, which helps to sustain the social identity.”
If we buy into this social identity as personality, it is clear to see why broken trust leads to a sharp rejection as per the Adobe study findings.
What is a brand vision?
A brand vision or mission statement is simply the brand’s purpose and reason for being.
The most successful global brands that are instantly recognizable exist for much more than the purpose of commercial growth.
Good vision statements are:
- Driven by purpose.
- Contribute to some degree of greater societal good.
- Forward-looking and reaching.
- Recognizable and suitable.
Here are some fun examples that you will likely know. Have a read of these vision statements and see if you can identify the brand they belong to. (I'll note the answers at the end of this article.)
- “To bring the best user experience to its customers through innovative hardware, software, and services.”
- “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
- “Our deepest purpose as an organization is helping support the health, well-being, and healing of both people — customers, team members, and business organizations in general — and the planet.”
Note that all of these examples are entirely non-commercial and speak to impacting society and even the planet positively.
Jenna Tiffany, Chartered Marketer and author of Marketing Strategy, states in the book that “transformation of ‘vision’ into ‘sales targets’ can be devastating for a brand and company culture.”
This is because, without a guiding purpose, there is no action framework outside of the pursuit of profit and revenue, leading to actions becoming disparate and inconsistent.
To ensure consistency and purpose in operations, most good brands lean into a set of non-commercial values.
What are brand values?
According to The Branding Journal, brand values are:
“[F]oundational beliefs that can steer action and encourage customer loyalty.”
Take the story of Whitney Wolfe Herd and how she founded Bumble, as an example. She took the company to IPO last year and made history as the youngest woman to ever take a company public.
Wolfe Herd’s ambitions for the company were driven by a broader goal to make online dating a safer space. In a Time interview, author Charlotte Alter references Wolfe Herd’s strong belief in the value of brand.
“Wolfe Herd sees Bumble less as a dating app, a social platform or a tech company than as a brand. It’s the word that she uses the most when talking about Bumble, and it’s the word that crops up most frequently in conversations with employees and executives.”
It is no surprise then, that along with a non-commercial purpose, the brand has a clear set of values stated on the company About page which are:
It is clear to see how these values are intrinsic to the company's goal of making online dating a safer space.
What may not be clear yet, is how having vision and values can contribute to how our E-A-T is perceived. To illustrate this in the most tangible way we will discuss a final introductory aspect of brand marketing and that is identity.
Brand identity matters
In Brand Identities: A Framework for Successful Branding, author Phani Tej Adidam defines brand identity as:
“[A]n outward expression of the brand, including its name and visual appearance. The brand’s identity is its fundamental means of consumer recognition and symbolizes the brand's differentiation from competitors.”
With that understanding, a brand's total identity can be far broader than a simple logo but extends to:
It’s not just the image or mark itself that becomes recognizable. Whether trademarked or not, even the text descriptor of a visual device can be understood as part of the whole entity.
As an example, search Google for “three stripes” to see this in action.
The generic query “three stripes” generates a knowledge panel result explaining:
- The trademark.
- Its origin and appearance.
- Variations in the application of how the three stripes are incorporated into visual marks.
On this extension of assets and peripherals being a part of the whole brand story, Tiffany of Let’s Talk Strategy and author of the previously mentioned Marketing Strategy book added:
"A brand is how a person perceives and identifies an organization or person (if it’s their personal brand). This perception can be influenced with what are known as branding elements, such as logos, a specific slogan/strapline, designs, symbols, and (most importantly) the feelings which the products or services evoke. A brand is more than a product or service; it is the combination of all of these elements."
How can brand marketing be leveraged to grow E-A-T?
Simply put, brand marketing is about the creation and marketing of tangible assets. Over time, assets are understood to be entities by search engines.
Entities can be marked up with schema, linked to, cited and referenced to contribute to a growing semantic dataset of tangibles.
This is entity SEO, which has been increasingly in focus this year as the rate of progress in joining the strands of entity, quality and complex semantic and contextual understanding is evident with MUM.
When it comes to brand marketing, all of the brand assets (which may be people, marks, values, vision, slogans, catchphrases, and colors) have the potential to become entities.
Let’s look at it as a step-by-step process imagining we’re a start-up.
1. Create or evaluate all marketable assets
These are the summation of identity components, vision and values, and key people and their assets too.
If you are a start-up, this is a very exciting time to define all these things with founding member energy.
If not, it is never too late to work on this aspect of who you are as a business and why you do what you do best.
2. Assets become entities
Any asset that is defined, named, referenced and marketed consistently over time becomes an entity – a “thing” in and of itself.
It's been a very long time since Google acquired Metaweb in 2010, which facilitated a sea change in Google named entity recognition (NER) capabilities.
When your assets are understood as entities, Google can better understand when a search user may be referring to your asset as opposed to a word or phrase in another context.
Entities can get more real estate on the SERP particularly if it is exclusive, such as a trademark, an individual or an invention.
In many cases, you can own the entire first page for your own entities, even if it may be with a mix of owned and operated versus not owned but operated (such as social media pages.)
3. Entities can be marked up
Structured data is becoming the new rule 34 of the web. If it exists, there is a schema for it.
Adding semantic markup conveys a greater depth of understanding. It can contextualize the object in a way that a query string might not.
While not absolutely critical to be understood as an entity, we often find that markup can accelerate time to trigger entity recognition. It is also simple to implement and can be added via Google Tag Manager if development constraints exist.
How does any of this contribute to E-A-T?
All of the things we have discussed today are signals or indicators of a level of maturity and responsibility that larger organizations should have within our society.
These are brand behaviors that engender trust in us as consumers. Therefore, it makes perfect logical sense that known brands that deserve to match a query should rank well in Google Search.
Better CTR means higher search engagement which leads to greater potential for paid ad clicks which means Google, advertisers and search users all have a better experience.
Authenticity is key
Brand marketing has to be genuine. Vision has to be authentic, or it will be impossible to retain consistency.
Authenticity in vision, values and message is often referred to as brand DNA, which helps us understand that it isn’t something we should or could fake.
To fake it would possibly mean more effort and less reward than having vision and values and being authentic in their communication.
Brand vision statements – answers:
- Apple Inc.
- Whole Foods
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