SEO & the importance of brand awareness

We examine some interesting evidence that suggests the link between brand awareness and SEO may be closer than we thought.

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The link between brand awareness and SEO has always been present, but somewhat enigmatic. Take social media for example; while there’s no definitive correlation between social activity and organic search results, there’s no denying that a well-rounded social strategy can indirectly affect a brand’s search performance by way of increased awareness, reputation, and shared content. Links aside, the same could be said of ‘traditional’ PR or advertising.

A new study by marketing agency Red C has revealed these links may be closer than we thought. Using eye tracking technology, the agency analysed 400 Google search journeys and found that 82% of consumers will click on a brand that they’re already familiar with in the SERP, regardless of that brand’s ranking position. In fact, users were willing to scroll down to position 8 or 9 in the SERP to find a result from a brand they recognised.

The research also revealed that first clicks on familiar brands were being made in just 10.5 seconds on average on desktop, and slightly faster at 9.3 seconds on mobile. The report notes,“In these searches the searcher already has a brand in mind and it’s important that they find your brand quickly.”

Search Eye Tracking Study - #1 - Choosing a trusted brand (desktop)

Video shows respondent navigating to a recognised brand result

Conversely, when respondents were searching for something they were unfamiliar with such as river cruises or holiday cottages, where they didn’t already have a brand in mind, they would study the results for longer, with decisions taking around twice as long on average. These searchers were much more open to persuasion in their choices.

Safe search vs open minded search

The report refers to clicks on familiar brand results as ‘safe searches’ – the searcher is likely undertaking the search with a brand already in mind, then scanning results for that brand. These could be brands the user has made a purchase from previously, or brands that are generally well known within their industry. As the charts below show, safe search is a significant factor across all industries analysed within the report, and not surprisingly it’s the big household names that consistently come out on top:

SEO and brand awareness

The non-safe searchers are referred to as ‘open-minded’ searchers – users that are more open to persuasion. For the small minority of search tasks that resulted in searchers clicking on a brand they had no previous knowledge of, 42% of respondents said they did so because of the content in the Organic result. 33% said it was down to the content in a PPC or Google Shopping ad. As the report notes, this demonstrates how important the content in organic and paid results can be, regardless of how well known the brand is.

SEO and brand awareness - Google results

Rankings still matter

There’s no escaping the fact that rankings matter. The report revealed that, unsurprisingly, both PPC and organic results earned more clicks towards their top rankings, across both desktop and mobile. It also highlighted the value of the much coveted ‘position zero’, with the Featured Snippet result earning 45% of the first clicks in one test scenario.

“In our study, several of the search tasks had an informational or pre-purchase purpose, and we saw strong attention and interest to the Featured Snippets and interaction with the People Also Ask drop-downs. There is a compelling case for search marketers to focus significant resource and effort on capturing these valuable, attractive ‘Position Zero’ elements on the SERP.”

There’s a lot to take away from this report, the majority of which I haven’t even touched on in this post, but the key message for brands is that in order to stand out in an increasingly competitive SERP environment, they must adopt a joined-up marketing approach that incorporates both technical and brand focused activities. You can download the report here.

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