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Understanding the Difference Between Branded and Non-Branded Keywords

Written by James Tudge on .
Keywords on laptop

In the realm of digital marketing, keywords play a pivotal role in connecting businesses with their target audience - they serve as the bridge between what users are searching for and what businesses have to offer. Among the diverse range of keywords that businesses use, two distinct categories stand out: branded keywords and non-branded keywords. Understanding the difference between these two types of keywords is essential for crafting an effective digital marketing strategy, including how they relate to successful SEO (search engine optimisation) and PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns.

Branded Keywords: Anchoring Your Identity

Brand keywords, as the name suggests, are directly associated with a specific brand or company. These keywords typically include the company name, products, or services. They serve as digital signposts that guide users directly to a particular brand's offerings.

A suitable example is if you search “Facebook login” - this uses a branded keyword since the user is looking for a specific site name. SEO has user intent considerations, known as “search intent”, and branded keywords relate closely to “navigational intent” since the user has a destination in mind and is using Google (or other search engines) to take them directly to the target site. Key characteristics of branded keywords include:

  • Brand Recognition - Brand keywords reinforce brand recognition and loyalty among existing customers.
  • Targeted Audience - They attract users who are already familiar with the brand and are likely to convert into customers.
  • High Conversion Rates - Brand keywords often have a higher conversion rate as they capture users at the bottom of the marketing funnel who are ready to make a purchase decision.

Facebook search results

Adidas search results

PPC Considerations - Bidding on Branded Keywords

Businesses have the ability to bid on branded keywords, including their own brand names as well as those of their competitors. Bidding on your own branded keywords can be a strategic investment; while it may seem counterintuitive to spend money on keywords for which you already rank organically, the potential benefits in terms of brand visibility, traffic capture, and competitive defence often justify the investment.

  • Bidding on your own brand keywords allows you to maintain visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) when users search for your brand specifically, ensuring that your website appears prominently at the top of the search results. Most users will still click on your organic result.
  • Bidding on your branded keywords is very cheap as you are the most relevant result.
  • Doing so ensures your competitors don’t appear above you (if they decide to bid on your branded terms)
  • Bidding on a competitor's branded keywords involves targeting search terms related to their brand name in your advertising campaigns. This strategy aims to intercept users searching for your competitor's brand and potentially redirect them to your own offerings or promotions.

Whilst you cannot prevent others from bidding on your branded keywords, you can take certain actions to mitigate the impact of competitors targeting your brand.

  • One example of an action you could take is to trademark your brand. If your brand name is trademarked, you may have legal recourse to enforce your trademark rights against competitors who engage in trademark infringement by bidding on your branded keywords.
  • Another way is through monitoring your competitors' advertising activities and adjusting your bidding strategy accordingly. By staying informed about their campaigns and performance metrics, you can make strategic decisions to maintain your competitive edge.

Non-Brand Keywords: Casting a Wider Net

In contrast to branded keywords, non-branded keywords do not include specific brand names. Instead, they focus on general product categories, services, or topics. These keywords appeal to users who may be in the early stages of the purchasing process and are exploring their options.

An example of where non-branded keywords are used is through searches like “football results” or “holiday home reviews” - these searches indicate that users are interested in a particular product, service or topic but have not yet committed to any specific brand. Non-branded keywords relate to “informational intent” since a user is looking for further information on what their options are via a search engine. Key characteristics of non-branded keywords involve:

  • Broad Audience Reach - Non-branded keywords target a broader audience beyond loyal customers of the brand, capturing users who are still researching or comparing options.
  • Brand Discovery - They provide an opportunity for brands to attract new customers who may not be familiar with their offerings, expanding their client base.
  • Educational Content - Non-brand keywords often align with informational searches, allowing businesses to provide educational content and establish authority in their industry.

BBC search results

PPC Considerations - Ensure You Catch the Right Audience

Since non-branded keywords are much broader, your ads need to be carefully optimised - a “bigger net” means you can catch a lot of the “wrong fish”, resulting in a wasted advertising budget. This is where the expertise of PPC professionals comes in handy - we help run successful PPC campaigns by conducting non-branded keyword research that is broad enough to capture a new audience, but specific enough so that it is still the right audience.

The PPC experts at Beyond Your Brand have taken over accounts where keywords were too broad, for example, a PPC campaign for a care home client originally had keywords such as “day care centre”, which targeted relevant audiences but also unintentionally targeted people looking for child care. Further research into this found that keywords such as “day centre” were more relevant to adult homes, and the ad campaign generated more quality clicks once these were optimised.

The value of clicks is one of the most important factors for a paid advertising campaign - you would want fewer, more specific clicks if it meant that those who clicked were from a suitable audience (who are more likely to become customers), rather than more clicks from uninterested or irrelevant audiences. Reaching out to PPC experts could make the difference between utilising your ad credit, or wasting it.

Which Type of Keyword Produces Better Results for PPC Campaigns?

Graph vector illustration

Both types of keywords can produce different and useful results, depending on the specific goals of your SEO and PPC campaigns, and the stage of the customer journey you’re trying to target. Branded keywords often have less competition and cost less whilst driving higher conversions, but have a more limited reach. Non-branded keywords increase visibility and brand awareness to help generate leads, but have lower conversion rates and more competition.

Combining branded keywords to capture brand-aware users with non-branded keywords to reach new audiences and drive brand discovery can yield the best results. This approach allows you to maximise visibility, engagement, and conversion opportunities across different stages of the customer journey. A good analogy for this is through viewing branded keywords as a sales team, and non-branded keywords as a marketing team. One aims to generate sales with people who are already aware of products, whilst the other aims to find new customers - they work most effectively when they work alongside each other, and by combining your branded and non-branded keywords, you can achieve better results from your PPC ad campaigns.

Search Ambiguity

Amazon search ambiguity

There are a few instances where non-branded keywords can end up being confused with branded keywords. This is often known as “search ambiguity” of keywords, referring to terms or phrases that have multiple potential meanings or interpretations, leading to uncertainty about the user's search intent. These keywords often require further context or clarification to understand the user's query more accurately. Common examples include:

  • Mars - Does the user mean the planet in the solar system, the chocolate company or the Roman god of war?
  • Amazon - Is the user looking for the rainforest, the e-commerce company or the mythical tribe of female warriors?
  • Apple - Are users hoping to discover information about the tech company, the Beatles’ record label or the fruit?
  • Java - Could the user mean the Indonesian island, coffee beans or the programming language?

Dealing with search ambiguity keywords often involves search engines employing advanced algorithms and contextual clues to find the user's intent accurately. More strategic planning, extensive research into your keywords and ongoing optimisation efforts can help keep the risk of search ambiguity to a minimum. If your business name coincides with common words and you’re concerned about how to manage this, speaking to a digital marketing agency for their services could be a wise move.

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