Branding versus search engine optimization is a marketing dilemma that larger companies will need to come to grips with on the Internet. Often companies will need to decide whether to promote their own brand name as their main keyword phrase or optimize for a more generic keyword phrase.
For instance, one search engine report states that 1.3 million visitors per month search for the term “Best Buy.” This same report states that the term “electronics” is searched for by 1.1 visitors per month. The obvious choice in this scenario is for Best Buy to optimize for their own brand name first and the word “electronics” second.
But, take a competitor such as Fry’s Electronics. Approximately 95,000 visitors search for the term “Fry’s” every month, far short of those who search for “electronics”. Does this mean Fry’s Electronics (a partner with Outpost.com) should optimize for “electronics” first and Fry’s (and/or Outpost.com) second?
At this writing (August 2004), a search on Google for “electronics” will show that Best Buy does not show up in the first two pages. Fry’s (Outpost.com) is on the third page. But let’s take a further look to see who is in the number 1 position: Sony. And Samsung is a close second.
Sony, with 450,000 searches per month for the word “sony”, has managed to grab the number one spot for its brand name and the generic word “electronics”. A search of the Sony homepage source code will reveal that this page is optimized for both words, “Sony” and “electronics.” By optimizing for both words Sony has grabbed a lot of traffic neglected by Best Buy and perhaps even exceeds Best Buys traffic in doing this.
Another issue in branding is trademark infringement. Courts have upheld that websites using another company’s branded name in its meta tags is engaging in trademark infringement. For instance, a site about cats would be infringing if it put the name Best Buy in its meta tags in hopes of gaining traffic from this trademarked word. Large companies have to protect themselves from others stealing traffic that is rightfully theirs. These companies cannot however protect a generic term such as “electronics” as that is fair game for all electronics companies.
So in order to create the largest return on investment, large companies need to optimize their websites both for their own brand names and for the generic, high-traffic keywords and keyword phrases relevant to their sites. Otherwise, they are letting tons of online business just slip away.