Branded vs. Unbranded Search in Today’s Retail Landscape
COVID-19 is forcing brands to rethink their marketing spending, including their commitment to search. Looking ahead, they’ll need to consider all options as they return to data spending post-pandemic. One way to help them figure out what works best and decide where to allocate budgets is by taking a look at branded and unbranded search.
What’s the difference between the two? A branded search is when a consumer looks directly for information about a particular company or product, while unbranded search doesn’t feature brand-specific terms — for example, “car insurance” vs. “Geico.” When searching for a business or store, these are essentially the two options that consumers choose from.
Google data reflects that the vast majority of consumers typically don’t have a brand in mind when they begin their online research. That’s why it’s critical to be visible throughout the consumer journey and, particularly, in unbranded search results.
To better understand the relationship and frequency of branded and unbranded search, we looked at 22 global brands, with 48,000 locations, and more than 450,000 small and midsize businesses (SMBs), between August 2018 and August 2019.
Here’s what we found.
Branded Search Grew 136%, While Unbranded Search is Up 75%
Companies need to optimize for both types of search, and especially for unbranded queries. If you’re Bank of America, for example, you need to rank for your own terms, but also for searches like "best 0% APR credit cards" or "lowest mortgage rates."
According to our research, consumers discover global brands more often through unbranded queries (58 percent), which are highly competitive compared to branded searches (42 percent). However, during the one-year period of data we looked at, we found that branded search increased by 136 percent, while unbranded searches grew 75 percent.
Nearly 90% of Global B-to-B Search is Unbranded
Our study found that branded search rates vary considerably by industry. For example, 88 percent of searches in the business-to-business (B-to-B) segment were unbranded, meaning buyers were higher in the funnel and potentially more open to discovery and persuasion. By comparison, in hospitality and travel, the majority of queries (62 percent) feature a brand term — a hotel brand, an airline, etc. However, hospitality and travel is the only vertical where branded search exceeds unbranded queries. This is likely due to a high degree of brand familiarity and loyalty among travel searchers.
It’s critical to understand how potential customers are discovering a business and locations — or its competitors. The more branded queries the better, but most consumers are searching without a specific name in mind, which translates into a battle for visibility. And that’s even more true among SMBs, where awareness is much lower.
Some additional findings from our branded/unbranded study include:
- The percentage of unbranded search in the SMB market is roughly 81 percent, compared with 19 percent of queries which feature a branded term.
- Brands better able to satisfy unbranded, general searches early in the funnel are more likely to drive branded queries in later sessions.
- A number of best practices, including working with third-party providers, can substantially boost both unbranded and branded search visibility and engagement.
Brands often assume that people seek them out directly. But failure to address unbranded search means they could be missing out on a great deal of potential exposure. A clear understanding of consumer search behavior is essential to optimizing your digital marketing. And in a time of budget constraints, it’s now more critical than ever.
Greg Sterling is vice president of insights at Uberall, a company that converts searches into sales with location marketing across all platforms.