Why Off-Site SEO and Branding Should Be Joined at the Hip for Retailers
The primary purpose of off-site search engine optimization is creating high-value inbound links to your website. However, if the SEO team operates in a vacuum and concentrates solely on links, it will fail to capitalize on other, primarily brand-related, benefits of link building and, even worse, could take actions that undermine branding. For these reasons, branding and SEO specialists should stay in close communication on all phases of off-site SEO campaigns.
Off-Site Article Writing
Consider off-site article writing a mainstay of off-site SEO campaigns. Whatever the topic of the article, it's important to maintain a consistent brand message. For instance, a high-end retailer must take care that the style of the writing is professional and elegant; if the style is coarse, the brand will come across as a discount retailer regardless of the article’s subject matter.
It’s also important to note that SEO professionals aren't always going to be sensitive to issues of composition style, as they're focused on the technical aspects of optimizing the domain’s link profile. However, by having a branding specialist review articles before submission, preventing branding nightmares such as this can easily be avoided.
Branding should have a voice in where off-site articles are published, as well as in the content of the articles themselves. Similar to the issue noted above, a high-end retailer should think carefully before publishing on a website or blog with a mass audience or a primarily low-end audience. Conversely, a discount retailer should think just as carefully about publishing on a high-end website or blog.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for targeting publishing sites, but if SEO professionals are working in a vacuum, they will tend to prioritize technical attributes of a website (e.g., domain authority and traffic) over these more subtle, but equally important issues of audience and brand message. A collaborative strategic review of potential publishers ensures all bases are covered.
Other Off-Site Activities
There are some cases where retail SEOs can rein in branding specialists with respect to off-site SEO activities. Soliciting product reviews is a good example of this. In the past, having bloggers review a product was a popular and widely used method of building links. Sometimes, retailers encouraged bloggers to review their products by paying for the review or providing free goods.
However, over time, the practice became overused and abused, so today, Google tends to discourage sponsored reviews unless they're executed very carefully. Whereas branders may push for lots of user reviews, SEOs should vet potential reviewers carefully to make sure the review results in a boost to organic search results.
The same type of care should be taken in obtaining directory listings. Today, there are only a relative handful of directories that carry weight for SEO, and overdoing it with directory listings could lead to a negative SEO effect.
However, whenever listings appear in directories, all information about the retailer should be optimized for SEO, of course, but also optimized for branding. Product information should be presented consistently, as well as the retailer’s value proposition. The reason certain directories remain powerful for SEO is because people read them. Link value aside, current and potential customers will read these reviews and the last thing a retailer needs to do is confuse them.
Text articles are certainly useful for building links, however, visual content is potentially far more powerful. Partly because of the rapid growth in mobile internet access, visual content is exploding in popularity. Retailers that produce infographics, product photos, slideshows, video and other forms of visual content will find many websites and blogs eager to publish them, and users eager to share them via social media. This adds up to a lot of natural link development and substantial gains in brand awareness and brand affinity.
However, once again, SEOs left to their own devices may or may not consider the importance of adhering to the retailer’s brand standards in presenting product imagery, logos, taglines and color schemes. However, if branding specialists create awareness of these considerations among SEO team members, and review visual content before submission, the off-site campaign can become a branding bonanza, rather than something that helps a little or even hinders brand development.
Continual communication and review are vital to maximizing the branding benefits of off-site SEO campaigns. If all of these issues are covered once, at the beginning of the campaign, SEOs (like anyone else) are liable to forget their importance as time goes on, and new SEO team members may not even hear about them. This is why there's no substitute for integrating branding specialists into the review process for SEO-generated off-site content. It ensures ongoing involvement. The same can be said for SEO-generated on-site content, but that’s a different story.
Brad Shorr is the B-to-B marketing director of Straight North, an internet marketing firm that helps retail companies build the search presence of their online stores.