Search vs. Branding

What do you do when your best keywords for search aren’t the best for your brand?

It’s a fairly common problem. Right now I’m working on a website for a local natural foods store. Checking the keywords that bring people to their current site, the search volume on the terms related to their products and services, and their preferred brand-oriented words, I came up with a good list of keywords for them. Some were new ideas for them and some were already in their minds.

But high on the list was one term I knew they wouldn’t really like: “health food store.”

People looking for the things this company sells — organic foods, homeopathic remedies, vegan packaged goods, nutritional supplements — such people very often look for “health food store.” What’s more, people in the community who shop with these folks often refer to their place as “the health food store,” as in, “I’m going to the health food store. Need anything?”

It seems obvious that we want to optimize for that term.

But “health food store” doesn’t have the image the company wants. They’re going for a more modern vibe, something that appeals to people who think more in terms of sustainability, eco-chic, fair trade, slow food, fitness, and maximizing wellness. “Health food store” has, in today’s whole foods community, a little bit of a downmarket, outmoded feel.

How do we get the search benefits of using “health food store” prominently on the homepage, without interfering with the brand?

  • Evaluate the competition. While my client isn’t the only place in town that could have a top ranking for the term, they don’t have any serious competition online. The most likely competitor has a one-page website with their name and phone number (and they used tables to get the name in the middle of the page), so we can feel confident that they won’t be using any sophisticated SEO techniques to fight for the rankings. We can probably get that term without being heavy-handed in its use. If my client wanted national visibility for the term, or there were several other businesses in town that deserved the top ranking locally, it would be a different story.
  • Use the term where it’s prominent for search engines, not for people. In this case, we can slip the term into a sentence toward the beginning of the page where the search engines will recognize that it’s important, but people reading will perceive it as an introductory sentence. We won’t emphasize that phrase graphically, either.
  • Use syntax to make your point. We can say “More than just a health food store…” or “In our forty years in business, we’ve evolved from the first local health food store to…” Human visitors understand that we’re saying we’re hipper than your average health food store, but we still clue the search engines in and welcome the many people who search for that term. As always, your text needs to be authentic, natural, and useful to your visitors — but a little subtlety works wonders.

Another common situation is when your company wants to use a term for reasons of branding which isn’t being searched for much. In this case, you can use visual effects to emphasize that term, include it with the search essential keywords, and rejoice in the lack of competition — you may just be ahead of the pack.

Your keywords need to be the things people are searching for, but you can combine those terms with the words you want for your brand, and be right on target for your customers and your company.






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