The importance of targeting branded searches

Search experts understand the importance of targeting non-branded search terms: Optimizing for high-volume, non-branded terms can drive a significant amount of traffic to your brand’s site.

While targeting non-branded search terms plays an essential role in your overall search strategy, many brands still underestimate and neglect the power of branded search terms. By relying on the strength of a brand and integrating branded search tactics with current non-branded search strategies, your business can discover more qualified leads — and, as a result, increase conversions.

The role of branded search in consumer behavior

For many established companies, their branded terms make up a majority of their keyword profile. If people are searching for your brand or products by name, they’re likely deeper within the sales funnel. In fact, Google has found that branded keywords have over two times higher conversion rates when compared to non-branded terms. So why would brands shy away from increasing or stepping up their branded search efforts?

Let’s flip the script and put you in the customer’s shoes. Say you’re searching for a fitness tracker your brother would love this holiday season. When you begin your gift hunt, are you more likely to search for “best fitness tracker for men,” or for “best Fitbit for men”?

Data from Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Due to the Fitbit’s brand awareness efforts, the product is iconic enough that consumers search for it more often than non-branded terms. Search engines like Google, Bing and Amazon recognize the strength of the brand — SERP layouts and competitive pricing reflect this.

Brands working to improve their conversions need to work the entire marketing funnel. For brands or products well-known enough for branded search terms to be relevant to audiences, it’s important to know how audiences discover your products so you can target these branded search terms. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table for competitors and review sites to take for themselves.

Integrating branded search tactics into marketing strategy

With a strong brand, and thus stronger branded search terms, bread-and-butter search tactics will have some incredible advantages. These advantages span both paid search and organic search tactics, affecting every aspect of search from the page rankings, search boxes, knowledge panel, and even map results. With branded search, search engines will recognize your main site, if optimized for best practices, as the most relevant site for searching by potential customers.

Organic search

Your home page and (if applicable) product category pages should rank the best for high-traffic branded search terms. Your title tags and meta descriptions should clearly display these branded search terms and relevant context that encourages searchers to make the decision to click. Once they do, the site should match the promise the SERP listing made with this copy.

Your goal should always be to dominate the first page and to obtain the highest positions with optimal branded search efforts. Brands should not only focus on their branded terms at the user’s research and consideration phases of the funnel, but also the post-purchase phase.

In the research phase, searchers will find strong, relevant brands first and foremost. Consider that they will also be looking for reviews, pricing and where to buy the product. This information should be available to users prior to their converting.

But the job isn’t done after converting. Post-purchase, many users will search for more information about the product using branded terms — installation instructions, how-to guides, proper cleaning and maintenance techniques, general product help and more — and these searches should lead to your website.

All of the brand-related terms throughout the sales funnel have heightened search term relevance to affect consideration, conversion and continued use.

Paid search

If you plan to own as much real estate on the SERPs as possible, paid search is an essential tactic to earn qualified leads. Even if you have obtained the top ranking in organic search results, research suggests that having an ad can produce incremental clicks. With little competition, it’s pretty easy (and cheap) to own these paid search spaces.

With branded search ads, you should be making use of ad extensions. These will provide more information to searchers, which can make your ad stand out and entice users to click. Certain extensions — such as sitelink, location or price extensions — can also increase your listing’s SERP real estate, particularly on mobile.

Keep in mind that Google factors ad extensions into its Ad Rank calculation, so proper use of extensions can give you an edge over competitors who may be running conquest campaigns on your brand name.

Other branded search considerations

Beyond the basics of SERPs with organic and paid search listings, you should be taking advantage of additional branded search real estate options that should be taken advantage of, including:

Organic sitelinks, the links that are displayed under the top organic search result. They’re important since they occupy a lot of SERP real estate and can function as an outline of your site, helping users to navigate to your other top pages. Google determines whether it will provide sitelinks or not, so you don’t have direct control over this — but you can help Google out by submitting an XML sitemap and having your site set up with a logical hierarchy.

Apple shows six organic sitelinks for a branded search. Note the site search box, too.

You want to make sure map results are showing up for you if your brand or business has physical locations. To do this, you need to ensure that you’ve set up Google My Business listings with the correct NAP (name, address and phone) information.If your site has an internal search function, you then have a solid chance of a search box showing up on Google. If it doesn’t display within the SERPs, you can utilize structured data markup per Google’s guidelines.The Knowledge Graph helps users discover business information quickly and easily. Google will pull this information automatically from trustworthy sites like Wikipedia or WebMD. With the right mix of search tactics, you can obtain a Knowledge Graph result for your brand. Make sure that you have all social channels, a solid description, reviews and accurate information correctly displaying in the eye-catching Knowledge Graph.

Final thoughts

Branded searches are imperative and shouldn’t be overlooked. Many assume that search queries involving your brand will naturally lead to your website, but that’s simply not the case. Without optimizing your paid and organic search efforts to capture branded searches throughout the entire purchase cycle, you’ll be missing out on tons of potential new traffic and conversions. Owning as much real estate as possible for your brand is crucial, especially during high-traffic seasonality.

Oftentimes, branded search terms can be the last channel touch point for consumers who are about ready to convert on one of your products or services. By incorporating branded search into your overall digital marketing strategy, you can quickly accelerate your brand, helping it stand out on the SERPs and provide a better experience to audiences.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Four brand-building activities that lay the foundation for SEO

At Google’s inception, one innovation differentiated it as a search engine: It used information gained from off-site sources to inform its estimation of the relevance, importance and quality of pages in its index. Originally, this source of off-site information was the network of links found by crawling the web.

Nearly two decades later, in 2017, with countless other rich data sources at its disposal, Google uses a more diverse and sophisticated set of data to determine just how big a deal you really are in the marketplace. In my experience over the past 10 years working in SEO, Google has always been pretty good at making this determination, and the signals have become harder and harder to fake over time.

At this point, the most efficient and sustainable path to making your company look like it is a significant player in the marketplace is to become a significant player in the marketplace. What does that mean for SEO folks? It means it’s time to stop thinking about how to build links and instead focus on how to build your brand online.

Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive — but if you’re doing any kind of activity with link-building as a primary objective, I would be skeptical of that activity if you don’t believe it also has the ability to boost the strength of your brand in some way, independent of the SEO impact of the links you’re getting.

With that in mind, I present the four major pillars of digital brand growth. If you can achieve wins in each of these four areas, you will be making rapid progress toward the kind of brand growth that creates positive SEO signals, while boosting the perception of your brand in the hearts and minds of your prospective audience:

1. Improving the product

Have you done user testing on your website? Have you watched people try to perform a specific action on all devices and media available? Have you tested all the major elements of the conversion funnel? Do you know how well people like using your website versus your biggest competitor’s? Do your pages load in under two seconds?

Not many companies can answer “yes” to all these questions. Testing needs to be a standard part of the development process. The more you believe you don’t have time or resources to test, the more badly you probably need it — especially if your site architecture is a mishmash of “urgent” mandates from upper management. The bottom line is that if your site design is based on hunches and intuition, your success is being left to chance.

Make time to test, improve and repeat. If you make a fast site that people love using, your chances of success go way up.

2. Creating valuable resources

What topic can you make your site the best resource for? Ideally, it would be something that is unique in some way and at least somewhat challenging for others to replicate. Here are some starter ideas:

A tool/calculator/selection guide that solves a common problem.A searchable archive of a unique data source you have access to.An educational resource that makes a complex topic easy to understand.An interview with an expert or influencer in your field.A tutorial that teaches people how to do something for themselves.

The more evergreen staying power your resource has, the more it can pay dividends for years to come!

3. Increasing repeat visitors

If I had to identify one defining characteristic of successful online brands, it would be the ability to convert first-time visitors into repeat users. If you have that, then you can build a brand. Without repeat visitors, you may be able to find a niche that produces positive ROI, but you can forget about being an online powerhouse.

Some ideas for encouraging repeat visitors include:

Giving people really good reasons (value) to sign up for regular emails from you.Offering a loyalty plan or discounts for repeat customers.Personalization/being able to give good recommendations.Building on-site community features where users can interact with you and each other.Finding ways to reward especially active members of the community.Adding high-value content on a regular basis and creating channels where people can be notified when new offerings are available.

The bottom line is, you need to find a way to create value on an ongoing basis — and make sure people know about it.

4. Being newsworthy

I’ve never heard anyone claim that you should have low-level employees write half-hearted blogs and then post them to your social media in order to build your brand. Yet that might be the most common content marketing “plan” being used today. There’s too much content out there to waste time creating stuff you don’t care about. And if you don’t care about it, why on earth should anyone else?

Start your thought process with “What can we do that would be truly valuable and remarkable?” instead of “How can we get some links?” You just might get a different result — including more and better links.

It’s okay and often even helpful to be controversial, but if you do so without a purpose that is in alignment with your brand and core audience, the attention you get may not be worth what you end up paying for it.

Here are some positive ways of being newsworthy:

Solve a challenge no one else has been able to solve.Run an original study that brings real insight to a common question in your field.Create something that inspires strong emotion in people.Create something that is massively funny or entertaining. (Be careful here, as you want to make sure that this still adds value to your brand.)Create something that shatters people’s expectations — surprise them in a good way.Make a significant contribution to your community.Create a valuable resource (see section 2) that has mass appeal.

The stronger the alignment between your brand and your newsworthy activities, the more it will benefit you.

Final thoughts

If you continuously improve your site, create valuable resources, get people to come back and do newsworthy things, your online brand will grow and thrive. It’s easy to say, but not as easy to do.

Being mediocre is easy. Being outstanding requires planned action, disciplined follow-through and the willingness to test and try different things until you get it right.

Am I saying SEO is dead? No! Structuring your campaigns for maximum SEO impact is still a hugely important part of the campaign planning process and can dramatically improve the results you get. Organic search is a major traffic channel, and it needs to have people who are looking out for it. That’s not going to change. But if you’re going to be a market leader in 2017, SEO has to be the cart and not the horse. Your brand is the horse, and the stronger it gets, the bigger you can build your cart.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Amazon vs. search: Why you shouldn’t put too many eggs in one shopping basket

No matter where they’re located or what market they serve, retailers around the globe have questions about how consumers use search and Amazon.

At Bing (my employer), we’ve found that retailers — regardless of size — ask us about the same three things:

    Where do consumers look for products online?How do users behave differently on search vs. Amazon?Can my search and Amazon channels benefit each other?

The answers are likely to surprise you.

The consumer decision journey looks incredibly complicated to us marketers with its interweaving between research, comparison, intent and transaction, but it feels far less complicated from the consumer point of view.

As consumers, we follow certain behavior patterns almost subconsciously:

If we have questions around what it is we need, or want more information before we make a selection, then it’s natural to turn to search.If we know what we’re looking to buy, often we have a predefined preference for which retailer website to begin looking for it.

For many customers, Amazon is a place to start. But is it where customers do most of their shopping-related searches? And is it also the place that they end their journey?

Our company’s search market intelligence team sought to find out.

1. Where do consumers look for products online?

The goal of the test was to study how consumers shopped online, and to learn how search and Amazon fit in within the customer decision journey.

Testing methodology

We used a sample of 9 million US users who conducted a retail-related search or visited Amazon on a web browser.We tracked the user activity on Amazon and Bing and categorized users in different retail categories based on their searches.We tracked the user journey, from searching on our site to visiting and searching on Amazon, and vice versa, to understand patterns around user groups that come back to the search engine.We scaled the analysis using comScore data to be representative of mobile and app usage.

The myth

“The majority of retail searches now happen on Amazon.”

This myth has been repeated so many times, it’s often taken as fact just from repetition. It is likely derived from studies that report 56 percent of consumers begin their shopping journey on Amazon. The issue lies in the fact that this number is getting misinterpreted as 55 percent of overall retail searches happen on Amazon — which isn’t true.

The thing to remember is that survey data, while extremely valuable, may not always tell you the full story. Often, the decisions we make are formed by unconscious biases or are very generalized, so we can’t speak to our actions with a 100 percent degree of accuracy.

Think about this: If you’ve ever started your product search on Amazon, does that mean that you would always turn to Amazon to start your search for every single product? Or that you don’t conduct any searches after Amazon?

We know conceptually that is not true, so the researchers used behavioral data to answer that question.

The reality

The reality is, we turn to Amazon for only certain types of searches, mainly the lower-funnel ones. But those are only a small fraction of the overall universe of retail searches — nowhere near the 55 percent that is often cited.

For example, think of queries like “best brand of wedding china,” “how do I cure a migraine” or “what’s better for you propolis or bee pollen.” Would your natural instinct for those queries be to turn to a search engine or to Amazon?

More than likely, your answer would be the former, since at the moment, the latter isn’t really built to answer these questions. Case in point:

Search, on the other hand, is used for queries that span the entire range of the funnel, and that’s where logic would dictate the majority of retail searches occur.

The research agrees.

The results

In reviewing millions of users across our data set and comScore’s panel, the team’s research found that most retail searches don’t happen on Amazon; instead, 70 percent of them happen on top search engines.

A study conducted by Rand Fishkin at Moz earlier this year, which analyzed clickstream data via Jumpshot, came to a similar conclusion. Fishkin asked Jumpshot to compare 10 distinct web properties, add together all the searches they receive combined, and share the percent distribution.

The data found that Amazon received only 1.85 percent of searches, whereas Bing, Yahoo and Google combined received 64.02 percent of searches.

What does that mean for marketers?

Amazon is a strong retail channel and continues to grow, though marketers should be careful not to overcorrect. Search not only stands strong as a retail channel, but it can also help complement and strengthen an Amazon strategy as well.

2. How do users behave differently on search vs. Amazon?

In looking to identify how user behavior differed across search and Amazon, we found that 27 percent of users (about 38 million people in the US) did not visit Amazon either before or after searching on Bing.

These are valuable audiences that are looking for your product information online and buying them in physical stores or other online channels.

Even more interestingly, the research found that even the audiences that were common between search and Amazon exhibited different behaviors across each platform.

Testing methodology

Exclusive Audience using our search engine:

We collected data from Nov 1-7, 2016, using Web Browser Logs (US only).We tracked the user activity on Amazon and Bing and categorized users based on queries searched.We filtered for users that do retail-related searches on a search engine (combination of various categories such as: Autos; Guns; Sports & Recreation; Office Products; Health & Wellness; Beauty & Fragrance; Clothing & Shoes; Jewelry & Watches; Home Furnishings; Kitchen & Housewares) and computed exclusivity of these search users that don’t visit Amazon.We scaled the users to overall population based on comScore’s panel.Similar distributions of overall exclusive users were found on larger time periods (~1.5-2 months).

The results

In addition to the discovery that 27 percent of users of our search engine did not visit Amazon at all, the research then drilled down within the 73 percent of users who did use both Amazon and Bing. They unearthed something very interesting.

Approximately 80 percent of users (out of that 73 percent) who do a retail search on Bing and also visit Amazon do not perform the same retail category searches on both sites.

That means that Sally could be looking at buying perfume and, when she seeks information on a search engine, she could be directed to many different sites and eventually buy offline. Sally has also visited Amazon during that time period, but her searches could have been for something different, such as a toy for a child’s birthday.

This behavior was seen across several categories, a few of which are listed in the screen shot below. There are definitely cases where there is a continuation of searches from search to Amazon or vice versa, but that represents the minority, or only about 20-25 percent of the users.

The graph below represents the percentage of shopping-oriented users that visit Amazon but do not search within same category on Amazon:

We can see that for categories like Beauty & Fragrance or Toys, the percent of searchers who do not search within the same category are 82 percent and 77 percent, respectively.

And what of those 20-25 percent of searchers who did related subsequent searches between the two sites?

Shoppers use search for top- through bottom-of-funnel activities. For example, let’s look at data from a client who sells cold and flu medicine, whose pattern holds true across multiple categories.

The teal green bars represent the number of searches conducted on search engines. The dark blue bars were the searches conducted on Amazon.

You can see that search spans the spectrum of upper funnel queries, like “flu symptoms,” down to lower funnel queries, like “cold medicine.” Aside from the typing-averse consumers typing in “cold,” most of their searches are for “cold or cough medicine.

When was the last time you asked Amazon for flu symptoms or sore throat remedies?

Higher funnel searches (queries like “flu symptoms,” “sore throat remedies,” “cold symptoms,” “how to get rid of cold” in the Health & Wellness category) are not searched at all on Amazon.

Search is also relevant in cases when users are researching what to buy or where to buy it. Very often, search engines are used as a trusted utility to help people make informed decisions, such as determining the best product or finding the best deal.

You can see the stark popularity of users relying on search engines for this information relative to Amazon in the chart below.

What can marketers do?

The upper-funnel queries serve as a great opportunity to market your brand via search to shoppers who are showing clear and strong intent for product categories or are in situations where your product can help meet their needs.

Search continues to be the most relevant channel for the research phase of most consumer journeys because this is the stage at which users are seeking the background information they need to become more informed on what they are seeking to buy.

As a result, advertisers lacking a presence on the major search engines can lose out on critical stages of the consumer decision journey.

3. How can search complement your Amazon strategy?

Finally, our search market intelligence team wanted to understand the impact of search ads on subsequent shopper behavior on Amazon. After all, why would you invest in upper- and lower-funnel terms if they didn’t result in higher consumer engagement?

The team looked at users over a period of seven months, with the criteria being that these users searched for a non-brand/category term. They then segmented them into two cohorts. One was exposed to an ad for that product brand, and the other group was not. Both groups visited Amazon subsequently.

Testing methodology

Case study on brand exposure and behavior on Amazon:

We collected data over seven nonconsecutive months (June-Aug. 2016; Nov. 2016-Feb. 2017) using Web Browser Logs (US only).We tracked the user activity on Amazon and Bing.We filtered for users that do searches related to a particular product on Bing (some product examples include diapers, laptops and detergent); we categorized users based on whether or not they were exposed to a particular brand ad for those terms.We tracked the activity of the two groups on Amazon and identified the proportion of users that visited that particular brand’s product page on Amazon.We expanded the terms to then include other top online retailers.

The results

Users exposed to product brands via search ads are two to four times more likely to visit the same brand product page when they subsequently visit Amazon. You can see a few of the categories measured in the screen shot below.

This test was also run on other major online retailers, such as Walmart and Target, and lift was an average 20 percent higher than that observed on Amazon.

What can marketers do?

Search enables the user to discover brands, thus creating brand awareness, which leads to better conversions on multiple channels.

In addition to product listing ads via shopping campaigns, be sure to run text ads for direct and indirect brand terms, as well as top products, across both Bing and Google. Take advantage of new ad product releases to make the text ads even more compelling.

For example, Bing has recently updated its Sitelink Extensions policy to allow advertisers who don’t have their own retail capability to link directly to their Amazon product page:

This can even be combined with the Price Extension available on Google AdWords, and currently in pilot on Bing Ads, to include the price in the ad copy, sending valuable users to the retail channels of your choice.

On Google AdWords, an interesting new ad extension to try out would be their Promotion Extension.

In summary

Amazon is incredibly important — and so is search. Don’t overcorrect, in either direction, the spend and efforts between the two channels.

The bulk of retail searches still happen on search engines, and behavior is different across search and Amazon. The kinds of searches consumers do on search span upper funnel and lower funnel, while Amazon is mainly for very low-funnel queries.

Advertisers would benefit from using both platforms together to expand customer reach and create additional synergies and enjoy an overall lift in conversions and profit.

The research has proven just how effective that can be.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

6 web properties you can use to protect your branded search results (with real examples)

This article was co-authored with my colleague at Go Fish Digital, Samantha Hughes.

Working at an agency that does a large amount of online reputation and crisis management, brand protection is always top of mind. I’ve written about how autocomplete is your brand’s true first impression, and that is still very much the case. What comes up when people search on your brand name also sheds light on your company’s reputation — even when those results aren’t from your own site.

If you aren’t actively working on what ranks for your brand name, you leave yourself exposed to potential damage from:

complaint websites that can start ranking for your brand name.competitors who would see value in optimizing negative content about your company for search.less-than-flattering reviews beginning to rank well for your brand name.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is much better to spend time proactively preventing one of the situations above, rather than reacting to it after the fact.

And the prevention isn’t all that difficult. If you can create some strong properties that can rank alongside your own domain, you can build a proverbial “wall” that would help suppress negative content from surfacing on page one for your brand name.

Before undertaking the SEO tactics to get that “wall” of content to rank, though, you have to have the right content available to work with. When working with clients, we always start by identifying existing pages that could rank well. These should be highly targeted (brand name in the URL, title and so on), have good domain authority, and ideally already rank on page two or three.

After that, though, we often turn to creating new content to rank. This new content, combined with what already exists, gives us a lot of bricks to build that strong wall.

The following are some common, and not-so-common, options for creating content that can rank well for your brand name.

1. Crunchbase

Creating a profile on Crunchbase is super-easy, and your profile there has the potential to rank really well. The fact that Crunchbase has been around for over a decade and has domain authority of 89, according to Moz, means that Google tends to trust content on the site.

Profiles on Crunchbase can be a simple or as rich as you’d like them to be. We encourage our clients to use every category possible, filling out as much information and making it a really useful profile for people actually researching the company.

An example of one of the categories is “News,” which allows businesses to add news articles/publications to their profile. As new articles are posted about your brand, we recommend you add them here, which will keep the page updated with fresh content, as well as providing a backlink (albeit no-followed) to that new article.

An example of Crunchbase ranking on page one for a brand name is for Fatwallet, pictured below. Their profile could use some expanding, as it really only highlights the “News” and “Competitor” categories, but even so, it ranks well for a pretty popular internet brand name.

2.  Reddit

Marketing on Reddit is a minefield, but when done right, it can be a huge branding win. However, what most people don’t realize is that it can help with online reputation management (ORM) as well. Cooler brands with large fan bases can have dedicated, highly-active subreddits where loyalists interact and share relevant content.

Outlier Clothing, makers of high-end everyday wear, have such a community, whose digital home is on the r/Outlier subreddit, which ranks #2 in Google when you search “Outlier Clothing.”

If you have a community of people who love your services or products, and that community overlaps with Reddit’s demographic, studying what Outlier did would be wise, as it could also be a smart play for your brand.

3.  IdeaMensch

IdeaMensch is a simple but brilliantly effective site that every entrepreneur and executive can, and should, use to their advantage.

The execution here is straightforward: Everyone is welcome to answer the same set of 16 interview questions. The questions and answers are then published on their website, along with a great head shot, bio, and links to your other web properties. There is currently a backlog of interviews waiting to publish, so we always spring for the $30 expedited publishing option.

The company name is typically included in the title of the interview, which is one of the reasons the site can be very powerful. You can have an executive or founder of an organization do an interview, and, if you pair that with other ORM strategies, that interview can rank really well for branded search.

Here is an example from a stock photo company, Colorstock, which has an interview with their co-founder and CEO ranking in position two for their brand name. Also notice their Crunchbase profile a few spots below.

4.  Vimeo

Don’t let YouTube’s video dominance steer you away from Vimeo. Although often overlooked, the platform boasts over 100 million users. Vimeo is a different type of video site, and, when optimized for a brand name, it can hit page one for branded searches.

RVCA, a California-based clothing company, is very active with their Vimeo account. They host 541 videos and have 28.9K followers on the platform, which helps their profile rank #5 in Google for a search of “RVCA.”

As you will find with most social profiles, the more engagement and real activity you have on it, the more likely it is to rank for your brand.

5.  Branded jobs websites

Many big companies will take the time to create separate subdomains and domains to highlight their career opportunities. Often this is done due to technical limitations of the CMS on the main site, but a nice added benefit is that these sites open up new ORM potential.

For ORM, when creating a microsite, we typically recommend using a completely new domain rather than a subdomain.  The reason is that most times, Google will treat a subdomain just like any other page on the root domain (although you can see in the Chevron example in #6 that this isn’t always the case) –whereas a whole new domain is treated separately and can get pulled into the SERPs to defensively occupy another position.

CVS and Macy’s are great examples of companies that utilize these unique domains to take up a position within their search results.

6.  Other microsite options

Creating a separate jobs/careers domain isn’t the only option companies have for building unique microsites on their own domains (although it is the most common).

We’ve helped clients create dedicated websites for scholarships, charitable arms and foundations, photography, specific products and more. The key for this strategy to be successful is that there actually has to be a need or interest in the microsite. Just creating “stuff” to fill the search results doesn’t work anymore; the microsite you create should be logical and useful.

You can see this strategy put to good use (whether intentionally or not) in Chevron’s search results. They actually have three microsites on page one for their brand name. The different sites make logical sense, as they are very different lines of business, so the strategy is logical from a business standpoint, and it pays off by keeping negative content about Chevron off page one.

Final thoughts

Those are some of our favorite sites and types of content to work with to help improve the search results for your brand name. Other sites, like Wikipedia, will rank really well but open you up to a whole new type of risk. Because of that, we prefer options like those above, where you retain most of the control, and the likelihood of the content turning negative is pretty low.

Using these types of content, plus strong interlinking and backlinking strategies, you can build that protective wall that’ll help prevent negative content from surfacing.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

10 tips for choosing the perfect domain

Your domain name and URL play a big role when it comes to search. Not only is this the destination where your visitors will find you and your content, but the domain you choose also can and does impact your search visibility. While there are more domain options than ever before, there are still some best practices you should adhere to if you want to see optimal results.

As of our publishing date in August 2017, ICANN recognizes 1,547 top-level domains (TLDs). While this means you have more choices than ever before, it doesn’t make choosing a domain any easier. To ensure you get the right domain for your business, consider these 10 tips.

1. Start with keywords

Before logging into to your favorite domain registrar, take some time to brainstorm a few ideas. It can be helpful to have three to five keywords in mind when doing this exercise. These words and phrases should clearly define what you do (or want to do). Mix and mash them together and see what looks right and makes sense. Don’t force the process — just let it flow.

For example, let’s say you are starting a local bakery. Some terms you want to include would be your city, fresh bread, baked goods, bakery and so on.

Here’s a pro tip: Use prefixes and suffixes to help you create a good domain that grabs attention. For this example, you may end up with a domain like superfreshbread.com.

2. Make it unique

Your domain is part of your brand. Making sure it stands out is extremely important for you and your users. Having a domain that closely resembles another popular brand is never a good idea, as it can lead to confusion.

Be careful that you’re not trying to be too unique, however. Forcing an alternative spelling of a common word can lead to big trouble. An example cited in the book, “The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization,” is that of the popular image site Flickr.

When the site founders established their domain, they did not use the standard spelling, flicker.com, and they may have lost traffic as a result. They ended up having to purchase the correctly spelled domain and have the additional domain redirect to Flickr.com.

3. Go for a .COM

If you are serious about building a long-term brand online, there is nothing better than a .com. Using a 301-redirect to drive traffic to a .net or .org is totally fine, but owning the .com or the equivalent TLD for your target market country is critical.

There are a number of reasons why this matters, but the most crucial one is for your users. While there are thousands of TLDs to choose from, .com still carries the most trust with it.

Many internet users are still unaware that the other TLDs exist and may hesitate to click when they see one. Make it easy for your users and choose a .com. You’ll thank me in the long run.

(Note for transparency: I am currently working on getting ownership of the .com for my site’s domain. When I rebranded a few years ago, I was unable to claim it and now have to bid to own it.)

4. Make it easy to type

If your URL is hard to type, people won’t. Difficult words to spell and long URL strings can be extremely frustrating to your end users.

Sure, you may be able to add a nice keyword with a long URL, but if the user experience is negatively impacted, you’ll ultimately suffer.

5. Make it memorable

Word-of-mouth marketing is still the best of all. If you want to help your brand spread faster, make your domain easy to remember. Having a great website won’t matter if no one can remember your domain name.

6. Keep it short

Shorter URLs are easier to type and remember. They also allow more of the URL to show up in the SERPs, they fit on business cards better and they look better in other offline media.

7. Create and meet expectations

What is the expectation you want to set when someone hears your URL for the first time? If they can’t instantly grasp what you do or who you are, you have a problem.

While sites like Amazon, Trulia, Google and Trivago sound cool, it takes a lot more marketing and branding to make them work. Domains like NYtimes.com, Homes.com, and Overstock.com all let you know what to expect up front.

8. Build your brand

If you can’t find a good domain that meets the previous rule, use branding to distinguish yourself.

Using a unique moniker is a great way to build additional value. Take note that, because of this need for brand-building, you’ll likely be slower to gain traction than if you used a more simple and straightforward domain. But, if done correctly, the effort can pay off in the long run.

9. Don’t fall for trends

Just because something is trending now, it doesn’t mean it always will. Copying what someone else is doing can lead you down the wrong path. Stay away from odd spellings and lots of hyphens or numbers. Keep it simple, focused and easy to remember.

10. Try a domain selection tool

If you are having a hard time brainstorming for an idea, no worries, the internet has your back.

Try using a domain selection tool to help you find the perfect domain. Tools like DomainsBot or NameMesh can help you find that perfect domain. But remember to adhere to the advice above when using these tools.

Conclusion

Your domain is where you do business online. Just as in real estate, location matters. Having a domain that clearly tells your user and the search engines who you are and what you do can help you establish your brand online. Don’t just pick a domain; take some time and choose the right domain for your business.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Site category exclusions for Google Display Network getting brand safety update

Google is refining the options it gives advertisers for excluding categories of sites from their display network campaigns on the Google Display Network.

With this change, several current site category exclusions are being eliminated or recategorized, and a couple of new ones are being added. As of last week, several exclusions are no longer available for new Display campaigns. In early 2018, all existing campaigns will be switched over to the new settings automatically.

Google began showing an alert in the site category exclusions menu last week. Users with older campaigns may see the following options, shared on Twitter by digital marketer Steve Seeley:

Newer campaigns show an updated version of the site category exclusion options.

What is changing?

There are five primary changes, outlined in a support page:

Roll-up: The “Crime, police, and emergency,” “ Military and international conflict” and “Death and tragedy” categories are being rolled up into the “Tragedy and conflict” exclusion category.New: There is a new category for “Sensitive social issues,” which includes content “related to discrimination and identity relations, scandals and investigations, reproductive rights, firearms and weapons and more.”New: Another new category is “Content suitable for families.” Note that if you exclude “General audiences (DL-G),” that will also exclude content suitable for families.Removed: The gambling and error pages categories are being eliminated, since Google already restricts ads on those types of content.Removed: The Forums, Social networks, Photo-sharing pages, and Video-sharing pages options are going away, too. Instead, Google recommends using “Digital content labels” such as Mature audiences and Content not yet labeled, and other “Sensitive content” exclusions to restrict ads from showing on various types of user-generated and social content.

(In the new AdWords interface, Site category options are called Content options.)

Why is Google making these changes?

The changes relate to the announcements earlier this spring and summer of changes Google is implementing in response to advertisers pulling their ads from YouTube after ads were found appearing next to extremist content.

This latest update is part of a larger update to simplify the management of exclusions and align Display and Video controls. An earlier update added the ability to set exclusions at the account level rather than just at the individual campaign level.

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land that the company is recommending advertisers use the Digital Content and Sensitive Content Labels to achieve their “brand suitability” goals rather than many of the individual category exclusions.

We have a running timeline related to Google and YouTube’s brand safety announcements and updates on Marketing Land.

Next steps

Google recommends advertisers make adjustments to existing campaigns manually by the end of the year, ahead of the switch in 2018.

[This article originally appeared on Marketing Land.]

SEO: The missing piece in brand protection

Let’s face it — if you have worked in the industry for a while, you are aware that a stigma has existed around SEO for years. In addition to putting your site at risk for a manual penalty, questionable SEO practices can tarnish a brand’s reputation. Those of us who have properly applied SEO principles and committed to protecting our brands have gotten a bad rap due to others that have misapplied SEO for their clients or companies.

Running an enterprise SEO program for an established brand requires that one acknowledge the stigma and place a focus on changing perception. Changing perception requires action, not words. Simply educating the company on the value of SEO, or how SEO can be applied responsibly, is not enough. Strategy alignment, allocation of assigned resources, and a full demonstration of defending and enhancing the brand is critical.

Positioning SEO as brand protection

Iconic brands stand the test of time by placing brand ahead of everything else — so when working with an established brand, one effective way to obtain support for an SEO program is by focusing on brand protection rather than potential traffic and revenue opportunity.

Explaining the role of SEO in brand protection is a compelling argument for establishing and investing in an SEO program. Position your program as a defender of the brand first and a revenue stream second. Brand recovery opportunities come by at a much lower frequency than revenue opportunities, and single misplacement of priority can be devastating.

Explaining SEO’s role in brand protection

My colleague John Curtis, who runs the day-to-day SEO operations for our team at Walgreens, made an excellent point in a recent discussion about brand protection: If you relinquish your brand story to others, you lose control of the brand and the message.

Customers seek information about your brand, your products and your services. If you fail to provide the resources or answer the questions, someone else will become the source of information about your company. Thus, it’s critical for web properties that you control and manage to appear in search engine results for queries related to your brand. External sources are typically not brand-exclusive, nor do they adhere to the company’s brand guidelines.

When brand term visibility is not a priority for the company, you run the risk of customers being exposed to incorrect information or a misrepresentation of the brand. Allowing external sources to become the source of information about your brand leads to loss in revenue, and potential negative brand experiences.

Companies with brick-and-mortar operations and/or mobile apps have far more SEO touch points where the brand must be protected. Our resident local SEO expert, Kyle Eggleston, explained the impact of local SEO on the brand in a single sentence: “People blame your brand, not Google, when wrong information is displayed in the local search results.”

Eggleston further noted that there is a significant amount of information provided around local search queries that details exactly what customers are looking for in your store, and you can leverage that by making that information more easily accessible.

6 reasons why SEO is critical for brand protection

The next time you find yourself presenting an SEO strategy where you are seeking support from your organization, be sure to include the goals around brand protection in your primary points of discussion. Below is a list to reference that outlines why SEO is arguably the most critical program in terms of protecting the brand online:

    Customers searching for store hours, phone numbers and accurate address information for your physical store location are going to rely on Google’s information. Failing to maintain accuracy and visibility will undoubtedly create friction in the customer journey and will lead to a negative brand experience. Aside from the negative impact at a brand level, failing to work local effectively exposes your customer to options they may not have considered.Affiliate programs are a solid source of revenue, and they are a significant source of awareness, but they are not exclusive to your brand. Affiliates are incentivized to obtain a click and drop a cookie. The top affiliates understand they must provide a path to purchase to maximize their traffic and present valid information, but that is at best less than 5 percent of the sites operating as affiliates. SEO teams can work with the affiliate teams to recapture organic traffic where affiliates are not representing the brand well.A company’s mobile app may represent a significant effort to improve the shopping experience for its customer, but if a customer cannot find your app, or they find an app in a search that is misrepresenting your brand, this will lead to a negative brand experience.Search volume for terms associated to the brand and/or typos related to the brand can become a source of traffic leaks. Individuals who wish to capitalize on (or even harm) your brand can use domains and common typos for your domain as a method of intercepting traffic that was destined for your website. SEO teams can work with your domain manager to outline top search terms that are at risk for interception to ensure appropriate mitigation steps are taken to subvert this activity.Internal search works the same as an external search engine. Well-trained SEO teams evaluate site search queries to determine where gaps in expectations around search are occurring. Leveraging your team to apply the same expertise for internal search analysis that they apply to Google can help to eliminate friction in the site experience.SEO is not limited to Google, Bing and Yahoo. Anywhere there is a search box or microphone where customers can query information about your brand is within the scope of your SEO team’s responsibility to manage the results. While Google is clearly the top source for queries, the aggregate volume of all the other points of search is significantly higher than Google alone. Investing in SEO provides a method of impacting millions of brand touch points for established brands.

Regardless of your role in the company, be accountable to the brand. If your role is in SEO, reach out to brand managers or marketing executives in your company and solidify your understanding of the brand you are defending. The more the organization is exposed to the role SEO plays in brand protection and brand enhancement, the faster the stigma of “bad for the brand” will disappear.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How Pinterest has developed computer-vision technology to power visual search for users and brands

Pinterest wants to do for visual search what Google has done for text search.

Since assembling a small team to develop computer-vision technology in 2014, the search-slash-social platform — where each month 175 million people organize, share and, increasingly, find ideas ranging from food recipes to interior design to outfits to tattoos — has been working on ways to make images searchable like text. Its work has evolved from picking out images that look alike to identifying objects within images to converting images into search queries to, most recently, targeting ads based on images.

For the complete story of how Pinterest has trained its computers to index objects within images and how it is opening up its visual search platform to brands, read the full article read the full article on MarTech Today.

Three ways B2B manufacturers can capitalize on 'Made in the USA' searches

For manufacturers marketing to other manufacturers, “Made in the USA” is often a key message seen in print ads, websites and trade show signage.

Having recently attended EASTEC, the manufacturing trade show hosted by SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers), I was struck by how many companies had this message on their booth signage and on products themselves — such as this industrial band saw manufactured by HE&M Saw in Oklahoma.

In Part One and Part Two of this series, I covered how companies marketing products to consumers can capture “Made in the USA” searches. In this last installment, I wanted to see if industrial buyers were also specifically looking for machines, component parts and more that are made in the US.

The anecdotal evidence points to “yes” — but not in the direct, online way consumers do. This is because marketing within the manufacturing niche is still based on relationships and because the buy cycle includes a great deal more offline research. While “Made in the USA” is an important consideration, buyers have other requirements to factor in as well, including lead times, material and customization requirements, shipping costs and, of course, price.

The manufacturing buy cycle is still very much relational

By relational, I mean buyers or buyer teams within companies will often turn to the people they know first for referrals: their dealers, reps and vendors.

According to Alex Hawthorne, executive vice president of Mathews Brothers, a fourth-generation window manufacturer in Belfast, Maine, his team will first contact their reps for referrals.

“We have relationships with reps who work with multiple vendors,” states Hawthorne. “We throw out a net to find as many companies as possible that supply what we’re looking for — be it window hardware or plastic corners.”

Although anecdotal, how Mathews Brothers finds vendors is on par with the data from Gardner Business Media’s 2015 Media in Manufacturing Report. On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most influential), survey respondents gave “colleagues” a 4 in terms of how they form perceptions of a vendor — a score greater than industry events, advertising and search rank (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Data from Gardner’s 2015 Media in Manufacturing report

Marketing tip: Keep this audience in the loop with an e-newsletter specifically for them

Creating an e-newsletter to a dealer/rep/vendor audience lets you provide information you wouldn’t include in a newsletter for customers. One of my clients, for example, sends out a monthly dealer newsletter that includes:

updates about products and services.case studies and application notes.updates on new marketing literature available.product tech tips.company news, e.g., trade shows, new hires, PR updates and so on.

Search is part of the manufacturing buyer research process — but probably not the beginning of it

According to Hawthorne, once his team has talked to reps, they then do an online search for any vendors their reps or dealers may have missed. They may also read trade publications for articles featuring new technologies or applications.

Once an online search is started, Gardner’s research shows that 93 percent of buyers will click on company names they recognize in the search results — driving home the point that PR, content marketing, trade shows, e-newsletters and more are all important in driving brand awareness before a search is started (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Data from Gardner’s 2015 Media in Manufacturing report

As I discussed in Part Two, PR and content marketing plays a similar role for building awareness and sales for “Made in the USA” consumer products.

When asked, Hawthorne stated his team doesn’t specifically search for “Made in the USA,” as they don’t want to narrow their search results. The fact that a supplier is a domestic manufacturer, however, is factored heavily into the consideration process, along with quality, functionality and safety.

“Our company reputation is important,” says Hawthorne, “which is why we need to find the best possible sources for parts, materials, etc. Anytime we can source USA-made items, we do.”

Brandon Acker, president of Titan Abrasive (disclosure: client) in Ivyland, Pennsylvania, does use “Made in the US” when searching for components and materials. A second-generation manufacturer of industrial blasting equipment, Titan is committed to providing products that incorporate as many domestically manufactured materials and parts as possible.

“It’s very important to us that the components that go into our systems are manufactured by companies here in the US,” says Acker. “We want customers to feel confident and to take pride in the fact they’re supporting American manufacturing.”

Like Hawthorne, Acker and his team will turn to their network first when sourcing parts or materials. According to him, approximately 90 percent of all components Titan uses are US-made, with many of them locally sourced.

Says Acker, “We often look at the companies in the industrial park where we’re located to see if one provides what we need before moving to a search engine.” Once he and his team begin a search, they will often add “American made” to whatever they’re searching for.

In Figure 2 noted above, 29 percent of survey respondents indicated they click on ads in the search results. I wanted to see if this data had changed since Google has removed ads from the search engine right rail and reached out to Gardner for comment. Their 2016 report is in its final stages, however, and thus the data isn’t yet available.

Still, I’m guessing that with Google blurring the lines between PPC and SEO, manufacturers’ buyers may not be aware of their own changing search habits, so survey data may not accurately reflect these changes.

At a recent meeting I had with a client team, for example, we were doing online research together, and a person on the team stated, “Our competitor is showing at number two for that phrase. How come we’re not?” I replied, “Because that’s an ad.” It took them a few seconds to note the almost invisible “Ad” box next to the listing.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen.

Acker agrees. “I used to not click ads,” he says. “But now I do, and I’ll especially click them if the supplier uses ‘Made in US’ or ‘US made’ in the ad copy.”

Marketing tip: Consider running text ads to test ‘Made in the USA’ wording

You can use “Made in USA” in the headline, body copy and site links. Also consider using your state versus “USA.” With one small campaign my company ran for a client, we learned that adding “Made in [state]” in the headline increased clicks over the ad that didn’t have this wording. See what resonates with your buyers.

‘Made in USA’ messaging can help drive website inquiries

Although I couldn’t find data on the trends regarding B2B “Made in USA” searches, what I did learn from talking to manufacturers is that once they land on a vendor website, that’s where they start looking for the “Made in USA” messaging.

Acker, for example, will look for a US flag and “Made in USA.” Hawthorne’s team looks for the company’s location because of lead and ship times, including whether the company is a US-based manufacturer.

As an aside, Hawthorne and Acker stated they wanted to see full contact information for the vendor, including a phone number, versus having to fill out a form.

“We often need to obtain an answer fast,” says Hawthorne, “especially if we have a specific question. It’s much easier to pick up the phone and talk to someone versus sending email back and forth.”

Ditto for Acker, who often calls companies to determine if products are manufactured in the US, as well as how long it will take to get an RFQ.

This feedback lines up with the data from the 2015 B2B Website Usability Report conducted by my company (Huff Industrial Marketing) and KoMarketing, a B2B online marketing agency.

Close to two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents indicated they wanted to see contact information on the home page of vendor websites (Figure 3), with 51 percent indicating that thorough contact information was the one piece of content most lacking on vendor websites (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Huff Industrial Marketing / KoMarketing survey data

Figure 4: Huff Industrial Marketing / KoMarketing survey data

Marketing tip: Tell your ‘Made in USA’ story

“Made in the USA” can be an important selling point for manufactures marketing to manufacturers. To take advantage of it, suppliers may want to take a few cues from companies marketing to consumers — and that is, make more of an effort to tell their “Made in US” story through the strategies outlined in Part Two of this series, including robust “About” pages, video and PR.

Conclusion

For manufacturers marketing to other manufacturers, relationships are still very important to the sales process, even as technology changes how we communicate with one another.

To build brand awareness, it’s important that your marketing strategy incorporates the more time-consuming face-to-face tactics such as trade shows and industry events, as well as integrated offline and online tactics that include PR, search, advertising and content marketing.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Initial Interest Confusion rears its ugly head once more in trademark infringement case

Two years ago, Multi Time Machine brought a lawsuit against Amazon for trademark infringement, alleging that web pages on Amazon.com for “MTM special ops watches” keyword searches could be too confusing to consumers, since the MTM watches are not sold on the site. Now, a similar complaint was brought by Bodum versus Williams-Sonoma for French press coffeemakers. These cases illustrate significant risks for e-commerce sites.

Multi Time Machine’s complaint was based on a few different search results pages at Amazon that involved keywords associated with Multi Time Machine’s trademarks. When one searched for “mtm special ops watches” (and similar keyword searches that could be related to their marks), Amazon displayed what are essentially related search results. As mentioned before, MTM watches are not sold on Amazon — but the site associated those keyword searches with other watches that might be considered similar.

Initial Interest Confusion

Multi Time Machine claimed that this caused “Initial Interest Confusion” (IIC), which is a controversial theory of trademark law. IIC is a legal premise with a hazy definition that allows a court to find infringement has occurred when there is an initial confusion on the part of a consumer about the provenance of a product before it is ultimately bought — even if that confusion no longer exists at the point of sale. Wikipedia provides the following hypothetical example:

West Coast Video’s competitor, Blockbuster Video, puts a billboard on a stretch of highway advertising a West Coast Video at an upcoming exit. In reality, there is no West Coast Video at this exit; it is a Blockbuster Video instead. The consumer, expecting to find a West Coast Video store, sees the Blockbuster Video and decides to patronize the suitable replacement. Even though the confusion has been dispelled, Blockbuster is still misappropriating the acquired goodwill of West Coast Video’s trademark.

So, you can see that IIC is intended to address a potentially unfair attempt to profit from a competitor’s mark.

Critics of IIC believe that it may be too hazy a concept, and that the definition is too imprecise. From my layman’s understanding, the idea of a bait-and-switch scenario would seem to have some element of uncontroversial and unfair fraud attached to it, and perhaps the degree to which consumers will comprehend the mistake in brand identification by the time of making the purchase could be the deciding factor as to whether it’s legally actionable or not.

Attorneys have expressed that there may be insufficient case law precedent to make it clear how solid the IIC concept really is. There is uncertainty about how it may be interpreted, and that leaves open the door to lawsuits based upon an uncomfortably loose concept. Some of the more persuasive critics argue that the concept should be abandoned in favor of the more specific tests established for whether or not infringement has occurred, period.

A district judge initially dismissed the MTM/Amazon suit in a summary judgment, finding that Multi Time Machine failed to show that the search results actually confused consumers. Upon appeal, the Ninth Circuit court ruled that the search results could be confusing to consumers, and the suit could go forward. Then, a few months later, the appellate court reversed its decision, finding that since Amazon had clear labeling of the search results, “… no reasonably prudent consumer accustomed to shopping online would likely be confused as to the source of the products.”

Confused about Initial Interest Confusion yet?

The back-and-forth reversals garnered a lot of attention in legal circles. In the ultimate ruling, the court noted that the alleged confusion was caused not by the design of a competitor’s mark, but by the design of a web page that displayed MTM’s mark and offered the competing product for sale. The case could be decided simply by evaluating whether the web page was likely to cause a “reasonably prudent consumer” to be confused about the origin of the goods.

The court focused upon the labeling and appearance of the product listings and the surrounding context on the screen displaying the results page, and they cited that they made their determination based on two questions:

    Who is the relevant, reasonable consumer?What would he or she reasonably believe based on what he or she saw on the screen?

Bodum vs. Williams-Sonoma

Fast-forward to last year through this spring, and a similar case was brought against Williams-Sonoma by Bodum, a seller of French press coffeemakers.

The Bodum vs. Williams-Sonoma case varies somewhat from the MTM/Amazon one. Bodum French press coffeemakers were carried by Williams-Sonoma in the past, but the company eventually dropped Bodum as a vendor. Subsequently, Williams-Sonoma began selling their own French press coffeemakers.

For anyone who has worked in corporate America, one can imagine the sequence: after selling a brand-name product for a period of time, a retailer begins to consider that they could source the manufacture of the product themselves, cutting out their vendor in order to increase the profits. This dynamic happens all the time and, in of itself, would not necessarily be legally actionable.

However, Bodum claimed that Williams-Sonoma went on to purposefully create an infringing situation by continuing to use the Bodum name on their website, while displaying non-Bodum products. I was able to obtain a screen-grab of a “Bodum” results page from the Williams-Sonoma.com website prior to them suspending the page:

The case was settled in April, but I think the situation involved still raises a lot of questions.

Assuming the claims had been found to have merit, this case could have been an example to demonstrate Initial Interest Confusion. The difference between the MTM/Amazon case and the Bodum/Williams-Sonoma case is perhaps that one would imagine that frequent customers of Williams-Sonoma, already familiar with the Bodum products, could easily have been very confused about the origination of the more

recent Williams-Sonoma French press products that replaced the Bodum ones that were previously carried.

Further, when those consumers searched in Google or searched on the Williams-Sonoma website for “Bodum,” they were arguably wanting the specific brand’s products that they were familiar with, and if the online website serves up products that are quite similar to the Bodum ones they were previously selling, the customers could arguably be thinking that they are indeed purchasing actual Bodum brand products at the point of sale.

I would conjecture that an additional argument could have been that the Bodum and Williams-Sonoma brands might have been so closely associated with one another in the minds of Williams-Sonoma customers, and the products displayed were similar enough, that a consumer might have reasonably thought that he or she was being presented with Bodum products when shown the search results page that was in contention.

I did just one comparison, using a Bodum French press coffeemaker page from the Williams-Sonoma website I found in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine from when they still carried Bodum products (left), and you can see the non-Bodum French press currently found on their website (right) for comparison. The products and their styling in the catalog photos are strikingly similar:

Making a case: Factors for consideration

In the MTM/Amazon case, the court essentially found that there was not Initial Interest Confusion because of a few factors:

The Amazon search results page states that it is showing “related” results.The pages of the products listed on that page do not represent that they were Multi Time Machine watches.Consumers should reasonably recognize that the products presented were too inexpensive to be Multi Time Machine watches.

From my layman’s perspective, Williams-Sonoma may not have the same mitigating factors that Amazon had. The williams-sonoma.com site customers had come to expect to see Bodum products on the site. Likewise, consumers searching in Google for “bodum french press” were presented with a Google search results page where the Williams-Sonoma “related search results” page for “bodum” was listed prominently in the number-one position. The products presented closely resemble the Bodum brand products, so those familiar with Bodum items would not be likely to recognize that they are different from the bona fide branded ones. The prices are quite similar.

How the Bodum French Press page on the Williams-Sonoma.com website appeared on Google search results

Damages and corrective advertising

As I presented recently in a session at the SMX West conference, “What You Don’t Know In Trademark Law Can Hurt You,” the fact that the Williams-Sonoma website had optimized a page for Bodum brand keywords could have sharply increased their damages exposure in this infringement case if the court had found merit in Bodum’s claims. Each of the impressions that happened in Google when people searched for “Bodum french press” and related phrases could have eventually been determined to be an instance of infringement when the searcher saw the Bodum name associated with the Williams-Sonoma website materials. (These organic listings impressions are called “misimpressions” within the context of trademark infringement.)

Consumers do not even have to have bought the products on Williams-Sonoma for infringement to have occurred, so the search results impressions and on-site impressions numbers could easily add up to increase the theoretical damages.

Bodum had specifically cited “corrective advertising” in their complaint as a potential avenue for damages. Historically, trademark infringement cases may have incurred relatively low damages price tags when courts found in favor of plaintiffs, but more recent cases have seen monetary damage awards skyrocketing, due in part to corrective advertising as a means of reparation. The theory is straightforward: if infringement has occurred, then one might attempt to repair the confusion in the mind of consumers by performing equivalent brand exposure advertising campaigns in the same (or closely similar) medium where the infringement originally occurred.

So, when infringement occurs in search engines, such as via page listings optimized for a branded keyword, then one may factor in that equivalent-or-greater numbers of impressions need to be obtained to counter the original confusion. Thus, when one begins adding up the misimpressions that occurred on search engine results pages as well as on a website’s page itself, the numbers can add up really fast. Then, imagine multiplying those numbers by the dollar amounts necessary to obtain the same numbers of impressions at today’s market value, add on penalties, and the damages awards can become very significant.

No doubt, when Williams-Sonoma carried the Bodum products, having the “bodum” keyword results page on the website, optimized for search engines, made great sense. I don’t know if the keyword merely remained cached in the e-commerce website’s system after Bodum was dropped as a vendor, but I think it likely that it could have been retained accidentally, resulting in the keyword results page continuing to rank prominently in Google search results after they no longer carried Bodum products.

Concerningly, I’d also theorize that Williams-Sonoma’s PPC ad campaigns could have also caused a risk of increased damages exposure in this case, if they are found to be infringing due to the “Bodum” search results page. I discovered that Williams-Sonoma had had ads continuing to run for “Bodum” searches in Google, even after the lawsuit was initiated, although they apparently halted displaying their “related searches” page for organic search as the court case started heating up.

While it is not generally considered infringing to run ads online that are targeted to one’s competitors’ brand names, if they were determined to have infringed, the ad targeting might also be considered yet more evidence of an overall effort to unfairly divert sales from Bodum and might also have been considered to be part of a confusing sequence whereby consumers could be fooled into thinking the Williams-Sonoma French presses were actually Bodum’s.

I would theorize that if a company is found to be infringing, even the normally acceptable use of a competitor’s trademark could be considered in the context of the illegal mark use when determining intentionality of infringement, as well as in assessing total misimpressions.

I would theorize that such advertising could constitute yet another form of initial interest confusion, or an exacerbation of it, since a consumer might search for “Bodum,” see the Williams-Sonoma ads, click through to the website where they might also encounter the “Bodum” branded search results pages.

So, the impressions and click-throughs for Williams-Sonoma’s PPC ads targeted to Bodum keywords could have also theoretically driven up a potential damages award even higher in the case.

(Williams-Sonoma’s PPC ads targeting “Bodum” branded keywords were not mentioned in the complaint, so I doubt Bodum may have even been aware of that.)

Case settlement and results

Bodum and Williams-Sonoma agreed to settle the trademark infringement case in April, with prejudice against Williams-Sonoma.

One may reasonably speculate that the settlement terms were favorable to Bodum. I see now that when one searches for “Bodum” on williams-sonoma.com, the results page contains strong, clear language:

We do not sell Bodum branded products.

Entering more general keywords may yield results.

The page now also has text reading, “You May Also Like,” which appears above the related product search results. The page’s meta description is now blank. So, Bodum likely got what they were after.

(As an aside, Bodum probably should have hired a search engine optimization professional to help craft the settlement instructions or to check them afterwards, because there continues to be a “Bodum Thermal French Press” results page and other Bodum-branded pages on the site, and these pages are still appearing in Google search results — with no notice that Bodum-branded products are no longer carried on those pages. Or, if the settlement agreement did cover these other instances, Williams-Sonoma should have hired a competent SEO pro to help audit that the terms of the agreement were satisfied in order to ensure such pages were eliminated from search engine results.)

Interestingly, Bodum did not mention “initial interest confusion” in their lawsuit. Perhaps they intended to play their cards whichever way might be signaled by the court as the avenue most likely to succeed. But, this suit was definitely one that involved IIC in a manner parallel to the MTM/Amazon one.

It is also interesting that Williams-Sonoma decided that the risks of contesting the suit were maybe far too great to allow it to move forward, and they opted to settle. On one hand, Amazon prevailed in resisting this in the MTM case. Perhaps the court’s somewhat wishy-washy, back-and-forth decisions in MTM/Amazon made it hard to estimate the likely outcome. Or perhaps when counsel for Williams-Sonoma evaluated their case, they feared that the criteria that had cleared Amazon would not go as far in their favor. I think it’s reasonable to imagine that their customers would have been confused about the Bodum search results page.

But if Williams-Sonoma had contested the case and prevailed, they likely would ultimately have profited more. The “Bodum” keyword has considerable amounts of traffic, and having that high-ranking Bodum French press page continuing to appear in search results almost certainly translates into profitable sales.

Final thoughts

In a great many lawsuits involving companies, the most reasonable course of action is to settle, reducing chances of undesirable outcomes for both sides.

In this case, though, we might have wished that the suit had not settled, so that there could have been more clarification of the law around initial interest confusion.

In the wake of these cases, my advice to retailers is to be extremely vigilant and timely in removing optimized pages and keywords tags from their databases when products or vendors are discontinued. You do not want to have a situation where a reasonable claim may be made that you are attempting to improperly profit from a competitor’s mark.

The other takeaway is this: label your product search results very carefully to make it clear when you do not carry a branded product — and when presenting alternative products.

Following these practices could save your company from having to defend against costly and time-consuming litigation.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.