What’s your favorite search engine?
Way back in 1997, my favorite search engine was Infoseek. For a while Infoseek was the only search engine I used, and the name “Infoseek” was fixed on my mind as the place to go whenever I wanted to find something on the Internet.
A year later, I could care less about Infoseek.
After Disney bought Infoseek in 1998, they changed the name to Go.com. “Alright”, you might say, “can’t you take a name change?” Well, problem is it wasn’t just a name change; it was a total elimination of the Infoseek brand.
The whole visuals of the site were changed, and what’s even worse, the Go.com site became an entertainment oriented search engine. It was still a search engine, but it neither looked nor felt the same as good old Infoseek (and the search results were not the same as before).
Infoseek was struggling, which is why Disney bought it. But it was still a heck of a brand name, an asset which Disney completely neglected. The result is that a lot of people who used Infoseek before have switched to other search engines. In fact, the brand kill was so destructive that Infoseek today only exists in Japan. The brand change by Disney had without a doubt a profound role in the failure.
What can be learnt from this?
- Branding is very important. It can make or break a business venture.
- Branding is psychological. It exists in the minds of customers and prospects. When I say, “Image is nothing. Thirst is everything”, I can bet that the name of a popular fizzy lemonade will pop up in your mind. That’s the power of branding for you.
- Repeated exposure to the brand is vital to producing a successful brand. When the Infoseek brand was gone, the search engine somehow lost its “meaning”.
And just to make it absolutely clear what Web branding really is, here’s a short definition:
The purpose of branding is to get people to recall your company/product/service from memory. The ultimate aim is to get people to trust you more than the competition, and to think of your Web site before they think of the competition’s Web site.
Branding isn’t just for the big companies. It’s just as important to the small business entrepreneur, especially online business owners. With cutthroat competition on the Web, those who don’t brand will probably go out of business.
How to Brand Your Website
Branding your website follows the intrinsic rules of marketing – e.g. create a recognizable name, finding the right customer base and successfully converting your visitors. However, there are a number of elements where branding online is different from branding offline.
Here are several hands-on strategies on how to brand your website:
1. Quality Content.
Online branding is about building the best reputation on the Web for your industry or vertical. It starts with quality content that is authoritative, useful, and better designed. You need to put out the best content to help you get more visitors and make them come back to your website for more. It is not easy to create quality content especially if you’re a small business, but doing so significantly increase the visibility of your website. Online
But what is quality content? The search engine Bing offers several clues as to what constitutes quality content, and it entails asking:
- Can we trust this content?
- Is the content useful and sufficiently detailed?
- Is the content well-presented and easy to find?
Google defines quality content similarly, and offers these questions to webmasters to help them craft quality content.
Repetition is important in branding. In fact, experts say that customers need to see your brand at least 21 times before they can recall your business. Customers need to see your business often and the experience consistent to help them remember your business.
To help brand your website, keep all of your design elements such as colors and font the same from page to page. Most importantly, display your logo at the top of each page, consistently throughout your Web site. Your Web site must have its own distinct “feel”.
3. Unique selling proposition
Web audiences know what Google represents or what Amazon does – their audiences know their purpose, and what these sites can offer them. It is important that your website communicate and demonstrate your unique selling proposition – the elements that help separate your website from everyone else. Make it clear to your web visitors what you offer and what makes you different from other websites.
Be sure that you highlight your USP in your About Us page, and your copy and images need to support your USP. Add in your tagline to help visitors remember what your website is all about.
4. Quality of Service and User Experience
The core of branding is the quality of your online service and the experience that you offer them when dealing with your website.
How easy is it to use your website? How fast do you respond to your customers’ complaints and feedback? How easy is it to reach you when they need to speak to a person directly? How fast do you answer their emails? What is the quality of products and services that you offer?
5. Quality links.
How much can Google and other search engines detect about your efforts to create a strong brand? One way is through links. To develop a strong brand online, your website needs to be talked about in news and media sites, blogs, industry websites and other quality publications.
Links are essential, although unlinked mentions can also work if you already have a strong brand. Your website needs to have higher-than-average mentions in social media.
Consistency of the mentions is also important – the name of your business as well as contact information in various directories including Google Places.
Use your mailing list to push your domain name and slogan (consisting of your Unique Selling Proposition). If you have a newsletter or ezine, create a header that contains your domain name and your slogan. Use this same header in all issues of your newsletter or ezine.
5. Domain name
Use your domain name as your brand. Put it on all of your stationary (letter heads, business cards, post cards, statements, etc.).
6. Signature file
Implement your USP into your signature file, so with every email you send visitors will be further exposed to your brand. Check out the help file of your email software for more on setting up sig files.
7. Thank you pages
If you have online forms (for visitors to contact you, request more information, subscribe to your newsletter etc.), you most likely have a “thank you” page where you thank visitors for using your form. This is an excellent place to position your logo and slogan. Don’t clutter with lots of banners and marketing material. Keep it plain and simple.
Create free books on subjects of interest to your visitors and allow them to re-distribute to their own visitors. Brand your ebook with your logo, domain name and slogan on every page of the ebook (also consider including your own name).
9. Publish free articles
With thousands of new Web sites and blogs popping up in Web land every month, the demand for high quality content is immense. You can provide articles for other webmasters/editors to publish on their Web sites/blogs. At the end of your article put your name and a link to your Web site, with short teaser copy to get people to click on your link (offer a free book, subscription to your newsletter or some other enticing offer – see my resource box at the end for an example). This is free publicity at its best – not only will you get traffic back to your Web site; you’ll also add status and credibility to your name (provided your article is of high quality).
However, Google has been going after low quality guest blog posts. Guest posts are still highly effective in marketing your site and building online credibility; but carefully select the sites where you do guest posting. Avoid submitting your sites on article directories or guest post networks – that’s the surest way to get pummeled by the search engines.
These are emails that are sent automatically to anyone who requests them (triggered by sending them an email). Autoresponders are great as they work 24 hours a day without any intervention on your part. Use them to send visitors free reports, articles, list of links, etc. And add your branding copy (logo, name, slogan, USP etc.) at the top and bottom of the autoresponder message, with a link back to your Web site. Nowadays all good Web hosts provide their customers with free autoresponders.
If you don’t brand, you’ll have a hard time surviving on the Web. If you do brand – properly – you’ll have a hard time not laughing all the way to the bank. And as shown by the above tips, online branding is not hard to do. Just implement the tips and you’ll be well on your way.
Remember though that branding is not a one-time thing; it is a by-product of all your marketing efforts, whether online or offline.
Yvonne Buchanan is a 20-year veteran of public relations, marketing and advertising. She teaches public relations courses online for career changers, freelancers and students through The PR Academy www.learnpr.com and is co-founder of Real-World PR www.realworldpr.com , a public relations information provider for small businesses. Real-World PR offers public relations toolkits (manual/CD combinations) that allow small business owners to create and maintain their own public relations programs.