As an SEO agency, we are always looking for additional ways to add value to our customers. We are also looking for better ways to report.
Measuring SEO success is crucial to the work that we do. If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
Measuring SEO effectiveness is not always straightforward. Of course, there are some fairly common metrics that most agencies and in-house teams report on:
These are helpful metrics if you want to monitor your overall organic performance and can provide you with lots of insights. In this post, we want to focus on two key areas: rankings and traffic. In particular, we want to focus on the correlation between the two and why you should be segmenting the traffic that comes from brand and non-brand keywords.
Segmenting gives you a more accurate reflection of your performance and clearer insights when it comes to the tactics you should be deploying.
Difference between brand and non-brand search
First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between brand and non-brand search. Whilst this seems obvious, not all businesses understand the difference and the impact it has on a number of organic metrics.
Branded traffic is any traffic that comes from a keyword search that includes your brand name or a variant of your brand. At the very top level, this would simply be a search for your brand. Going more granular, it could be your brand plus a product or service you offer.
You also have to factor in variations of how people might search for your brand. Let’s say you work for Hallenstein Brothers – a well-known New Zealand clothing brand. Whilst they are well-known, their website URL is hallensteins.co.nz and many people simply refer to them as Hallensteins. In fact, the keyword “hallensteins” has 60.5k monthly searches in NZ compared to 12.1k for “hallenstein brothers”. There are also typos to consider. A great example of this is “hallenstines” which has 8.1k monthly searches.
When you filter your keywords (more of that below), try to include every possible branded variable to make your data more accurate.
In terms of non-branded search, this relates to any search query that doesn’t include a reference to the brand. These generic keywords often make up the majority of your organic traffic, depending on the overall strength of your brand and this is typically the area that SEOs focus on with their optimisation tactics.
The value of branded search
Many SEO agencies don’t segment branded and non-branded search. This was not the case back in 2011 and earlier when Google would provide keyword data in Google Analytics, however, since this was replaced by “keyword not provided”, it has become harder to report on brand vs non-brand, so most agencies and in-house teams take a broader look at organic traffic as a whole including branded search.
There is, however, still a way that you can segment your branded and non-branded keywords using Google Search Console. Whilst this only provides a sample of the data, it can certainly help to give you a percentage of the likely clicks from brand vs non-brand.
The value of branded search typically leads to more conversion-driven traffic. Branded traffic indicates a level of awareness and intent that suggests they are not a first-time visitor to the site. They are certainly not interacting with your brand for the first time.
They may have discovered you through a previous non-branded search or through a completely different channel. Tracking this is virtually impossible, however, understanding the percentage of branded vs non-branded traffic is still important.
Segmenting branded and non-branded traffic is also important in some industries (particularly SaaS), as it is very common for people to type the brand into Google when they simply want to log back in to use the software. This has a significant impact on the overall quality of the traffic you are reporting and the expected conversions from that traffic.
How to filter brand and non-brand keywords in Google Search Console
There are third-party tools that will quickly tell you the percentage of branded vs non-branded traffic.
We use the SEMrush suite and the tool has this functionality. This is really useful for competitor analysis and new client onboarding, however, for current clients, we prefer to use GSC data as we feel it is the most accurate way of tracking brand and non-branded search queries.
That is not to say, however, that GSC is not without its flaws. For one, the data in there is just sample data. It’s important to be clear with your clients about this when you present your data in reports. Whilst GSC is the most indicative when it comes to brand and non-branded keywords, there is still some extrapolation needed and some cracks in that data.
However, it is still the best way to provide an overview of the traffic from brand and non-branded keywords.
You can filter in GSC by simply going to the Performance report and adding a new filter that excludes or includes your brand name.
Over time, you will gain an understanding of the branded queries and variants and have a list of these compiled that you can simply add. In the example above for Hallensteins, you can also use the first part of the brand name which would pick up the variants mentioned above e.g. “hallen”
Perhaps the best way is to export the data from GSC within the date range you are reporting on.
Then you can filter this data to remove any branded keywords, calculating the percentage of clicks that come from branded vs non-branded keywords.
Taking this percentage, you can then apply the breakdown to the actual traffic reported in Google Analytics to give you a fairly accurate reflection of the traffic to the website from branded and non-branded keywords.
How does this help us to perform better in organic search?
Of course, there is no point in simply reporting on this data if you are not going to do anything with it.
After several months (or even years) of reporting this data, you should hopefully start to see some trends developing. If you are a relatively new brand, you would hope to see the number of branded searches increase over time as people become more familiar with your brand and you raise your overall brand awareness.
If you have a strong content marketing strategy that targets a wide range of non-branded search queries, then you should also start to see non-branded traffic increasing as well.
There is no right and wrong when it comes to the percentage of branded vs non-branded search traffic.
It is, however, important to understand the likely difference in user behaviour between the two types of search queries. If you are a conversion-driven business, increasing the percentage of branded traffic is likely to have a more significant impact on your bottom line.
Increasing the number of people at the top of the funnel through non-branded queries will help to raise your brand awareness but it will take longer for these visitors to convert. If you increase the percentage of non-branded traffic versus branded, it is likely to have a negative impact on your conversion rate.
Of course, a lot will depend on how you attribute (but that’s a post for another day). First click versus last click attribution leads to very different results for brand and non-branded search queries so it’s important that however you report, you are consistent.
SEO reporting is often not an exact science and reporting on brand versus non-branded queries definitely falls into this bracket.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it.
SEO is all about marginal gains. Slight improvements, no matter how small, can make a big difference. Maybe something you learn from tracking brand and non-branded traffic will allow you to make a change that is the difference between ranking in first position versus second.
That’s a huge deal.
Digging as deep into the data as you can (given time limitations and other priorities) will often yield better results, either for your own business or for your clients.
Let data make a difference for your business.
Not getting enough insight from your current agency? Talk to one of the team today.