Focus on Your Brand Before You Focus on SEO

You’ve been researching for weeks. You’ve studied the gurus and learned how they built their sites up from nothing to empires. You now understand that SEO is very important to you and your dreams.

Wait, you aren’t sure what SEO is? Well, I guess I should give you a little bit of background on SEO first.

SEO Primer

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is the practice of getting your site to rank well in search engines. People make a career out of this stuff because it is very valuable to rank well for certain terms in search engines.

Odds are most people will come across your site from a search result they find on Google. You like these people because it means they have intent with their web browsing. What I mean by intent is that they are looking for something specific so when they come to your site they are hoping you have the solution.

If you do then you have increased your chances of getting them to join your mailing list or making a sale.

It’s like owning a gas station. You don’t make money unless someone needs gas. Nobody stops to get gas when they still have 3/4 of a tank left. You need to be around the moment they realize they need to get gas.

Be their online gas station.

Bet you never thought someone would offer you that advice before, eh?

SEO Is Important

Hopefully, you see the value in SEO. It is pretty important to a lot of sites and can easily be the reason why your site succeeds or never gets off the ground.

When people start to learn about SEO they fall into this rabbit hole of strategies. There are a ton of strategies out there. Some will definitely work, others are merely guesses.

You see the problem with SEO is that search engines don’t blatantly come out and say “these are all of the things that we look for in a site so you should do only these things.”

Instead, SEO experts try to figure out small little things that they believe search engines are looking for and convince themselves that they’ve uncovered a secret.

Do you need to know all of these secrets to run a successful site? I don’t think so. I do think you should have a basic understanding of how SEO works though so that you don’t completely cripple yourself online.

I do want you to keep something in mind, though. I’m going to highlight this and make sure you understand it.

Something More Important Than SEO

Seriously, this might be the most important thing you learn this year.

Your brand will always trump SEO.

Always.

There isn’t a question about this. SEO can get you leads, but your brand makes the sale.

SEO can bring someone to your site, but if they don’t like what they are reading then they will just click the back button and try the next site on the list. This is one of the reasons why I don’t bombard people with calls to sign up for my mailing list when they visit this site. I need to offer them the solution first before asking for anything from them.

I don’t know why they came to this site, but I’m assuming it is because they followed a link from somewhere. It might be from Google or it might be from Twitter. Either way, they clicked on the link because they are looking for something and it is important to me that they are able to get to that information without me putting up obstacles.

This first impression is part of this site’s brand.

What Is a Brand?

When two people are having a conversation and one of them asks if the other knows Paul Scrivens, that person might answer with “Yeah, he’s a real asshole.” That’s my brand to that person. I’m branded as the asshole. Something I did made that impression on the person and now I’m stuck with that as my brand.

Someone else might say that I’m the most fun person to hang out with at the bar and so that is my brand to that person.

One way to think of branding is that branding is the impression you leave on someone. Whenever someone thinks about you or your site what are their initial thoughts and feelings?

That is your brand.

Purchase Based On Emotion

People like to think they purchase things due to logic when most of the time we make purchase decisions based on emotions. Branding goes a long way into this. I will never buy a Windows PC or Android phone because I’m emotionally attached to Apple in a positive way. When I think of Windows or Android I don’t necessarily get a surge of negative emotions, but I don’t get positive ones either.

When I think of Apple though my very first feelings are those of happiness. This is the impression that the Apple brand has made on me over the years.

When you think of Apple you might have a completely different feeling because the brand had a different impact on you. The point is you don’t buy things that have a negative brand impression to you.

What’s shitty about branding though is that you can’t control the impression that it leaves on people. You can only try your best to leave a positive one that influences how they view your brand. The reason for this is because we all value things differently. I value beautiful aesthetics while you might value price.

When I visit a website I judge it immediately based on its design. That is the first impression and it dictates whether I leave immediately or decide to stick around.

You could tell me that you make $30,000 a month on your blog, but if its ugly I won’t believe you. I will think you are trying to scam me. I think this way because I see the world through my values and if your brand doesn’t align with my values in some way, it’s going to be hard for you to make a sale.

This is why I say your brand is more important than SEO. If your sole focus is on SEO you might very well be wasting your time. You could end up getting thousands of people to your site and watching thousands of people leave without taking any action.

Focus on your brand first and then when you nail that you can take a look at SEO and begin to optimize for that.

Great Branding Can Lead to Great SEO

Here is the awesome thing about great branding, it can get you more traffic from the search engines. Great branding isn’t just how your site looks. Branding is also the content that you provide on your site and if that content is awesome and valuable, then people will share it.

The more people that share it and link to it from their site, the better your site looks to the search engines.

Amazing!

If you focus on building up a quality brand, the SEO stuff almost takes care of itself.

Almost.

The Essentials of SEO You Can’t Ignore

This doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore SEO though. While you are building up your brand there are some basic things you can do to ensure you don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your site when it comes time to focus on SEO.

Good URLs

Look at the URL for this post. That’s the web address that is at the top of your browser window.

https://obstacle.co/branding-over-seo/

That is a good URL because it is simple and has the keywords I want to target. Search engines love simple.

Now compare that URL to this one:

https://obstacle.co/post.php?id=281

That’s not simple at all. It’s not simple for humans and it’s not simple for search engines. That URL doesn’t offer you any type of preview of the content you are about to read.

Quality Headings

The copy you put into your headings is important. Does your page title accurately describe the post or is it meant to be cute? Do the subheadings within the post accurately describe each section?

Post Quality Equals Length

Search engines like longer pieces of content. You might have inspiration for a post and when you are done writing it find that you’ve only written 300 words. To Google, that isn’t quality content.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t publish it, but don’t expect it to rocket up to the top of the search engine results.

Many sites recommend at least 700 words for a post, but if I can’t reach 2,000 words on a post I grow suspicious because I wonder what I am missing.

You might be thinking that nobody wants to read the much content and many of the people that visit your site won’t read all of that content. They wouldn’t read it if it was long or short so they don’t really matter. The people that are looking for the information will read your content because they are looking for a solution.

If you don’t want your posts to come across as giant walls of text there are some things you can do to help:

  • Smaller paragraphs. I’ve found that people don’t mind long pieces of content if it seems like it is going to be easy to read. Huge paragraphs mentally shut me off. This isn’t high school where you need to ensure you have a minimum of 5 sentences per paragraph. Don’t be afraid to break things up.
  • Add in headings. Headings are great for the people that like to skim the content first. They offer logical breakdowns of your content.
  • Throw in some images and videos. Everyone loves pictures and videos so add them to your content when you can, but make sure they are relevant. Adding them just to add them can annoy people.

What you will find with longer content is that people will begin to associate high-quality content with your brand. After a little while, you start to become an authority figure in your niche which is a very good thing. Longer content is a big win for everybody.

Inbound Links

Getting links from other sites isn’t as important as it used to be, but it’s still important. This means that when you write your valuable content you need to promote it. You need to spread the word to make sure people know about it and link back to it.

However, if your brand is crap, then that lessens the odds of getting links.

You aren’t going to introduce your cousin to the homeless man in the alley because you have a reputation to uphold. Other bloggers don’t want to send their audience to sites that won’t offer them great value because it ruins their reputation.

Create a brand that every blogger will be proud to link to.

Focus on Value and Promotion

Don’t get caught up in the crazy SEO strategies because they aren’t worth it in the long run and they can take up too much of your time in the short run. Instead, focus on building an awesome brand and promote the hell out of it and you’ll find that everything else takes care of itself.

Building a strong brand means that you aren’t relying on the search engines or other factors to build the lifestyle you want. Many sites have been destroyed by a change in a search engine’s algorithm, but since you’ll be playing the game by your own rules, none of that will matter.