Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Companies employ search engine optimization (SEO) because they want to improve their presence in online searches. However, the truth is that for larger brands — and especially national brands — SEO has little to do with why brands may appear in first-page search results. The central value proposition of SEO can be misleading or at least misunderstood.
Knowledge panels, social accounts, Wikipedia and job review entries are all critical parts of your digital presence. Along with your website, they’re the first things that consumers, investors and even journalists will see when they search for your brand.
Yet, despite having greater visibility online, they’re not particularly impacted by SEO — especially for direct brand searches. To understand why this would be, let’s look at the key components of your digital presence that SEO can help with — and then dig into everything else.
Related: SEO Isn’t Just About Link Building. Don’t Overlook These Expert Strategies.
The big 3 of SEO
SEO has three main components: on-site, off-site and technical.
On-site SEO covers all of the copy and metadata on your website and is critical for improving your ranking for specific keywords. For instance, if you’re selling artisanal charcoal toothpaste, an on-site SEO strategy will involve creating content around search terms like “natural dental products,” “organic toothpaste” and (I assume) “old-timey teeth cleaners.”
Off-site SEO involves all of the external actions (taken outside of your website) to get Google and other engines to view your site as trustworthy and authoritative. The most common off-site tactic is building backlinks. Content creation can be part of this strategy, as you want relevant sites — like the Holistic Dentistry Center to follow the example above — to link your pages.
Technical SEO involves improving the nuts and bolts of your website overall, which can help with both search engine visibility and website functionality.
Off-site and technical SEO both have wide applicability to any kind of search. On-site SEO is more contextual and keyword-focused. But for searches directly about your brand, all three of these strategies are less helpful than you might think.
Avoiding SEO blind spots
The information that immediately appears when people search for your brand is critical to your reputation, as very few users are going to click through to the second page of results.
So let’s think about the types of search results you see when you search for your brand name. Your company website should be the top organic result — if it’s not, you have an SEO problem.
But what comes next? If you’re a local business, you should see a Google My Business profile to the right of organic results that include photos, your website URL, a Google Maps link, operating hours and more. An SEO agency should advise you on how to claim and optimize this profile.
If you’re a prominent national brand, though, searchers should see a Google Knowledge Panel instead of a My Business profile. Knowledge panels appear in the search results for notable people, places, brands and proper nouns. Google pulls data for knowledge panels from numerous public sources, including Wikipedia. Side note: If your brand is notable enough to have a Wikipedia article, then your brand almost certainly has a knowledge panel.
With a My Business profile, the most impactful way to improve your knowledge panel is first to claim it (using a verified account) and suggest changes directly to Google. You can also seek updates for your Wikipedia article, as the descriptive language at the top of the knowledge panel is likely pulled from the online encyclopedia.
Your social profiles are also going to appear on the first page of the search, both in the knowledge panel and as organic entries. An SEO agency might advise you to update these profiles to ensure all of the relevant descriptive data is correct and uniform across every profile (e.g. that you’re using the same tagline, listing the correct website, etc.). Using these channels effectively to promote your brand is entirely up to you. Too often, the first page of search results for brands will include links to social accounts that haven’t been updated in months, or that don’t reflect a recent rebranding.
SEO also isn’t going to help you address negative reviews or outdated information on job sites Glassdoor and Indeed. Both appear prominently in search results for businesses and are frequently visited by job seekers as well as journalists and investors.
Searchers for your brand are also going to see countless corporate profiles by sites like Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance, Crunchbase, GitHub and others. Some of these profiles can be updated directly by verified employees, and doing so is a good idea if you want your Google results to stay accurate.
Related: 5 Common SEO Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Your digital presence is more than just your website (way more)
To reiterate, SEO is essential to online marketing. I just want to remind brands (and brand managers) that traditional SEO doesn’t cover everything, and there are large and very vital chunks of your digital presence that are outside of the scope of search engine optimization.
For this reason, it’s important to periodically do a full audit of your digital presence, beginning with all of the page one search results for your brand name. It can be useful to compare your results with competitors, as you may see effective measures others are taking to improve their presence that you can duplicate.
One thing is for sure: you can’t afford to leave your digital presence to chance.