When you do a search on Google for ‘accountants San Francisco’, what do you see? Let’s imagine that you are the owner of an accountancy firm in San Francisco, or an SEO or digital marketing specialist working with such a firm. If you are seeking to rank and get more traffic from searchers looking for an accountant in San Francisco, would you feel daunted – or encouraged – by the challenge ahead?

seo and branding

Let’s quickly take a quick snapshot of this very query on Google.com (click to enlarge).

search result accountant san francisco

Do you notice anything striking? Firstly, there are almost 93 million search results for the query ‘accountants San Francisco’! Secondly, the first three search results are paid listings, meaning you have to make a fairly serious investment to appear in top billing for such a competitive commercial phrase.

However, the most striking observation you could make is that not a single ‘regular’ (non-brand) website appears above the fold in non-paid search results for this query on Google.com. Not only that, but the first FOUR non-paid results are all dominated by a major online brand – Yelp!

If you perform the search query yourself, you will see you need to scroll down to the fifth result – and past the Maps listings – to see a non-brand website. In this case this is ‘www.safeharborcpa.com’ (note that all searches in this post were performed from Dublin, Ireland, so results may differ). Since Google Maps listings take up a large chunk of search results real estate in the middle of the page, you have to scroll almost to the bottom of the page to view non-brand sites that are not paying to be listed or appearing by default within the Google Maps section.

This means there is space for just five additional websites below the Google Maps section. Even then, however, four of these five listings are actually also brands. These are Indeed.com (appearing twice!), Angie’s List, and Craigslist. In summary, outside of Google Maps, just two non-paid listings on the search results page for a search on ‘accountants San Francisco’ are non-brand sites.

Maybe this is more of a US play? Think again – try the same query performed on Google.co.uk (click to enlarge).

accountants London search results

Again, we see a somewhat similar but improved picture emerging – three paid results followed by a non-brand listing, a directory site and a brand (Crunch). Then, we have Maps listings which again take up a large chunk of the page. Once more, we have to move below the fold before we can see more than one or two non-brand listings – and one of these is still a brand listing (Yell.com).

What is happening?

It’s clear – Google has moved from a search engine that seeks to display the ‘best’ result for a given query, to one that seeks to serve the best result for a given query, but also maximise its revenue and ‘Local’ play at the same time. Google wants to make as much money as possible (which is fair enough), but this conflicts to a certain degree with the average website owner’s desire to rank on on its search engine and attract as much traffic as possible. 

In 2015, in the context of this shifting Search landscape, it is worth considering a new approach – brand first. Instead of having rankings and traffic from search results as your number 1 goal – a target that is clearly becoming more difficult to hit – consider shifting your focus towards building your brand across various marketing channels first. This means both offline as well as online.

branding for SEO

Then, when people start to notice you and feel attracted to what it is you offer, you will find your search traffic starts to increase as they are searching you by name. In other words, you start to become more of a brand as opposed to just another website competing for attention in a sea of online properties. This means that instead of trying to compete on the phrase ‘accountants San Francisco’, you bypass a large chunk of the competition and the millions of search results appearing alongside you, and you attract new customers and prospects at source – by having them google your name and find you directly.

Of course, this is not the only benefit, as becoming a brand also has a positive impact on your ability to rank and attract traffic from all sources – and the impact is exponential. When you are perceived as a brand, people naturally link to you more. They talk about you more, share your content more, talk about you on social media more and recommend you online and offline more. All of this adds up to increased authority for your brand generally, but in particular online – and this is where you can start to see your original rankings and traffic goals come to fruition, as Google starts to see you as an increasingly relevant and authoritative match for search queries like ‘accountants San Francisco’.

Accountants of London and San Francisco – build your brand first!

What are your thoughts? Are you a believer in this approach when it comes to building traffic and awareness for your brand online?

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