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SEO and Understanding Your Brand

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I always recommend that folks optimizing their web sites take great care to not confuse the name of their company with what the searchers are actually trying to find, which is frequently the brand.

Unless you are someone like Coca-Cola or your name is the same as your product and brand, you should generally leave your company name out of the title tag of your pages. If you absolutely must have it there, put it at the end.

But, the Coca-Cola brand brings up an interesting issue. Coca-Cola, the brand, includes Coca-Cola, the product, as well as a lot of other soft drinks, but the umbrella of "Coca-Cola" covers them all. In this case, the brand includes the name of an individual product and, as you know, their marketing works quite well.

But, if you’re not Coca-Cola, this might lead to problems with the brand message.

A local case in point involves the tourism bureau in charge of promoting the Palm Springs area where I live. The Palm Springs Desert Resort Communities Convention and Visitors Authority not only has a ridiculously long name, but it is in the unique and very difficult position of promoting a tourist destination that involves several cities, not just the city of Palm Springs. Included in the "desert resorts" are Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Desert Hot Springs and Indio.

For full disclosure, I worked for the CVA for a year as their web site marketing manager before I went into search engine optimization and Internet marketing full-time. At that time, the name of the organization was just The Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority. Still too long, but politics, which I’ll get to in a moment, led to the addition of the "Communities" to the already impossible to remember name.

In this case, the brand "Palm Springs" includes the city of Palm Springs and the other desert cities (the products) mentioned above and works as an "umbrella" brand much like Coca-Cola does with its various products.

The "Palm Springs" brand is known worldwide. Just about anywhere you go, if you mention "Palm Springs" you’ll get immediate recognition. I live in Rancho Mirage, right in the middle of the valley, but when I talk to folks from other parts of the country or the world who have never been here, I have to explain that it’s in the Palm Springs area. Then they get it.

Most tourists think of the whole valley as "Palm Springs" no matter where they are staying while visiting our desert.

Heck, I’ve even had that reaction locally. I was about 50 miles away and stopped at a gas station for directions. I told the attendant I was trying to get back to Rancho Mirage and got a glassy stare. The attendant had never heard of it. I tossed Palm Springs into the conversation and he immediately recognized it and gave me the directions I needed.

A few months ago, I noticed that the former domain for the CVA, PalmSpringsUSA.com was being redirected to a new domain, GiveInToTheDesert.com. My SEO senses kicked in immediately. I thought, this is a mistake. They are taking the brand, Palm Springs, out of the domain and replacing it with "desert."

What desert? Las Vegas? The Sahara? A lot of people don’t even know Palm Springs is in the desert. Some get it confused with Palm Beach, Florida or just think it’s a tropical resort somewhere with beaches. All they know is that the name is magic and it’s got to be a fabulous place to visit.

A check for "Palm Springs" in Google as I write this reveals that the site still ranks well, but the click attraction is diminished. After all, "Palm Springs" is no longer in the URL. Instead, the URL that appears in search results is the almost unreadable giveintothedesert.com. This could also affect anchor text in backlinks, and changing domain names is always a bit risky.

The local paper, The Desert Sun, reports that the slogan that prompted the domain change – "Give in to the Desert: Palm Springs Desert Resorts" – flopped for 2007, bringing in only 67% of the targeted room bookings.

Part of the problem the CVA has with branding "Palm Springs" is that the other cities sometimes have a hard time differentiating the brand from the city, feeling that too much attention is being given to Palm Springs, the city. The CVA’s job is to promote the entire valley. The "Palm Springs" brand is their most powerful tool. Unfortunately, politics gets in the way and when it does, the "me, too" mindset hurts the brand. Pushing the brand to the back burner in this slogan affected the message and the web site.

Just imagine if Squirt, Mr. Pibb and Sprite insisted that "Coca-Cola" be pushed back in or even removed from the company branding!

Things go better with…Squirt?

Uh, I don’t think so…

Mercifully, a new slogan, "Palm Springs, California – An Oasis of Desert Resorts" has been selected. Putting the brand back out front can only help. From an SEO point of view, if they put the brand back in the domain name, that would be a gift from heaven, too. In addition to that powerful just-asking-to-be-clicked-on brand in the domain, backlinks to the web site would again include those always desired keyword anchor links that are sorely lacking with the current domain name.

Kudos to the CVA for putting the brand back at the front of the message.

Moral of the story? Understand your brand. It can be totally different from a product or a name. Don’t be sentimental and try to shoehorn something that won’t sell as well in place of the brand. If the brand is what sells, sell it! Sell it in your online and offline promotions and on your web site. Put it in your title, meta tags and body content. Something as simple as having a top selling brand that attracts clicks in your domain can do wonders for sales, marketing, click through rates and rankings!

In other words, use your head, not your gut, with your branding decisions.

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