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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jan 29 , 2021

Leveraging branded and non-branded keywords can be a game-changer for your digital marketing strategy.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Definitions for branded and non-branded keywords
  • When to use each keyword type
  • How your competition factors into these keywords
  • Examples of how to use them effectively

From negative keywords to single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) and everything in between, keywords are at the heart of successful digital marketing.?

Branded keywords and non-branded keywords are no exception. In fact, these two keyword types can interact and support one another for results that are even greater than the sum of their parts.

The branded vs. non-branded distinction often arises in the context of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. But the usefulness of these two keyword types and their interaction applies to your entire digital marketing effort. It can even help boost your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Let’s break it down.?

HawkSEM: branded vs. non-branded keywords

Your competitors may use your branded keyword terms in their own digital advertising, especially in highly competitive industries. (Image via Unsplash)

Branded vs. non-branded keywords

Branded keyword terms include the name of your company or branded product. For example, Sky Skimmer Drones is that imaginary company’s core branded keyword term. But also ‘Sky Skimmer products,’ ‘drones by Sky Skimmer,’ and ‘the Sky Skimmer line of drones.’

Non-branded keyword terms refer or relate to your company or products without the proper company name. For the example above, they’d be things like ‘best-engineered drones,’ ‘leading brands of drones,’ and, more broadly, ‘airborne photography.’

The first thing to notice is the difference in the reach of the two terms. Branded keyword terms address a potential audience already aware of and searching for your brand. It’s a narrower segment of potential customers than those searching non-branded keywords. But it’s also the segment most likely to convert to a sale.?

Analyzing your non-branded keywords over time will also help you better gauge the overall efforts of your SEO when it comes to targeting and attracting visitors.

Pro tip: SEMrush explains that some keywords that have a brand name within the phrase but aren’t unique to a single brand or domain will be considered non-branded.

How branded and non-branded keywords work together

Non-branded keywords are imperative for attracting organic traffic and improving your paid search ROI. However, without branded terms, it can be hard to dominate the search engine results page (SERP) and stay ahead of the competition.

As Forbes reports, branded queries make up only 10% of all searches (80% are informational while another 10% are transactional). Meanwhile, branded keywords have a 100% higher conversion rate than their non-branded partners.

Branded and non-branded keywords can complement each other well by targeting prospects at different stages of the sales funnel.

  • Branded keywords often have less competition and lower cost per click (CPC) while driving higher conversions.
  • Non-branded keywords increase visibility and brand awareness to help generate leads.

In short, ads with non-branded keywords help you appeal to the target audience at the top of the funnel, while branded keywords help drive the sale through. Think of their tandem as similar to the combined efforts of your sales and marketing teams.

Determining when to use branded and non-branded keywords

Marketing strategists may feel that it’s a waste to use branded keywords in PPC campaigns since people already aware of your company and products won’t be searching those terms. But that’s not necessarily the case.

You can explore that question by comparing branded keyword terms vs. non-branded terms in Google’s Keyword Planner. You may find that there are searches for your branded keyword terms, but significantly fewer than for key non-branded terms.?

This is where other considerations enter. First, those who are doing branded keyword searches are far more likely to become your customers. Secondly, in bidding for PPC advertising keywords, branded keyword terms likely cost a fraction of the cost for leading non-branded terms, potentially making the ROI significant.

Google’s search engine results page (SERP) for “basketball shoes” vs. “nike basketball shoes.”

Google’s SERP for “basketball shoes” vs. “nike basketball shoes.”

Ready to take your PPC ads to the next level? Let’s chat.

Branded vs. non-branded keywords and your competitors

As a heads up, your competitors may use your branded keyword terms in their ads. This is especially common in highly competitive industries or when you offer a very similar product or service. Their objective is to attract those who are searching for your company and brand by name so they can convert them to their brand instead.?

Of course, you don’t want to make it easy for competitors to win over your prospects by searching for your company name. While Google doesn’t necessarily restrict other companies from using your brand name in their PPC campaigns, there are things you can do to prevent competitors from stealing market share:

  • Beat them at their own game We don’t necessarily recommend bidding on your competition’s brand name. However, you can experiment with this tactic if you have the budget and want to get some of your target audience back while attracting a part of theirs.?
  • Increase branded ad spend While this isn’t the most budget-friendly solution, it’s pretty effective. Your competitors aren’t likely to be spending too much on your branded keywords. By increasing the bid, you may be able to kick them out of the saddle.
  • Improve your Quality Score Since Quality Score helps dictate your ad rank, improving it could place your branded ads above the competition’s. It can also help your overall paid search ad campaign tremendously.
  • Optimize your landing pages Your competition isn’t likely to spend too much time and money optimizing its landing pages for your branded keywords. A landing page optimized for branded keywords may boost your Quality Score and get your ad better visibility.
HawkSEM: branded vs. non-branded keywords

When it comes to determining whether to use branded or non-branded keywords, the answer often depends on your goals. (Image via Unsplash)

3 tips to help branded and non-branded work together

Both branded and non-branded keywords can benefit your digital marketing campaign. Here’s how to ensure they’re working well in tandem.

1. Know when to start using branded keywords

One of the first things to do when setting a campaign up is to run a keyword search. At this point, you may not need to opt for branded keywords. Spending money on them could slow down your advertising efforts and reduce marketing ROI.

Consider using branded keywords together with their non-branded partners when:

  • Your business is known It doesn’t have to be a renowned global name, but should already have a solid customer base.
  • You have a popular product A product (or product line) you’re selling is gaining popularity quickly.
  • Your boss is wellknown in the industry If the business owner’s name is easily recognized, the brand and products can benefit from the popularity.

Another upside of bidding on your own brand is the brand protection aspect. You control the first impression that searchers get when it comes to your offerings and ethos. Moreover, if your competitors are the only ones bidding on your brand, you risk having those ads appear above organic results, which means they get seen first.?

2. Use branded keyword data to adjust non-branded keywords

Let’s say the majority of your traffic is coming from branded keywords, which means your company is well-known. It’s likely that you have a formidable customer base that prefers your brand over others and keeps coming back for more business.

Sounds great! But, in reality, the overwhelming success of branded keywords could be hindering your results. If your branded keywords are doing too good of a job, you may want to adjust your non-branded tactics. Besides improving your non-branded keyword campaign, consider boosting your brand awareness efforts.?

3. Know when to keep branded and non-branded keywords separate

While branded and non-branded keywords work well together, they shouldn’t always be part of the same campaign. To increase your conversion rate, it’s wise to keep these two keyword types in their own separate campaigns.

When you combine both terms into one campaign, it’s hard to determine the success of each keyword type and set realistic conversion goals.

This doesn’t mean you should pay less attention to non-branded keywords. For the branded keyword campaign to yield desired results, you have to beef up your non-branded efforts as well. After all, prospects that convert quickly after clicking branded ads may have come down the funnel via your non-branded marketing tactics.

The takeaway?

When determining whether to use branded or non-branded keywords, the answer often depends on your goals.

If you’re looking to gain visibility, you can go with non-branded. Looking for lower competition, more potential affordability, and higher conversion rates? You may want to opt for branded. Either way, ensure tracking is accurate and monitor performance results so you can optimize accordingly.

Searchers using branded keywords are likely more advanced in the buyer’s journey. They may have visited your website before, become familiar with your products or services, and are trying to do one final review before buying.

Keep in mind that the same customers may have first found your brand and were led to your website via a non-branded search. That search got them into the funnel, and a branded campaign can drive conversion to a sale.?

Creating separate branded and non-branded paid search campaigns can tell you a lot about your audience, expand your reach, and help you create a well-rounded digital marketing program.?

This article has been updated and was originally published in March 2020.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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