SEO Refresher: Optimizing for Branded and Unbranded Searches

How are your site’s users arriving at your key pages? Are they searching using your organization’s name, or are they using general terms to access information on your services? Gaining a solid understanding of the difference between branded and unbranded searches is a great way to better understand your audience while increasing your SEO rankings.

What does BRANDED SEARCH mean?

Imagine that someone is searching for your services. A branded search will include your "brand name,” (your organization’s name), combined with any additional general query terms. When potential customers perform a branded search, they might enter your organization’s name, “XYZ Inc.,” plus any targeted search terms to narrow the results (Provident Technology + Disaster Recovery).

More examples of branded search:

  • Provident Technology + Helpdesk
  • Dell + Customer Service
  • Microsoft + Office Suite Purchase

If your site is getting hits through branded searches, you’re already ahead of the game: users know the name of your organization and are searching for information directly related to it; in short, they have brand awareness, so your existing advertising is already working for you. For SEO, that means you can set aside concerns about being the number one hit on a search results page; after all, your users are already looking for you by name. But since they're entering your site by way of interior pages, you have extra onus to ensure that your site's interior pages have high quality, accurate content and are organized in a way that encourages conversion.

This is where your chosen analytics program comes in. Take a quick look at your site's analytics and make a list of most popular pages. Optimizing every page on your site might be a down-the-road goal, but for your initial effort, focus on the top 10 entry points. Do those pages convey exactly that you want potential customers to know? Does the copy utilize keywords that searchers are likely to use? Focus on the big picture and make an assessment of how each page reflects your organization in general. This is a good time to apply the overall rules of ensuring that content is accurate and up-to-date, and that all branding and messaging is consistent.


With unbranded search, you don't have the luxury of a searcher who already has your organization or services in mind. Your website will be competing with every site that the search engine provides for specific search terms.

Some examples of unbranded searches:

  • Managed IT Services + Philadelphia
  • Family Law + Conshohocken
  • Orthodontics + Queen Village

To rank well in results for unbranded searches, you'll have to earn every click. Since most online experiences (83%!) start via unbranded search, ensuring that your site is optimized to show up for your most crucial search terms and phrases pays.

Ready to start optimizing? Here are some essential places to get started:

  • Make title tags a main focus. Title tags contain concise information (50 - 70 characters) about web page contents that display in search results and in web browser tabs. To make them effective for your needs, identify the search term that sets your organization apart from the competition. Do you offer a specialty service that you’d like to advertise? Use the most concise terms for your services along with your organization name to create a title tag that's descriptive and effective for both branded and unbranded search experiences. To learn more about how to access and edit your site’s title tags, head over to Main Street ROI for some easy best practice tips.
  • Don't forget the meta descriptions! Meta descriptions are HTML and XHTML elements that help search engines understand what is on each page of your site. You've probably seen meta descriptions as the short blurbs that appear on a search engine results page. Use up to 155 characters and define who you are and what you offer in more detail. Here are the results for an unbranded Google search using the keywords "Smartphone Repair, Philadelphia."

An effectively written meta description should focus on conveying the following information:

  • Major search terms and phrases
  • Your branding
  • A compelling marketing message

If you don't write a meta description, Google will write one for you using the most relevant text on the page. While this might work in a pinch, it doesn't add anything strategic to your SEO efforts and gives you little control over what searchers encounter in the results. Taking a few moments to write one yourself is worth it.

Looking for a comprehensive guide on what’s next in SEO? Search Engine Land is here for you with an overview of the latest and greatest in SEO innovation!