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March 23, 2015

Have you done a search for your brand name on Google recently? If not, you might be surprised. Give it a try right now if you like–I’ll wait. (Pro tip: open an incognito window in your browser first, so you don’t get personalised search results.)

Since I don’t know your brand name, anonymous reader (I’m good at personalisation but not THAT good!), I will use the accountancy firm PwC as an example.

I am old enough to remember the Jurassic era of the internet. Way back then, a Google search result was just a hyperlinked heading and a snippet of summary text, much like this:

Blekko Search Result

 

PwC Google

But now the inhabitants of the internet have invented stone tools, tamed fire and developed the X Factor, Google has moved on:

PwC Google SERP

Now my example PwC is a BIG company with many, many locations. Let’s see what happens if we give Google a tiny extra hint:

PwC London Google SERP

Think for a moment about some of the things I can do from these two Google results pages:

• I can see a phone number for a nearby PwC office – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the “contact us” page

• I can see the address of a nearby PwC office, and a clickable map – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the “our office locations” page on the website

• I can use a dedicated search box to search the PwC website – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the site search engine

• I can go directly to the PwC Twitter, Google+ and YouTube accounts – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the “follow us on social media” functions.

• I can see navigation links (Google calls them “sitelinks”) that will take me direct to six different sections of the website – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the careers link, the graduate careers link and so on. (It’s interesting to speculate why Google has chosen these particular links.)

• I can see company information and news – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find “about us” or “news” if I just want some basic info.

• And if all else fails – I can click on the top link and visit the homepage!

Spot the common theme here? Google has provided many ways that I can bypass the homepage and get straight to the information I want.

If I had been logged in to Google when I ran this search, I might have seen different results personalised for me; for instance I might have seen more sitelinks slanted for B2B decision makers rather than job seekers. These could have replaced even more homepage functions. But in my anonymous state, Google has realised I’m searching from the UK and has personalised the search results to have a UK slant (showing the PwC UK website, not pwc.com). Very useful. If instead I’d just typed “pwc.com” in the browser, I’d end up on the PwC global website not the UK site:

PwC Website

…and then I have to find the “international PwC sites” link and navigate to the UK site before I get anything specific to the UK.

Let’s think about this from a user’s perspective:

• The Google results page is offering me a better user experience than the PwC home page for a large number of common use cases–like finding a phone number, or seeing info from the UK site instead of the global site. The information I want is right there on the Google search engine results page (SERP).

• The Google results page is offering me a more consistent user experience. If I search for a different brand I’ll see much the same functionality presented in much the same way, whereas if I visit two brand homepages I’ll see big differences in layout.

Over time, this combination of a better and a more consistent user experience is going to drive Google’s users to rely less and less on homepage navigation and more and more on brand search results.

So, Google has become your brand’s homepage, or at least it has mirrored and in most cases refined many of the functions that your homepage is designed to perform. And over time, it’s likely that Google will take over more and more of your homepage’s functions. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is irrelevant–Google has the initiative and there’s no going back.

This has some important consequences for B2B digital marketers:

• We need to stop thinking of the homepage as the first page in a user journey. For many, if not most users, the Google results page for your brand term is the first page of the user journey. Be familiar with that page and think of it as a key brand asset.

• Make sure your SEO team are aware of the things they can do to influence your brand results page, for instance providing location information via Google My Business.

• Natural search sitelinks are particularly important. They have a prominent position on the brand results page and they can be used to service important use cases like providing careers information for job seekers. Your SEO team can’t fully control these natural sitelinks, but they can influence them (using Google Webmaster Tools, for example).

• Paid search on brand terms is a way to take some control of the brand results page. Done well it can complement natural search and allow you to handle use cases for particular target segments.

Here’s an example of using paid brand search to complement natural search. See how the sitelinks in the paid ad for Expedia feature deals and city breaks, whereas the natural search links are mostly about flights and hotels. Combined, they provide better navigation options:

Expedia Google SERP

 

If Expedia’s brand ad wasn’t present on that results page, “Top City Breaks” would barely feature anywhere. A person looking for a city break might even give up at that point and search for a different brand name supplier.

So to recap: Google has now become your brand homepage. Internet users are learning that the Google results page for a brand term is the best place to find navigation links and other important functions, like site search and contact details. You can take advantage of this to offer a better user experience (and so better achieve your marketing objectives) by thinking of your brand search results page as the first page in the user journey, and by making full use of the various SEO and PPC tactics available to enable you to influence that page.

If nothing else: check your brand search results page regularly. Your prospective customers do.

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