Does offline marketing boost online searches? The findings of a not so recent study reported by Econsultancy say it does … by as much as 40 percent! The respondents of the study were asked what prompted them to search online for a particular company, product, service, or slogan (read “hashtag”). The results were as follows:
- TV Ads: 44%
- Word of Mouth: 41%
- Magazine/Newspaper Ads: 35%
- Radio: 23%
- Billboard: 13%
And these are figures from a few years ago. Internet download speeds have multiplied in the last few years and conventional media (like TV and radio) is being consumed online more than ever before. Marketers and digital agencies tend to segregate their efforts into online and offline, but for the customer, it’s one seamless experience. People may check out their Twitter feed in the middle of their favorite TV show, or notice a billboard while they’re looking at their car GPS for directions – something which Google are very aware of.
How Offline Branding Impacts SEO
Google is not turning a blind eye to the impact of offline marketing on online search. Brand mentions (or more accurately “entity mentions”) are now an important part of Google’s search signals, and there is overwhelming evidence to support it.
The New Panda Update
A patent Google applied last year dropped hints about new tweaks that have been made to the Panda algo, as reported on Moz. It appears that part the new algorithm tries to determine brand authority, an important ranking factor, by dividing the number of incoming links to a brand’s website by the number of searches associated with that brand (or entity) in the past. I’ll explain what all that is about but first, you should read the following portion of the patent:
Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. […] An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.
What It Means in Plain English
Links Vs Brand Searches
What this basically means is that when a user searches for a particular keyword (or your brand name), and then clicks on your website, Google counts it as a “brand search”. A connection is established between that particular search term and your domain, and the number of such connections or “reference queries” is used for modifying the number of express (inbound) links and implied links (essentially, brand citations/mentions) pointing to your domain.
Hence, if you have a very large number of incoming links and very few brand searches, the value of your inbound links is discounted for the purpose of calculating your search ranking.
Discounting Certain Express Links
The patent also hints that Google seeks to discount the value of express links from the same group of websites (i.e. websites with the same owner) and give more value to incoming links from unassociated domains. So the practice of hosting clone domains may soon finally hit a wall – a battle which Google has been fighting for decades. Remember that the update I’m talking about here is separate from the “real-time” Penguin update that’s now imminent for release. The Panda update deals with domain quality and authority (I’m not talking Moz DA!) and content usefulness, whereas the real-time update will determine the quality of incoming links.
More Value to Mentions and Implied Links
The “express links” that the patent talks about include both follow and nofollow links. In fact, follow links have been played to the limits by digital marketers, but nofollow or implied links still present a more accurate picture of the actual brand authority for ranking purposes. Obviously, a popular brand or entity will have more people talking about it online. Hence, implied links and brand mentions are a more logical way to rank sites based on their actual brand authority and not on the tactics deployed by people who are just good at manipulating algorithms and buying high-authority incoming links.
Google’s former anti-spam boss Matt Cutts speaks about this reality in the following video:
Online Mentions and Offline Branding
But what do online brand mentions and implied links have to do with offline marketing? Actually, everything! The study I mentioned in the beginning of this post highlights the glaring fact that a huge number of searches are prompted by offline branding. In the context of the new Panda algo, all these searches are reference queries or implied links, which basically control the way your site is ranked.
In other words, your offline branding will now matter more than ever in getting your site ranked higher. Mentions could (arguably) become the future of link building, and there’s nothing that triggers online mentions quite like offline marketing. An exciting news release, an unusual TV Ad, or a video reported in even not-so-prominent conventional media has more chance of getting online mentions and shares than something equally exciting that you share just through your own online channels.
The impact of offline branding is not confined to SEO alone. Bonbos, a men’s clothing brand that was born online, experienced that the people who shopped at their e-store after visiting their bricks and mortar outlets spend almost 75% more. Another study by Accenture found that 72% of the respondents bought the product digitally after having seen it in a physical store. Conversely, 78% of the respondents researched online before buying the product at a store. This helps back up the notion that consumers have merged the boundaries between online and offline and turned it into a single shopping experience.
What Can You Do to Build a Strong Offline Brand?
One idea is to promote your brand by sending out some freebies with orders. Instead of the conventional branded pens or branded coffee mugs, you could try something unique and memorable. I have convinced one of my clients to do some testing with this exact idea. They will be giving away various bits of cool tech swag with orders to wow their customers. We will be monitoring the results very closely.
What else can be done to increase your online mentions and conversions? The following illustration by Business2Community sums up nicely the strategies you can use to build your brand offline and online.
The massive spill-over effect between offline and online branding is already prompting eCommerce retailers to merge offline and online shopping experiences. The new Panda update may become the reason for every online business (as well as us digital marketers) to take a new look at their offline branding strategy.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.