A timeless truth of online marketing is that a substantial percentage of online leads and sales result from “direct brand” searches.  This simply means customers often Google the actual name of your business or branded products, to research and find contact information. Being properly indexed in search engines for permutations of your company’s name is crucial.

Failing to rank for direct brand search, because your new company name is a highly contested literal keyword, is akin to dancing with both arms and legs tied behind your back. It doesn’t matter what SEO tools you have, books read, software purchased or training pursued. Such is the stuff of search engine optimization service riddles.

Classic Organic Search Anecdote
This post has been gestating in my head for a few weeks, ever since I learned that someone I work for has a new competitor starting a recording school in Minnesota. The business is called “Masters Recording Institute.” Cool name right? Let’s take a more careful look.

Well, from an SEO services perspective, it’s a classic search engine optimization blunder. To start: everybody loves initials. From our experience, a good percentage of future direct brand searches could occur on the initials “MRI.”

It’s possible that the curious are already referring to the company as such. Sadly, searches for “MRI” result in harvesting all sorts of information about “magnetic resonance imaging,” which is useless in this context. Needless to say, ranking on the average search engine results page (SERP) for the keyword MRI might take a team of link-building-specialists months– and perhaps cost quite a bit.

Local Search Matters
Potential customers might type “Minnesota MRI” into Google, looking for our recording school friends. In terms of local search, this new business, simply by way of chosen name, now has to slug out regional direct brand prominence with massive SEO competitors like Mayo Clinic.

In this article, we’re not even discussing the ramifications of using the word “masters” in the company name. Remember that folks looking for education sometimes seek a “masters degree.” For a startup with a measured marketing budget (assumption), these types of factors could be like taking on an army with a slingshot.

Another Minnesota recording school, The Institute of Production and Recording (IPR), ranks pretty well for direct brand searches on the initials. (Disclosure: author works for them.) That’s because, for the most part, there are not many businesses who are stakeholders in showing up in Google for the keyword “IPR.” Even so, it took several years to handle incidental competitors like Wikipedia, who are also in the keyword space for bevy of other meanings for the initials “IPR.”

Paid Search Brand Defense
If your company can’t make page one in the “average” user’s Google SERPs, one standard tactic is to buy pay per click (PPC). Even with good organic prominence, PPC is usually a good choice for direct brand defense. The keyword “MRI” could cost our friends a veritable fortune to defend over time because the commercial landscape is so contested.

This much is for sure: AdWords won’t care whether advertisements are about medical products or music production schools. Competition drives PPC marketplace costs. Even with careful delineation of products offered to qualify the intent of customers, clicks may be extremely expensive.

Take A Step Back
Before you name your new business or product, here are a few simple steps you can take:

  • Do some Google searches. Remarkable insight can be gained by taking a look at how many other companies optimizing for proposed business names and how formidable they are. Take a look at how many documents are returned for each search. Do an allintitle: query to see how many web pages are optimized for keywords.
  • Consider initials & other abbreviations. Customers will find all sorts of creative ways to twist, abbreviate, hack up and misspell your brand name. Anticipate this eventuality and do appropriate research.
  • Be willing to change your mind. In any creative process we all get enamored with early ideas, especially if we think they’re great. Be willing to change your mind several times based on what research reveals. Direct brand searches (and localized permutations thereof) can be critical to the success of any fledgling enterprise. Take this reality seriously.
  • Reverse the process. Make a list of mid-tail keywords with only moderate competition, and factor them into the exercise of brainstorming names. Most folks find it actually contributes to the creative process. Later on when you have to spend cash for SEO and PPC, this formative & strategic thinking can pay huge dividends (and your SEO vendor will love you).
  • Hire an SEO Consultant before you name your startup. Some entrepreneurs are surprised to hear that search marketing focused advertising agencies are retained, on a regular basis, to help startups with their business plan. Evaluate marketing firms very early in the planning process and bring them on board to help with basic business decisions, which can have a tremendous impact on your marketing budget (or very survival) later.
  • Use Your Head. Cool is not the only rule. There’s much more to choosing a name for your business than the “groovy factor.” Understandably, starting a business is an exciting endeavor and it’s easy to rush. Typically there’s lots on line financially and socially. Think ahead to the potential SEO implications.

Direct brand search is a vitally important component to the success of any marketing campaign. A significant percentage of leads and sales should result from customers who type in the name of your company to locate or/or validate the credibility of products and services.

Therefore choosing a new company name on a  highly contested litteral keyword and not thinking out other ways customers might search, literally, could make or break a new venture. Think about SEO before your name your company.

  • craigsanatomy

    Wow–this should have been blatantly obvious, yet I never even considered it until reading this. A friend is starting a web-based business and I’ve been trying to help him with strategy about all of the possible relevant keywords that we may want to rank for, yet we never even thought about ranking for our own name!

    You just saved us a TON of head scratching and “why?” asking down the road. So thanks 🙂

  • Search Engine Optimization Journal

    So many people miss that SEO opportunity when naming their businesses but then again, most business owners know squat about SEO.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @craigsanatomy: Right, it’s sort of a “forest for the trees” sort of thing isn’t it? It’s easy to miss the obvious. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Todd Mintz

    BTW, MRI is also a huge national chain (hundreds of offices) of headhunters.

    A band I like a lot “James” made a particularly bad naming choice for the Internet age…of course, there wasn’t an Internet when they were formed.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Todd: “James” = Chicken Egg, Egg, Chicken Cluck Cluck…. 🙂

  • Jaan Kanellis

    This is so true. I used the initials of some partners when the company just started and now those partners are no longer around. Whoops. I am working on changing mine company name next year.

  • seo consultants experts

    GREAT POST! Agreed whole heartedly, people must take in to consideration that URL’s need to incorporate key terms localized for their key terms or location of service.

  • Tungsten Branding

    Marty – All good, salient points to consider before making the final naming decision, especially if the web is going to play an integral role in the business. We used the metaphor of tungsten, from a light bulb, to convey the clarity we bring to naming a business. But we still had to bid against tungsten manufacturers and tungsten jewelers for direct brand defense (fortunately not that much, but still your point is well taken) We try for names that are distinctive enough to stand out on their own, with little Google search competition. That’s what we did when we named Coghead.com. There were only a handful of results on that term when we created the name, and last I checked, there are now 118,000. That makes for a meaningful way to track growth. Good post and definitely worth keeping in mind.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Tungsten Branding: Thanks for stopping by. We appreciate the motivation behind your participation here. 🙂

  • David

    Absolutely right before going for a company name we had to research for the internet market. Gr8 post. The Keysearch Analytics blog has tips, tricks, advice and case studies for the search marketing industry.

  • Seo Web Design Services

    Great post.

    Putting the research in from the start always pays dividends in the end. People that have no idea about seo can end up failing before they even start.

    Thanks for the great info


  • Miles

    Another way to get around this problem is to register a few domains that include your most important keywords and then link back to your main website.

  • Matt Lickess

    Reference the local search, thank god Google have got their Maps app out, now all that local SEO effort comes back into play on mobile searches!