Brighton SEO: Why more brands are prioritising SEO

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I recently presented at Brighton SEO, talking about why we’re seeing more and more brands prioritising SEO. Below is the transcript of my presentation, and you can access the slides here.

Front slide of presentation called Why brands are prioritising SEO

It seems strange to suggest that brands haven’t always prioritised SEO, but outside of our bubble its true. I think it important to first set the scene as to why brands perhaps didn’t always prioritise SEO.

As many of us will have experienced over the years, there continued to be a separation of marketing (or traditional marketing) and digital marketing. Brands that did marketing, brands that did digital marketing, and brands that did both.

And that was fine whilst the majority of those we marketed to still largely engaged with traditional marketing – TV, Radio, Out of Home, Print etc. But that’s changed significantly over the years, with the pandemic increasing the rate of change exponentially.  When no one is leaving their homes, pretty much all you have is digital.

A few years ago, Les Binet, Group Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB (worth checking out), published a piece about Share of search voice. For those that haven’t seen the article, it talks about how share of voice has been used to measure market share, but that perhaps share of search voice might be a better metric.  The premise of it is (and I am not doing it justice here) is that market share can be determined by the volume of branded search, which in turn can be used to calculate efficacy of brand campaigns.

When I read that article, I felt two strong emotions.  The first was “happy dance”, the second was one of bemusment.  Don’t get me wrong, I was super pleased at the recognition that share of search is a good metric for measuring share of market, especially from someone as high profile as Les Binet, but, well, yeah.

Part of the equation appears to be that top of funnel/brand awareness activity that happens outside of search creates branded search demand that can be used as a measurement of the effectiveness of the outside of search activity.

I don’t disagree, my concern is that it leaves so much else on the table.  It ignores the wider opportunity with search which is that search is so much more than a measurement of brand.  Search is a measurement of market behaviours, wants, needs and expectations.   Search is as much search as it is discovery and this share of search voice metric that measures brand search misses the point when it comes to total market share.

I’m sure most of us have used keyword overlap analysis that SEMRush provides, showing where competing brands overlap or have unique visibility.  I find this a much more revealing demonstration of marketing effectiveness.  It’s an ongoing measurement of

  1. Volume of brand search
  2. Volume of non-brand search
  3. Market share
  4. Market demand
  5. Market opportunity

And it is in these last few that provide the reasons why brands are waking up to the importance of search.  Because search gives us the kind of insights and feedback that we might usually have tried to get from research groups and workshops.  It tells is what matters to our customers right now.

Take for example these search trends that Google shared earlier in the year that showed changing trends that suggest adapting behaviours to the cost of living crisis.

Search trends that Google shared earlier in the year that showed changing trends that suggest adapting behaviours to the cost of living crisis.

In fact we can see these economic changes born out in different ways.  Cheap second hand clothes diverging from previous trends.

Cheap second hand clothes diverging from previous trends.

Increases in people trying to find out how to reduce exposure for monthly, recurring costs.

Increases in people trying to find out how to reduce exposure for monthly, recurring costs.

As bleak a picture this is, our responsibility to our businesses, our employees and clients is to evolve our offering and adapt to the market.  Brands are recognising that search data informs us, in pretty much realtime, what we need to do.

Lowering your prices is rarely the answer in these cases, it causes a race to the bottom, but armed with these insights allows us to think about how we create more value, or provide alternate solutions for our customers that allows us to stay connected.

Of course, its not just about economic pressures.  Expectations change and evolve.  Yesterday we wanted organic meat, today we want plant based alternatives.  Search informs brands of these changing expectations too.

Moves toward sustainability are a great example.  New vs. refurbished iphone searches show a clear drive toward refurbished phones.

New vs. refurbished iphone searches show a clear drive toward refurbished phones.

Sustainability becomes ever important as this graph shows.  Searching for sustainable clothing demonstrates a very important point as to why brands are prioritising SEO. Because if you search for this on Google, the results return largely unknown, boutique brands that operate in that niche only.  It is not until half way down page two that you get to a result from a company I would consider a brand (ASOS). 

There are three points here. 

  1. Expectations are changing and brands need to meet that to retain market share
  2. Smaller businesses have a greater share of market
  3. Share of search voice doesn’t measure non brand search.   
Trends is searches for sustainable clothing

These are all examples of changing behaviours, wants and expectation of our customers, all opportunities for us to be present for them in the way we want to be.

The word ‘present’ is important because journeys are complex and complicated. As we all know, the buying journey is not linear – its barely even logical anymore. We go from A, to B, then to L, back to B via a short 4 hours stop off on the Daily Mash.  We are impatient, yet prone to research for long durations of time, we get distracted and leave the path entirely, only to return to it as 2am because our brain thought that a good time to think about it.

Whilst brands have been aware of the multitude of touchpoints, they have woken up to the idea that the journeys are complex and complicated, that people are savvy and make more informed decisions.  Brand awareness is important, but relying on brand campaigns alone to deliver brand awareness is missing the point. People want to know about what businesses stand for, what they think, how they can help, what other customers think of them, how they operate and how they treat their employees.

If bigger brands aren’t visible, aren’t discoverable for the non-brand search terms that matter to people –  long tail, behavioural or demand driven – they miss out on discoverable brand awareness.

A messy piece of string showing the complexity of the user journey

My last but no less important reason why brands are waking up to search is that the very reason why so many brands have not prioritised SEO.  It is because SEO often starts out as a small snowball rolling down a mountain, bothering no one and seemingly achieving little.  For the bottom of the funnel focussed marketers, that’s not an option.  However, once SEO gains velocity and mass it can become a dominating avalanche that is hard to stop.

The momentum snowball

We are living in disruptive times (or turbulent times as someone said this week).  Pandemics, wars, looming recessions and macro economics that threaten to pull the rug out from under us. As many of us will have experienced, during these times of disruption one of the first things to go is the marketing budget.

But our businesses don’t stop. They can’t stop, they are how we pay the bills. And as the pandemic demonstrated, the businesses that had underpinned their marketing by investing in SEO were often better able to weather the storm than those that hadn’t, because they could cut their marketing budgets and benefit from that SEO momentum.


  1. Search is the market
  2. Search enables us to be present at all times
  3. Search is there in times of trouble  

Need help with your SEO?

We have a 70-strong team of search and digital marketing experts at Vertical Leap, and we’ve been helping companies like P&O Cruises, KFC and Amazon get found online for over 20 years. Get in touch on 02392 830281 or drop us your details and we’ll call you!

Chris Pitt profile picture
Chris Pitt

Chris is Managing Director at Vertical Leap and has over 25 years' experience in sales and marketing. He is a keynote speaker and frequent blogger, with a particular interest in intelligent automation and data analytics. In his spare time, he enjoys playing the guitar and is a stage manager at the Victorious Festival.

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