Written by Sam Yadegar on Mar 25 , 2020

Leveraging both branded and non-branded keywords can be a game-changer for your digital marketing strategy.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Definitions for branded and non-branded keywords
  • How to determine when to use each
  • Ways your competition factors into these keyword types
  • Examples of how to use each effectively

From negative keywords to single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) and everything in between, keywords are crucial when it comes to successful digital marketing. 

Branded keywords and non-branded keywords are no exception. In fact, these two keyword types can interact and support one another for results that are even greater than the sum of their parts.

The branded vs. non-branded distinction often arises in the context of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. But the usefulness of these two keyword types and their interaction applies to your entire digital marketing effort. It can even help boost your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Let’s break it down. 

HawkSEM: branded vs. non-branded keywords

Your competitors may use your branded keyword terms in their own digital advertising, especially in highly competitive industries. (Image via Unsplash)

Branded vs. non-branded keywords

Branded keyword terms include the name of your company or branded product. For example, Sky Skimmer Drones is that imaginary company’s core branded keyword term. But also ‘Sky Skimmer products,’ ‘drones by Sky Skimmer,’ and ‘the Sky Skimmer line of drones.’

Non-branded keyword terms refer or relate to your company or products without the proper company name. For the example above, they’d be things like ‘best-engineered drones,’ ‘leading brands of drones,’ and, more broadly, ‘airborne photography.’

The first thing to notice is the difference in the reach of the two terms. Branded keyword terms address a potential audience already aware of and searching for your brand. It’s a narrower segment of potential customers than those searching non-branded keywords. But it’s also the segment most likely to be “converted” to a sale. 

In terms of search engine optimization (SEO), analyzing your non-branded keywords over time will help you better gauge the overall efforts of your SEO when it comes to targeting and attracting visitors.

Pro tip: SEMrush explains that some keywords that have a brand name within the phrase but aren’t unique to a single brand or domain will be considered non-branded by the platform.

Determining when to use branded and non-branded keywords

Marketing strategists may feel that using branded keywords in your PPC advertising campaign makes little sense, since people already aware of your company and products won’t be searching those terms. But that’s not necessarily the case.

You can explore that question by going to check the branded keyword terms versus non-branded terms in Google’s Keyword Planner. In most cases, you’ll find that there certainly are searches for your branded keyword terms, but significantly fewer than for key non-branded terms. 

This is where other considerations enter. First, those who are doing branded keyword searches are far more likely to become your customers. Secondly, in bidding for PPC advertising keywords, branded keyword terms cost a fraction of the cost of leading non-branded terms — usually pennies on the dollar. That makes the potential payoff for the investment significant.

Google’s search engine results page (SERP) for “basketball shoes” vs. “nike basketball shoes.”

Google’s search engine results page (SERP) for “basketball shoes” vs. “nike basketball shoes.”

Branded vs. non-branded keywords and your competitors

Be aware that your competitors may use your branded keyword terms in their ads. This is especially common in highly competitive industries. Their objective is to attract those who are searching for your company and brand by name and convert them away from you to their brand instead. 

You don’t want to make it easy for competitors to win over the customers searching for your company by name. (Also worth noting: keywords containing other brands aren’t considered branded keywords for your company, even if you carry those brands yourself.)

In the same search, you can check out the seemingly endless number of possible non-branded keyword terms that apply to your company and company brands that you sell. Here, you’re also discovering what kind of bid will be needed to include various terms in your PPC advertising.

HawkSEM: branded vs. non-branded keywords

When it comes to determining whether to use branded or non-branded keywords, the answer often depends on your goals. (Image via Unsplash)

How branded and non-branded keywords work together

It’s probably becoming clear what the essential interaction between branded and non-branded keyword terms looks like. Non-branded keyword terms have a more broad application and therefore can bring in net new digital searchers. 

Let’s return to our earlier example. ‘Specialized photography equipment’ is going to be used far more often than “Sky Skimmer Drones.” Therefore, the function of non-branded keyword term ads is to draw a large segment of potential customers in the wide upper part of the sales funnel. 

It’s crucial to accurately track the results produced by each keyword term you use. After all, it’s only partly intuitive what words, phrases, and references customers might use to search for a product like yours. In part, that’s because the starting points of searchers can be infinitely different. Just imagine initial searchers ranging from ‘aerial real-estate photographs’ to ‘charting wilderness trails’ to ‘gifts for amateur photographers.” Like we said: limitless.

The essential complementary role of branded keyword terms is at the other end of the sales funnel. Once non-branded keyword terms have made their broad appeal to searchers, bringing them to your digital ad, it’s the role of branded keyword terms to focus their attention on your products, your company, and your website.

Pro tip: In general, relatively few branded keyword terms are required in a given PPC ad because yours is the only brand named in the ad.

The takeaway 

When it comes to determining whether to use branded or non-branded keywords, the answer often depends on your goals. If you’re looking to gain visibility, you can go with non-branded. Looking for lower competition, more potential affordability, and higher conversion rates? You may want to opt for branded. Either way, ensure tracking is accurate and monitor performance results.

Searchers using those branded keywords most likely are far advanced in the buying process. They may have visited your website before, become familiar with your products or services, and me trying to do one final review before buying.

Keep in mind that the same customers may have first found your brand and were led to your website via a non-branded search. That search got them into the buyer’s funnel and a branded campaign can drive conversion to a sale. 

Creating separate branded and non-branded paid search campaigns can tell you a lot about your audience, expand your reach, and help you create a well-rounded digital marketing program. 

Ready to take your PPC ads to the next level? Let’s chat.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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