Brand vs Non-Brand Keywords for Manufacturers in Search

Ryan Gibson / 28th March 2017 / Comments: 1 / PPC

Driving more incremental traffic through search starts with understanding how your prospective customers search for you. There’s nothing more fundamental to understand in your customer’s search intent than what it means to distinguish your branded vs non-branded terms. But for some advertisers, such as manufacturers who distribute through wholesale channels, identifying and valuing your branded and non-branded terms is not so cut and dry.

Retailer Brand Terms vs. Manufacturer Brand Terms

Many retailer brands (think Walmart or Macy’s) are able to consider most searches containing their brand or a derivative as a brand search, because their terms are relatively non-competitive. They are navigational searches by consumers who have already decided to shop from Walmart or Macy’s. We typically find that searches for “Macy’s” or “” probably convert at roughly the same rate and have equal search competition.

So for a retailer, almost every search query that contains a brand term is navigational by default. For a manufacturer, the same is not true. Manufacturer brand terms, when combined with the product type, may actually be some of the most valuable (i.e. “Beats headphones”). The searcher has clear intent for the manufacturer’s product (or learning more about the product), but may not be committed to where they would like to buy the product.

[manufacturer brand]+[product] queries often perform differently from pure branded terms

Think about terms like “Samsung QLED 4K TV” or “Matouk linens.” Search results for these queries are typically a mix of the brand manufacturer’s pages and various retailers who are selling the product. Obviously, there’s a great benefit for manufacturers to capture these sales directly, as they’re likely to keep more margin by selling direct. More importantly, manufacturers have the opportunity to own the customer experience, transaction and data—better enabling the opportunity to nurture loyal customers and repeat purchases down the road.

Because the results for [manufacturer brand]+[product] queries offer a mix of purchasing options, these terms often perform differently from the pure branded terms—those used when customers clearly intend to navigate to the manufacturer’s site. How do analyze your search traffic to tell the difference?

How to Differentiate Your Brand Keywords

Start by looking at sales-per-click or ROI performance of different types of branded vs non-branded terms. This breakdown should clearly show which terms are being used to help navigate to your site vs. terms used when looking for a product.

Take the above example. There are three ways we can group terms for this advertiser:

  1. Given the high SPC and ROI from the “.com” searches, it’s clear that these (and all variants) are customers who are using search navigate to your site.
  2. The [brand] and [brand+product] are users who are likely set on your product, but not necessarily on buying from your site.
  3. And the generic [product category] searches represent those most competitive, non-brand terms.

Non-Brand Terms

While often the lowest converting, non-brand terms are much more likely to drive incremental value. At this point, customers are not looking for a specific brand, so their attention – and wallet-share – is up for grabs. Some examples here might be “best tasting chocolate bar,” “wireless headphones” or other generic searches.

Competitor brand terms should also be considered here. “Beats headphones” might be a low-converting term if you’re Sony, but the ultimate value of poaching that customer might be great, as the searcher didn’t initially express a clear preference for Sony (Similarly, “Marriott Hotel” if you’re Hilton).

Non-brand terms have a higher propensity to introduce your products to new customers

Typically, non-branded terms are more competitive because in addition to competing with retail sellers, you’re also going head-to-head with other manufacturers. Not to mention, retail sellers have a clear advantage in this case with their ability to surface a variety of relevant products to meet the searcher’s query.

Since non-brand terms are competitive in nature (as the searcher was not exclusively intending to find your brand), they represent a higher cost-per-click and a lower conversion/engagement rate. However, non-brand terms have a higher propensity to introduce your products to new customers, which allows you to expand your customer base. This is why it’s important to understand the value of your customers, capturing those with a higher potential to be incremental vs those who are already inclined to buy from you.

Why Does All This Matter?

It’s not enough to look at one overall ROI for your search campaigns anymore. Differentiating brand and non-brand searchers allows you to identify your most valuable terms and tailor your program at a more granular level. Understanding where you’re more likely to get your next new customer and how you’re able to acquire them more efficiently can make the difference between mediocre and great results.

By Ryan Gibson