What is a brand signal?

A brand signal is any kind of sensory input that triggers your memory and makes you think of a brand. In the brick and mortar world, a brand signal can range from the colors of your brand, a smell associated with your products, a catchphrase, an action etc. In the context of digital marketing and SEO, a brand signal can be the mention of your website/brand by name, your logo, the name of one of your products that’s exclusive to you, a naked url leading to your website – anything that reminds the users of your brand online.

Most SEOs think of brand mentions as brand signals and that’s accurate to an extent. Most online businesses do not have products that are exclusive to them, and very few can compete with big businesses when it comes to brand recognition.

For example, the local pizza shop in your neighborhood simply does not have the resources to compete with Pizza Hut when it comes to online brand recognition. They do not have a catchphrase or a logo everyone can instantly recognize. The only thing that will serve as a brand signal for them will be a brand mention, i.e. someone mentions them somewhere online by their full name.

Other than brand mentions, branded searches, brand name + keyword searches, brand mention in news stories, reviews, testimonials etc. all count as brand signals.

In this article, we will treat social signals and inferred links as sub categories of brand signals.

What is a Social Signal?

A social signal is a brand mention but on a social media website such as Twitter and Facebook. Your official LinkedIn page and the number of followers you have on social media also serve as social signals.

What are inferred links?

In one of his recent blog posts, Rand Fishkin has used the term ‘inferred link’ for a brand mention that does not have a link leading to a website. He calls it an inferred link because when a user reads about a brand, and they are curious about it, they will open a new tab, search for the brand by name, and find the website online.

How is a brand signal different from a backlink?

A backlink is a hyperlink on any website that leads the user to a different website. Backlinks are one of the very few well known ranking factors that have stood the test of time. The more websites link to you, and the higher the quality of said website, the higher you are going to rank.

In some cases, a backlink is accompanied with a brand mention. For example, I write guest posts all the time and in my bio you can see Rank Genie being mentioned by name along with a link leading to our home page.

In other cases, a brand mention may be absent but the anchor text for the backlink is self explanatory. For example, a blogger may be writing about Pizzas and choose to hyperlink the phrase ‘my favorite Pizza joint’ to their local restaurant. The person doing SEO for that restaurant will count this as a backlink but not as a brand mention or even a brand signal.

In short, a backlink may or may not contain a brand signal depending on the anchor text and the text that precedes and follows the link.

How can brand signals improve your rankings and search visibility?

Just like backlinks, brand signals are an important ranking factor in 2021. In the article we linked earlier, Rand Fishkin argues that brand mentions, when not accompanied by a link, are more authentic. He says that SEOs all over the world are busy in building links and therefore most links on most websites are financially motivated and are a deliberate attempt by SEOs to rank their websites higher. He also mentioned that Google’s increased use of machine learning in its search algorithm can now be used to differentiate between a strategically placed link and an honest brand endorsement by a genuine user.

While most of what Rand mentioned in his article is based on his experience and where he sees Google’s headed, there is a lot of weight to it if you think about how Google is trying to improve its search results over time.

If you look at the timeline, we have gone from keyword stuffing, to buying multiple domains and ranking them for the same keyword, to automated backlink generators, to private blogging networks, to paid testimonials and reviews and have now come full circle to hiring PR agencies so that our brand name can be mentioned in reputable publications online.

Just like backlinks, Google sees brand signals as endorsements, and the more brand signals you have out there, the higher you are going to rank. Not only that, brand signals can also have a positive impact on the number of branded searches performed for your website. This can result in an increase in direct traffic on your website as well.

How to build brand signals for your website

You can build brand signals for your website in many ways, some of which are as follows:

  • Encourage and incentivize your customers to write reviews and testimonials of your brand on third party websites. For example, if you represent a restaurant, each Yelp review is worth its weight in gold for you. Similarly, G2 and Capterra are good for software reviews.
  • Build an active social media presence on a relevant platform and try to engage with your customers there to build a strong following.
  • Make sure you are on Google My Business/ Google Places.
  • Make sure you are on relevant forums to interact with your customers.
  • Use web services like HARO to get in touch with journalists that cover stories related to your niche
  • Find local online and print publications and reach out to them if you have a story worth publishing
  • Reach out to influencers and experts in your niche (those who are not your competitors) and ask them to review your product/brand on their channels

How to measure success after building brand signals

Your brand signals should result in the following:

  1. An overall increase in organic traffic
  2. An overall improvement in rankings
  3. A visible increase in branded search volume
  4. A visible increase in brand + keyword search volume

The principle behind building brand signals is the same as building backlinks, but the way you do it and the way you measure success is different. When performing SEO in 2021, it will be a good idea to give as much importance to building brand signals as building backlinks. Hope you have a wonderful time dominating the rankings for the rest of the year. Try some of the techniques mentioned in the article and let me know your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.