Navigating Brand Conflicts in SEO World

Establishing and Building a Brand in the Internet Era

The process of establishing and building a brand has always posed challenges and required significant investment, even before the advent of the internet. However, the internet has notably reshaped the landscape by shrinking the world and increasing the frequency of brand conflicts.

One notable consequence of this shift is the rise in brand conflicts, which have become more prevalent in recent times. The prevalence of these conflicts is evident in the surge of inquiries posed to me regarding this issue at conferences over the past year, surpassing the inquiries I have received throughout my entire SEO career.

Causes of Noun and Brand Conflicts

Noun and brand conflicts typically arise due to various reasons, including:

  • A rebrand’s research might focus on other business names without considering general user search behavior.
  • When a brand selects a word in one language that has a different meaning in another language.
  • The choice of a name that also functions as a common noun, such as the name of a town or city.

Noteworthy examples of such conflicts include Finlandia, a brand that encompasses both cheese and vodka products; Graco, a brand associated with both commercial and baby products; and Kong, which serves as the name of both a pet toy manufacturer and a tech company.

User Interpretations and Google’s Role

Discussions with marketers and SEO professionals working for brands facing such conflicts have shed light on the core issue – Google’s handling of user intent interpretation. When a user inputs a query, Google processes the query to identify relevant entities within it.

This process aims to enhance the relevance of search results by considering the user’s intent, as illustrated in Patent #9,009,192 from 2015. Google strives to present related and relevant search results and elements on the search engine results page (SERP).

For instance, when a user searches for a specific film or TV series, Google may display a SERP feature containing information about relevant actors or news related to the media content.

Google faces the challenge of catering to multiple common interpretations and intents when processing queries for recognized branded entities like Nike. The search results page for “Nike” consists of various branded web assets, the Map Pack displaying local stores, Product Listing Ads (PLAs), the Nike Knowledge Panel, and third-party online retailers.

Brand Entity Disambiguation by Google

When analyzing brands with shared names like Kong, Google references the Knowledge Graph and knowledge base sources to identify matching entities. In the case of Kong, Google identifies two primary matches: Kong Company and Kong, Inc.

Search results for Kong may include product listing ads (PLAs) and ecommerce results for pet toys, with the organic result for Kong, Inc. appearing as the second blue link. Additionally, references to a restaurant with the same name (UK-based search) and the (King) Kong film franchise may surface on the first search results page.

Google acknowledges the dominant interpretation of the query as related to the pet toy company while diversifying the SERP to accommodate secondary and tertiary meanings. A 2015 patent granted to Google outlines features for distinguishing entities sharing the same name, potentially utilizing annotations within the Knowledge Base to disambiguate such entities.

Factors Affecting Query Interpretation

Google’s determination of the “dominant” interpretation of a query and subsequent ordering of search results is influenced by various factors, including:

  • User interaction with search results (SERP interaction).
  • The prominence of the entity in the user’s market/region.
  • The entity’s association with prior user queries (personalization).

Extended brand searches can impact exact match branded searches, with search results evolving dynamically based on factors such as increased mentions in news articles. Google adapts search results to align with users’ needs and potential query interpretations at any given moment.

SEO Strategies for Brand Disambiguation

Building a brand requires collaboration beyond the SEO realm, necessitating alignment of brand messaging and definition across the broader business. SEO efforts can play a pivotal role in this endeavor through technical, content, and digital PR strategies.

Technical SEO interventions, such as granular Schema markup and ensuring consistent brand name usage across web properties, can influence Google’s understanding of brand entities. Aligning content with the brand and fostering brand awareness through digital PR initiatives further reinforce this effort.

Search Generative Experience and Brand Exposure

The emergence of Search Generative Experience as a potential future of search underscores the importance of monitoring brand exposure. In tests conducted, Google may encounter challenges in generating AI snapshots for brands sharing a name.

Brands can assess their exposure by requesting SGE snapshots from Google for their brand paired with reviews. In instances where Google is uncertain about the intended brand, it may include reviews and comments on similar-named companies in the snapshot, potentially leading to inadvertent negative brand touchpoints.

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