Measuring branded vs non-branded traffic

Differentiating between search queries that have your business name in them (branded) and those that do not (non-branded), is a powerful way of assessing your website traffic. We talk you through the basics.

What is branded traffic?

Branded traffic is the term used to describe any visits to a website that have resulted from a search query that contains a brand name. For example, when a search for “H&M jeans” takes a visitor to H&M’s page for jeans it’s branded traffic.

Branded traffic doesn’t strictly have to contain the business’s full name nor does that name have to be spelled correctly (“HM jeans” would be just as valid). What distinguishes it is the user’s intent to find a result from a particular company.

What is non-branded traffic?

Non-branded traffic is every search query that did not contain the company’s name but still resulted in a visit to the site. Using the example above, when a search just for “jeans” takes a visitor to the H&M site, that is considered non-branded traffic.

Why distinguishing between branded and non-branded traffic is so important

A branded search indicates an awareness of a brand or company prior to the online search that leads to the visit. It usually means that through some other marketing efforts, whether those are print advertising, paid search placement, social media campaigning or simply word of mouth, the visitor knew about the business and its product before they turned to Google. It is the business’ reputation that lead to the search.

With non-branded traffic on the other hand, the searcher was looking for a kind of product or service and the site they visited presented itself in the search results in a way that persuaded them to click on the result.

Visits from non-branded search are directly related to a website’s SEO: how well it is optimised to rank well in search and how convincingly its search entries have been written.

Distinguishing between branded and non-branded search is key to knowing whether a website is really pulling its weight in the search results.

When traffic is predominantly branded, it means the business is relying mainly on other marketing approaches to attract clients. When traffic is largely non-branded on the other hand, the site is performing well in search for results relating to the business’ products or services. Non-branded traffic is a sign that your website is doing real marketing work, generating awareness of your company and putting you ahead of the competition.

How to get data for branded vs non-branded traffic

The most popular tool for getting information about website traffic is Google Analytics. However, whilst it is a great resource for telling site owners what visitors do when they get to the site, it’s not very detailed about the source of those visits.

Google Analytics will distinguish between search traffic and other sources but it offers no information about the kinds of search queries that lead to that traffic. This is where Google’s Search Console comes in.

Previously called Webmaster Tools, Search Console is a free service offered by Google to help website owners monitor and maintain their site’s presence in Google. To use it you will have to set up Search Console. Whilst your site will still be included in search results even when you don’t set up Search Console, it can significantly improve your site’s relationship with Google.

Amongst a range of other handy functions, Search Console stores search data for the last 90 days that shows how your website has been presented in search, for which terms it showed up for and how many people have clicked through from that search to your site.

You’ll find this data under Search Traffic > Search Analytics in Search Console. There you will be given a range of options for displaying the data, either showing the search queries or the pages that have shown up in search along with various options for filtering by country, device or search type. (This refers to Google’s other “search verticals” like image search or news search.)

You can then choose to view clicks (how often your website has been clicked), impressions (how often the site was showing up in search), click through rate or CTR (the rate at which the results were clicked) and position (the order in which your website’s result ranked).

Downloading these results and then sorting through them to separate out those queries containing your brand name and those that do not, provides a picture of the ratio of branded to non-branded traffic.

How to use this data

Taking stock of the mix of branded vs non-branded traffic to your site on a regular basis will help you track the progress of any optimisation work that is done to your site. Good optimisation should improve the ratio of non-branded to branded search on your site.

If you’re working with an SEO agency or consultant they may already be reporting on branded vs non-branded traffic to your site.

However, keep in mind that if you are also running other marketing campaigns, these may in turn push up branded search.

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