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Branded Search vs. Non-Branded Search: What’s the Difference?



Branded Search vs. Non-Branded Search: What's the Difference?

Most SEO advice talks about optimizing for keywords that don’t mention your brand because that is how you can attract complete strangers to your business. But what about search queries that do mention your brand?

In other words, what about attracting people who are exactly searching for your business? Naturally, you can optimize your website for these kinds of queries too. In this guide, I’ll explain how to do that. We’ll cover the following:

Difference between branded search and non-branded search

The difference between branded and non-branded search is that a branded search contains your company, service, or product name, whereas a non-branded search doesn’t. This applies to both organic results and search ads.

Infographic on difference between branded and non-branded searches

Why optimize for non-branded search


Ranking for non-branded keywords allows you to attract people who are searching for products or services related to your business but may not necessarily know your brand. Hence, this is a great way to attract new customers.

Organic keywords report results for Ahrefs' article on SEO checklistOrganic keywords report results for Ahrefs' article on SEO checklist

Our blog article about our SEO checklist attracts searchers who don’t necessarily know our product. Data via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

We have an entire SEO course that focuses on optimizing for non-branded keywords. So in this article, we’re going to focus on SEO for branded search.

Why optimize for branded search

Ranking for branded keywords allows you to attract people who are specifically searching for information about your company.

They already know your brand but want to learn more about what you do. For example, they may be looking for reviews, comparisons with other brands, or specific information like technical data or media assets.

So with branded search, depending on the query’s intent, you’re targeting people who are:

  • Close to buying from you – People may be looking up your brand specifically or searching for comparisons between you and your competition. You can address any objections, answer questions, or reassure them you are the right choice.
  • Your current customers – Keeping your current customers informed is a straight path to keeping them happy.
  • The press – The aim here is to be the #1 source of information. 
  • Brand fans and other people simply interested in what you do 
Organic keywords report results for Ahrefs' "versus" pageOrganic keywords report results for Ahrefs' "versus" page

Our landing page comparing our product to the competition attracts searchers who Google queries containing our brand name and “vs.” Data via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

How to optimize for branded search

There are basically four steps in this process. For the purpose of this guide, I’m going to use fintech company Revolut as an example (but this can be any company).

1. Find keywords related to your brand, company, or product

You need to create two lists of keywords to have a complete overview of your branded search landscape:

  1. Find keywords you rank for 
  2. Find keywords you don’t rank for 

One thing to keep in mind here is that everything we’re going to do in this guide is country-specific. You will need to repeat the process for every country whose keywords you want to rank for.

Find keywords you rank for

When you have an SEO tool like Ahrefs, finding keywords you rank for is a piece of cake. All you need to do is plug in your domain, go to the Organic keywords report, and type in words/phrases denoting your brand or products in the filters.

Organic keywords report results (with filters applied) for Revolut's site Organic keywords report results (with filters applied) for Revolut's site

Tip: Don’t bother about misspellings of keywords. Google’s algorithms will likely take care of that with the correct spellings once you create content that ranks for those keywords.

Misspelling of "revolut" as "re volut"; Google autocorrects term and indicates it'll show results for the name with the correct spellingMisspelling of "revolut" as "re volut"; Google autocorrects term and indicates it'll show results for the name with the correct spelling

Export that list of keywords and import it into a spreadsheet editor. I’ll be using Google Sheets.

Google Sheet containing exported Organic keywords report resultsGoogle Sheet containing exported Organic keywords report results

And this concludes our first list. Now on to the next one.

Find keywords you don’t rank for

To create a list of keywords you don’t rank for, you need to combine and compare two lists: the list of branded keywords that you rank for (it’s what we just created) and a list of all branded keywords for your company. This is what we’ll do.

In your keyword tool—I’ll use Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer—plug in the same branded keywords you used for the first list, choose the same country as before, and hit “Enter.”

Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer toolAhrefs' Keywords Explorer tool

Then go to the Matching terms report. You will get a list of all branded keywords.

Matching terms report results for "revolut"Matching terms report results for "revolut"

Now we need to compare keywords you rank for with all keywords in order to get branded keywords you don’t rank for. So do the following:

  1. Export the list
  2. Import the list to a new sheet in the same spreadsheet as the first list
  3. Create an additional column in that newly imported list and name the column “Do we rank?”
  4. Insert this array formula into the first cell of that column: =ArrayFormula(COUNTIF(Ranking!A2:A, B2:B)=1)

Where “Ranking” is the name of the sheet with keywords you rank for and the cell ranges are the column with your keywords.

This formula will automatically populate the entire column with “true” if you already rank for a given keyword and “false” if you don’t. Chances are you won’t get too many “falses” here, but the thing is you never know until you check.

This way, we’ve created the two keyword lists we need for this process. Now let’s see how we can use them.

2. Pick keywords worth targeting

Here’s how we’re going to categorize branded keywords worth targeting:

  1. Underperforming keywords – Because if you improve their rankings, you can get more traffic from the SERPs (search engine results pages)
  2. Pages with mismatched intent – Because mismatched search intent doesn’t give people what they came for
  3. Valuable new keywords – Because you can get more traffic by targeting new keywords

Underperforming keywords

Underperforming branded keywords are basically keywords that don’t rank #1. How far from #1? It depends on the search query and the competition.

If you think there’s a reasonable chance of a keyword ranking higher than the current position, you should try it. Generally speaking, for some queries, ranking in the top three is a success. But for those with really fierce competition (like search queries used for comparisons), ranking in the top 10 is a success. 

And so open the first list, click on the “Current position” column, and sort from Z to A. Anything here that doesn’t rank #1 is your opportunity. Look at each keyword. If it’s something you can potentially create better content about, mark it.

Additionally, look at the “Volume” column to determine if that keyword gets any search demand in the country you’ve chosen.

Pages with mismatched intent

Now let’s choose keywords for the second category: mismatched intent. Since you’ve already gone through keywords that don’t rank #1, it’s time to take a closer look at those ranking #1. If you want to play on the safer side, you can extend your search to the top three or even the top 10.

Here’s an example of a page with mismatched search intent. People looking for Revolut’s logo probably want an official, high-quality image that’s downloadable. But Revolut doesn’t offer that on the pages that rank #1 for this query in the U.S.

Google SERP for "revolut logo"Google SERP for "revolut logo"

So this keyword can be highlighted as “mismatched intent.”

Cell in Google Sheet containing the category "mismatched intent"Cell in Google Sheet containing the category "mismatched intent"

Let’s move on to the last category: valuable new keywords.

New keywords

For this, we’re going to open the second sheet with all branded keywords. To show only those you don’t rank for in the chosen country, filter the “Do we rank?” column to only show “false” results:

Filter options in Google SheetFilter options in Google Sheet

Before we start to look at particular keywords, I suggest sorting them by search volume to get the most potentially valuable keywords first.

Now we can see if any of these keywords catch our eye. Here’s one: a comparison between Revolut and another fintech company:

Cell in Google Sheet showing "revolut vs n26"Cell in Google Sheet showing "revolut vs n26"

3. Optimize existing content or create something new 

Now we need to give search engines something they can rank. That means either optimizing content on existing pages or creating new content.

The list of keywords created in the previous step will tell us whether we need to do the first or the second. So:

  • Keywords marked as “underperforming” or “mismatched intent” will need optimized content. For this, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a detailed guide on how to optimize your content for search engines.
  • New keywords that you do not yet rank for will most likely need new content. I’m saying “likely” because you may need to reconsider that, sometimes, it’s better to include some topics on existing pages than have them be on separate pages. And here’s a complete guide on creating content designed to rank in search engines.

4. Add internal links

The last step in our process of optimizing for branded search is adding internal links.

Apart from helping users to navigate your website, internal links play an important role in SEO. First of all, search engines use them for discovering, (re)crawling, and indexing pages. Moreover, they help Google understand what your page is about. And last but not least, they pass link equity.

As this is quite a straightforward tip, I’ll keep it short. There are essentially three places on your website where you may want to add internal links to content targeting branded keywords: 

  1. Site navigation – That means the top navigation and/or footer.
  2. Important pages – If you want your content to be discovered easily and quickly, add links to it on pages that get the most traffic (like the homepage) or on the most relevant pages (like features).
  3. Pages where you mention the keywords – For example, if Revolut mentions “buying stocks with Revolut” somewhere on its website, it can link to a blog post or a landing page dedicated to that topic.

Regarding the last point, you can streamline that process using Ahrefs (you can also do this for free using Ahrefs Webmaster Tools).

Go to Ahrefs’ Site Audit and open the Link opportunities report. In the advanced filter section, set a new filter with conditions: keyword context contains [your keyword or phrase]. This way, you can find relevant link opportunities for pages that haven’t even been published yet.

Link opportunities report: advanced filter options above and report results at the bottomLink opportunities report: advanced filter options above and report results at the bottom

Recommended reading: Here’s Why You Should Prioritize Internal Linking in 2022 

Final thoughts 

The more a company grows, the more roads will lead to the company through branded search (81% of searches for SMBs vs. 58% for global brands).

But no matter the company size, SERPs seem to play the role of a company’s business card—people ask search engines all sorts of questions, and what they find becomes what they know. Thus, it’s good to own your branded queries.


Finally, if you decide to optimize your website for branded search, it’s important to know that the changes you make probably won’t take effect overnight. Remember, SEO takes time.

And if your SEO software comes with a rank tracker, use it to save yourself some time and effort—instead of manually checking your ranking progress, which can’t be done accurately anyway.

Next step: You can take optimizing for branded search even further by taking advantage of Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.

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SEO Tips For Expanding Into German-Speaking Markets



SEO Tips For Expanding Into German-Speaking Markets

So, you’re ready to expand into the land of wheat beer, sausage, and potatoes?

I’ve got good news for you!

With a large and affluent consumer base, Germany is an attractive market for many businesses.

But there’s one little catch: you need localization.

What’s localization, you ask?

Well, it has a lot to do with adapting your messaging to meet local cultural standards.

And while that first and foremost includes the language, it also covers traditions, humor, market expectations, and more.


Regardless of whether you’re looking to expand into Germany or another country, you must understand your audience’s unique needs and how to reach them before you can successfully market your business to them.

So, before you go and start directly translating your English content strategy into German, you should know that adapting to German SEO is far more than just a translation job.

German consumers have different search habits, preferences, and intent than English speakers.

Simply translating your existing content strategy is only about 10% of a true German market expansion.

To succeed in German-speaking markets with SEO, you must create a German SEO strategy from scratch.

In this article, you’ll learn:

Why A German Market Expansion Is Worthwhile

Even though localization requires additional effort, Germany is one primary market that’s absolutely worth it to invest in. Here’s why:

  • The German-speaking DACH region (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) is a thriving consumer market. Thanks to each country’s large GDP per capita, they enjoy a high standard of living – which means consumers have more money to spend on new products.
  • The DACH region has a 93% average internet penetration, which means there are 94 million internet users in the market. In a nutshell: comprehensive internet access + high standard of living = more money for your brand.
  • In Germany, 91% of internet users rely on Google for their search needs. This makes SEO in particular a powerful tool for reaching German consumers.

Important note: When expanding your business into the German market, it is essential to work with native speakers to build your SEO strategy, because that’s your direct line for understanding local messaging requirements.

Developing your SEO strategy based on your target market’s needs helps you create quality content that resonates with your audience.

It may even give you a first-mover advantage, especially if your business is in a new and niche industry.


How To Craft A Winning German SEO Strategy In 6 Steps

Learning how to hang with the Germans at Oktoberfest may seem intimidating and challenging at first.

But with a few key steps, you can create a German SEO strategy that can immensely impact pipeline growth in this burgeoning market.

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The 6 Steps For Building A Winning SEO Strategy In The German Market

Localize your business strategy Prep your site structure Find your German competitors
Do German keyword research Localize your keyword map Localize your content

1. Localize Your Business Strategy

Let me give you a concrete example of a real business that was recently looking for help expanding in the DACH region.

Due to the U.S. and U.K. being their primary markets, international markets come second place in terms of investment but are still required to bring in high levels of new business.

After looking through their website for about 30 seconds, I noticed a major problem:

Although their website is translated to German (emphasis on the translated, not localized), their chatbot was only offered in English.

I tried typing in German in the chatbot. No reply.

It kept trying to force me to book a call with a person in the U.S.


I then wrote, “Does this person speak German?” in the German language, but again no reply.

Now imagine this scenario for the potential German customers of this business.

They’ve come to the website from Germany, read through the website in German, and now, do you think they feel comfortable booking a call with an English-speaking salesperson in the US?

I can most wholeheartedly tell you it’s a big “no.”

That’s why it’s not enough to just translate your existing content into German.

You also need German-speaking salespeople and customer service representatives who can interact with buyers in their language.

It’s crucial to localize your entire business strategy, otherwise, your target audience will continue choosing your competitors who do offer the buying experience they expect.

2. Prep Your Site Structure

Now that we’ve gotten the business stuff out of the way, let’s move on to SEO.


Before creating any content, you first need to check that your website is set up for multiple languages, which is most often done with the URL structure.

There are two options for this:

  • Option 1: (the subfolder approach).
  • Option 2: (the subdomain approach).

Whenever you have the option within your CMS (content management system) and technical infrastructure, always opt for the subfolder approach.

This helps transfer DA (domain authority) from your main .com domain to your German website, which means you’ll be able to rank for German keywords faster.

Once your site structure is set up, it’s also crucial to use href lang tags on your pages.

This way, you can assign a page to each market. By doing this, you’re more likely to appear in search results for German users looking for content in their language.

3. Find Your German Competitors

When it comes to competitors, localization is a major factor yet again.

While you may already know which websites you’re competing with in your native market, it’s important to understand that they will likely not be your organic search traffic competitors when you enter the German market.

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Let’s say you’re a marketing automation software company that wants to expand into Germany.


SEOquake is a helpful plugin for comparing SERPs (search engine results page) in different languages and countries.

The main keyword you’d want to rank for in English markets might be “marketing automation tool.”

Here’s what SEOquake shows me as the English SERPs for the U.S.:

Screenshot from search for [marketing automation tool], Google, June 2022

Now take a look at what I get when I search for [marketing automatisierung tool], the German equivalent for that English term, in Germany:

German SERPs for “marketing automatisierung tool” using SEOquakeScreenshot from search for [marketing automatisierung tool], Google, June 2022

This difference is precisely where your opportunity for German market expansion lies.

When you localize keywords and your content to compete against local SERPs, you position your SEO strategy to generate leads and sales with localized high purchase intent keywords.

Just rinse and repeat this strategy for your main keywords and you’ll start to see trends about who your top German search competitors are.

But make sure that you follow up with these readers by offering them a buying experience that’s entirely in German.

4. Do German Keyword Research

Once you have a list of your German competitors, it’s time to do keyword research.

Keywords are the heart of your expansion strategy because that’s where you connect content to the high purchase intent keywords I mentioned above.


To help you do your keyword research, try the following steps:

Step 1: Set your keyword research tool (here shown with Semrush) to the German market.

Example of Semrush’s keyword overview tool for German keyword researchScreenshot from Semrush, June 2022

Step 2: Using Semrush’s keyword magic tool, type in a German keyword.

I always recommend starting with a vague head keyword, because then you can view the whole related keyword cluster in a list.

Example of Semrush’s keyword magic tool for German keyword researchScreenshot from Semrush, June 2022

Step 3: Then select longtail, search intent match keywords here that have search volume and could potentially fit into your strategy based on the content you’d like to create.

Step 4: The best way to determine where and how certain keywords fit into your content is to check their SERPs by using SEOquake as I showed in the previous section.

One caveat: Semrush can be a bit limited for German SERPs data, so if you’re planning to heavily expand into Germany using SEO, it might be worthwhile to purchase an SEO tool with a more robust German database, such as Sistrix.

The key thing to remember during the keyword localization process is that you shouldn’t just translate keywords from your brand’s first language to German.

While just translating content easily leads to content that’s never even read, the process I described ensures that your content production resources focus on localized keywords that have the opportunity to rank and impact your leads and sales in Germany.

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5. Localize Your Keyword Map

After the initial keyword research is done, it’s time to build your keyword map.


This means crafting German keyword clusters by search intent and ensuring that your German keyword map reflects your target audience’s needs across the sales funnel.

Here’s an example of how my team and I typically lay this out in Google Sheets:

keyword map using google sheetsScreenshot from author, June 2022


Doing this also allows you to determine which content from the original English-language website can be transcreated (translated and localized with specific keywords), and which new pages should be created in German.

Some pages in English won’t even need to be transcreated to German if your keyword research shows it’s not relevant to the German market – which is a primary reason why localization is much more laser-focused than pure translation.

6. Localize Your Content

The final step to developing your German SEO strategy is to localize your content.

For each content piece you plan to develop for your German audience, do the following:

Do your research.

Understand what Germans are searching for online, what kinds of content they engage with, and the messaging style they’re used to. One quick example is that German is often much more formal than U.S. and U.K. English.


Repurpose your top-performing existing content.

If you have existing English content that’s doing well, consider transcreating it into German if the topic is also relevant to the German market.

Make sure to optimize it for local German keywords that have search volume and match search intent to give it the best possible chance of generating leads and sales.

Write new German-specific content.

Creating new and original content is especially important if you’re targeting Germany as a foreign market because there will be elements in Germany that don’t exist in the U.S. and U.K. markets.

When you show the German audience that you understand them by investing in content that’s specifically relevant to them, that’s a significant trust builder that brings them much closer to purchase.

Track your progress.

Track your SEO strategy’s performance in the German-speaking markets using a tool like Semrush (shown in the image below).


Use the data to find your top content opportunities in this market and continuously update and improve your content plan.

Example of Semrush’s keyword position tracking tool for German keywordsScreenshot from Semrush, June 2022

Efficiently Expand Into The German Market With SEO Using A Proven Process

Expanding your business into new markets can be a daunting task, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding one.

When you break through to new frontiers, you open up a world of opportunities for your business.

So, don’t be afraid to venture into German-speaking markets – with the right SEO strategy in place, you can see amazing success.

More resources:

Featured Image: Stanislaw Mikulski/Shutterstock

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