This article originally appeared over at https://www.distilled.net/measuring-brand-awareness/. That URL 404s at the time of writing, hence the new location here.
Few people dispute that brand awareness is an important consideration for companies of all sizes – there’s a half-trillion dollar global advertising industry built largely on that premise, after all. In the SEO industry, however, we’re probably not as aware of it as we should be. I recently published a study on Moz showing that branded search volume is better correlated with organic search ranking in Google than Domain Authority, and as Google gets smarter and links become increasingly unrepresentative of how the web works, we can only expect this relationship to deepen.
As the digital marketing and offline marketing industries converge, we as digital marketers have a lot to offer in terms of measurement and understanding that hasn’t historically been available to brand marketing. Similarly, there are pre-internet methodologies that can fill in some of the gaps in measurement that we as digital marketers tend to give up on too easily.
In this post, I want to combine the best of both and outline how you can get started with measuring your brand awareness, and thus hopefully the impact of your campaigns. How do you quantify brand awareness? There are four main ways of posing this question, which I’ll answer in turn:
- How many people are looking for you?
- How many people want to hear from you?
- How many people would recommend you?
- How many people have heard of you?
The fourth is probably closest to what most of us have in mind when we think about brand awareness, but all of these questions are important, particularly for digital. Platforms like Google and Facebook can easily answer these questions about your brand with their proprietary data, and they’ll definitely be looking to use it to decide which companies to put in front of their users.
How many people are looking for you?
Branded search & Google Trends
These two are a great place to get started, and even the smallest brand should be able to measure movement in branded search impressions as reported by Google Search Console.
To add a bit of nuance, you’ll obviously want to take into account seasonality and day by day fluctuation, but you should also look for specific combinations. For example:
- Distilled events
- Distilled blog
- Distilled SEO
People searching for these branded terms might be a great indicator that specific parts of a marketing strategy are having their intended effect.
Direct traffic to homepage
This is a much muddier source, particularly because so much “dark traffic” is bundled in – most notably from untagged links in apps and emails, and from organic search. However, people typing your domain name into their address bar shows is a great signal in just the same way that branded search is – it represents that they are looking for you, and you in particular, and direct traffic is the best way for you to see how frequently this happens.
Vanity URLs are fairly commonly used in offline advertising campaigns – typically an easily memorable URL that redirects to a URL with tracking parameters. The problem with these is that lots of people who see the given campaign will still use other methods to navigate to your site if they’re prompted by the campaign to do so, and the effectiveness of the campaign may play out in other ways (for example, people may recognise you in the search results a year later). However, what vanity URLs are good for is demonstrating the minimum number of visitors who are definitely attributable to the campaign.
How many people want to hear from you?
Social follows are one of the strongest signals that people not only know about your brand, but actually like it enough to be seen publicly as liking it, and enough to read your social content. Even if your social content is fairly light and non-promotional, this can only be a good thing, and again it’s super easy to contrast your normal growth rate of followers with your growth rate after a campaign.
This is a similar logic to social follows, although arguably a weaker endorsement. Even though most brands value email addresses above followers, because of the higher directly attributable conversion numbers, an email subscription could just mean that an individual is on the lookout for bargains. This will depend on what call to action you used when you got them to sign up.
How many people would recommend you?
Given my earlier remark about Domain Authority vs. branded search volume, this is pretty ironic, isn’t it? But this is precisely what makes SEO so hard – all of these signals are related to each other, as well as with rankings. Linking to you (organically!) is a great endorsement of your brand, and something that the SEO space has gotten remarkably good at measuring.
The context, target and anchor of the text can change what this means, though. Which brings me onto:
The best way to tell whether a link is an effective endorsement is people clicking on it to visit your site. Referral traffic can often be fairly muddy, with various forms of search engines, Google traffic ( particularly AMP), or internal traffic. However, if you’re willing to take the time to create and maintain a segment or filter, you can get through to the more valuable parts for measuring brand awareness and visibility.
Word of mouth referrals
You’ll never know exactly how often this happens, but there are a few ways to get a feel for the trend. Most practically, you can ask people in the conversion funnel how they heard about you, although test to make sure you’re doing this in a way that doesn’t impact conversion rate – as a general rule, adding extra complexity or steps into a conversion process isn’t a great idea, so you need to proceed with caution.
How many people have heard of you?
TV advertising and large-scale PR will often be measured through polling. There are some obvious limitations – namely the high cost, and the fact that you have to be doing something pretty big or for a long time for it to be measurable by this method. That said, services like Google Consumer Surveys have made this sort of approach dramatically more accessible with prices as low as $0.10c per respondent.
If you think you’re at a point where enough people have heard of you for your reputation to be measurable in randomly sampled population surveys, there are a few different ways of approaching it. Choosing the most suitable option will come down to what exactly you’re looking to measure. For example, contrast the following:
- What services does Distilled offer?
- Name 3 digital marketing companies.
- Do you recognise any of these brands? (e.g. Distilled, Seer, iPullRank)
The second is the closest to being brand awareness measurement, but you might find it easier to detect movement in the first or third.
Despite their limitations, surveys are the best answer to this question, because the other methods available only measure a proxy for awareness, not awareness itself.
These can take many forms – it might be the number of people who’ve seen a web page, or the views on a YouTube video. It’s probably the clumsiest method in this article, in that you can tell how many people saw something with your brand on it, but not whether they were paying attention, or noticed your brand. Still, if you’re comparing your campaign with other media, and most notably TV, this is sometimes the only comparison available.
Share of voice & mentions
A number of tools will track and calculate estimates of share of voice or mentions. This can range from simple Google Alerts up to sophisticated and expensive social network tools such as Ubermetrics. The problem is that, like impressions, you’re measuring the opportunities for people to see your brand, not their actual awareness of it. But again, it’s a proxy which you can use to tell whether you’re going in the right direction.
This is by far the simplest way to get an estimate of how many people noticed a campaign or product. It has some of the same problems as impressions or mentions, but at least requires the user to be a little more involved in what they were looking at.
Separating impact from noise
In all of the above, context is vital. So what if 20,000 people searched for your brand on Google this month? Is that more than would have done without the campaign you ran? Is that a lot?
In order to accurately benchmark, you need something to benchmark against, and realistically this is either yourself or a competitor.
Some metrics lend themselves well to the latter – your competitors’ branded search volume or social follower counts are as easy to track as your own.
Other metrics don’t lend themselves well to that and comparing to competitors doesn’t help you attribute success to specific events. For that, you need to either use a metric that can be specific to a campaign (such as impressions or social shares), or get into a bit of statistics and compare what actually happened with what would have happened without your intervention.
Fortunately, this is more accessible than it sounds. I published a free tool here on Distilled back in 2015, called Distilled Forecaster, which is designed to help you product forecasts for any given data series, which can act as a basis for a counterfactual. You can get started here.