Cartoon PandaSearch behemoth Google gives precedence to “brands.”  So says one school of thought.  In Branding & The Cycle, SEO expert and founder of SEOBook, Aaron Wall, notes that well-known brands are more likely to be seen on the first page of the search results for searches, compared to smaller sites.

That became even more obvious after the much-discussed Google Panda update which started in 2011 and periodically gets refreshed.  Some smaller sites, especially small e-commerce sites, were demoted from first page results, and replaced by larger brand sites.

So, what if you’re a startup, with no brand, or a small business with an emerging brand, and you’re trying to get traffic to your website from the search engines?   What’s a startup or small business to do?

No Whining, No Waiting

You can sit around and lament how much visibility big companies get in search results, but that won’t help grow your business.  Instead, I have another suggestion: start establishing “brand signals” online as soon as you start your business. And keep building those brand signals consistently, week after week.

In today’s world, where so much depends on being found online, you need every edge you can get.  And one of those edges today is brand. As you will see below, it takes time to build brand signals, so that’s why I recommend you begin from day one.

How to Establish a Brand

Brand means a lot of things to a lot of different people.  To some, a brand is synonymous with trademark, including your business name and logo and anything that identifies your company and makes it distinct from others.

For online purposes, we’re going to talk about brand signals as those things that suggest to the public and to a search engine that your website belongs to a business with a brand, and not some here-today-gone-tomorrow outfit. According to Carson Ward, an SEO professional with Distilled, “A site that sounds and looks like a brand is the first step toward acting like – or even better, actually becoming – a brand.”

So how do you make your site look like it belongs to a company with a brand?

Remember that no one can speak for Google, except Google.  Same goes for Bing. So we can only make estimates based on available evidence and informed opinion.

Here in plain English are some brand signals for small businesses and startups to work on:

A good domain name. One brand signal is how many people search on your brand name. Choose a domain name that is the same as your business name (e.g.,  – and not a keyword-related domain name such as “”  as was a common  strategy in the past.

A seasoned website.  OK, you’re a startup, so your website is going to be new, too.  The key thing is:  don’t wait.  Get started on that website right away, even if it’s only six pages.  Or consider buying an existing site if feasible. A year from now you don’t want to be kicking yourself because you STILL don’t have a website.

Inbound links to your website.  Most large brands have lots of links from other sites coming to their sites.  Links are important, although link-building approaches evolve over time.  For newbies, it’s best to stick with tried-and-true techniques to attract links, such as quality blog articles, social media, and generating publicity.  For those who are a little more advanced, this article, while a bit technical, shows how the experts go about building links.

A good user experience for your website, leading to repeat visitors.  Look at your website stats.  Are people visiting over and over, or are 98% of your visitors first timers?  Step into your visitors’ shoes. Anticipate what they may be looking for and make sure they find it.  Give them:

  • something to read (a blog or a newsletter),
  • something to buy (ecommerce or a lead form),
  • something to do (take a quiz, download an ebook, scroll through a photo gallery)

Give the visitor something to make him or her tend to remember your site and want to come back.

Social sharing.  Experts don’t agree on whether social media helps directly with the search engines, but a recent study by SearchMetrics shows a correlation between social shares and ranking.  At the very least social sharing helps indirectly by attracting visitors and especially return visitors.   In fact, social media is one of the prime ways startups attract traffic at first.

Social media sites let you connect with others, share your content, and create a wider presence for your business. Set up a Twitter account, a Facebook Page, a LinkedIn Page and a Google+ Page for your business, and link back and forth between your website and the social pages.  Add sharing buttons next to any interesting content or interactive features on your site, to encourage visitors to share with their networks and thereby draw more visitors back to your site. Actively participate!

A logo and good design.  Logos and design won’t directly help with search position, but they influence visitor behavior toward your site (and search engines take visitor behavior into account).  Imagine a website with a professional design and a real logo, side by side with one having a cookie-cutter blog template you’ve seen on dozens of other sites along with a cheap text name.

  • Which is likely to stick in your mind, and help you recognize it and remember to visit it again?
  • Which appears more trustworthy and credible, and makes it more likely that you will fill out a form or purchase something instead of immediately clicking away?
  • Which is more likely to feel like a real business, versus a fly-by-night scraper site?

If you’re like me, it’s the one with the professional design and logo.

Trademark registration.  By itself, a trademark will not help you get better search position.  However, a registered trademark is one more notch in the public’s mind that your business has a brand.  Think of trademark as the ultimate signal of value in a brand – a trademark means the government is convinced you have a brand that is distinctive and entitled to legal protection.  Once you register a trademark and it is granted, you are permitted by law to use the “circle R” mark to show it’s protected and/or the words “registered trademark” to show that you believe you have a brand. For instance, you could put such a designation on your website (consult your attorney for how/where to place it).  Trademark applications can take a long time – almost a year or more – so start sooner not later.

Just Get On It!

A lot of the above signals may feel a bit like the “chicken and egg” dilemma.  In other words, to create the impression of being a brand, you have to establish a brand.  And to establish a brand, you have to first give people the impression that you already have a distinctive brand.  My advice: don’t worry about figuring out what comes first – just get on it!

The sooner you start, the faster you will develop your brand and increase your business’s online presence.

Ready to develop your brand and increase your business’s online presence? By registering for U.S. Federal Trademark protection, trademark owners are eligible for numerous benefits such as treble damages in some cases of infringement, the right to use the ® in your trademark, and a streamlined process for securing your domains and usernames at social sites like facebook, twitter, and youtube.  Don’t delay it anymore.

Protect your business name and brand today: Apply for federal trademark registration through CorpNet.