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How to start working with brand keywords in Google Analytics

by Tim Leighton-Boyce

Wordcloud showing brand keywords
Separating your ‘Brand’ searches from ‘Generic’ searches will help you measure and improve your customer acquisition and retention programs.

Consistency is important here if you are to make and track changes over time. So this article explains the starting point for using this information in a systematic way in Google Analytics.

As a bonus, the process itself may also reveal a hidden ‘long tail’ of Brand keyword variations which you did not know you had.

What are ‘Brand’ Keywords

Brand keywords are the words which people use to search on Google (or other search engines) when they are specifically trying to find your company’s site or products.

The obvious examples are the name of your company, your brand, or the actual address of your web site.

Plenty of people enter web site addresses into Google instead of typing the address into their browser. This is perfectly sensible behaviour. Google will automatically take care of typing mistakes. And these days Google’s “Instant Search” will probably bring up the correct result after you’ve typed the first few letters. So it’s a quick and easy way of getting to a site.

This form of searching is often called “navigational search”.

The less obvious examples are when someone searches for a product name or other word which is so closely associated with you that it is as specific to you as your actual brand or company name.

Why Brand Keywords are different

When someone uses a brand keyword to search for your site it is obvious that they already at least know your name.

Their intention is also fairly clear. It’s reasonable to assume that they wanted to find your site: they searched for your brand and clicked on a link to your site.

You cannot assume that all these visitors have been to your site before (unless GA shows them as a returning visitor). Their awareness may have been created by off-line experiences or promotions or other forms of on-line activity.

But it’s also common for Brand searches to be used by people who are relatively new to you, but have conducted some earlier Generic searches while in reseach mode. Brand search can indicate someone who is well down the bigger sales funnel and is close to becoming a customer, as well as existing and loyal customers.

The key point about brand keywords is that they indicate that the visitor already knew of your company to some extent. You would expect a different pattern of behavior compared to visits which began with a non-brand or ‘generic’ search.

A very specific example of the difference is that you would expect to see much stronger performance from paid search and also better ecommerce conversion rates from both paid and organic Brand search. The paid search click through rates, cost per click and return on advertising spend are likely to be much better than Generic search and so they should be managed and reported on separately.

Which are better, ‘Brand’ or ‘Generic’ visits?

This is a classic “it depends” question!

If you get a lot of visits starting with a Brand search then you could take this as an indication that people are conscious of your brand. That’s wonderful: your name is in people’s minds and they are searching for you. This is a great indication of ‘Brand Awareness’ and you may well want to track this. This is very valuable information if you’re doing a lot of off-line promotion or on-line social marketing, both of which may be building awareness without actual clicks to the site.

If you get a lot of visits starting with a Generic search then that indicates that your site is probably ranking well in the search engines for those terms and that your site’s title fields and descriptions are attractive enough for people to click through to your site. That’s also wonderful: it means you might be able to acquire new customers who have not yet heard of your brand.

So the answer is, indeed, “it depends”. More of both types of visit would be very welcome, of course.

In my experience of working with medium sized ecommerce sites operated by multi-channel retailers with significant catalogue and high street businesses, it’s common to see a lot of Brand search and not so much Generic search. So in these cases I think it’s more encouraging to see an increase in Generic search.

But if your brand is not so well established, and you do not have such powerful off-line promotional channels, you might be more interested in seeing the level of Brand search going up.

How to use inline filters to build a Brand Keyword list

The starting place for this process is the normal Google Analytics ‘Keywords’ report in the ‘Traffic Sources’ area.

When you first load this report, the chances are that you will see variations of your obvious brand terms filling the top part of the table.

But the aim of this process is to also identify the many variations on your brand terms which may be in use alongside the obvious ones.

So I recommend increasing the date range to make sure you have a decent representative sample. It’s also a good idea to increase the number of rows being displayed in the table so that you are able to scan a good number of keywords.

Screen shot showing where to find inline filter in Google Analytics v4

You need to build a list of words which can be used in a filter to match all your brand terms. The best way of doing this is to use the ‘inline filter’ at the bottom of the keyword table.

At the time of writing, the ‘Advanced’ inline filter function only allows you to build up filter patterns which contain a series of ‘and’ matches. This is unlike the similar interface for ‘Advanced Segments’ which allows for ‘or’ matches as well. So, although it’s reasonable to bet that at some point the Advanced Inline filter will also allow for ‘or’, right now you have to use the old method.

The old (current) method is to build up lists using the ‘pipe’ symbol: ‘|’, which is treated as ‘or’ by the system. This symbol appears as the shifted ‘\’ key on most keyboards, but its location varies. It’s bottom left on my PC and over on the right near the ‘return’ on my Mac.

The process is to start with the first most obvious keyword variations such as

‘brand’ and, for example, things like ‘mybrand’, or ‘my-unique-product-name’

which would be represented by


• Start by filtering the keywords so that they ‘include’ only words which match
• Check that nothing which shouldn’t appear is in there
• Then switch to ‘exclude’ those words
• Look through the new list and find other examples which are actually brand terms
• Add them to the list with | in between each one
• Switch back to ‘include’ view
• Check that nothing which shouldn’t appear is in there
• Toggle back again
• Repeat until you feel you’ve got the main list

This process is much easier to show than to describe in print. So this video may make it easier for you to understand:

Once you understand the process you will probably find that you can shorten your list by editing it down to versions of the keywords which match more variations in one go. But be careful when doing this in case you ‘catch’ more than you want.

Once you’ve build up the list, make a permanent copy of it which you can cut and paste whenever you need it. It’s a very important list and you will be able to use it again and again in many different ways.

Ideas for using your Brand Keyword list

Once you’ve created your list of Brand Keywords you can use it to gain a much better and consistent understanding of these two key groups of search visitors: those who already know of you and the generic searchers.

Examples of places where you can use this list in Google Analytics include:

Custom Segments: one for Brand search, the other for Generic Search
Segmented Profiles: use ‘Include’ filters based on your list to create profiles showing only Brand search visits and only Generic search visits. (Hint: this last one can be a real eye-opener and provide a frightening glimpse of how your site performs for people who are not already familiar with your company.)
Rolled-up Reports: use advanced filters in an extra ‘Rolled Up’ or ‘Summarized’ profile to overwrite all the actual keywords which match your Brand keyword list with something like ‘a Brand Search’. This can allow you to keep the volume of Brand search in mind but also pay more attention to the detail of Generic search. Without this kind of rolling-up, the Generic terms can easily get lost in the crowd of Brand keywords.
Multi-Channel Funnel Custom Channel Groups: I’ve written a specific article about how to work with your brand keywords in Google Analytics Multi-channel Reports.

Resources Relating to Using Brand Keywords

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tim Leighton-Boyce March 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Blast media have just posted an interesting and relevant article about how to use the new ‘term cloud’ report in the new version of Google Analytics released in March 2011:

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