Brand Positioning & SEO: Aligning User Intent, Data with Brand Strategy

Updated on: 
May 13, 2024
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

As one of the first modes of seeking a solution, search is frequently the first touchpoint between customers and brands. Not only does search data offer a wellspring of market intelligence, but the search results provide influential real estate for forming first impressions and natural connections.

April Dunford sums it best in her Quickstart Guide to Positioning when she says "Positioning is like context-setting for products."

Translate that statement into the SEO world, and there are fewer things more contextual than meeting users halfway with relevant, authentic, and useful content that aligns with your brand (and helps build it.)

How a brand utilizes SEO to position itself is a critical component of its growth strategy and attracting the right types of customers. By the same token, the data and user intent insights behind search engine optimization can help shape a brand’s naming, messaging, and positioning in a number of ways. SEO-inspired insights can be useful for consumer research & intelligence, product road mapping, content strategy, and media planning, as well as informing a site’s information architecture, user experience, and accessibility.

To help make sense of the dynamics between brand positioning and SEO, we’re here to guide you through steps, resources and thought exercises to help you and your team leverage the right data, strategy, and keyword selection.

1. Define options of interest

Grasping the full range of possibilities to marry brand positioning and SEO largely depends on pulling the right type of consumer data and intelligence. Not only do we want to know the total addressable market, but we want to understand the who behind the data, like whether people are looking for an “enterprise-level” versus “SMB” package or an “advanced” versus “beginner” solution to meet their needs.  

There are a couple of primary use cases to address how this can work:

  1. Using data to understand the scope of options for defining the naming and positioning around a given brand, product, or offer.
  2. Angling a brand’s content strategy based on who we’re trying to target, in an attempt to gain that user’s attention at the right time, in the right place.

A. Defining Product or Branding Naming (in alignment with Positioning)

Search data can be tremendously helpful in inspiring how to define a product or brand name, or the messaging and positioning behind a given product or brand. While sifting through data, you may have epiphanies like “oh, that’s definitely us” or “we want to steer away from that.” Here are several examples of what we mean:

  • Caliber/Quality – are users looking for a “professional” or “starter” program, “senior”, “high quality” or “junior” package, or the “best” over the most “affordable” option?
  • Specification – are searchers indicating certain qualities in their queries, like a “new” or “refurbished” product, “first-class” or “mid-range” package, or specific characteristics like a “titanium” versus a “carbon” manufacturer?
  • Classification – is your target audience distinguishing between a “pediatric” or “family” practice, “residential” or “commercial” solution, or “custom” versus “stock”?
  • Unique Value Propositions (UVPs) – are there distinct benefits and features that are so important to your buyers, and differentiating for your brand, that they describe unique value propositions (UVPs) around your product or brand? For instance, an outdoor shoe brand might explore works like "minimalist," "zero-drop," or "barefoot" to describe thin-sole footwear. An eco-conscious fashion brand might focus on “sustainable” clothing that’s also “ethical”, “modern”, and “low impact”.

There are other less linear ways to qualify data to determine what makes the most sense. While the above examples are more adjective-based (or the first words of a search query), think in terms of the category or context of the query. For example: is your SaaS product a "work management platform" (Asana), an "project tracking software suite" (Jira), or simply a "work OS" (

Are you building a "consulting" or "freelancing" business? Do you specialize in "data analysis" or "data science"? How people look for your products/services can dramatically shape your branding, how you position those products/services, and ultimately brand recognition.

Another real-life example is a mold abatement company that wanted to position its brand all around "mold abatement" keywords. Come to find out, only other companies and industry professionals use such terminology, while consumers simply call it "mold removal." Not “calling it the right thing”, according to your target market, can result in a huge missed opportunity.

Selecting the right words/keywords matters, especially in terms of creating brand awareness via organic search. Such decisions help ensure user intent is aligned with the appropriate brand position. Choosing the wrong keywords could mean attracting the wrong audience (other business owners vs homeowners), wrong requirements, wrong price points, or even creating a fundamental misunderstanding of what your product and services provide.

B. Angling Your Brands Content Marketing Strategy

Similarly, it's a useful practice to leverage your SEO research and data for content strategy purposes, which can directly impact both your SEO strategy and brand positioning.

As a classic example – if your product is a more "premium" high-dollar item, you might focus on words, qualifiers, and topics that resemble a "premium" sort of feel (e.g. advanced, top, best, bespoke, expert, custom, select) while straying away from language like cheap, affordable, and discounted, etc.

If your brand targets intermediate or advanced seniority buyers vs junior ones, the topics you choose to cover with content (and the size of those markets) will vary. For the junior targets, your content strategy might emphasize "101" content "for beginners" while the senior audience will gravitate toward more "advanced" thinking and "professional" guides to address their common questions and pain points.

As a couple of last examples, an outdoor gear brand might position its content strategy to emphasize the “mountaineering” niche while adding breadth with related popular activities like “hiking” and “climbing.” Similarly, a brand that manufactures high-end off-road bikes might want to carve its niche in the search-trending “gravel bike” scene versus the more generified “mountain biking” category.

2. Quantify the relative interest for different options

Given all of the options that describe what your brand does or offers, the next step is determining which options provide the greatest growth potential in terms of search interest/volume and competitive difficulty. (Yes, other data points matter to finalize these decisions. We’ll get into more of these inputs below!)

Quantifying data and search interest helps us understand where the biggest existing (search) opportunities lie as well as how we can differentiate competitively while achieving results within an expected timeframe.

When quantifying relative interest based on different options pinpointed above, consider these thought starters:

  • Are users problem aware? (Are they frustrated with an issue, and seeking solutionsand if so, to what extent?)
  • Are people actively seeking your specific solution or product? (If so, to what extent?)
  • How often do people seek one naming convention over the other? (Is the average monthly search volume 5x more for an “app” versus a “tool”, yet your product is considered both?)
  • How competitive is one version vs the other? (SEO-wise, how much more difficult is one option versus the other? And how can you competitively differentiate your brand?)

Quantification enables you to validate which options offer the greatest opportunity and potential for growth (in terms of today’s search interest.) This intelligence empowers teams to make better decisions while remaining competitive in dynamic market conditions.

Want to take this exercise one step further? Learn more about how to use Digital Consumer Intelligence to aggregate, analyze, and utilize data to prioritize opportunities. Read our post on 7 Practical Applications for Digital Consumer Intelligence.

3. Do brand research to evaluate user impact

As an extension of the previous exercise, the next step is conducting more qualitative research to get a feel for how your potential customers resonate and respond to certain types of positioning. The objective here is to better understand the perceptions and sentiments people share based on their reactions and preferences toward certain options over others. And ultimately, we can make better brand decisions as a result.

In a general sense, we might want to know what brand or product names, words, phrases, taglines, etc. evoke certain feelings and reactions more than others, and whether or not those responses align with the brand we're trying to build.

Take Grammarly for example. Do more people resonate with Grammarly being described as a "free online writing assistant" or a "cloud-based spelling and grammar tool"...? Search volume and trends alone don’t always paint a relevant picture, so investing in qualitative research can help bring clarity to questions like these.

To help ignite this conversation internally, here are a few questions to help get you and your team thinking:

  • What do target personas think about one name/tagline/etc. versus another?
  • How do they feel or react to each of them?
  • Does one have a bias/pros/cons versus the other?
  • Is one more premium versus the other (and therefore imply a more premium price point?)
  • Does any premium implication create exclusion or limitations?

How you conduct this research will depend on the scope of your decision-making needs and what resources you have on hand. A few common methods include:

  • User testing allows you to see how people interact with a given design, product, or concept, providing you with an honest point of view from the lens of a customer.
  • PPC advertising enables your team to A/B test different concepts to determine what's more effective or engaging. This can be especially effective when testing names or descriptions of certain products.
  • Surveys, interviews, and focus groups allow you to ask specific questions to targeted audiences to learn more about how they respond and feel about certain options.

In some cases, you can also use other channels like social media and email as tools to facilitate this research, whether as a means to acquire data or encourage audiences to participate in your research efforts.

4. Outline limitations on what can be used

As you begin to narrow down your options, you’ll also want to define any legal barriers or determine any specific words/phrases that aren’t fit for your brand and its positioning. More specifically, you want to know where these limitations are, like certain on-page elements, SERP-specific content, or off-site content.

For larger brands, the limitations may be complicated. So here are a few fundamental areas you may want to consider:

  1. What can you explicitly say (or not say) on your website? Do you have limitations set by a compliance team?
  2. Where can you say (or not say) these things on the website? Some compliance teams care about page headers but not page copy, or all forms of page copy (including headers) but not metadata. Others care about all of it. Define your boundaries to understand the tools you have in your tool chest!
  3. What can be said off-site through PR and link-building efforts that can’t be mentioned on the website? If you're unable to mention certain verbiage on your site (e.g. a popular keyword search) it’s a harder situation to navigate. But perhaps it’s possible to mention and target this keyword through concerted external link-building and digital PR efforts.

What you can and cannot say are important points that will impact your optimization roadmap. You’ll want to plan what strategies you can employ to rank for X considering the limitations and tools you have available.  

5. Select wisely

Considering all data points, qualitative factors, limitations, and stakeholders, the final step in this strategic exercise is choosing the option(s) that best aligns with your brand, its objectives, and the overall opportunity potential.

Because all brands will have varying degrees of SEO acumen, some choices will be more obvious than others. Many brands will prioritize options that harness SEO to the max, whereas others will place SEO as secondary and supplemental to their brand decision-making.

Regardless of where it stands on the scale, remember that SEO is just another stakeholder; one that can contribute perspective and data to help make this decision. But rarely, if ever, is SEO a deciding factor that can outweigh legal concerns, brand strategy alignment, or conversion perspectives (e.g. the balance of traffic volume versus conversion rate and lead/purchase value.)

In other words, don't get blinded by attractively high search volumes and instead see the bigger picture behind the data. Even if a keyword has a fraction of the search volume, if it's an angle that delivers 5x the value, then it's going to be the better fit for your brand.

Utilize the right intelligence and perspective

At The Gray Dot Company, we spend a lot of time peeling the layers of data to help brands make smarter decisions. This effort is central to our digital consumer intelligence capabilities and making key market insights more accessible.

Beyond the ideas that we’ve shared above, there’s a lot more you can take into account. As mentioned at the start, be sure to check out April Dunford's A Quickstart Guide to Positioning, which is a post that shares a lot of insightful nuggets of wisdom and offers a digestible primer into her book Obviously Awesome. In short, it’s a concise guide to help get you thinking about positioning from a zoomed-out perspective.

To learn more about how we can help guide your brand’s positioning by leveraging these solutions, get in touch with us. Or for related reading, check out other blog posts we’ve published below.

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