What’s a brand SERP? Well, a “SERP” is an acronym for search engine results page. So a brand SERP is what you get when someone Googles your name or your brand name.
Jason Barnard is the brand SERPs guy. He’s spent 7 years trying to educate digital marketers on the importance of brand SERPS, on the insights to be gained from looking at them, and how to take control of them.
He’s also the host of the Kalicube podcast, where he’s interviewed the likes of Rand Fishkin, Bill Slawski, and more. He runs Brand SERP courses and offers coaching for those who want to take control of their own.
Listen to today’s podcast to learn how to take control of brand SERPs both for your agency and for your clients.
[00:00:00] Garrett Sussman: Hi, I’m Garrett Sussman. And welcome to the Agency Ahead Podcast brought to you by Traject. Join me as I talked to a variety of digital marketing experts where we discuss the world of SEO, reputation management, social media, customer experience, data analytics, and so much more. Learn actionable strategies where you can take your clients’ digital marketing performance to the next level. Okay. Let’s get ahead.
[00:00:30] Garrett Sussman: Okay. Welcome back. This is Garrett Sussman, the head of content at Traject for the Agency Ahead Podcast by Traject. Oh, man. Today is going to be fun because I’ve got the funniest guy. Wait, no, not just the funniest guy, I’ve got The Brand SERP Guy. I’m joined today by Jason Barnard. Jason, we’re going to talk about Brand SERPs on Google, what the heck they are, how you’re controlling them, experiments you’re doing. Thank you for joining me today.
[00:00:53] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Brilliant. Thank you so much for having me on, Garrett. I’m really keyed. I’d heard about the podcast. I heard about you. And then when we started talking about me coming on the show, I looked you up. And as I just said, the way you project yourself on social media and all the platforms I found you on, brilliant, the nice guy.
What It Means to Be The Brand SERP Guy According to Jason Barnard
[00:01:15] Garrett Sussman: So my brain is going, okay, but you’re talking about, you’re identified as The Brand SERP Guy. What does that mean? What’s The Brand SERP Guy?
[00:01:25] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): It means I’m trying to place myself right at the centre of something I think I’ve discovered, but it’s not something new. It’s just something that nobody was paying attention to. And it was the idea of I’ve been doing this for seven years, and I’ve been talking about it for seven years. I actually looked up the first talk, the first conference talk I ever gave. And it was in French, and it was in a town in the east of France five and a half years ago. And I was saying exactly the same thing five and a half years ago as I am now, which makes it sound like I’m boring and repetitive, but it actually just means that I think I was right at the beginning. And now, I’ve just developed it into something much more granular, much more interesting and much more helpful to brands, to people.
[00:02:08] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): And also, recently I also discover really, really helpful to understanding how Google functions and what Google is doing with all these different algorithms that all clunked together like these Lego blocks which I love. And so Brand SERPs turns out, sorry, coming back to The Brand SERP Guy, I call myself The Brand SERP Guy because I wanted people to associate me with Brand SERPs because Brand SERPs is my number one top favourite thing. And I think it’s original, and I think it’s useful. I think it’s overlooked. And as of the beginning of this year, I made the decision after four and a half years, that’s a bit belatedly, of saying I’m going to make the community pay attention to this. And I’m going to make sure that when anybody talks about it for the next 15 years, they’re going to go, Jason Barnard.
Definition of a Brand SERP and Some Insights in Its World
[00:03:00] Garrett Sussman: And I already have that association because I’ve been reading your work. I follow you on Twitter. I see all the experiments that you’re doing. So for our audience, how do you define a Brand SERP? What is a Brand SERP?
[00:03:14] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): I’ve had a lot of problems with this actually. Because as soon as I talk about it, it’s going to call John Morabito, who’s my new best friend about a year ago because he went, oh, yes, great, wonderful, wonderful. And then I talked to him about it and he did an interview with me on my podcast and it was great and he’s a really smart guy, but he was going branded search, SERPs, and searches. And he was talking about all the searches that include your brand name. And I was going, no, stop, come back, come back. And he has gotten out and it’s all, blah, blah, blah. And he went off on this kind of thing and he’d go and get all of that is incredibly important. I agree with you. But until you’ve got control of your Brand SERP, which is your exact match brand name SERP, all the rest of it is going to be much more difficult.
[00:03:58] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): And if you focus on, sorry, what he was doing was going off onto these kinds of different paths and probably losing and diluting his efforts, in my opinion. Where I’m saying, actually, if you focus on just your Brand SERP, which is really boring in theory, but it’s actually much more interesting than anybody imagines. And when you start looking at into it, you go down this rabbit hole, and it’s really, really cool. It’s the best rabbit hole in the business, if I may say so.
[00:04:26] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Once you start looking at it, it’s terribly, terribly focused. And it’s this controlled environment where you actually have much more control than you would initially imagine. And it gives you so many insights into what’s going on with your brand and your brand’s digital ecosystem and your brand’s content strategy. And you think, oh, it’s very limited or very boring, but in fact, it’s actually incredibly insightful because it only focuses on what Google is showing to your audience when they search your brand name. And when they search your brand name, Google is showing them what it thinks is the most relevant and valuable. And that’s exactly what Google is trying to do with all the other SERPs. So, you can build up from there. And it’s such an insight. Sorry, I’m getting overexcited.
How Do You Interpret What You See on Your Brand SERP?
[00:05:18] Garrett Sussman: No. It is really interesting. I can imagine right now, people who are listening to this podcast or go into Google, and they’re typing in their name or their brand, and they’re seeing their Brand SERP maybe for the first time because to your point, people aren’t always paying attention to it. If someone goes to that page, say you’re an agency or you’re doing it on behalf of a client, what are they looking for? How can you interpret that page and find value from it? What are you expecting to see? What are you expecting not to see?
[00:05:50] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Well, step number one, and this is really, really important, is take a step back. You’re not you when you’re looking at your Brand SERP. You’re an independent analyst of your brand’s digital ecosystem and your brand’s content strategy or you’re a client or a prospect or a journalist or an investor who’s looking to find out more about this brand, all looking to navigate to it. First thing is you have to take off your I/me hat, and you have to be empathetic to all these different people who were looking for your brand or searching for your brand and all the different and, sorry, and the different approaches that or the different insights that your Brand SERP can give.
Your Google Brand SERP Is Your New Business Card
[00:06:39] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So if we take them in order, we’ll start with people. I say Google, the Google Brand SERP or your Google Brand SERP is your new business card. That makes sense to mark because they get it like that. Immediately, I say that to any marketer who isn’t a digital marketer, they will say, oh, get that. And I don’t have to explain anymore. And the whole conversation is off and we’re running and it’s great. And it is literally three seconds to get them to understand that concept.
[00:07:06] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Digital marketers in general, don’t get it. Digital marketers require an explanation because what they say to me is yeah, but I deal with that. And then I say to them, how many of you do you track it? And they say, no. When did you last look at it? A year ago. That’s not good enough. So, you get this kind of strange disparity between marketers and digital marketers, which is in inverted commas, the wrong way around. And so, the idea that it’s your business card I think is the fundamentally most important thing. And it’s the hook line I use all the time.
[00:07:43] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): But if you talk to people like Mike Blumenthal from the local search bunch, they’ve been saying, it’s your homepage for years. So, I’m not even coming up with anything new. But it’s your business card if you’re not a local business, and it’s your homepage if you are a local business. But then in some aspects, it is still your homepage because it is what people see when they’ve heard your name, and they start deciding that they might want to actually visit your site. They don’t type your domain name. They type in your brand name and then come to the site.
Don’t Let Google Decide What It Shows in Your Brand SERP
[00:08:14] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, it is the first impression I like to say, those first impression counts. Letting Google decide what it shows on your Brand SERP is like letting your mother decide what you’re going to wear when you go to the really cool party. You walk into the room. Boom. In three seconds, everyone’s gone, he’s been dressed by his mother. He looks like a complete punker. We’re not going to be his friend. And it’s going to take you years. If anyone has been at a university here, it takes you years to get over it. And by the time you go over it, you’re at a university and you’ve missed all your opportunities for the cool parties. So, don’t let your mother dress you when you go into the party.
An Analysis of Jason Barnard’s Brand SERP Using Machine Learning by Andrea Volpini of WordLift
[00:08:51] Garrett Sussman: I love that. And that resonates with people. And it’s funny because I know there’s almost like a joke of googling yourself, but I know I’ve done it. And I have probably a seven year rivalry with another, believe it or not, there’s another Garrett Sussman out there who’s like a CPA from somewhere. And I’m trying to get to a point where it’s if you go to page one, you’re only going to see this Garrett Sussman. Now, Andrea Volpini of WordLift actually posted a summary of what Google says about you. What does the Jason Barnard Brand SERP look like? And how do you approach it? How do you change it?
[00:09:28] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): But what he did was that he did an analysis using machine learning. He’s a really smart guy. His company is called WordLift. Andrea Volpini, he was working on relationships and entities and semantics with the Italian Parliament in 1998.
[00:09:43] Garrett Sussman: Wow.
[00:09:44] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): And he says, he has been saying, I’m not an SEO. I actually just deal in databases and Knowledge Graphs. And now, Knowledge Graphs were all part of SEO. So, all of a sudden he’s a big friend of the entire SEO community, which is wonderful. And he’s so smart. What he did was he wrote a script, a machine learning script using Python, which I don’t understand and I’m probably never will, and it summarised my Brand SERP. And it said, this is Jason Barnard. It gave a summary of what Google was saying I was or, let’s say, Google has understood who I am. And I looked at it, and I thought that’s not quite right. It’s mentioning things I don’t really want mentioned, and it’s putting them in the wrong order.
[00:10:23] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, I spent three days updating all the content that I control on my Brand SERP. And if I may say so, that is all the content on my Brand SERP. So, I actually just changed everything and then said, can you run it again? Three days later, literally three days later, the summary it came up with was absolutely perfect. And then he said, okay, Google is Jason Barnard’s CMS.
Managing Your Brand SERP Takes Time to Control the Content You Want
[00:10:48] Garrett Sussman: Wow. Did you expect that?
[00:10:51] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): No, I didn’t actually, to be honest. But I thought I could affect it, but I didn’t think I could control it to that extent to actually get it that focus. But I’ve been working on this for seven years, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s saying if I’ve been working on it for a year, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. It wouldn’t have worked in three days. It would have taken me weeks.
[00:11:10] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): And I was talking to Craig Campbell, who I talked to about this. And initially he said, I don’t care like all the SEOs, I don’t care. It’s easy peasy, lemon squeezy, I rank number one. And then last three months ago, he contact me. He said, oh, lucky you talked to me about that because actually I’ve had a problem. And the fact that somebody is talking dirt about me, I managed, it got onto my Brand SERP. But because I’d listened to you a year ago and I was actually paying attention, I’m not taking control. It took me a week to get rid of it. And if I hadn’t, it would have taken me six months. And that is astonishingly interesting. A Craig Campbell, very honest guy, actually listens to what you’re talking about although it doesn’t look like it at the time. And he came round to it, and I really liked that. I think people come around to it. Some people quicker than others.
[00:12:07] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): What I’ve found is marketers see it as this amazing introduction to SEO. They see it as an introduction to the digital marketing world. And digital marketers tend to see it as the easy option that we don’t need to look at and then hopefully, come around to the fact that it’s actually fundamentally important.
Looking at Your Content Strategy Is an Important Element in Taking Control of Your Brand SERP
[00:12:24] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): And if we come back to the, we were actually talking about the three different elements that I tend to talk about. The second one is looking at your content strategy. You were saying, what comes up on your Brand SERP? What can you expect? If you’ve got a rubbish content marketing strategy, it’s going to be bluelinks, bluelinks, and more bluelinks. If you’ve got decent video strategy, Videos. If you’ve got decent Twitter strategy, Twitter. If you’ve got a decent social strategy, you’re going to get bluelink and it’s going to be LinkedIn and Facebook, but that’s still controlled content, which is great stuff. If you’ve got a great communication strategy about your entity, who you are, what you do, you’re going to get the Knowledge Panel. If you don’t, you wont. It’s as simple as that.
[00:13:04] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, basically, it’s saying is my content strategy any good? Is my communication with Google any good? Yes or no? And the Brand SERP will tell you in an instant, and it’s astonishing. You read it and you just go, your video strategy? Are you spending money on video? Yes. You’re spending in the wrong place. You’re not making the most of this money because your audience aren’t engaging or if they are, you’re not communicating that to Google. And in both cases, Google hasn’t seen the value that these videos bring to your users. And if that’s the case, you don’t have the video boxes. If it is the case i.e. it does bring users and Google’s understood, it brings value to users, then you do have the video boxes.
Another Important Element Is Analysing Your Brand’s Digital Ecosystem
[00:13:46] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, that’s an incredibly quick, easy, cheap analysis of your content strategy. And lastly, it’s an analysis of your brand’s ecosystem, digital ecosystem. If you’ve got crap reviews on your first page, Google thinks they’re important. It thinks they’re relevant. It thinks they’re valuable. It’s thinks they are representative. Don’t just complain about it and try to drown them. Ask yourself, why does Google think this is representative. It might be an authoritative site. It might be that the overwhelming majority of reviews are negative, and you’ve been focusing on one platform. And Google is saying, yeah, that isn’t representative so we’re not going to be showing it. So, you need to take a step back. And we come back to that idea of take a big step back, and you go and let’s look at this from a point, an independent, neutral point of view.
The Difference Between Reputation Management and Brand SERP Management
[00:14:31] Garrett Sussman: I think it’s really interesting when you’re talking about bringing it to reviews and because I’ve worked a lot in the reputation management industry. And when I think about the way reputation management has traditionally been thought of, which is a lot of times it’s pushing down negative content on the first page so a brand looks better in essence. Isn’t the old school idea of reputation management what you’re talking about, which is basically Brand SERP management?
[00:15:01] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Yes. No.
[00:15:02] Garrett Sussman: Okay. How’s it different?
[00:15:04] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): A lot of reputation management is just getting rid of the dirt so we don’t see it. And so they will, I hear about it all the time, and it frustrates me greatly.
[00:15:15] Garrett Sussman: Sorry to trigger you.
[00:15:16] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): No, no, no, I’ll be calm. The word drown is a word I hate. We’ll create some new content and we’ll rank blahdy, blahdy, blahdy, blahdy, blah. And you go, no, it won’t. You’re competing against content that has already been evaluated as valuable and relevant. So, you really have to up the game to create something that’s going to beat that in Google’s mind because it now has the horrid historical data. Drowning might have worked in the past. Unless you’re going to get an article on the New York times or The Guardian or something major like that, you’re unlikely ever to beat it. And what you’re going to do is create lots of guff. You’re going to create spam. You’re spamming Google. That isn’t healthy and it isn’t helpful and it isn’t a good idea.
The Idea of Leapfrogging: Finding Content That Exists Underneath and Pushing It up Bit by Bit
[00:16:01] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): What you need to do is leapfrog. You find content that exists underneath, and you push it up bit by bit over the result. You push enough and the bad result, you push it up over that bad result, and you push it down and you’re away. You’ve won your game. And another really neat trick is because when Google adds the video boxes or the Twitter boxes or another Rich Element, it often kills a bluelink. You can end up with a Brand SERP that’s 10 bluelinks or you can end up with more than 4 bluelinks.
[00:16:30] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, what you can actually do is trigger video boxes, trigger Twitter boxes, and kill a bluelink, which actually means you don’t even need to leapfrog quite so many. So, there is a double attack on this whole idea. And the point here is really interesting is that you’re really going for the root of the problem. You’re proving to Google that that bad result is not representative and not valuable to your audience. And once Google gets rid of it, it’s understood that it’s not relevant and it’s not valuable. And this other content that you’ve been promoting is valuable and is relevant and is representative. And at that point, Google’s opinion of you is loads better than it was before you started.
It’s Not About Drowning Results; It’s About Creating a Narrative Around Your Brand With the Content That Corresponds to Your Users
[00:17:17] Garrett Sussman: I love that. It’s really interesting too, in the context of like agencies, where a lot of the times what they’re doing for clients is crafting a narrative and a story. And it sounds like a lot of what you’re talking about is having the marketing strategy across all the different channels and ultimately controlling the story of your brand. It doesn’t have to be a reactive thing of getting rid of negative mentions. It’s a proactive thing of knowing who you are and making sure Google knows who you are.
[00:17:46] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Exactly. I’m sorry. The reason I went off down that little rabbit hole is because when I started all this, the only thing I ever heard was, oh, you just do reputation management. And I’m saying, no, I don’t, that isn’t the point. And in fact, I had actually quite a negative reaction. And every time anyone came to me with a problem like, oh, I’ve got a bad result, can we get it off the Brand SERP, I was overwhelmed and I’m not interested and I will, no, no, no, no. And I’ve changed that point of view because of my change of perception of it, which is exactly what you just said. It’s not about drowning negative results. It’s about creating a narrative around your brand with the content that corresponds to your users.
Creating Content for Your Audience on a Platform That Is Useful for Them, Packaging It for Google, and Google’s Your Bonus
[00:18:26] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): And that brings us onto, I just did a program with Authoritas and wrote an article for them about content strategy. And I stupidly said to them, oh, I’ll do one about content strategy, no problem at all. And then thought about it and thought, actually, I don’t know anything about it. So, I had to think it through. And what it comes down to is this. We’ve been thinking let’s create content for Google. Let’s package it for Google and try and rank around the way, around the way, around the way, all around the other way around. And you say, okay, where are my audience hanging out? What are they talking about? Or what’s going to be valuable to them on the platforms they are already on without searching for anything?
[00:19:04] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, we’re looking at LinkedIn, we’re looking at Medium, we’re looking at Quora, we’re looking at YouTube. So social channels, forums, all these platforms where your audience are already hanging out, potentially other sites, third-party sites. My audience hangs out on Search Engine Journal. So, obviously, being around on Search Engine Journal, creating content for them is great. You create content for your audience on that platform that is useful for them in the context of that platform, then you repurpose it for your own website, and then you package it for Google, and Google’s your bonus.
Using YouTube as an Example in Creating Video Content and a Site For the Transcript
[00:19:36] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, I’ll take YouTube as an example. You say, okay, I’ll create this piece of content for YouTube. On YouTube, I’ve got the timings with what happens at what time so that Google will show me those nice, lovely little lines that you can click to wonderful stuff, great tricks on YouTube. Then, I bring it back on my site, and I do a transcript. My site has the added value of the transcript which helps Google understand that sees the link to YouTube. It understands the same thing. And for the user, it will present my site when the user wants a transcript or it perceives that the user wants transcripts and present YouTube when it feels the user just wants a video experience.
To Have a Great Brand SERP Means to Have a Great Content Strategy That Is Offsite
[00:20:12] Garrett Sussman: That makes a ton. It’s really interesting. The analogy I think of is one of our tools, Fanbooster, as social media is like what you write in a tweet can’t be the exact same content for LinkedIn and for Facebook. But if you repurpose it slightly for that audience, it’s going to resonate. And then, you ultimately benefit from the results. Jason, I could talk to you about this. You are The Brand SERP Guy. I could talk to you about this stuff forever because it’s really fascinating. And it matters to both people and brands.
[00:20:40] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Just to tie, sorry. The reason I was talking about content because it wasn’t my special, it isn’t my special subject, but it is now. Because all of this content comes up on your brand and your Brand SERPs reflects whether or not you’re doing it right on all these other platforms because the Brand SERP isn’t just your site. It’s going to be YouTube. It’s going to be Twitter. It’s going to be Facebook. It’s going to be all the sites you put your images on. It’s going to be Search Engine Journal. It’s going to be whatever sites are relevant to your audience and your content on those sites. Which means that you, by definition, to have a great Brand SERP, have to have a great content strategy that is offsite. And that your onsite version of that content isn’t appropriation or a reworking of the content that you initially created for the other platform. And that for me is marketing.
[00:21:32] Garrett Sussman: Oh, yeah. We’re going to have to do a whole other episode at some point because it just occurred to me I know you’ve engaged with Bill Slawski who writes a lot about patents.
[00:21:40] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): I love Bill Slawski. Isn’t he such a nice guy.
What Is the Movement Cause of Jason Barnard (The Brand SERP Guy) Right Now?
[00:21:43] Garrett Sussman: Such a nice guy. And he was talking about, when we start talking about like offsite or off digital signals and for local and how that could potentially influence your Brand SERP in the patents there, but that is for another time. One thing, and I know you’re biting your tongue because you want to dive in. I do want to ask you at the end of each podcast, Jason, I’ve been asking my guests in the context of the pandemic, of Black Lives Matter, of the female empowerment movement causes like the world is a crazy place. What is your right now cause? So what is something that’s important to you? It could be a charity. It could be something that you just do in your community or with your neighbors that you would want to amplify to our audience.
[00:22:27] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Yeah. In fact, yeah. Empathy. All of those situations, causes, whatever you’re going to call them, it all comes down to empathy. Black Lives Matter, Me Too, even COVID, it comes down to can I understand or start to understand. Obviously, I can’t understand other people’s situations, but I can start to try to understand and have empathy for the people I’m faced with. In COVID, the example is very simple. It’s wearing a mask. If we can have empathy for the society that surrounds us and we can work towards the idea that if I wear the mask, even if I don’t agree, even if I’m not ill, it helps everybody feel better about all this. And it could potentially and probably will help to shorten the suffering, the horrible situation we’re all in from every point of view.
[00:23:28] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): So, having empathy for other people around you who have problems that you don’t necessarily, with COVID, a good example would be the little old lady downstairs who’s in the pharmacy. I don’t wear a mask. It’s not cool because that little old lady or that little lady who might be incredibly frail and who might die from the fact that I don’t wear a mask. So having some empathy, even if she’s a horrible little old lady who complains all the time, it doesn’t matter. So, yeah. Empathy is my special call out for today.
Connect With Jason Through Twitter, LinkedIn, or Just Simply Search His Name
[00:24:02] Garrett Sussman: I think that’s a great cause. And it is truly important, especially in the context of where we’re at. Now, Jason, obviously someone could just go and search you on Google and find you because you’re The Brand SERP Guy. But if someone did want to find you online, what is the best way to get in touch?
[00:24:19] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Right. If you search my name, I can probably name the results you’ll see. My site is number one, and you can see a description of me by myself then the Twitter boxes or the Twitter link, depending on which country you’re in because Brand SERPs vary from country to country quite significantly more than you would imagine. So, you can just click on that and get my Twitter. Then, LinkedIn is a bit lower. Search Engine Journal is there, and then pretty much my entire life story in the Knowledge Panel on the right. So, I’m actually going to for once just leave this to search my name, come and find me, and I expect and hope that what you find is appreciable and lovely.
[00:24:58] Garrett Sussman: Oh my god. Amazing. Thank you so much for being my guest today.
[00:25:02] The Brand SERP Guy (Jason Barnard): Thank you so much, Garrett. That was brilliant.
[00:25:05] Garrett Sussman: Absolutely. This is Garrett Sussman, the head of content at Traject for the Agency Ahead Podcast by Traject. Go get ahead.