Online Branding: Can You Pay to be Successful?

Have you ever had an encounter with Cambridge Who’s Who? Well, I just did. I’m not even sure why I decided to engage with the organization being as though I distinctly remember a giant encyclopedia-like book with profiles of random business people collecting dust in the storage room at my last job … and it was the Who’s Who book courtesy of Cambridge.

But it got me thinking about paying for your brand presence. There are three types of approaches to promoting your business brand online. You can:

  1. Buy online advertising space through paid search tactics like PPC, banner ads, promoted ads, etc. (you could even go so far as paying for links to help boost your site, although we all know that’s a no-no).
  2. Go strictly all organic, implementing SEO best practices, participating in social media and so on.
  3. Engage in a healthy mix of both, using organic and paid search tactics (minus the Black Hat techniques) to create a well-rounded Internet brand presence.
Scratched Red Question Mark (Beltsville, MD)

My question about registries like Cambridge is this: Is someone really going to look on the Cambridge registry and say, “Now, there’s an accomplished person I can trust!”? Heck, anyone can see your professional profile on LinkedIn and that’s free.

Same goes for branding your business online. Would you rather go to a restaurant that is simply listed in a local merchant directory, or would you prefer to choose a place based on things like user reviews, special offers and customer engagement?

To me, a listing in the Cambridge registry is kind of like the equivalent to a Yellow Pages ad. Sure, you’re there. Yes, it’s one more way to get your name out. But in the end, it’s the merchants/professionals that add value to the community that are going to stand out.

Less Expensive Ways to Build Your Brand

To be fair, let’s talk about two obvious roadblocks when building a personal brand or business brand online.

  1. Lack of knowledge.
  2. Lack of money.

Let’s address the first point. Not everyone has public-facing positions. Maybe there are professionals out there who are trying to build a personal brand but don’t know where to start, and something like the Cambridge directory seems very useful.

Before you shell out all that cash, remember we are living in a digital world, where information-sharing is often free. So, here are a few tips for building your personal brand (these can be applied to business brands as well!):

  • Create a blog. You have something unique to share with the world, even if you don’t think you do. Nobody has had the exact experiences you have, so go out there and start sharing. Build a community through a blog, keeping in mind how you can be helpful to your readers.
  • Participate in social media. Why pay for a listing when you can get out there and engage with professionals of all levels in nearly any industry imaginable? Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are free and extremely powerful tools for networking and building your brand.
  • Join professional associations. This bullet and the next are both offline activities and kind of like the equivalent of paid search. You are paying a fee to engage with people that matter. But unlike just a business listing or online ad, this is face-to-face contact where you can make meaningful relationships by becoming involved in your local professional community.
  • Go to conferences/seminars. You may need to save money for these types of events, but the connections you make can be extremely valuable (not to mention the education).

Investing in SEO and Paid Search

If you only have a set amount of money to spend to build your brand, you’ll have to weigh the benefits of time invested and ROI.

For businesses looking for more exposure online, start implementing SEO best practices. Focus on not only making sure your website is in tip-top shape for the search engines to crawl and index it, but also look into paid search.

Implementing SEO on your site takes knowledge, which takes resources and time. In a recent post, I outlined some of the ways professionals could educate themselves on the basics of Internet marketing.

On every search engine results page, we see a mix of organic results and paid results. While the layout and delivery may be changing (e.g., social media and local search are affecting the way we view results), there will always be an emphasis on both “natural” and paid placements.

Therefore, paid search is and will likely always be a complementary tactic that can help solidify your business brand online.

I spoke with Javier Ruesga here at Bruce Clay, Inc., who gave me some insight into how to get the most from your paid search:

“PPC is one way of driving traffic to a site, the other is SEO, which is more labor-intensive and requires a longer time investment.

But ultimately, it boils down to how well-structured, compelling and transparent the website is, which ultimately will be the decisive factor in acquiring new business or gaining a conversion.

In PPC, besides having a well-structured campaign (themed campaigns/ad groups), adding long-tail terms, where less competition and cost savings can occur would be recommended, keep in mind: relevance is key.

The messaging is critical. Keep the ad copy fresh, compelling and relevant in order to stimulate conversions. I would also encourage having separate campaigns for search, display and mobile networks.

To explain, Google has search ads (those typically displayed in a Google search), the contextual/display network ads (targeting related articles, website, Gmail, etc) and mobile ads. These can either be used together or isolated.

Having separate campaigns by network allows for better budget spend and bid management.

Incidentally, the messaging should be different (search ads should have strong call-to-actions, whereas display ads are more targeted towards the information seeker).

Furthermore, having separate local campaigns versus national (if applicable) allows for a greater focus on areas served, especially when multiple locations (brick and mortar) exist.

Even if you don’t have multiple locations/destinations, but the product/service is available/deliverable online, I would strongly encourage having both local and national campaigns.

Also, Google has made available various ad extension options; I would encourage implementing all of the available (location, phone, site links).

Taking it a step further, I suggest creating remarketing campaigns and establishing audience settings to capture additional market share within the display network.

Tie all Google accounts together to get the most exposure, such as AdWords, Google Places, Google Merchant Account (if applicable) and Analytics, etc., and use all the vehicles within Google that help promote offers and stimulate conversion results.”

Your Brand: The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that sometimes you do have to pay for placement to help build your brand. But, you always have to consider your return on investment.

Ultimately, your personal or business brand is going to be more credible if you consistently add value, are active in your community and/or industry and spend time nurturing your relationships.

So for me, the Cambridge deal just isn’t worth the money for what they are offering. But, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic. Please weigh in below.

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

See Jessica's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (4)
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4 Replies to “Online Branding: Can You Pay to be Successful?”

Hi Jessica,

Hope all is well. Very insightful article. You make some great points and overall, I think the bottom line lies in your ability to create a healthy balance of positive brand reinforcement with a balanced (multi-faceted) marketing approach. The ultimate goal being to create a cumulative effect that takes on a life of it’s own. BCI Rocks!!!!
Take care.

Well, thanks, Jeremiah! You’ve got it — showing up a little everywhere you can is the best way to keep people thinking about your brand. Glad you joined the discussion. Don’t be a stranger.

I think it’s important to do both paid advertising (i.e. PPC) and organic advertising. PPC is a short term solution to lead generation, but organic SEO provides a lasting, optimized web presence that can brand you as a true industry expert.

Lori Aitkenhead
Studio Center Total Production

You are right on, Lori! Thank you for your comment. Hope to hear from you again.


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