Optimizing for Local Search: Branded vs Non-Branded Keywords



46% of all Google searches have local intent. Part of being found in local searches has to do with optimizing your locations to rank for the right keywords. This means knowing which keywords are bringing in the right customers.

Oftentimes businesses only focus on branded keywords because they have a higher click-through-rate and return on investment. Unfortunately, if you’re only focusing on branded keywords, you’re only reaching a small percentage of your potential audience. You are not growing your brand to new consumers. Here’s a look at why non-branded keywords are the key to optimizing for local search.


What are Branded Keywords?

Branded keywords refer to a search query that contains your brand name. For example, “Starbucks coffee”. Starbucks is the brand name in this search query.

Users who conduct a branded keyword search are typically already familiar with your brand, They may have already made a purchase from you in the past and intend to make another.



What are Non-Branded Keywords?

Non-branded keywords are search queries that don’t contain a brand name.  For example, “flu shots”. You can find flu shots at CVS Minute Clinic, a local urgent care, or some other location nearby.

Non-branded keywords are a great way for new customers to find your brand. Not to mention, there are a lot more non-branded keywords you can optimize for than branded keywords.


Branded vs Non-Branded Keywords, which is better for Local SEO?

We get this question all the time, and when it comes to local search, we can’t stress enough the power of optimizing for non-branded keywords and here’s why:

Local Search is Mobile Search

When it comes to mobile search, users are on-the-go looking for instant gratification. In the past 2 years alone, mobile searches for “open” + “now” + “near me” have grown 200%. Most mobile searches are not using branded keywords to find your business. When you’re hungry you’d search for “pizza near me” not the name of the business. The urgency of local search usually outweighs brand loyalty, leaving the vast majority of local search queries made using non-branded keywords.

Non-Branded Keywords Build Your Online Visibility

If you want to reach new customers, bring more visitors to your business, and rank higher in more searches, you need to be optimizing for non-branded keywords. What’s the point of creating content to bring in more customers if you’re not going to optimize non-branded keywords so new customers can find you? On average, over ⅔ of the impressions on local listings come from non-branded keywords. If you’re looking to increase the visibility of your local listings, non-branded keywords are the way to go.

In order to improve your listing visibility make sure your listings include the right categories. Google allows you to pick a primary category as well as some additional categories. A category is essentially an unbranded keyword that you want your business listing to rank for. Be specific as you can with your categories, you don’t need to rank for every category, just the ones that make the most sense for your product or services.


Impressions breakdown (Google Insights via the Chatmeter dashboard)

Optimizing for Branded Keywords come at an Opportunity Cost

We hear about brands only optimizing for their branded keywords. For example, Gap is one of the biggest suppliers of school uniforms (I mean they practically invented khaki pants). But they continuously fail to optimize for non-branded keywords like school uniforms and as a result, they don’t appear in search results (I looked as far as page 3). They’re missing out on millions of potential customers by only focusing on their branded keywords.



It’s true, branded keywords have higher conversion rates, but this is due to the fact that people who are making branded searches are further along in the buying process. They are already familiar with your brand and have formed some level of trust.

By failing to optimize for non-branded keywords you are losing out on new customers. Once you have a loyal customer you don’t need to allocate as much of your ad budget towards retaining them. In fact, customers spend 66% more on brands they are loyal to and they’re 17 times more likely to recommend that brand to friends and family. Instead, you should be focusing on attracting more customers who may turn into loyal fans.

What about local search ads?

In 2016, Google introduced local search ads in an effort to increase foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores. Unlike regular Google Ads, local search ads appear in Google Maps and geo-fencing keeps your ads targeted on your local customer base.



When it comes to bidding on keywords, non-branded keywords have more competition and therefore cost more. Don’t let the high cost discourage you, non-branded keywords have a much larger audience due to the volume of non-branded searches. Creating ads for non-branded keywords increase your online visibility and help to bring in more foot traffic.

If you’re not already optimizing your site for non-branded keywords, you might have a low quality score when you attempt to run local ads. This can affect your ad performance, position, and price. If you plan on running ads at any point in the future be sure you’re optimizing for non-branded keywords now.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t forget about branded keywords altogether. The biggest reason to bid on branded keywords is because your competition is doing it. They’re targeting your audience by bidding on your keywords. By bidding on your own branded keywords you’ll keep competitors from claiming all the ad space on local searches for your brand.

Part of establishing a strong local SEO plan includes optimizing for the right keywords. Identifying and optimizing for non-branded keywords is vital if you plan to attract new customers. Whether you plan to use local search ads or focus on organic local SEO, it’s important to research, test, and optimize your keywords, branded and non-branded.



Interested in seeing which non-branded keywords you could be ranking for? Schedule a complimentary brand audit to see how Chatmeter can help you find local SEO success.