Taking Control of Your Brand SERPs with Jason Barnard

brand serps jason barnard
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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. 

The highlights:

  • [1:24] What it means to be the brand SERP guy.
  • [3:13] The definition of brand SERPs.
  • [5:51] Evaluating brand SERPs.
  • [9:30] Changing brand SERPs.
  • [14:59] The difference between reputation management and brand SERP management.
  • [20:43] The intersection between brand SERPs and content strategy.
  • [22:24] Jason’s cause.

The insights:

What it means to be the brand SERP guy

Garrett asked Jason what it meant to be the “Brand SERP Guy.”

“It means I place myself right in the center of something I think I’ve discovered, but it’s not something new. It’s just something nobody was paying attention to.” 

He admits he’s been talking about it for the past 7 years. 

“Which makes it sound like I’m boring and repetitive, but 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 and to people.”

Jason also says understanding brand SERPs can even give you a better understanding of what Google is doing with all these algorithms. 

“I came up with the brand SERP guy because I wanted people to associate me with brand SERPs because brand SERPs is my number one top favorite thing. I think it’s original, I think it’s useful, I think it’s overlooked.” 

The definition of brand SERPs

Your brand SERP is your “exact match brand name SERP.”

Jason says that focusing on that search is way more interesting than most people imagine. 

“It’s the best rabbit hole in the business. Once you start looking at it, it’s terribly focused. It’s this controlled environment, where you actually have much more control than you would initially imagine.”

He says that brand SERPs give lots of insight about what’s going on with your brand, and what he calls your brand’s “digital echo system.”

“You think it’s very limiting and very boring, but in fact, it’s 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 that. And it’s such an insight.” 

How do you evaluate your brand SERP?

Jason says the first step is to 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 echo system and your brand’s content strategy, or you’re a client, or a prospect, or a journalist, or an investor who is going to find out more about this brand, or looking to another gate to it.”

He says you have to become empathetic to all these different people who are searching for your brand. 

The Google brand SERP is the new business card.

Marketers who aren’t digital marketers get this immediately, whereas it ironically takes digital marketers a lot more time to cotton to the idea. 

“People like Blumenthal have been saying it’s your home page for years. So I’m not coming out with anything new. It’s your business card if you’re not a local business and it’s your home page if you are a local business.”

He points out most people don’t type in domain names. They type brand names into Google, then continue on to the site. 

“So it is the first impression that counts. Letting Google decide what Google 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 says he’s been dressed by his mother, he looks like a complete plonker, we’re not going to be his friend. It’s going to take you years. If anyone’s been to university here, it takes you years to get over it.” 

Changing brand SERPs

Jason speaks of his friend, Andrea Volpini, who did an analysis of Jason’s own brand SERPs and discussed it on Jason’s podcast.

“He did an analysis using machine learning,” Jason says. “He’s a really smart guy. He was working on relationships, entities, and semantics with the Italian parliament in 1998. He says he’s not an SEO, he deals in databases and knowledge graphs. And now knowledge graphs are part of SEO.”

Volpini wrote a machine learning script using Python.

“It summarized my brand SERP and it said: this is Jason Barnard. It gave a summary of what Google was saying I was. I looked at it and said: that’s not quite right!

jason barnard Google knowledge panel

Barnard’s Knowledge Graph

It was mentioning things Jason didn’t necessarily want mentioned and was putting them in the wrong order. 

“I spent three days updating all the content 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 said: can you run it again three days later? 

Literally, three days later, the summary came up. It was absolutely perfect. Then he said: OK. Google is Jason Barnard’s CMS.”

Jason says the only reason he was able to control his brand SERP to this extent was that he’d been working on it for years. 

He also speaks a little bit about what your SERPs tell you. 

“If you don’t have a rubbish content marketing strategy, it’s going to be blue links. If you’ve got a decent video strategy, videos. If you’ve got a decent Twitter strategy, Twitter. If you’ve got a decent social strategy it’s going to be blue links to LinkedIn and Facebook, but that’s still controlled content, which is great stuff. If you’ve got a great communication strategy about your entity, about who you are and what you do, you’re going to get the knowledge panel. If you don’t, you won’t.”

He says that even if you have videos, for example, they might not show up on your SERPs. In that case: 

“Google hasn’t seen the value these videos have for your users. If that’s the case you don’t have video boxes. If it does bring value to users and Google has understood it does bring value to users, then you do have video boxes. 

So it’s an incredibly quick, easy, cheap analysis of your content strategy. Lastly, it’s an analysis of your brand’s digital echo system. 

If you’ve got crap reviews on your first page, Google thinks they’re important, they think they’re valuable, it thinks they’re representative. Don’t just complain about it and try to drown them. Ask yourself why Google thinks it’s 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’s saying: that isn’t representative and we won’t be showing it. So, we come back to that idea of: take a big step back.”

The difference between reputation management and brand SERP management

Jason bristles, just a little, and in a friendly way, at the idea that brand SERPs and reputation management are the same thing. 

“A lot of reputation management is just getting rid of the dirt so we don’t see it. I hear about it all the time and it frustrates me greatly.”

He doesn’t like the notion that you can just “drown” bad SERPs results.

“We’ll create new content and it’ll rank? No, it won’t. You’re competing against content that has already been evaluated as valuable and as relevant. So you really have to up the game to create something that’s going to beat that in Google now.” 

He points out that Google has historical data. Drowning bad mentions doesn’t work anymore. 

“Unless you’re going to get an article in The New York Times or The Guardian or something obvious like that, you’re unlikely to ever beat it. What you’re going to do is create lots of guff. You’re going to create spam. You’re spamming Google. It isn’t healthy, and it isn’t helpful, and it isn’t a good idea.”

He says what you need to do is leapfrog existing good content over those results, bit by bit, or add different kinds of content.

“When Google adds the knowledge graph, the video boxes, or the Twitter boxes, or another rich element, it often kills a blue link.” 

He says the idea is to prove to Google that the bad link is not representative and not valuable to your audience. 

“Once Google gets rid of it, it’s understood that is not relevant, that is not valuable. The other content you’re promoting is valuable, is relevant, is representative. And at that point, Google’s opinion of you is loads better than it was before you started.”

The intersection between brand SERPs and content strategy

Jason says he’s not a content specialist, but he does touch on it a little. 

“All this content comes up on your brand, and your brand SERPs reflect whether or not you’re doing it right on all these other platforms.” 

He says it’s not just your own site. It’s YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, all the sites you put 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. 

It means, by definition, if you’re going to have a great brand SERP then you’re going to have a great content strategy that’s off-site. And that on-site version of the content is an appropriation or working of the content that you initially created for the other platform.” 

Jason Barnard Google brand serp example

For help creating different kinds of rich content, take a look at Fanbooster, a Traject’s social media management software that lets you easily manage your social content in different places, and encourages you to tool your content on each site to a format that works best for it.

What's your right now cause?

Jason would just like listeners to focus on the principles of empathy. 

“All the situations in the world, it all comes down to empathy. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. 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.”

He uses Covid as an example.

“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 whole situation we’re all in from every point of view.”

Connect with Jason Barnard

Want to get in touch with Jason? Just Google Jason Barnard. Or….

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Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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