Audit the Brand Environment then Sites & Profiles

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Audit the Brand’s Environment first, then Sites & Profiles

Digital/online audits usually commence with a deep dive into websites or social profiles making precise counts of this or that. Before that stage, though, it pays dividends to step back and take a broader view of the brand — as search engines do. A brand lives in a complex environment of categories, topics, collections and graphs.

online, a brand is part of digital categories & topics

online, a brand lives in categories and topics, collections and graphs


Context: Brand Digital Footprint or Signature

Search engines don’t evaluate a site or profile in isolation. Search algorithms contrast, compare, relate and score them against others in the same category. They want to know how Brand X stacks up against others in its Web category and its social presence. In other words, they look for contextual signals — the brand’s entire digital signature — before they start evaluating code and keywords to determine rankings:

  • Is the Brand a big fish in a little pond or vice-versa?
  • Is it central or fringe to topical issues and conversations in its category?
  • How relevant is it to particular search queries or paid ads?
  • Does it attract high- or low-consideration Engagement actions from its audience?
  • How popular is it in its business topics?
  • What’s the trend in Web and social traffic, sessions, conversions, endorsements?
  • Does it have a lot of quality inbound signals that suggest it’s an Authority
  • Does it have a lot of useful outbound signals that indicate it’s a hub?

Tip >> Before counting keyword density on-page, measure page density in categories and topics.

Site & Social: Degrees of Separation

Search engines want to assess how visitors interact with the brand’s website and social profiles, and with others comparable in the same category.

For a Site:

  • How interactive is it?
  • Is it social?
  • How authoritative are the domain and pages relative to other similar brands?
  • What type of recognition do visitors give it?
  • Do other trusted sites link to it or to its competitors?

For Social:

  • How active are the brand’s website visitor with its social profiles and its digital assetsd?
  • Does social activity off-site drive on-site activity?
  • What’s the engagement momentum relative to other similar brands?
  • How tightly are the Brand’s profiles connected to influencers in its category?
  • How involved is the Brand with social objects popular with its audience?

Tip >> Search engines don’t “count” links, likes and shares etc like humans do… they weight, score and often ignore them.

Messaging: Is the Message sent the One Received?

A Brand may assume it’s identified with topics A and B, but Web and social search engines may have a different take on it — because they may ignore or not find some brand content, and because they’re looking at every brand and every profile in the category. So, for example, the Brand’s KW cloud, or instances about it, may be different from what it indends in its messaging.

There’s often a gap between human perception and reality — or, in machine terms, between declared and observed data. It makes sense to understand and close this gap before launching a new campaign.

Tip >> Sampling humans can produce biased results, whereas querying machines reveals actual baseline knowledge.

Insights for Managers & Marketers

A pre-audit diagnostic shouldn’t focus on what’s right, wrong or missing on a brand’s web or social presence. Instead, it should seek to understand how search engines see the environment the brand’s sites and profiles live in. This can reveal real insights for managers and marketers, such as:

  • Is the brand language reaching the intended audience?
  • Is the audience amplifying the brand’s language in social discussions?
  • Is this activity generating the right sort of signals for search engines?
  • Are these signals actually being recorded by search engines?
  • Is the brand seen to be active in places it would be expected to be?
  • Where are the places the brand is not active but should be?

Once you understand how search engines view the brand’s category and competitors, an audit of its sites and profiles will make a lot more sense.

Brand Environment Audits Work

Following are a few summaries of some case histories that unearthed surprising and actionable results that would not have been found by only looking at websites and profiles.

  • A global FMCG brand discovered that two-thirds of its audience attributed its multi-million $ advertising campaign slogan to its major competitor.
  • A fast food chain realized that customers were using a different vocabulary for concepts the brand was stressing, such as value and nutrition.
  • A construction group found that neither search engines nor its online audience associated it with its “sustainable” proposition.


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