SEO & Search: 9 Tips for Managing an Ambiguous Brand

woman-holiding-applesHow do you ensure a brand with a somewhat peculiar name has prominence in search results for its brand terms, while not attracting irrelevant clicks to the site that will increase bounce rates, and waste ad budget in pay-per-click (PPC)?

One famous example of search ambiguity is Apple – are searchers looking for the corporation that sells computers, iPhones, iPods, and iPads, or are they searching for the fruit? Granted, by now Apple is head and shoulders above most brands. The Apple name is so well known that consumers instantly know who they are, what they do, and if their site is the right one to answer the question they’ve posed to Google or Bing.

The same isn’t true for most ambiguous brands – they need search listings to make clear what they offer and pre-qualify clicks. Examples include

  • “Cobham”, a defense contractor that is also a UK town
  • “Yellow Door”, a PR agency
  • “Snog”, a frozen yogurt brand or social network
  • “Fopp”, a record shop.

What’s a marketer to when managing a brand with an ambiguous meaning? Here are nine tips.

1. Clear Tag Line & Descriptor

Obvious for any brand, but vital when there’s ambiguity. These need to make clear succinctly what the brand does, and should be part of the wider brand guidelines to ensure the branding flows through all channels.

2. Pick a Qualifying Domain Name

Pick a domain name that clarifies what the site offers. Snog (of the frozen yogurt sort) uses “” – which works, if you know what they do. It does convey their “cheeky” branding, and they use the next items on my list to qualify clicks further.

3. SEO Titles & Descriptions

We all know titles and descriptions influence what appears in search listings – and ideally they should also reflect the first item on my list. Both “Snog” the social network and “Snog” the frozen yogurt take away any ambiguity with theirs.


4. Schema Markup

Using schema and micro data also helps clarify who you are and what you do. Although there is no schema markup for the industry you’re in, there are markups for local business types, founder names, addresses, articles you’ve written, events you’ve run or attended, and many more.

5. Google Places

If your business has a physical address (even only a back office), consider making sure it’s listed and optimized in Google Places. Make sure to use all of the relevant fields.

6. Social Profiles & Vanity URLs

Another series of pages/profiles that can appear in search results for the ambiguous term – not to mention their obvious role in social campaigns and SEO. Make sure you set up clean vanity URLs while there – they’re more likely to attract inbound links as well as looking more professional.

7. Industry Profiles

Most industries have industry associations that offer profile pages. Listings on these are important as potential customers will see them, but also because, again, they’re another page that search engines will find.

8. PPC Setup

Getting the setup of PPC campaigns wrong on an ambiguous word can waste time and money. Researching keywords and negative keywords and the right match types is key to striking a balance to cast a wide enough net to capture any relevant long tail searches – while not capturing impressions that are irrelevant and reduce click-through rate or waste ad funds. Copy is vital too – you need to make sure in those few, squeezed characters, what the site offers – ideally in line with the brand’s tagline/descriptor and with an eye to the supporting SEO listing, too.

9. Beyond Search: Wider Marketing & PR

Wider marketing and PR efforts can create a strong reaction between an ambiguous brand name and what the company does. For example, if you walked up to any adult in the UK and said “What do elephant do?” you would, jokes aside, be told they offered car insurance. Wider marketing efforts have create a clear association – and that has translated into both specific search strings with volume (“elephant car insurance”) and a position one listing in results for “elephant”.


If you find yourself working with a brand with an ambiguous meaning, you can carve out a strong presence in search listings and attract qualified clicks and resulting sales; but it does take time and patience.

Educate the client/manager you’re working for about the challenges ahead. Managing their expectations is key. Like any search campaign, the more it’s worked on in cooperation, the better the results.

Related reading

How to lead SEO teams and track its performance effectively: Experts tips
SEO is a team sport: How brands and agencies organize work
Seven SEO tips for image link building to generate more traffic
transformation of search summit 2019