Tracking a brand with keyword research

September 06, 2012

Historically brands have invested heavily in understanding the ‘awareness’ of their product. This is a time consuming, expensive and often statistically dubious process.

Querying search engines for the number of times a brand is searched for can provide a significantly better gauge of a brand’s awareness among it’s target population.

Let’s take as a simple example the Canadian airline market. Canada’s commercial airways are a two-horse race between Air Canada & WestJet who vie for the domestic market.

In June 2012 there were 368,000 Google searches from within Canada containing ‘westjet’ versus 2,740,000 containing ‘air canada’. So Air Canada appears a clear winner.

But a closer look reveals that there were 1,830,000 additional searches containing ‘west jet’. Not the brand’s approved name but nearly 5 times more popular.

So if we compare again but this time including the additional ‘west jet’ searches the score is 2,198,000 for WestJet versus 2,740,000 for Air Canada, still lower but much closer.

The lesson here is that consumers can’t be relied upon to search for your approved brand term, always consider including misspellings. This is particularly the case if you have a name which can be easily misunderstood.

For example mobile phone retailer Phones4U has a weird and wonderful presence in the mind’s of consumers.

Phones4U brand terms UK August 2012 Broad Match Google Searches
**Phones4U brand terms****Search volume**
phones for u823,000
phones 4 u673,000
phones 4u673,000
phone 4 u550,000
phones for you246,000
phones 4 you74,000
fones 4 u6,600

Or if you have spent years educating your market about a different name, witness the 5,500 searches per month for ‘midland bank’ despite former bank ‘ The Midland Bank’ being wholly subsumed by the HSBC in 1992.


Every time a search is made it comes from an IP address which gives a very approximate indication of the searchers location.

Armed with this Google can also represent the interest in a brand, relative to all the other searches being made, geographically.

July 2012 Google Phrase Match searches for ‘west jet

A heat map showing July 2012 Google Phrase Match searches for 'west jet'
This heat map, perhaps unsurprisingly, shows how WestJet is stronger in the West of Canada, it’s home market.


An important caveat is that many people will have cause to return to your website for transactional reasons e.g. an online backing customer checking their account, or an airline customer checking in.

Thus brand term searches don’t always accurately represent your brand’s popularity versus a brand with out similar online functionality.

Because of this lack of visibility into the ‘frequency’ per member of the searching population the number of brand term searches is best used as an abstract measurement between similar businesses.

Also, as ever, it is also important to consider synonyms. To use the hackneyed example – while ‘apple’ might represent the consumer technology behemoth, it may also be a search for a record company, a flavor, or even a humble piece of fruit.


Brand term search is, used carefully an incredibly useful, statistically valid and near free indicator of your brand’s popularity versus that of a competitor.

Chris Reynolds is a Bay Area Product Manager with 15 years of international experience in SEO, digital marketing, UX, analytics and team management.

© 2022 Chris Reynolds