ELI5: brand combination searches
Who creates the content matters just as much for SEO as the answer itself
Welcome to the Growth Memo (read time: 8.1 min)
Brand combination searches make your site indispensable.
You’re surely aware of brand searches. You search for “amazon”; Google shows you results from amazon.com. The same principle also works for brand combination searches, like “amazon bar soap”. It’s a combination of a brand and a generic keyword. The difference: brand combination searches can be powerful signals of relevance for generic keywords.
There is no better example of the power of brand searches than Reddit. The web’s largest forum connects users like a massive international airport serves as a hub between cities.
🗞️According to the Washington Post, Reddit is in licensing negotiations with generative AI companies and might go as far as excluding Google from crawling its site. The article quotes an anonymous source working at Reddit saying, “Reddit can survive without search”. (source)
Whether Reddit can really survive without Search is debatable, but the company is in a better position than ever to negotiate with Google. Semrush data shows that Reddit jumped from #24th in June to #11th in October on the list of the web’s largest sites. Its organic traffic has exploded.
💻Site:reddit.com why is Reddit’s traffic skyrocketing?
Reddit’s negotiations with generative AI markers come after a series of protests against a massive price hike for Reddit’s API, during which 9,000 out of 3,125,000 subreddits went dark (set to private). If Reddit is like an international airport, a good chunk of its smaller cities decided to opt out.
You would expect a site to lose traffic since Google can’t crawl private subreddits, but the opposite is true. Reddit’s organic traffic exploded in mid-June and 2.5x’ed by mid-October. (source)
Reddits organic traffic spike (starting June 14th) offset the dramatic dip in direct traffic caused by the protests that started on June 12th. The two events seem correlated, but they’re not.
Instead, it seems Google pushed Reddit up in the search results because it wants to serve more user-generated content. Quora, another massive UGC platform, gained traffic around the same time as Reddit.
🗺️How to grow brand combination searches
Unsatisfied with Google’s search results, users learned that appending “reddit” to their search queries allows them to bypass Reddit’s poor onsite search. Google eventually decided to build a custom Search integration for Reddit and Quora to surface more results from Discussions and Forums. (source)
Semrush data shows that out of the ~118M monthly visits Reddit gets from organic search, 45% come from queries including the term “reddit” (US). Compare this to a powerhouse site like Amazon, which gets only 31% of traffic from brand combination searches.
But Google also propelled Reddit’s ranks to top positions, likely because its machine learning systems recognized that Reddit is a valuable source for all sorts of questions and information. Google had no choice but to give Reddit more organic visibility. And it makes sense. Why, for example, wouldn’t Google rank Shopify higher for “business name generator” when there is a significant number of people searching for “shopify business name generator”?
The question for us then is: how can you drive brand combination searches and make your site indispensable?
The good news: brand combination searches are easy to measure for yourself and against rivals. Look at brand combination keyword impressions in Search Console or keyword search volume in your rank tracker of choice. You can even compare it with brand combination search volume for rival brands and measure whether it correlates with ranking position.
The bad news: it’s an outcome, not a tactic. Brand combination searches are the result of a) outstanding content quality, b) great user experience, c) solved problems. You want to focus on defining, measuring and improving positive engagement.
For content, positive engagement can be soft/hard conversions, time on page or scroll depth (for more depth: How the best companies measure content quality). For tools, you want to measure how many visitors make it to the next screen, enter a query or click the CTA when they land on the tool page.
Once you define how to measure engagement, the real work begins: raising the content / tool quality and experience. That’s when you run tests, survey users and record their actions with tools like Microsoft Clarity.
Great airports have quick and easy access to your gate, restaurants, and get you through security quickly. Spoiler: most airports don’t. In the same vein, many websites or platforms bury the lede or have too much friction before you see value. Reddit certainly had ups and downs but was able to keep its large and passionate user base over decades and ended up becoming the largest forum on the web. The reward is a massive amount of brand combination searches that Google rewards with lots of organic search traffic.
🌐The bigger picture: Sundair PichAI
Reddit’s negotiations and API price hikes happen in the context of AI companies scraping the platform to train their LLMs (large language models). Reddit is an LLM goldmine because it’s moderated by humans. Few sources on the web can provide such a high signal-to-noise ratio (Wikipedia is another).
The problem: there is no easy way for platforms to protect themselves against AI scrapers. They can block GPTbot and others in their robots.txt - long term, I estimated 84% of sites to do it - but AI crawlers can simply bypass the robots.txt by using public web indices like Common Crawl.
Ironically, Google wants more human content in the search results while also working towards a future of AI Search. On the Q2 2023 earnings call, Sundar PichAI said about SGE: “Over time, this will just be how search works.” (source)
If Google’s recent changes and algorithm updates have shown one clear pattern, it’s that who creates the content matters just as much for SEO as the answer itself. Product Review updates prioritize reviews that prove the author has actually used the product. Google’s content quality concept is EEAT (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness). The Helpful Content System rewards “people-first content”.
My take: however you create content, make it so good people search explicitly for your brand.