Competing Against Brands & Nouns Of The Same Name

Establishing and building a brand has always been both a challenge and an investment, even before the days of the internet.

One thing the internet has done, however, is make the world a lot smaller, and the frequency of brand (or noun) conflicts has greatly increased.

In the past year, I’ve been emailed and asked questions about these conflicts at conferences more than I have in my entire SEO career.

When you share your brand name with another brand, town, or city, Google has to decide and determine the dominant user interpretation of the query – or at least, if there are multiple common interpretations, the most common interpretations.

Noun and brand conflicts typically happen when:

  • A rebrand’s research focuses on other business names and doesn’t take into consideration general user search.
  • When a brand chooses a word in one language, but it has a use in another.
  • A name is chosen that is also a noun (e.g. the name of a town or city).

Some examples include Finlandia, which is both a brand of cheese and vodka; Graco, which is both a brand of commercial products and a brand of baby products; and Kong, which is both the name of a pet toy manufacturer and a tech company.

User Interpretations

From conversations I’ve had with marketers and SEO pros working for various brands with this issue, the underlying theme (and potential cause) comes down to how Google handles interpretation of what users are looking for.

When a user enters a query, Google processes the query to identify known entities that are contained.

It does this to improve the relevance of search results being returned (as outlined in its 2015 Patent #9,009,192). From this, Google also works to return related, relevant results and search engine results page (SERP) elements.

For example, when you search for a specific film or TV series, Google may return a SERP feature containing relevant actors or news (if deemed relevant) about the media.

This then leads to interpretation.

When Google receives a query, the search results need to often cater for multiple common interpretations and intents. This is no different when someone searches for a recognized branded entity like Nike.

When I search for Nike, I get a search results page that is a combination of branded web assets such as the Nike website and social media profiles, the Map Pack showing local stores, PLAs, the Nike Knowledge Panel, and third-party online retailers.

This variation is to cater for the multiple interpretations and intents that a user just searching for “Nike” may have.

Brand Entity Disambiguation

Now, if we look at brands that share a name such as Kong, when Google checks for entities and references against the Knowledge Graph (and knowledge base sources), it gets two closer matches: Kong Company and Kong, Inc.

The search results page is also littered with product listing ads (PLAs) and ecommerce results for pet toys, but the second blue link organic result is Kong, Inc.

Also on page one, we can find references to a restaurant with the same name (UK-based search), and in the image carousel, Google is introducing the (King) Kong film franchise.

It is clear that Google sees the dominant interpretation of this query to be the pet toy company, but has diversified the SERP further to cater for secondary and tertiary meanings.

In 2015, Google was granted a patent that included features of how Google might determine differences in entities of the same name.

This includes the possible use of annotations within the Knowledge Base – such as the addition of a word or descriptor – to help disambiguate entities with the same name. For example, the entries for Dan Taylor could be:

  • Dan Taylor (marketer).
  • Dan Taylor (journalist).
  • Dan Taylor (olympian).

How it determines what is the “dominant” interpretation of the query, and then how to order search results and the types of results, from experience, comes down to:

  • Which results users are clicking on when they perform the query (SERP interaction).
  • How established the entity is within the user’s market/region.
  • How closely the entity is related to previous queries the user has searched (personalization).

I’ve also observed that there is a correlation between extended brand searches and how they affect exact match branded search.

It’s also worth highlighting that this can be dynamic. Should a brand start receiving a high volume of mentions from multiple news publishers, Google will take this into account and amend the search results to better meet users’ needs and potential query interpretations at that moment in time.

SEO For Brand Disambiguation

Building a brand is not a task solely on the shoulders of SEO professionals. It requires buy-in from the wider business and ensuring the brand and brand messaging are both defined and aligned.

SEO can, however, influence this effort through the full spectrum of SEO: technical, content, and digital PR.

Google understands entities on the concept of relatedness, and this is determined by the co-occurrence of entities and then how Google classifies and discriminates between those entities.

We can influence this through technical SEO through granular Schema markup and by making sure the brand name is consistent across all web properties and references.

This ties into how we then write about the brand in our content and the co-occurrence of the brand name with other entity types.

To reinforce this and build brand awareness, this should be coupled with digital PR efforts with the objective of brand placement and corroborating topical relevance.

A Note On Search Generative Experience

As it looks likely that Search Generative Experience is going to be the future of search, or at least components of it, it’s worth noting that in tests we’ve done, Google can, at times, have issues when generative AI snapshots for brands, when there are multiple brands with the same name.

To check your brand’s exposure, I recommend asking Google and generating an SGE snapshot for your brand + reviews.

If Google isn’t 100% sure which brand you mean, it will start to include reviews and comments on companies of the same (or very similar) name.

It does disclose that they are different companies in the snapshot, but if your user is skim-reading and only looking at the summaries, this could be an accidental negative brand touchpoint.

More resources:


Featured Image: VectorMine/Shutterstock

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