Is Brand the Key to Ranking on Google?

The Update You Didn't Pay Attention To

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A recent SEOBook article highlights a good deal of evidence that Google is placing more emphasis on brands than ever before. Author Aaron Wall takes an in depth look at how Google’s algorithm has evolved over his own SEO career, and points out some hints Google has provided in the media as to where its headed before answering a few questions from me for this article.

He cites Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s comments about branding being the cure to cleaning up the "Internet Cesspool" and a quote of his from the company’s most recent earnings call in which he said, "Wouldn’t it be nice if Google understood the meaning of your phrase rather than just the words that are in that phrase? We have a lot of discoveries in that area that [we] are going to roll out in the next little while."

Here is the text of my discussion with Aaron Wall:

Chris Crum: With Google giving big brands so much attention, how does the little guy stand a chance?

Aaron Wall Aaron Wall: They will always have some balance to the search results, but part of the longterm search game is going to come down to building a brand. Keep in mind the current brand changes are mostly happening for core industry keywords, and smaller websites will still be able to get decent exposure by working longtail keywords.

CC: You say the January 18th Google Update was bigger than Google+Search”>Florida, but few people noticed it. Why do you think that is?

AW: Well the Florida update was a big update with a more violent change in the overall rankings, but it just required a few more technical hoops to jump through. Building a brand is time consuming and difficult…it is much more difficult than jumping through a few more algorithmic hoops. If Google expands on this front many people who have a mechanical approach to SEO and online marketing will be looking for a new job in the not too distant future. ;)

I think few people noticed this update because there was a smaller change in rankings, and many of the search results are relevant sites that are logical to rank…whereas with the Florida update some of the sites that were ranking were quite off topic, or only near matches.

Eric Schmidt - CEO of Google CC: I’m intrigued by the other point you pulled from Schmidt’s earnings call about Google understanding the meaning of your phrases rather than just the words. Clearly this would greatly increase relevancy on a lot of searches if they are able to get it right. How close do you think they are to being able to pull this off?

AW: They still have a long way to go to get where they want to be with relevancy, but some of the issue of search is simply creating the incentive to make people want to create the content that really answers search queries well in a good format. Sometimes I see Matt Cutts post great how to posts about how do different things in Ubuntu. I believe he does that in part to feed answers into the search engine, especially if/when it did not provide an answer that was as good as he would like.

Another big issue is information accuracy…which is yet another reason they might want to put a lot of weight on brand.

Sidenote (CC): With regards to relevancy and branding, there are some interesting possibilties on the way as ICANN begins accepting more new generic Top-Level Domains. This is discussed in the following exclusive WPN interview between SEOMoz’s Sarah Bird and Clarke Walton of Walton Law Firm:

CC: Do you think this (Google recognizing meaning over words) is something the majority of searchers want to see happen or do you think they would prefer to have to specify their own searches further?

AW: We like to feel like we are in control, but we under-estimate our own laziness. People prefer Google to be sophisticated under the hood rather than having to re-query again.

Thanks to Aaron for talking with me. Read his article "Google’s New Search Engine Rankings Place Heavy Emphasis on Branding". It’s full of illustrated examples, and I think you’ll find it quite interesting.

Update: Matt Cutts has shared the following video regarding the subject of Google placing weight on brand. He says it’s not really about brand….

Is Brand the Key to Ranking on Google?
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  • http://ezinearticles.com/?Hair-Removal-Cream---Probably-the-Best-Hair-Removal-Cream&id=1438199 Erin Richie

    Trying to rank and keep your rank in google will always be an evolving concept. People have to stay in the now with blogs like this one. And people have to be adaptive.

  • http://mylittlesecretplace.com Irina Dyuzheva

    Hi! i have just started my online lingerie store http://www.mylittlesecretplace.com. Should i concentrate more on the brand name Manufacturers of lingerie? is that the only way to get higher ranking?

    • http://www.aediscreative.com Christopher

      You should focus on the development of your own brand. The Manufacturers are likely to beat you in rankings every time. Find something that you’re doing that is unique and allows you to stand out. Then you can start carving out your own space. Be patient though. Branding is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • http://www.villacentre.com Rental Villas

    Well I have created a site before one year ago & try to boost it ranking in search engine. But it is not an easy task. I think there are various way to achieve this are blogs, post comment & articles submission etc.

  • http://www.911jobinterview.com alex

    Google is tryin’ to give us some fair results. We are responsable for content and linking. So .. it’s up to us to make it work.

  • http://www.tennpowerball.com/ TennPowerball

    good post, interesting topic

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Adam

    I’ve thought for a long time that Google favours big brands in its search engines. If you’re a small business selling PC’s, you’ll never topple the might of brands like PC World.

    Google recognizes these as unmovable priorities based on their reputation and doubtlessly huge number of links.

  • http://www.snerdey.com Snerdey

    Yes, brand names used to be the biggest thing that people would shop by but back then there were not too many choices. Now it’s more part of the pie.

    Product Line
    Customer Service

    You yourself are the brand each time you email, visit on the phone or send a package etc.. if one of the aspects of your services is not “branded” like the other you might not be making the best impression and loosing the game.

    The more people like you the more they will link to you, tell their friends and “word of text” if you will :)

    Google is going to try and make sense of it all and brands are sorted for sure as they are some of the biggest investors. But, the masses of the little guy, mom and pops the ones using AdWords are surely added up to more then all of the big ones put together.

    People are going to shop not only for the best price, but the best overall support to boot. It’s been the key to our success since 2003 and I would not change a thing. Don’t fix what’s not broke!

    Follow Snerdey on Twitter!

  • http://www.auto-ak-seeds.com jj

    yes and no depends what your into

  • http://www.sevendecasa.eu Emma Haller

    This is great to hear and re-inforce the way the search should be.
    This will stop those terrible link spammers and link farms and concentrate more on quality, User interaction, internet popularity (by votes within social media) and sheer hard work.

    Now people can really concentrate on creating quality accessible websites instead of concentrating on the number of links pointing to it.

    Your company size does not matter on the internet, it is how you present yourself.

    • http://www.AbsoluteBestPromos.com Paul Kruger

      There is an unfortunate chicken and egg barrier for many new to the web. Google ( who makes its money selling links ) does not want you to buy a link somewhere else…they call it link spamming or link farming. What is fair for the Google is not fair for anyone else. ( Is this anti-competitive as defined in anti-trust laws? Perhaps )

      The problem is Google looks for inbound links to judge your site’s appeal, yet how will prospective linkers find your site in the first place if you have poor placement?

      Just because no one has been able to find your site due to poor placement does not mean your site has no value. It just means no one knows you yet…and you are not supposed to buy links to improve that either.

      Does paying for links in Yahoo place you in violation of Google’s guidelines for paid links? Does Google get to decide who should or should not be allowed to sell links as they do by punishing people who purchase links from a competitor?

    • http://www.MADEinUSA.org JRBeaman

      Site owners know better than SEO services to what the visitors are looking for. I have found that the SEO’s need educating, and thru this process the site owner realizes that he can do a better job of it. But that means he needs to learn the ropes.

      At one time, getting link-backs thru link farms, and email requests to sites that have no relevancy was the easy game, and that is because G set up their engine to think that popularity was a replacement for relevancy. It is not. How many people would provide a link to Coca-Cola? For what possible value. Your best and most relevant link-backs would be to your competition. Who’s going to do that?

      That left G in a spam-links war that worked for a while, but I think they are getting smarter as they are realizing it was being weighted too heavily. Now that we have all gotten tired of link requests, and abort the link farm pages as we get wiser, G is responding in kind.

      They have always said ‘content is king’ and if site orners will focus on that first, it has been proven that a little SEO with insight will work well. Without good ‘presentation’ and relevant content, the SEO efforts have nothing to work on. DO the content and presentation first, then the SEO. (Assuming you can take the time to do it. :)

  • http://www.waterworks4fuel.com J Terry

    Site rank is tough to get using key words alone. Add words can be expensive without much success unless you have a product that sells well. I tried a site selling top brand name merchandise. It sidn’t work. The competition made it impossible. I sold a couple of items in a whole year. The site I started with was poorly built and was designed as a mass corporate “cookie cutter” look alike site that had the exact same products and pages as probably thousands of other sites like it. I am convinced that the only people that made money were the ones who sold the site.

    The only way to stand out and succeed is to be your own unique person. Offer something that is desired with good sales appeal. Then work on getting the listing to say what will get the attention of the search engines and the customers will come.

    Altho my original site was not successful and cost me a lot in time and money. It did teach me something. Be unique. Dont buy into someones hype or doing the design for you. Do it your self by using the tools available to anyone. Use google’s tools and Yahoo’s site tools and get started right.

    I invite you to look at some of my work at http://waterworks4fuel.com and http://jet-usa.com

    Thank You for looking

  • http://www.francislee.com.au Francis Lee

    I also believe that users prefer Google (or any search engine for that matter) to “understand” the meaning over just words. This is becoming increasingly obvious as users start to search for more specific “phrases” instead of a broad keyword string.

    Many self-proclaimed “Google Killers” have already emerged claiming to understand meaning over words however none have really delivered on that part. When the search engines start really understanding “meaning”, I believe that is when people will start taking their content a lot more seriously instead of trying to tailor their content around a broad keyword they believe users will search for.

  • Guest

    Google is starting to become the eBay of search. Search results will get more crappy.

  • http://www.nrev.com/ Eric Maas

    This gives us all a lot to think about. I think there is going to be a lot of speculation over what was changed, but I am not surprised that Google would be moving towards a more brand centric marketing strategy.

  • http://www.doubleglazingshop.co.uk/double-glazing-birmingham.html birmingham double glazing

    I Think googles looking at a variety of factors for ranking. We have to remember Google wants the top sites relevant to what the consumer wants. They want search traffic and they get 30% clicks on adds. So if a company is advertising of page, tv, radio and people are typing in the sites name Google see’s this as relevant in that community. We have done some double glazing of page and noticed the difference in loacl rankings for double glazing and windows in birmingham

  • http://www.metropoliscreative.com Howard Davidson

    Good points. But what about keywords and landing pages: http://www.metropoliscreative.com/2009/02/cut-your-adwords-budget-and-increase.html

  • Guest

    I dont know man… Do you thing that small sites will have a chance… its already hard to ge expouser. I hope it works… by the way check this site BARNBID dot COM and you see a good nice clean auction site…

  • http://www.3ac.co.uk Gary Taylor

    With the boom of social networks like facebook and more so now twitter and mixx etc. (where content and items of interest can be shared) I think branding is much less relevant. In fact being a big brand can potentially open you up to more criticism and be deemed as less relevant by an end user if they already have negative views about that particular brand in the first place. I think Google need to push emphasis across to how a particular site is viewed as relevant by the social networks. Taking inbound links that next step to how many times a particular site has been twittered about or mixxed or shared on facebook and myspace. Sharing is caring, and if you care about something it makes it relevant. Of course the effort has to come from the website owners and those not prepared to put the effort in as far as google is concerned should simply not rank. I agree with the comment above about big brands being big investors, but this shouldn’t make them a dead cert as far as ranking is concerned. I host a blog about
    domain names and the domain name industry, just because I am not a big brand like Sedo or GoDaddy, should I be deemed as less important? I know I don’t have pockets as deep as they do for branding but I can certainly tell you now that I put massive amounts of effort into what I feel will give my readers an excellent user experience…I rank ok at the moment for the keywords I want to, its early days yet, but penalising my ranking for making the assumption that because I am not a brand is not what I would class as fair game. My objective is not to build a brand but to share what I enjoy with others. Long term who knows it may evolve, but don’t cut us off yet! :-)

  • http://pajamaprofessional.com Sara Ch.


    What a great follow-up to Aaron’s article. For at least the past year it seems that discussions of branding and how to establish a brand have been popping up more frequently. I think that Aaron’s article and your interview are huge red flags to the little guys. If people haven’t already started building a brand around their blog or website, they need to get on it.

    On the other hand, I think these changes will exponentially increase the importance of long-tail keywords for folks like affiliate marketers who don’t necessarily even want to establish a brand.

    I really think what it comes down to is that it’s decision time for small online entrepreneurs. Do you set your sights on building a brand and try to compete or do you back off on branding and focus on finding long-tail phrases that have the potential to keep you afloat in the search results?

    Thanks for a great interview!


  • http://ripsychotherapy.com Mike Adamowicz

    I’m not sure how branding affects my industry-psychotherapy and counseling. Unless it would pit big agencies against individual practitioners. But thanks for the heads up on this topic. I’ll watch for more developments.

  • http://www.typemock.com/ Uni test

    The more Google evolve, the more control they have over results, and the less natural, the web becomes.

    Even today, half of your serches will result in Wikipedia or IMDB in the first results, this is clearly decided b Goolge…

  • http://rowanlandscaping.com/questions/home-improvement-questions Home FAQ

    I think it comes back to the trust issue that Google seems to be hung up on. Brands in general are more trustworthy and get more traffic than non brands.

  • http://www.1up-seo.com/forum Internet Marketing Forum

    you realize that this “branding” is nothing else than

    It also contradicts any SEO principles and makes Google an authority to decide on THEIR behalf what site to rank and what not. Based on un-logical rules, NOT based on the natural (seo) laws eg. that a site with the most links should also be granted better stats since more PEOPLE link to the site.

    The PEOPLE are still what the net actually IS…and Google rankings need to reflect people’s preferences and NOT Google Bias/Preference!

    If a “brand” can get better rankings, this also means that MONEY can buy better rankings.

    They call it “branding” or whatever – but there is big danger in detail and i wonder whether people are actually aware of the consquences of this?


  • Guest

    FAR more interesting that the branding thing, which is actually harder to define that words in a dictionar, was the bit about “accuracy”.

    So soon Google will decide if your site’s information or content are “accurate”? This strikes me as a major blow to free speech, dissenting opinion, alternative medicine or just plain alternative views.

    I’ve often wondered at what point and in what way would the fact Google has CIA employed bods high up would come into play. Well here’s one answer, censorship based on what G happens to define as the “right” opinion or facts, in the infallible and God-like opinon of Google/CIA.

  • http://www.best4specs.com/products/designer_frames/boss/?cid=715 Boss Spectacles

    With ecommerce sites, the idea that the more inbound links you have the higher your ranking should be is flawed. In traditional commerce it’s very often the new-comers who offer innovation and best value. With these branding changes, the bar is being raised even higher in favor of the big players which can’t be in the interests of the consumer.

  • http://www.masenka.be Masenka

    What makes a brand a brand? Does this mean offline marketing will impact online branding? Or can you build a brand online?

  • http://www.designfishstudio.com/search-engine-optimisation/seo.html Rob

    …it is very much up to the small guy what he makes, or doesnt make, of his SERP from his on search engine optimisation efforts, which he overlooks at his own peril. With some exceptions, hard work and investment usually does always yield beneficial SEO results.

    But why should the small-fry PC shops rank above, say, PC world, in SEO terms? In how many cases would they deserve to, re: Branding?

    • http://www.melbourneonline.com.au Mark – Melbourne SEO

      Who says PC world is what I’m looking for? If PC world want to rank well they can put in the hard yards like everyone else, not just rest on their big brand.
      Creating a big brand online means you have more inbound links. That’s where the strength of branding should come from, not from the idea that one brand is better than another.

      Additionally, the best thing about ecommerce is the level playing field. Not everyone can afford the rent in a bricks and mortar shopping mall, but on the Internet it’s about relevance more than budget.

  • http://www.seosean.com Affordable SEO Services

    I disagree that branding really has that much of an influence in your ranking. In fact Matt Cutts even stated that it did not. It seems to me to be another Myth that people will be following for a while until they wake up.

  • http://www.integrisearch.com Jeff Gregory

    In the U.S. “cell phones” search market, Google leaned heavily towards ranking the major carriers in the top spots.

    None of them make cell phones. Nor are they cell phone experts.

    But, they all SELL cell phones.

    If it was purely brand-only: Motorola, Samsung, BlackBerry, LG would dominate the top rankings.

    There’s clearly a “shopping” slant to the change.

    At least from my vantage point.

    • http://www.rentbrandon.com Brandon Homes for Rent

      What is really amazing is that www.cellphones.com is not owned by one of these cell phone manufacturers either… the fact here though, regarding branding, has to do with the “name brand” and not the category… Nokia will top searches for Nokia Cell Phones, versus some third party provider looking to top the searches for “Nokia Cell Phones”. I think that is the main point. If we search Google for Nokia Cell Phones, the default should be the company site first (this is where branding comes into play) then all of the others looking to sell these phones must fall in line behind it. If I did not know the domain for Nokia (www.nokiausa.com) I would not want to have to go 8 pages in Google to find it because 70+ webmasters have more “relevant” sites then Nokia does about Nokia Cell Phones.

  • http://www.rentbradentonflorida.com Bradenton Florida Homes for Rent

    If you are going to spam a blog with 2 links back to your domain, at least post something insightful…

    • http://www.MADEinUSA.org JRBeaman

      I agree, seems he is trying to use this forum as a spammer.
      He should be blocked. Or, disallow url’s in comment area.

      Branding is not the end all, but Google is trying to get a handle on it and add it to it’s perspective of web sites in an attempt to finally add relevancy to it’s equations.

      I run a (small) free search engine for listing websites that sell Made in USA products. It seems, though this is not a ‘brand’, it is an attribute, and it gets a lot of traffic from G as though it was. I think G will struggle trying to refine the relevancy issue since that is what the people have been screaming for, and, in my opinion is what they should do. It is nice to see them finally realize this and set aside the resources to direct their efforts in this long overdue direction. Branding is, like many agree, is only one part of this equation. If they keep in mind ‘relevancy’ while recognizing branding then I give Kudos to the effort.

      Positive feedback on what they do is as more helpful as the negative. We seem to forget that. ‘that’s not right’ tells them nothing. Be specific. Tell them their effort in branding is good, IF they keep in mind the ‘relevancy” in their results.

  • http://www.babypushchairsonline.co.uk baby pushchairs

    “Branding” is such a broad term and the big names literally spend millions on publicity. It is not viable for small businesses to compete in this mainstream level. Now that even the big G is in favor of big names, they

  • http://www.mypartyplanner.com/ Party

    Of course Google puts more priority into brands, why wouldn’t they? Branded businesses have proven that they are valuable within the sector, and often trusted by the public.

  • http://www.hypemuscle.com canadian bodybuilding

    when they do accomplish this, I cant see this doing any favors for the little guys.

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