Is Brand the Key to Ranking on Google?

    March 19, 2009
    Chris Crum

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….