In October of 2008 Eric Schmidt announced that SEO was about to get really ugly for anyone who doesn't own a brand. He didn't word it that way though. Rather, he stated
"Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it's not going away. It must have a genetic component." - Eric Schmidt
In response to that comment (& some of Google's pro-brand algorithmic updates) I created the following video.
Google's Brand Promotion History
Ultimately Google promotes brands for the same reason they promote Wikipedia: it is (generally) safe & easy.
Here is a history of how brand promotion became part of "the algorithm"
- In 2003 Google did the infamous Florida update & ever since then they have generally trended toward placing more weight on domain authority (about the only big counter point to this would be Google's recent localization push)
- Google's sandbox took it one step further by making it harder for new smaller sites to break through & giving them what amounts to a purgatory period
- in 2006 BMW was caught spamming (after years of increased search traffic from spamming) they got a couple day slap on the wrist from Google. Smaller webmasters who were caught doing similar were penalized for far longer periods of time.
- in 2005, shortly after announcing rel=nofollow, Google stepped up a campaign promoting FUD against link buying & promoting snitching (when combined with preferential treatment toward brands, this further favored big business at the expense of smaller webmasters)
- over the years Google built increasingly sophisticated algorithmic filters to detect & demote aggressive link strategies (which, when coupled with brand promotion algorithms, further made it harder for small businesses to compete online)
- in April of 2007 Google bought DoubleClick, highlighting Google's aspirations to move from demand fulfillment direct marketing ads into the lucrative brand advertising market
- when the Google Vince update happened Google started placing more weight on search query chains, which would naturally favor large brands (due to their AdWords ad exposure on broader industry keywords & their large offline ad budgets - both of which aid recall by searchers)
- when the Google Panda update happened Matt Cutts stated "we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side." That algorithm allowed doorway pages & scraper sites to rank while killing off lots of smaller legitimate websites.
Sleazy Outing for Self-Promotion
In the later half of 2010 & the first few months of 2011 Google was getting beat up in the press about content farm spam (created by a combination of loose AdSense standards & Google putting too much weight on domain authority). To help deflect some of the bad press & show "who is boss" Google penalized both J.C Penny & Overstock.com for using manipulative links.
This past week the folks from Digital Due Diligence tipped of a NYT reporter for another hit piece. A lot of the top flower sites increase their ad budget around their busiest times of year, so coinciding with Mother's Day the New York Times highlighted how sites like ProFlowers, 1800Flowers, Teleflora & FTD were buying seedy links. I won't link at the NYT article because doing so would only promote more sleazy pageview journalism.
A Googler named Jake Hubert was quoted in the above mentioned article as saying the following:
"None of the links shared by The New York Times had a significant impact on our rankings, due to automated systems we have in place to assess the relevance of links. As always, we investigate spam reports and take corrective action where appropriate."
(Even Big Brands) Can't Rank Higher than #1
What is hilarious about that official Google comment is that sometimes Google has whacked websites based on perceived intent rather than results, & when I searched Google those 4 sites owned 6 first page results for that search query (along with the NYT article being listed as a 7th result (and 8th if you count the Google News result).
Google hard coded the algorithm to favor big brands (not once, but twice), promoted the big brands to the top of the search results, watches those brands violate their guidelines (in spite of said promotion) and then claimed that there is no corrective action needed for the violation since they already rank #1.
Well of course the paid links can't further improve a #1 ranking. You can't get any better than first place.
The good news for brands is that Googlers feel the sleazy outing angle is getting tired after J.C. Penny & Overstock.com & Google changed webmaster perception of their results with Panda (by making the common smaller webmaster pay for eHow's sins). Soon reporters won't justify wasting ink or bits on another sleazy SEO outing article because the pageviews won't be there.
At this point it is safe to say that Googlers don't really need to think of brands. All they have to do is search for *any* commercial keyword and click on the first result. The brand takes care of itself. :D
Indeed it is genetic.
Gain a Competitive Advantage Today
Your top competitors have been investing into their marketing strategy for years.
Now you can know exactly where they rank, pick off their best keywords, and track new opportunities as they emerge.
Explore the ranking profile of your competitors in Google and Bing today using SEMrush.
Enter a competing URL below to quickly gain access to their organic & paid search performance history - for free.
See where they rank & beat them!
- Comprehensive competitive data: research performance across organic search, AdWords, Bing ads, video, display ads, and more.
- Compare Across Channels: use someone's AdWords strategy to drive your SEO growth, or use their SEO strategy to invest in paid search.
- Global footprint: Tracks Google results for 120+ million keywords in many languages across 28 markets
- Historical data: since 2009, before Panda and Penguin existed, so you can look for historical penalties and other potential ranking issues.
- Risk-free: Free trial & low price.