Our "Brand" Stands for 'Anything That Will Make Money'

Want a good example of Google's brand-bias stuff being a bunch of bs?

Niche expert value-add affiliate websites may now lack the brand signal to rank as the branded sites rise up above them, so what comes next?

Off-topic brands flex their brand & bolt on thin affiliate sections.

Overstock.com was penalized for having a spammy link profile (in spite of being a brand they were so spammy that they were actually penalized, counter to Google's cultural norm) but a few months later the penalty was dropped, even though some of the spam stuff is still in place.

Those who were hit by Panda are of course still penalized nearly a half-year later, but Overstock is back in the game after a shorter duration of pain & now they are an insurance affiliate.


And this "fold the weak & expand the brand" game is something the content farm owners are on to. Observe:

While most the content farms were decimated, that left a big hole in the search results that will allow the Huffington Post to double or triple the yield of their content through additional incremental reach.

And, yes, this is *the* same Huffington Post that is famous for aggregating 3rd party content (sans attribution), wrapping a Tweet in a page & ranking it, and gets mocked by other journalists for writing 90's-styled blocks of keyword spam:

Before I go on, let me stop and say a couple of more important things: Aol, Aol Acquires Huffington Post, Aol Buys Huffington Post, Aol Buys Huffpo, Aol Huffington Post, Huffington Post, Huffington Post Aol, Huffington Post Aol Merger, Huffington Post Media Group, Huffington Post Sold, Huffpo Aol, Huffpost Aol, Media News.

See what I did there? That's what you call search-engine optimization, or SEO. If I worked at the Huffington Post, I'd likely be commended for the subtle way in which I inserted all those search keywords into the lede of my article.

And, of course, AOL is a company with the highest journalistic standards:

I was given eight to ten article assignments a night, writing about television shows that I had never seen before. AOL would send me short video clips, ranging from one-to-two minutes in length — clips from “Law & Order,” “Family Guy,” “Dancing With the Stars,” the Grammys, and so on and so forth… My job was then to write about them. But really, my job was to lie. My job was to write about random, out-of-context video clips, while pretending to the reader that I had watched the actual show in question. AOL knew I hadn’t watched the show. The rate at which they would send me clips and then expect articles about them made it impossible to watch all the shows — or to watch any of them, really.

Doing fake reviews? Scraping content? Putting off-topic crap on a site to monetize it?

Those are the sorts of things Google claims the spammy affiliates & SEOs do, but the truth is they have never been able to do them to the scale the big brands have. And from here out it is only going to get worse.

We highlighted how Google was responsible for creating the content farm business model. Whatever comes next is going to be bigger, more pervasive, and spammier, but coated in a layer of "brand" that magically turns spam into not-spam.

Imagine where this crap leads in say 2 or 3 years?

It won't be long before Google is forced to see the error of their ways.

What Google rewards they encourage. What they encourage becomes a profitable trend. If that trend is scalable then it becomes a problem shortly after investors get involved. When that trend spirals out of control and blows up they have to try something else, often without admitting that they were responsible for causing the trend. Once again, it will be the SEO who takes the blame for bad algorithms that were designed divorced from human behaviors.

I am surprised Google hasn't hired someone like a Greg Boser or David Naylor as staff to explain how people will react to the new algorithms. It would save them a lot of work in the long run.

Disclosure: I hold no position in AOL's stock, but I am seriously considering buying some. When you see me personally writing articles on Huffington Post you will know it's "game on" for GoogleBot & I indeed am a shareholder. And if I am writing 30 or 40 articles a day over there that means I bought some call options as well. :D

Published: July 18, 2011 by Aaron Wall in google


July 19, 2011 - 6:53am

I want to say thank you for having the courage to write about this stuff. I had no idea things were getting this bad.

July 19, 2011 - 8:56am

The closure of the worlds biggest selling English language newspaper in the UK and the downfall of the Murdoch empire as a result of the phone hacking scandal should make people a little more aware that there may well be consequences to misuse of power - Google should perhaps take note.

July 19, 2011 - 11:22am

...which is sorta half done, that sorta tries to tie that in with some of the brand stuff.

But certainly it is hard for a brand to get any more flagrant than they were with layers and layers of illegal activities. And the other major story there was this...after they closed the brand they still have many others. They can simply buy brands, abuse them, and shuffle their internal resources whenever something goes awry.

July 19, 2011 - 12:36pm

One ingenious method brands have been working on in my niche the past few months isn't something the average webmaster has the budget for. Not only is their domain ranking high for "high widget keyphrase", they're paying other domains to host content promoting the brand and its products. This isn't a boring product review or sponsored post, this is a whole new animal. It goes something like this:

  • Pay socially popular blogger $100 to create a tutorial or recipe or some high value content for "high widget keyphrase" or slight variation of it.
  • Original content is created, but with a twist: supplies used or ingredients used, etc., are the brand's products (and linked to within content). It's all on the up-and-up, everything is disclosed and clear to the reader that the tutorial is sponsored by brand.
  • Then within that tutorial/recipe, run a contest for a $50, $100 gift certificate or free products. This generates a storm of social activity through twitter and facebook for BOTH the brand and the blogger (like the brand's facebook page, retweet, leave a comment, like blogger's facebook page, for extra entries).

The result:

  • Brand already ranks well on its own domain for "high keyword phrase"
  • Blogger moves up into a nice serps position due to all the social activity (with content promoting brand's products), pushing brand's competitors down
  • Both blogger & brand increase social reach (through all the giveaway buzz). Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
  • Brand paid peanuts for good quality content, glossy pics and of course a positive review or two from blogger
  • Blogger earns $$ for promo piece as well as banner imps or adsense
  • I've even seen blogger subcontract another blogger to create the piece on hired blogger's site, which then gives two bloggers links and exposure plus the brand.

I've seen one brand own the top 3 spots with this and who knows if they'll stop at that or carry on until they own the whole first page in one form or another. Maybe google considers this paid links, maybe not. But it doesn't matter, the purpose isn't to generate link juice (heck, they could be nofollowed just to be in the clear), the objective is to have the top search results broadcast "brand, brand, brand" in some form.

Basically, it's paying for a permanent piece of keyword rich real estate on another domain (for cheap) and is going to thrive because there is no way a brand will take a hit for this from google. It's cheap and easy to produce in endless varieties and the quality of page is just as good as whatever else is out there. And since the blogger has an army of tweet buddies and blogger buddies behind him feeding regular links and social signals to his site and social profile, he won't suffer for it either. The favor gets returned to other bloggers when they get hired.

It's friggin ingenious. That's for one keyphrase (or targeting variations of it). Most of us have the budget to do this a few times, but not as extensive or wide reaching as what a brand can afford and is willing to spend. This technique is picking up steam in my niche, haven't noticed it much until the past 3 months or so.

Long winded but basically I'm saying: yeah brands have an edge with google, and they get away with a whole bunch on their own domains. But they're also sniffing around using other domains and it's only costing them peanuts to pull it off. We aint seen full brand domination yet, but coming soon to a serp near you!

July 19, 2011 - 1:12pm

...but certainly that is looking like something a seasoned SEO pro would think up rather than something you might see a brand do. What is better though for the brand is all those other assets they have to deploy, as you stated:

  • the cash
  • the credibility
  • the ability to push additional audience channels toward promoting it

I agree with you that the brands are going to sponsor tons of advertorial content & there is really nothing Google will be able to do about it. And it is not like the blog readers will complain either if the post is fairly useful *and* gives stuff away.

Thanks for the great comment tantastic!

July 19, 2011 - 7:08pm

Its what we do - we capitalize on any advantage we can to capture as much traffic as possible. That's what they pay us for, no?

There is no better example of opportunistic brand leverage than Huffpo - and that's not necessarily a slight.

Welcome to the age of Mega-brand content farms where quality content from lesser known (but no-less authoritative) sources has no place.

July 22, 2011 - 11:44pm

Hi Aaron -- I run a large travel website, and your SEO book pdf was one of the first resources I read a long time ago when we first started the website (6 years ago). I recently rediscovered this site and have enjoyed reading your thoughts and analysis on Panda and the Google's overemphasis on brands.

I made a long post describing the kind of brand spam we were seeing in the travel industry since Panda, that you might find interesting:


My biggest problem with brand spam is not the spam itself, but that these changes really end up killing off the diversity of the web. A brand is ultimately defined by the collective opinion of its customers. When Google only shows results from a brand for any query with the brand name in it, ultimately they are saying that a brand is ultimately defined by whatever it tells Google it wants to be.

Independent websites that may express opinions ABOUT a brand (which is really all a brand is) are fading more and more from the search results. The end result is that they are inverting the relationship between brands and consumers, giving voice to the brands at the expense of consumers.

July 23, 2011 - 5:10pm

these changes really end up killing off the diversity of the web

Yup. I made a blog post about that in April which you could have referenced in yours while you were researching the topic. ;)

Independent websites that may express opinions ABOUT a brand (which is really all a brand is) are fading more and more from the search results. The end result is that they are inverting the relationship between brands and consumers, giving voice to the brands at the expense of consumers.

It is simply reflecting the real-world bias of large & corrupt countries...where those in power find it more self-enriching to curry favor with the powerful than to worry about concepts like equality, fairness, ecosystem diversity, etc.

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