Google's Brand Debacle Backfires

Jul 13th

As Google reached the limits of returns in direct marketing they started pushing the value of branding (because, hey, if you can chalk it up to latent branding value there is no cap on your max bid). Surprisingly, they even got many big brands to buy their own brands AND buy sitelinks on the AdWords ads. Some went so far as providing case studies for how much of their own brand traffic they were now willing to pay for, which they previously got free. :D

Sure that can make sense for seasonal promotions, but you could do the same thing by having subdomains and sister websites. Dell.com can be the main site, Dell.net (or deals.dell.com) can be the deals & promotions website, and Dell.org can be the good karma charity site. No paying someone else for brand you already spent to build. Beautiful. But I digress...

In October of 2008 Google's CEO revealed which ad Dollars they were chasing, and what loophole they were opening up in their relevancy algorithms

"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

That led to the brand update, and now Google even recommends specific brand modifiers when you search for words like "digital cameras."

...and here is the problem...

Less than 2 years after Mr. Schmidt's prophetic brand drivel, the Financial Times is doing a series on Google, in which Google's Amit Singhal is blaming brands as being a major issue:

Companies with a high page rank are in a strong position to move into new markets. By “pointing” to this new information from their existing sites they can pass on some of their existing search engine aura, guaranteeing them more prominence.
...
Google’s Mr Singhal calls this the problem of “brand recognition”: where companies whose standing is based on their success in one area use this to “venture out into another class of information which they may not be as rich at”. Google uses human raters to assess the quality of individual sites in order to counter this effect, he adds.

No mention (of course) that it was Google which put excessive emphasis on domain authority, or how Google gutted the link graph, or how Google funds most of the content mills with AdSense.

Those are all irrelevant details, just beyond Google's omniscient view. :D

The other thing which is absurd, is that if you listen to Google's SEO tips, they will tell you to dominate a small niche then expand. Quoting Matt Cutts: "In general, I’ve found that starting with a small niche and building your way up is great practice."

And now brand extension is somehow a big deal worth another layer of arbitrary manual inspection and intervention?

Meanwhile scraper sites are still clogging up Google, and they claim they need to write better algorithms to detect them. It isn't hard to see the sun at noon!

If sites which expand in scope deserve more scrutiny then why is there so much scrape & mash flotsam in the search results? What makes remixed chunks of content better than the original source? A premium AdSense feed? Brand?

Published: July 13, 2010

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Comments

July 17, 2010 - 9:19pm

Insightful stuff Aaron...

Would you also say one other unpleasant side-effect from this is the advantage exact match domain names enjoy?

Any loser can rank #1 for the most relevant local keywords with little effort as long as they own www.cityoccupation.com (i.e. bostonpersonalinjurylawyer.com), even though it has absolutely nothing to to with their brand (i.e. Jones, Smith & Barnes Law Firm).

Google seems to favor exact match as a brand search at the expense of real local results. Do these obvious plays escape the notice of Mr. Singhal's "human raters"...or are they so small in page count to not merit review for abuse of "authority"?

July 18, 2010 - 3:54am

I think Google puts a bunch of weight on that precisely to add diversity to search results which would otherwise be dominated by large brands and scraper arbitrage plays.

July 19, 2010 - 2:07pm

I keep seeing this as the elephant in the room when it comes to Google. The sun at noon, indeed.
"Now where are all those scraper sites we keep hearing about now? Where oh where could they be?"
Thanks for putting this so succinctly, Aaron.

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