How Important is Branding to Search Engine Marketing?

Do you have a brand? If not, your site is part of a "cesspool." In AdAge Google's CEO Eric Schmidt explains the AdWords quality score and organic ranking algorithms in laymans terms:

The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted.

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

"Brand affinity is clearly hard wired," he said. "It is so fundamental to human existence that it's not going away. It must have a genetic component."

The key to understanding the above is to appreciate that not only do the large brands have more money and more exposure, but they are less likely to be policed if they do the same thing that a smaller webmaster does. It is why a billion dollar company's affiliate program passes PageRank and my affiliate links do not.

Simply put, big brands should spam. Smart people like you, who read the algorithms as a profession, already knew this, but a large segment of publishers think search is mostly trickery and voodoo.

Build a brand and buy links. If your brand is big enough you most likely will not get policed out of the search results. It has been that way for years. If only the AdWords support team or Matt Cutts spoke with Mr. Schmidt's level of clarity!

Published: October 10, 2008 by Aaron Wall in google marketing


October 10, 2008 - 10:36am

After reading your suggested books i ordered The Revenge of Brand X from Amazon.
I hope to better understand how a brand should be created and how to increase the perceived value of a brand.

October 10, 2008 - 2:33pm

I would agree when you are talking about BIG brands (meaning household names), but I don't think this is true for smaller brands, even if the branding is clear, honest and strong in the market. What is the tipping point to earn this trust? Even you, Aaron, have a solid brand/reputation and occasional references from big media - but do you get the perks? I'd love to let our brand help to encourage the engines to give me some wiggle-room.

October 11, 2008 - 12:54am

At a minimum I think "the tipping point of earning this trust" probably depends on...

  • the strength of your brand
  • the quality of your content
  • the vertical you are in - some are easier to like & trust (I have seen some really spammy religious sites that would be killed if they were branded any other way)
  • the quality of the competition, how much nefarious intent can be extrapolated from your marketing
  • if you have a way to hurt Google back (ie: a large and/or influential organic non-Google originating audience that you can advocate against Google to)
  • if your site gets exposure amongst the wrong audience (if SEO bloggers talk about you it almost forces Google's hand because Google wants to show that they are all knowing and in control of the web cesspool)
October 10, 2008 - 2:39pm

Aaron, this is a revelation. It just goes to show how non-automated, human discretion plays a role in the search engine rankings. Perception as felt by humans is going to play a bigger role in how important you are on the Web.

Juan Manuel
October 10, 2008 - 9:37pm

I for one welcome that human discretion element and believe Matt does a pretty decent job. That's one of the reasons why we're all reading this blog -- or maybe it's just Aaron's dharma.

October 11, 2008 - 10:39am

I fully agree with Mr. Schmidt. More solid brands mean strong identities both for the products and for the people using them.

Building a brand portfolio is however rather time consuming and expensive road.

October 13, 2008 - 1:13pm

It is why a billion dollar company's affiliate program passes PageRank and my affiliate links do not.

Aaron its interesting that you are saying this. I mean it is hard to know if any site is actually passing PageRank.

I agree that branding helps. Yesterday I was doing some window shopping in a multiplex. I quite liked a watch. I entered the shop and enquired the price. I was shocked to know a simple looking watch was priced $1200. I asked the shopkeeper, “Why, does it contain Gold?” He said, “No, you are paying for the brand”.

That’s the value of Brand.

October 13, 2008 - 7:05pm

It is not hard to know if a site passes PageRank. You can test it...I will post about it soon

We have spent over 10x that much on watches in the past week or so!

yet another ben
October 13, 2008 - 4:56pm

Out of interest Aaron, how do you think Google et al would treat your site for buying links in this respect (I'm not saying you do or don't)?

The reason I ask, is that you have personally developed SEO Book into being a popular brand online. But so too is it also not a generic term for a searcher of a book on SEO?

Funny point on the side, I must be blind but I bought a car at the weekend and Mrs yetanotherben said how good it was that the registration plate started with SEO...I hadn't made the link because of the way the letters were ordered and now look like a number one t1t. (no offense to those that have private reg's, but you are, hehe! Although I guess that means me now :(

October 13, 2008 - 7:04pm

I don't think SEO sites are viewed positively in general. Probably slightly better than payday loan sites, and maybe a bit under ticket brokers.

October 14, 2008 - 9:32am

We have spent over 10x that much on watches in the past week or so!

Great. If you have the money why not? Actually I was talking about a simple looking watch that I thought would be no more than $300.

Just referring to your about us page where you said you went almost bankrupt – to now buying watche(s) of around $12,000.00. All in about 5 years!

Well done Aaron!

October 14, 2008 - 1:05pm

Actually I was talking about a simple looking watch that I thought would be no more than $300.

Sometimes those are the most expensive ones...hard to know how "simple" it is without knowing how much was spent on branding and without taking off the back cover. ;)

yet another ben
October 14, 2008 - 10:03am

Aaron, that raises another point - on what industry the site is part of...

I wonder whether websites are algorithmically categorised by keyword into industries (visually this would look like DMOZ's structure), or, whether it is purely/partially neighbourhood-linking orientated? I expect both but just wanted to raise the point.

I'd like to know how SE's try to categorise websites into industries a little more - future post maybe?! I can't ever remember reading a definitive post on this, but it seems like it would make a good post.

Thanks Aaron!

October 14, 2008 - 1:02pm

There is research on an algorithm called topic sensitive pagerank, though authoritative sites can rank for off topic stuff just by having text on the lower authority sites may get some sort of categorization, but high authority sites seem to still be able to rank fine for just about anything.

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