Does Google Favor Brands?


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Presentation given at SMX West showing that Google has no algorithmic bias for big brands or big business.

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  • Thank you Danny and thank you to my fellow panelists. I know not all of you agree with me on this controversial issue, but I appreciate that we’re talking about it and trying to get at the truth of the matter.
  • I’ll just be taking you through three quick points today.
  • You’ve heard the arguments for this from Mr. Wall. What I’ve heard from him in the past is what he had on his infographic: that large brands have an advantage in search results for these reasons.
  • In general the argument that proponents make is a classic case of the logical fallacy of hasty generalization visualized here by the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man makes a conclusion about the truth of what they’re experiencing without having all the evidence. I think proponents of this theory have to ignore a lot of contradictory evidence in order to keep believing it.
  • But there is a lot of evidence that suggest there is no Google bias. There is so much I actually had to eliminate some of it from this presentation in order to get it under 12 minutes, so I might be going kind of fast through what’s here, but I’d love to hear any questions or comments at the end.
  • For example, Mr. Wall looked only at 7 queries initially to prove the Google bias toward brands, but in fact there are many examples where non-brands regularly outrank large brands. Here are five such examples for highly competitive keywords where large brands are getting beaten by sites you’ve never heard of.
  • One big problem with Mr Wall’s initial analysis is that it focused on rankings to show Google favoritism rather than the result of rankings, organic traffic. If we use a tool like SEMRush we can get an organic traffic score for every site on the web, which gives us a more comprehensive picture of how well a site is doing in Google. Using this we can pull charts like this that clearly demonstrate small brands getting a lot more traffic than brands that are household names.
  • I looked at the seven queries that Mr. Wall introduced in 2009 as an example of this brand bias, but 54% of the domains he found are no longer ranking, making the study less relevant to the argument at hand.
  • But even if it was relevant it doesn’t show enough of a majority for brands to prove bias. If you generously define brand as how OEMs and stores go to market, almost 50% of the sites are small businesses, and almost half are either deadlocked or have a majority of non-brands ranking today.
  • Looking at the sites that are clearly favored by Google: the SEMRush top 100, it’s clear that these sites are not here because they’re brands or enterprise businesses. 61% of the list are not companies in the fortune 500, and only 9 of them are top 100 global brands. 39% are SMBs and 4% are companies with fewer than 10 employees. This is similar to a late 2009 (post “Vince” change) study by Conductor , which found that more than half of the Fortune 500 companies were bidding on keywords because they have no natural search visibility for those keywords organically.
  • When we looked at the natural search visibility of the top 100 global brands we found that being a top global brand was not enough to help a brand succeed in Google. In fact, the average SEMRush rank for the world’s top brands is almost 14,000, with many thousands of smaller brands outperforming them in natural search results.
  • One of the reasons this theory doesn’t pass the sniff test with me is that in my experience with brands large and small over the past ten years it is the small brands who typically see the most dramatic success. Because they can implement quickly (unlike big brands) they can get results quickly while bigger brands have meetings about whether or not they need SEO. This is one example of a client that implemented our recommendations to see a 4,000% increase in organic search traffic in six months. They don’t think there’s a Google bias toward brands because they’ve done very well in Google in spite of their lesser-known brand.
  • I think I’ve shown plenty of evidence why no Google algorithmic bias exists. More than proponents of the theory in fact. But it’s worth noting that even if Google was trying to give big brands an advantage in search, many big brands wouldn’t be able to take advantage because large brands have unique SEO challenges that small businesses don’t have. For example, one of my colleagues had a four hour call talking to lawyers in the pharmaceutical industry about changing a few words in a title tag. In enterprise SEO, a lot of communication and education is necessary because many website stakeholders have different ideas about what a website should be, and SEO isn’t even a consideration. Another example: I once worked with a company whose CEO wouldn’t allow them to change title tags because he preferred them to be clean and simple. I worked with another company who didn’t want to implement SEO recommendations because the conversion rate on their landing pages was so high. In all cases, the larger the company the longer it took them to implement SEO recommendations, if they implemented them at all. This is a pretty common problem with larger organizations that puts all of them at a disadvantage to their smaller, more nimble competitors.
  • It seems many people online are compelled to believe this theory because of quotes given by senior leadership at the company that purports to show bias. It’s worth noting that since I’ve demonstrated that there is no clear bias in Google search results that these quotes don’t prove much on their own. However, the quotes when taken in context actually demonstrate that Google leadership is more focused on relevance and quality than brands. For example…
  • Proponents of this theory have said that related links for ambiguous queries and search suggest are evidence of bias. They’ve also pointed to Eric Schmidt saying that brand affinity is hard wired as evidence of Google’s bias. Yet what Mr. Schmidt was saying really shows a searcher bias rather than a Google bias, which you can see when you look at user queries. When you take, for example, the query [watches] (which was one that Mr Wall used to demonstrate brand bias), you see that modifiers used most often for this search are brand modifiers. Google is then just trying to give the searcher what they appear to be looking for for this ambiguous query, which is brands of watches. It’s really not Google with the bias here. They’re just giving the searchers what a lot of them clearly want.
  • When you think about brand versus quality and authority it helps to consider the case of Wikipedia. Google brings 3x the organic traffic of the number 2 listing, Facebook to the top site on the SEMRush list, Wikipedia. But this isn’t because they’re a big brand or large company. In fact, a non-profit named Wikimedia owns Wikipedia, and they are by US standards a small business, with only 80 employees and $6 million in revenue minus costs.
  • To put that in perspective, if you look at the revenue of Wikimedia in 2011 next to the revenue of the last company on the Fortune 500 list, that company is much larger from a revenue perspective than Wikimedia.
  • And that brings me to four things I hope you take away from our discussion today…
  • Move quickly. Use hot trends to quickly capitalize on rising search queries hourly, as most large brands don’t have the resources to target the 25% of new queries that Google sees every day. Build your brand. There are plenty of affiliate sites like that provide great content and get navigational search volume and brand mentions because of it, and these are two of the things that makes them eligible for related brand links Use ranking factors large brands won’t. Exact match domains rank very well in Google right now and have for a while, yet large brands typically won’t or can’t take advantage. Most large brands attempt to make their main domain relevant instead of building up relevant content at exact match domains, so this is an area where white hat affiliates can still compete with larger brands Work on your business model. It can be argued that Groupon is an affiliate site for local businesses, and is an affiliate site to help restaurants generate leads, as neither site has a product, but its product is lead generation for other businesses. Yet both sites have fairly recognizable brands and very successful business models because consumers respond to them. Google doesn’t hate affiliates. They don’t like thin affiliates because their users don’t like thin affiliates. If you’re building an affiliate model that’s based on providing value to Google’s users, and not on manipulating the search results, Google will rank you. However, you need a decent business model first, which too many affiliates ignore.
  • If you represent a big brand, don’t think that you can ignore SEO because Google has a bias toward sites like yours. As I’ve shown, there is no bias and large brands are getting beat by smaller more nimble competitors every day. Some other things that I’ve found help big brands perform in search results: Don’t expect a one person team to make a dent in the search results in a 10,000 person organization. Staff appropriately if you’re serious about visibility in search results. Many big brands use branded language that consumers don’t and this can be their downfall in natural search. Google only ranks what they think the site is relevant for, and if you don’t use relevant words on your site, Google isn’t great at guessing. Too many large brands handicap their sites with expensive content management systems or flashy dynamic sites with no visible text. Don’t do that. The most successful large brands actually make SEO a priority from the CEO. If you can get buy-in from the C-suite you will implement faster and see better results.
  • SEO experts are only as good as the information they give today, and too many of them aren’t scientific with their recommendations. Respect what they’ve done in the past, but call them out when what they say doesn’t make sense.
  • Finally, don’t be so hard on Google, as our industry wouldn’t exist without it. They’re a large company doing a difficult job trying to focus on user experience in an organization with multiple stakeholders and they deserve some credit for what they’ve managed to produce.
  • Thanks. I hope this was interesting and educational. If you have any questions, you can contact me here, and I look forward to more discussion at the end of the presentations. Thanks!
  • Does Google Favor Brands?

    1. 2. DOES GOOGLE FAVOR BRANDS? AN IN-DEPTH LOOK Bryson Meunier Director, Content Solutions Resolution Media 2/28/2012
    2. 3. AGENDA <ul><li>The Arguments For </li></ul><ul><li>The Evidence Against </li></ul><ul><li>Four Takeaways </li></ul>
    3. 4. THE ARGUMENTS FOR <ul><li>Google admits it </li></ul><ul><li>Brands rank above non-brands routinely in Google </li></ul><ul><li>There are many places for brands in search results </li></ul>
    4. 5. HASTY GENERALIZATION Cartoon originally copyrighted by the authors; G. Renee Guzlas, artist
    5. 6. THE EVIDENCE AGAINST <ul><li>Does Google Favor Brands? </li></ul>
    6. 7. RESULTS ARE ATYPICAL <ul><li>Only 7 queries studied in Aaron Wall’s original brand study </li></ul>[daily deals] [recipes] [new york hotels] [credit cards] [music downloads]
    7. 8. RESULTS ARE ATYPICAL <ul><li>Keyword-based rather than organic traffic based </li></ul>
    8. 9. RESULTS CAN’T BE DUPLICATED <ul><li>54% of the domains in Aaron Wall’s original brand study are no longer ranking </li></ul>
    9. 10. NO CLEAR BRAND BIAS IN DATA PRESENTED <ul><li>If you look only at OEMs vs store brands, only 40% of the domains in Aaron Wall’s query study are brands </li></ul><ul><li>If you segment it by store and OEM brands, 54% are brands and 46% are small brands or SMBs </li></ul><ul><li>Almost half of the queries presented are either deadlocked or have a majority of non-brands ranking today </li></ul>
    10. 11. ANALYSIS OF TOP SITES SHOWS OTHERWISE <ul><li>61% of top 100 SEMRush domains are not companies in the Fortune 500. </li></ul><ul><li>91% of top domains are not top 100 global brands </li></ul><ul><li>89% are not associated with the top 10 AdWords advertisers, and 30% of them don’t even buy AdWords </li></ul>Download the Whitepaper at
    11. 12. ANALYSIS OF TOP BRANDS SHOWS OTHERWISE <ul><li>Only 9 of the top 100 brands were also listed in SEMRush’s top 100 domains (9% of total): Yahoo! (#3), Google (#4), (#5), Apple (#8), eBay (#11), Microsoft (#16), Disney (#45), Adobe (#74) and MTV (#87). </li></ul><ul><li>Only 36 of the top 100 brands were within the first 1000 domains of SEMRush’s ranked list (3% of total). </li></ul><ul><li>The range for the rank of the top 100 global brands was #3 for Yahoo! to #251,000 for Nescafe. </li></ul><ul><li>The average SEMRush rank for the world’s top brands is 13,874 with a median of 1,900. </li></ul><ul><li>The world’s top brand, Coca Cola, fared worse than many brands below it, with a rank of 3,800. And Coca Cola has employed a full-time SEO agency for years. </li></ul> Download the Whitepaper at
    12. 13. RESULTS ARE ATYPICAL <ul><li>Car image sharing startup site went from 12,000 images indexed to 403,000 in six months </li></ul><ul><li>Monthly organic visits (the brand’s primary goal metric) grew 4198.61% from 1,083 to 46,554 in six months </li></ul><ul><li>Organic search went from 11% of total visits to 41% of total visits in six months </li></ul>Small brands/businesses can still succeed in organic search with white hat SEO
    13. 14. ENTERPRISE SEOS HAVE UNIQUE CHALLENGES <ul><li>Legal </li></ul><ul><li>Conflicting departmental standards/politics </li></ul><ul><li>Lost knowledge due to turnover </li></ul><ul><li>Design and development teams with no knowledge of SEO </li></ul><ul><li>Executives with no understanding of SEO and no buy-in </li></ul>
    14. 15. QUOTES TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT <ul><li>&quot;Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. </li></ul><ul><li>We don't actually want you to be successful. The fundamental way to increase your rank is to increase your relevance.” </li></ul><ul><li>Eric Schmidt, then Google CEO, addressing publishers and editors on October 8, 2008 </li></ul>
    15. 16. RELATED LINKS AND SUGGESTIONS ARE USER DRIVEN &quot;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.&quot; - Eric Schmidt
    16. 17. QUOTES TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT <ul><li>“ And 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. </li></ul><ul><li>-Matt Cutts, “ TED 2011: The ‘Panda’ That Hates Farms: A Q&A With Google’s Top Search Engineers </li></ul><ul><li>Wired, March 3, 2011 </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>And you can really see mathematical reasons.”
    17. 18. QUOTES TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT <ul><li>Times “brand” mentioned in the interview: </li></ul><ul><li>Zero </li></ul>
    18. 19. QUOTES TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT <ul><li>“ But you know inside of Google, at least within the search ranking team, we don’t really think about brands. We think about words like trust, authority, reputation, PageRank, high quality. And so the Google philosophy on search results has been the same pretty much forever. It’s that if somebody comes to Google and types an X, we want to return high quality information about X. And sometimes that’s a brand search, sometimes that’s an informational search, sometimes it’s transactional, so there are all sorts of different information needs that people have.” </li></ul><ul><li>-Matt Cutts, “ Is Google putting more weight on brands in rankings?”, March 4, 2009 </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
    19. 20. BRAND VS. QUALITY AND AUTHORITY <ul><li>Wikipedia is the top result in the SEMRush top sites list, with 3x the organic traffic of the number 2 listing, Facebook. Wikipedia also appears for more keywords than any other site on the Internet. </li></ul><ul><li>Wikipedia is operated by a non-profit called Wikimedia with 80 employees and $24.7 million in revenue ($6 million minus costs) for 2011. </li></ul>
    20. 21. BRAND VS. QUALITY AND AUTHORITY The #500 company on the Fortune 500 had revenues 177 times larger than Wikimedia Foundation in 2011.
    21. 22. FOUR TAKEAWAYS… <ul><li>Does Google Favor Brands? </li></ul>
    22. 23. 1. AFFILIATES AND SMALL BUSINESSES CAN COMPETE IN GOOGLE SEARCH <ul><ul><li>Move quickly. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Build your brand, but focus on trust, authority and quality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make your brand something searchers are already looking for </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use ranking factors large brands won’t. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Work on your business model. </li></ul></ul>
    23. 24. 2. BIG BRANDS ARE NOT ALWAYS WINNING <ul><li>Don’t get complacent </li></ul><ul><li>Staff appropriately </li></ul><ul><li>Use words people are searching for </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t handicap your site </li></ul><ul><li>Make SEO a priority from the CEO </li></ul>
    24. 25. 3. KILL YOUR SEO IDOLS <ul><li>Not literally </li></ul><ul><li>Argument from authority is a logical fallacy </li></ul><ul><li>Hold SEO experts to the high standards that got them where they are </li></ul>
    25. 26. 4. GIVE GOOGLE A BREAK <ul><li>No one in this room would have a job without Google </li></ul><ul><li>They are a large company with many stakeholders and still manage to focus on user experience in search results </li></ul>
    26. 27. <ul><li>Bryson Meunier </li></ul><ul><li>Director, Content Solutions </li></ul><ul><li>Resolution Media </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>@brysonmeunier </li></ul>THANK YOU! Scan to visit