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Does Google Favor Brands?

  2. DOES GOOGLE FAVOR BRANDS? AN IN-DEPTH LOOK Bryson Meunier Director, Content Solutions Resolution Media 2/28/2012
  3. HASTY GENERALIZATION Cartoon originally copyrighted by the authors; G. Renee Guzlas, artist
  4. RELATED LINKS AND SUGGESTIONS ARE USER DRIVEN "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
  5. BRAND VS. QUALITY AND AUTHORITY The #500 company on the Fortune 500 had revenues 177 times larger than Wikimedia Foundation in 2011.

Editor's Notes

  1. 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.
  2. I’ll just be taking you through three quick points today.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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…
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. And that brings me to four things I hope you take away from our discussion today…
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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!