• Lloyd Morris-Fletcher

    Really enjoyed reading this article, presented different sides of the argument very well.

    The only thing I would want to mention is the paragraphs surrounding punishments for brands and non-brands. Punishments are/should be proportional to the website in question surely. It’s similar to arguing that all fines in law should be relative to an individual’s income. A £60 fine to a low-income worker may cripple them whereas high earners could pay multiple fines a day without needing to worry. So should punishments be based on people earning over X amount from organic traffic will be in penalty band A etc?

    I think it’s difficult to judge the severity of punishments on 1 metric alone. Whether that be financial or traffic based. It’s surely not Google’s job to judge how much revenue/traffic a site will lose during a penalty period. The high-earning site as you said could lose millions during a penalty (and i’m not arguing that’s a lot!) but a smaller site which if not found on Google could send that company bust, what algo determines which site deserves shorter punishments?

    I personally think the bottom line is, if your company relies heavily or solely on online traffic and organic search especially then you need to be maintaining strong SEO best practices and doing all you can to avoid penalties. I know it’s hard to protect against algo changes but if your main source of income is online and you’re trying to actively cheat the system don’t kick up a fuss when your site is penalized and don’t expect it to be back any quicker because of the size of your ‘brand’. Potentially the more reliant you become on online the more you must scrutinize what your staff/agency are doing in terms of SEO.

    Excellent article.

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Interesting article, Bryson. Certainly thought provoking. Although I agree with Rand… as soon as I read this ” if Google were really favoring brands, we wouldn’t be growing as quickly as we are, with more brands than ever investing in SEO”, I almost stopped reading the article. I am glad I kept going, but I’m afraid you may have lost a lot of people with that one.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Thanks for the feedback, Jenny! Yes, I clarified that in the postscript, but I can see how people might take that the wrong way. Although honestly I think some people are looking to disagree with me on this issue and are looking for a place to stop reading the article. It’s encouraging when people like you keep going and consider all the evidence for and against the argument before dismissing it outright as propaganda.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Thanks, Lloyd! Appreciate the feedback. I agree and I don’t think Google is judging how relatively severe the penalty will be. The effect, however, may seem slight when large brands are punished for a shorter period of time; but my point is that even short periods of time can have large consequences for Google, brands and searchers.

    Also totally agree that the best course of action is to avoid risky behavior.

  • sharithurow

    Hi Bryson-

    Great article! I agree with your positions.

    Honestly, I think Rand is taking his data far out of context to the point where I don’t agree with his math or his conclusions. Some of those top sites mentioned are clients, and I have an understanding of how they achieved such visibility that Rand doesn’t have…it has nothing to do with brand bias.

    My opinion. My educated guess is that I would get different numbers and conclusions.

  • TomSchmitz

    I’ve watched the “march of the brands” in different keyword markets. For example, for years Bridal Jewelry was dominated by small businesses selling nationally. Only a couple major brands, like Overstock, were in the rankings. Today this space is dominated by major brands.

    It’s not like these big brands suddenly began selling bridal jewelry.
    They were always on the 3rd, 4th and 5th pages of results. Back then small businesses selling nationally and internationally ranked on the 1st and 2nd pages. , They only sold bridal jewelry or wedding related merchandise. Many of their links came from related sites, pointed directly to the ranking pages, and contained relevant anchor text.

    Yes, the big brands invested in SEO and marched forth. Yet even today their bridal jewelry pages that rank high have few, if any, off-site inlinks. The ranking pages’ PageRank is passed through internal links. External inbound links point, mostly, to the big brands’ homepages. Most of their anchor text is the brand itself. Yet even with these weaker signals, the major brands marched from the depths to the top rankings on the strength of unexceptional page content and internal links.

    It’s not only Bridal Jewelry. This happened across a lot of markets and keywords. Sure it’s observation. It’s also experience. And from where here it looks like Google changed the rules to favor major brands.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Hi Tom,

    I appreciate your feedback. Clearly yours is the more popular position. If people want to believe that brands are favored in Google search, that’s their prerogative. Coming at this as a skeptic, though, it’s difficult for me to look at phenomena such as you are describing and not attribute it to things like site quality, elimination of pure spam in the search results, Google favoring big sites not necessarily brands, etc. The smaller brands on page one for [bridal jewelry] today in Google are over-optimizing to be there, so I would expect their future absence from the results to be attributed more to that than their brand size. I would expect the same if Overstock or others were relying too much on anchor text or exact match title tags without putting forth quality content with relevant keywords and letting Google and users decide how to rank them. As I said, I agree with Rand that the find and exploit era of SEO is over (or at least coming to a close, as the search results for this query suggest otherwise), and the smaller brands on this SERP may find that their success is short-lived. But not because they’re smaller brands.

    I know people have strong opinions about this, and that it’s a lightning rod issue in the SEO community, but I’m glad that we can at least discuss it professionally, so I appreciate your feedback, even though we clearly disagree. :)

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    I don’t know if you can call it “people like me” ;-) Since I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you and reading several other things you’ve written, I knew there must be something more important that you were going to say – and I was right! It’s a very difficult case to argue and I think you did it justice.

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    On this particular subject, I have a bit of experience. It would appear to me that Google shifted from favoring a localized result for bridal jewelry (which featured a lot of smaller local brands) to a more generalized result. I’ve seen this happen with a few different industries as they test whether a local result or a generalized result is a better fit for the customer intent. I’m not convinced that it’s brand favoritism so much as a pivot in relevance factors away from local.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    :) Sorry, didn’t mean it derogatorily. I meant people who are impartial and are more interested in what the data says. But I appreciate the kind words!

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    oh I didn’t take it as derogatory. I was being self deprecating. LOL.

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    I’m totally comment spamming you here Bryson, but your readers have such good feedback! I have some experience in penalties, and I have found that often when people think a penalty is lifted more quickly for one site than another (RapGenius being a notable exception as far as I can tell), it’s simply because the bigger brands have more money and resources to throw effort towards cleaning up the problem. I’ve certainly been paid more on occasion (and gratefully accepted it) to clean up links more quickly than usual. The amount of effort expended in five 12 hour days is the same as the effort expended in thirty 2 hour days. It’s just that most smaller companies don’t have that kind of money to throw at the problem all at once.

  • Michael Cottam

    I wonder if perhaps some of what looks like brands being favored in the SERPs is really just a side effect of Google attempting to handle the avalanche of exact-match domains being built. If you’re selling iphone cases, and your domain is http://www.buy-iphone-cases.com, “buy-iphone-cases” is NOT your brand, you’re just cleverly taking advantage of Google’s bias towards EMDs/PMDs, trying to help people find brands when they really are searching for brands. If your site is http://www.purple-pigeon.com and you’re selling iPhone cases, then yes, your domain name is your brand. Neither of my examples really deserves a ranking boost because of their domain name for a search for “iphone cases”, but the latter one DOES deserve a boost for searches for “purple pigeon”. So what I think we’re seeing is not necessarily Google favoring brands, but rather, Google trying to detect EMD spam.

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com incrediblehelp

    I hate this “brand” conversation. Lets say I am selling football cases for collectibles. “Big brands” like Walmart, Amazon will always out rank the little guy that could have better products, better content, better prices and more importantly better SEO. That is what makes me upset.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Interestingly, I just did a search for [football cases for collectibles] and these are the above the fold results in Chicago:

    Amazon.com: Full Size Football Display Case With Mirror …
    http://www.amazon.com › … › Display Cases
    Amazon.com
    Sold by LABORDE COLLECTIBLES and Fulfilled by Amazon. …. This football casecomes with a mirrored back so you can see both sides of the football.
    Schutt Sports: Collectibles – Football Collection
    http://www.schuttsports.com/aspx/Sport/ProductListing.aspx?...
    Schutt Sports
    Collectibles. Football Collection · NCAA … Authentic Football Helmet · ReplicaFootball Helmet … Full Size Helmet Display Case · Mini Helmet Display Case.
    Football Display Case – Football case – Football Cube …
    http://www.switsport.com/tek9.asp?pg=acrylicdisplays

    Football Display Case – Football case. We offer various football display case, holder, and cube for your collectibles. Football, UV, mirror back, glass, oak, wall …
    Football Memorabilia & Collectibles – SportsMemorabilia.com
    http://www.mountedmemories.com/memorabilia/football/

    … football, basketball, hockey, NASCAR collectibles; also find a sports autograph, signed baseball, signed jersey, display case or sports collectible. All items are …
    Get Football Display Cases at Collectible Supplies
    http://www.collectible-supplies.com › Deluxe Display Cases

    If you want the best in football display cases, you’ve found the right place. Here atCollectible Supplies, we are proud to offer top names in all collectible sports …
    Deluxe Display Cases – Collectible-Supplies.com
    http://www.collectible-supplies.com/Deluxe-Display-Cases.aspx

    When it comes to collectible display cases, you’ll find no better selection than the one at Collectible-Supplies.com. Whether a football collector looking for the …
    Sports Display Cases – Specialty Plastics Fabrications
    http://www.casesforcollectibles.com/sportscases.html

    CasesForCollectibles.com. Mon. … Sports, baseball cases, jersey display frames,
    That’s one recognizable brand ranking first, and 5 sites I’ve never heard of. No Walmart, and none of the largest brands in the world according to Interbrand. And the Amazon listing is actually another brand I’ve never heard of called Laborde collectibles.
    Apart from the query you mentioned, I’m not arguing that large brands don’t often outrank smaller brands, but as your query shows, smaller brands can outrank larger brands and larger sites as well. Better explanations than brand bias for the observed phenomena, as I demonstrate in the article.
    More importantly today…
    Happy mother’s day, moms!

  • http://www.dpom.co.uk/ Brett Dixon

    Really good read Bryson. I don’t think Google favours brands as such…but, the reasons brands do well is because they’re often synonymous with trust, reputation and authority etc…

    If smaller websites concentrate on those aspects (you COULD call that building a brand) over finding the next SEO loophole then they’ll start to find themselves do much better.

  • http://sgb.co.in sagar ganatra

    Hello There,
    Your article is nice but you know Google is trying make search engine non organic.
    Proof of Google Non Organic

    1)Open Google (Without Gmail Login)
    ->You ‘ll see 4 Ad Results 2 yelp Results 4 to 6 Places Results 2 to 4 Organic result and then 2 ads from Google.

    2)Open Google (Gmail Logged in)
    ->You ‘ll cache result from Google with You Google plus post shared and most visited website 1st with Google ads 1st and same as 1)number which i have said

    3)That means Organic SEO is dead how could be possible to getting top for new website?

    4)Google wants all website owner in Google ad word

    Tell me how organic SEO ‘ll do it brand seo that is the Google game

    Thanks

    SagarGanatra

  • TomSchmitz

    It’s difficult to look at SERPs today and make judgements about the past after many sites literally went out of business. Ironically it’s some of the biggest offenders that survive.

    I’m not making a blanket pronouncement for all keywords, industries and markets. But I do see cases where big brands took over, especially competing against small not-local businesses. I think both our conclusions can be true under different circumstances.

    Reading between the lines — which is never fair, I know — one could argue big brands took over because their suspect signals (that I observed) are better than the small sites’ suspect signals (that you observed).

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    To a degree it seems like a question of semantics. I’m far from an SEO expert, but I know something about algorithm development and baking a “brand quality” metric into an algo would be challenging. How would Google differentiate between Macy’s and Nordstrom on searches relevant to both?

    A much more likely explanation is that what we see is a consumer bias towards brands they know and love. Well regarded brands enjoy higher CTR because people recognize the name and trust the brand. Well regarded brands enjoy higher conversion rates because of that trust. Well regarded brands have lower bounce rates as they have the money to build high quality engaging sites. Well regarded brands are mentioned more often and linked to more often because they’re big and well known and have larger bases of happy customers. It is these consumer driven behavioral signals that drive the rankings.

    Is that a brand bias? No, I’d argue its the advantage of being well known.

  • Broud Kuhn

    George hits on something that has been knocking around in my head for a long time, and I think he is right on.

    My hypothesis has been that the SEO community has been significantly underestimating the weight of user behavioral signals in ranking, particularly in high rank positions.

    – – I suggest that most of what has been claimed about brand bias can be fairly easily explained by a heavy weighting on user behavioral factors (when volume is sufficient)

    – – I am also intrigued by the analogy with PPC quality scores… yes, there are many factors in a quality score, but once the data is sufficient, it basically converges to CTR. If Google thinks this way about paid, why not organic?

    — Google innovations like Panda would seem to fit the story… because content mills were actually great at getting high CTRs (and high ranking) despite having not-so-valuable content. Perhaps CTRs couldn’t be weighted as heavily until the content mills were dealt with. Alternatively, perhaps CTRs helped the content mills to thrive, ultimately drawing Google’s wrath.

    Of course, I don’t have the raw data to prove any of this… and the strong correlation between organic rank and CTR makes it difficult to untangle cause and effect… but my spider sense tells me there is something going on here we don’t fully appreciate yet.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Yes, the industry has been strangely silent on user behavior as a signal. Matt Cutts refuses to discuss it. Engineers at Bing have made the case to me that for both their algorithms and Google’s the “bounce back” metrics are among the most important signals that they are serving a good result or a bad result for a given query. How frequently do people clicking on result A end up coming back to the same SERP to try a different link, relative to all the other results for the same query? Hugely important signal that the user finds what s/he sought if they don’t immediately come back and try a different result.

  • NewWorldDisorder

    “Let’s not forget, too, that brands can spam — and when they do, they’re penalized in Google search, just like everyone else.”

    And unlike everyone else big brands often have their penalties lifted in as little as two weeks. Yet some covering the SEO industry still claim there is no bias. Please.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Please re-read point #5 before commenting again, starting with this part: “The point about penalties being a slap on the wrist is not entirely true. When large brands get deindexed, even for two weeks, they can lose more money than many small businesses will make in a lifetime.

    A few years ago, a company came to us because their large agency had been buying paid links and got their site listed on page six for navigational terms for a month. They estimated it cost them a million dollars in sales. It wasn’t well publicized, because people who work for large brands sign NDAs (and have no incentive to announce it to the SEO community, anyway), but it happened. And if you think a million dollars is a slap on the wrist, you’re making more doing SEO than I am.”

    It goes on to talk about damaging the user experience by deindexing large brands for long periods of time. Penalties are about more than duration of time, Mr. NewWorldDisorder.

  • NewWorldDisorder

    “The point about penalties being a slap on the wrist is not entirely true. When large brands get deindexed, even for two weeks, they can lose more money than many small businesses will make in a lifetime.”

    My slap on the wrist comment is indeed true and your view clearly has focused on total revenue lost, which is quite narrow-minded IMO. Yes, a large corporation will lose a lot of money being penalized for a couple of weeks. But in comparison, small businesses are often given an extended penalty that lasts for years and ultimately serves as their death sentence.

    I see no comparison of a big brand losing millions of dollars for a two week penalty when compared to a small business owner who loses $50,000 a year as his/her livelihood during multi-year penalties. For big brands, the penalty and financial losses are often deemed a cost of doing business. For small business owners, their extended penalties often result in the loss of their livelihood and their ability to pay bills (mortgage, health insurance, kid’s college tuition, etc.) with what little money they once made. In other words, the financial losses for big brands may be larger, but the full weight of the personal/social impact falls largely on the backs of small business owners. When you consider these points, and that short-term penalties for big brands allows them to quickly recover their financial losses, you too may see their short-term penalties as a slap on the wrist as I and many others do.