It appears we’re seeing some fundamental changes in the way Google determines web page relevancy and ranks organic search results. Some well known search marketing minds have alerted us and have picked up on the new trend.
In October of last year, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt stated that the internet is a cesspool of false information and that "Brands are the solution, not the problem". He further stated that "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool". This is a pretty big claim because it gives us clear direction as to how Google is starting to weight it’s organic listings – filtering out the "cesspool", lower quality, non-brand affiliated pages and delivering what they think their users find most important: brand affiliated pages.
A branding expert’s point of view
According to Rob Frankel, branding expert, you have to position yourself as the only solution to your customers’ problem.. you don’t have to be the best or the cheapest, you just have to be the only solution, and then they have no choice but to go with you. I’m betting Google wants to follow this kind of strategy – well defined brands are now given a lot of weight in the organic listings because they are viewed as the best and often times the only solution to what people are searching for.
How does Google determine a site is a brand?
- Latent Semantic Analysis – By looking at all the web’s documents as a whole and seeing which pages have many words in common, Google can determine those pages are semantically related to each other. A simple example might be: if page A said "apples and oranges are a fruit", page B said "apples and bananas are a fruit", your page C said "fruit tastes good", a search engine might think apples, oranges and bananas taste good and rank your page for queries that have to do with the concept of taste and the concept of fruit.
- Trust Rank boost via hand picking domains – TrustRank is a method which can be used by search engines to seed certain websites with an arbitrary amount of weight, then watch that weight sort of "blow" around the web and see where the trust lies. We don’t really know if that’s being used but we do know Google is using human labor to review web pages (web sites) in order to better eliminate web spam (Google’s quality rater guidelines were leaked in the past). Google could have added "brands" as a guidelines to their quality rating rules and had their raters give "trusted", branded domains a seed value other websites don’t yet have privilege to (that is, until they become a strong brand themselves).
- Exact match domains – we’ve known for several years now that Google gives a lot of weight to exact match domains, that is, domains which contain the exact or nearly the exact keyword phrase right in the domain spelling. One reason to reward domains with exact match is that they were first movers in their industry and as a result are less likely to be spam (people who now have to purchase .info or .me vs .com). Google may have just given this weighted value a big boost. I’ve personally seen a website with less than 20 inbound links and less than 20 pages in Google’s index rise up from nowhere to compete for terms that others are spending a fortune on to rank for.
- Usage data, including search navigation paths – Google’s search and Analytics harvests usage data like there’s no tomorrow. I doubt that usage data is used as a ranking factor for all sites (simply because Google doesn’t have the same amount of data for all sites) and all queries but it probably is used to determine brand strength, to some degree, for larger sites. If a site has a strong brand, chances are that people either type it in when searching or go directly from the navigation bar. And since google can see how people jump from search query to search query, sites that end up receiving a larger portion of that "jump" traffic tail might be getting a boost.
- Branded inbound link anchor text boost – Sites that are linked to with their core brand name (and not just what they hope to rank for) more often than their competition might have been given a boost. If you do a search for yourdomain.com Google will pull up yourdomain.com, no question (unless you’ve been banned), and if you do a search for your brand name you will most likely come up (else you probably need some SEO Consulting). So we know that branding is an easy way to cut through the noise and get to the signal. And it’s a well known fact that anchor text determines organic search engine visibility, but what if you had too much anchor text for your core keywords, what if you over-optimized your site by acquiring too many of the same type of anchor text? Sites that have a good portion of their inbound link anchor text dedicated to their brands might come out ahead of sites that appear to have overly optimized inbound link profiles.
Semantic Search on the rise
Eric Schmidt is also quoted saying:
Wouldn’t it be nice if Google understood the meaning of your phrase rather than just the words that are in that phrase? We have a lot of discoveries in that area that are going to roll out in the next little while.
Looks like semantic search is on the rise. Now that Google is somehow able to recognize a brand vs a non-brand and then weight that heavily, what other areas will they start weighting more heavily as we move forward?