Back in October 2008, Eric Schmidt invited a group of magazine executives to Google’s offices in Mountain View for a series of workshops about the future of publishing. Back then, almost 5 years ago, pandas were bears wearing eyeliner, and penguins were birds in a dinner suit, but that day was the point at which the journey towards those major updates started. On 7th October 2008, Eric Schmidt made the following comment:
Google have always promoted the idea of putting users first, talking about how webmasters should focus on great design, and remarkable content rather than looking for short cuts to success. Since Schmidt’s cesspool quote, we’ve seen a few major updates that appear to have favoured major brands over smaller web only companies.
Lots of the changes that Panda and Penguin have heralded have their roots in the question of what makes a brand. Sites with a high proportion of people linking to them by name; sites which attract searches that include their brand; and sites attract more clicks from a given position than they might otherwise simply because people recognise their name. The more you think about what represents a brand online, the more signals you recognise, and as a marketer, the more you start to think about the relationship you have with your audience.
Less Diversity in Google?
Google gets criticised for their focus on brands. Less diversity means less choice, and less choice is bad for customers. According to Mozcast, Google seems to be getting less diverse. Here’s what less diverse looks like:
Domain diversity fell below 50% for the first time at the beginning of June, and it’s getting steadily lower throughout this chart. That’s good news for big brands. In fact, Mozcast shows us just how good the news is:
At the time of writing, close to one sixth of all the results users see in the top 10 results in the Moz sample group of keywords are made up of the following 10 websites:
When you look at these sites, they’re pretty much all the biggest fish in their particular ponds. The undeniable authority in their niche, and they’re all huge brands.
As a user, you’d probably feel reassured by seeing these sites in the search results. You’d probably feel pretty confident that by choosing one of these companies you’d have a good experience. These are the sites you’d probably search for by name before you searched for what they did.
In search, that’s probably the biggest brand signal there is. Some other signals?
Here’s some link data from MajesticSEO:
These are link profiles that are totally different from what any SEO builds. Aside from the vast numbers that are present, image links represent a huge chunk of the total for quite a few of the sites, as do no-follow links. Lots of the links here are from widgets, especially those like buttons that you see on pretty much every web page you visit. In fact, if you’ve ever what the visualisation of 22 billion links looks like, here you go:
So What Can You Do?
The so called big 10 are some of the biggest companies in the world, but the fact is that the rest of us have been thrown a lifeline. Google know the difference between a global brand and a local brand. Google know that there is a difference between a generalist and a specialist.
The lifeline that Google have given us is personalisation.
I get a different set of results to you because of who I am, where I live and who I’m connected to. Sure, I want to be reassured by the presence of Amazon when I search for a book, but I also want to see my local bookshop and stores that have been recommended by the people I’m close to.
As Eric Schmidt said, brands are useful in helping us sort out the cesspool of false information, but our relationship with brands is more complicated than just a recognisable logo. They’re the companies that make us feel safe, the companies we can trust, and in a lot of cases, the companies we’re close to.
What makes a brand now? It’s the relationship that they have with their customers. The thing you can do right now is to invest in that relationship. Seth Godin talks about the story that connects customers with companies being core to what defines a brand. Building that story, through web design, content, and connections will help you become the brand that your customers will search for above others.
About the Author
This is a guest post written by UK SEO Consultant James Lowery. James has worked in the SEO industry for more than a decade, and is a regular conference speaker and blogger.