12 Mar 2009, Posted by admin , 11 Comments
Pretty much every SEO knows about Google’s latest update. Aaron Wall broke the story and described it as an update designed to bump brands up in the search results, while Matt Cutts later came out to say that it was one of many updates they do every year and wasn’t necessarily designed to boost brands, it was just an update designed to have a more relevant index. Sure.
A quote that’s being used a lot at the moment is from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, where he said that
“the answer won’t come by keeping brands from the space; instead, the web needs them to help clean up the net.”
This quote makes it seem like Google wants brands to rank well in the search results, because brands are what their users want to see. Sorry mom and pop shops, according to Google you just don’t cut it.
But for Google to be able to rank brands high, they need to adjust their algorithm to match. This gives SEOs a massive opportunity to exploit this. Right now, it’s an interesting SEO puzzle in it’s own right to find out which factors Google looks at to seperate large brands from smaller sites.
How long has the domain been around for? Large brands have usually taken time to build up, they will have registered domains from years ago. Sky.com is 12 years old, for example.
How can you use this to your advantage?
If you’re just starting a new site, consider spending extra on buying an old domain. Make sure it’s already been crawled by Google and has been previously indexed. Huge bonus points if it’s still indexed and has content.
Domain Registration Length
When is the domain set to expire? Has it been set as having a massive registration length, or just for a year or two? Large brands tend to register their site for years and years in the future, why wouldn’t they? They don’t envision their site or brand ever failing. Smaller sites tend to be happier with constantly renewing each year. For example, Sky.com expires in 2018. TVChoiceMagazine.co.uk is set to renew next year.
You can use this to your advantage by registering your domain for longer. You can get deals on registering for 10 years, and if you plan on the site lasting that long then it may be worth considering.
What Other Sites Are On That IP?
Large brands don’t use shared hosting. Large brands usually sit alone, or near enough alone, on their IP address. A large brand might be on the same hosting as sites that have the same name, but with a different tld (so possibly Sky.co.uk, Sky.com, Sky.fr etc) or have different named sites but all with very, very related content (like coca-cola.com and cokezone.co.uk). They very rarely sit on hosting with loads of other sites that are all completely different.
Sky.com sits on it’s own server, as you’d probably expect, whereas a much smaller site shares with unrelated sites.
You can use this to your advantage by investing in a dedicated server. I never said exploiting the brand update would be cheap.
Do People Search For The Exact Domain?
Large brands tend to get a high rate of people searching for their exact match domain. Look at Google suggest – try typing in anything, pretty much anything, and you’ll find brand names appearing. People search for exact brandnames. Google can tell it’s an exact search for a site because it’ll have the tld on the end. For searches that don’t have the tld (such as “moneysupermarket” or “sky”) they might look at the click-through rate compared to the high volume of searches. If a term has a ludicrously high number of searches, and one result gets the majority of the clicks, it’s quite likely it’s a brand.
You can’t realistically change the number of searches for your brand, but you can help to improve your click-through rate by using really well written Meta descriptions, getting a less spammy and more inviting title (without sacrificing keyword use) and making sure you use keywords in your URL. The keywords themselves don’t automatically bump you up in the SERPs, but the keywords that have been searched for do appear bolded, which tends to draw the eye to those results more (which leads to a higher CTR).
Do Most Links Have The Domain Name As The Anchor Text?
I don’t mean the whole URL, I mean inbetween the www. and before the .com. If you check the anchor text of Sky.com’s backlinks you’ll find that the majority of sites link to Sky with “Sky” in the anchor text. This is fairly normal for brands – you do get some places linking to sites like the AA, Norwich Union and the like with “car insurance” but they tend to have a larger percentage of their inbound links include their brand name somewhere in the anchor text.
You can use this to your advantage by spending some time building links to your site with your brand name as the anchor text. Hit all the usual places – directories, blog comments, forums, article syndication, profile pages – anything where you can leave a link that you’ve written yourself.
Do They Spend Money In AdWords?
Google has always made a point of vocalising how they keep their paid listings and their natural listings seperate. One does not, apparantly, affect the other. I don’t know if Google is using data from AdWords to determine whether or not a site is a large brand or not, but if I was Google and I wanted to seperate brands from small sites, *I’d* probably look at how much money they spend on marketing.
You can’t use this to your advantage without spending a ton of cash on AdWords, and unless you want to do that on something that’s not even nearly proven, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Do They Bid On Their Brand Name In AdWords?
Again, Google’s often stated that they don’t use AdWords data to boost sites in the natural listings – but where’s the line? If they were just using the data to see if a site was a brand or not, that may not necessarily on it’s own boost the site in the natural listings. Google loves collecting and using data. Never forget that.
You can use this to your advantage by bidding on your brand name. It depends on circumstance, and it may not be right for everyone, but if your site has the potential to make cash then it may be what you need.
Links From Authority Sites
I’ve kept this one last because it’s one of the most likely changes to Google’s algorithm, and it’s definitely one that you can use to your advantage if you’re a really good SEO. Large brands tend to get linked to more from authoritiative and trusted sites. They spend more money on advertising, they spend more money on publicity and PR and they’re in the news more. As a result, they get linked to from places like the BBC, the Guardian and the New York Times. They’ll usually have their own page on Wikipedia. They’ll be listed in DMOZ and the Yahoo! directory. Big sites will talk about them, because they’re newsworthy. This is almost certainly the area that Google has focused on most to determine which sites are brands and which aren’t. They’ve cranked the “must have authority” switch right up to 11.
You can use this to your advantage by creating awesome linkbait. Pick an authoritative site, like TechCrunch, the BBC or any authoritative site that’s related to your industry and sit down and think. Your aim here should be to get a link from that one website. Ignore other sites, you want content that will interest that exact site. Use MSN’s linkfromdomain command to see what type of sites and content your targetted site is linking to, it’ll help you in creating that content. If there’s no chance in hell of the target site linking to your site (because you’re a competitor, or any number of reasons), why not make a new site on a different domain primarily designed to get that link and then, after you’ve gained the link, cloak the 301 over to your site? It’s worth considering. Once you’ve designed content that will almost certainly get a link, don’t email the target site. Phone them. Let them know you’ve got some content, and it might benefit their readers if they see it too. By the way, if your target site is the BBC and you’ve got a UK site, then things are about to get a lot easier for you. Do what you have to do, but get that link. You can also use this focus on authority to your advantage by going after links from DMOZ, the Yahoo! directory and getting listed in Wikipedia (I don’t even nearly care that it’s NoFollow). Consider donating to a charity site, quite often they’ll link to you from their lovely, authoritative, well trusted site.
The beauty of every Google update is that it’s algorithmic. Google is, cleverly, built on a method of almost always trying to be scalable. If they want brands to rank higher then they need to do it algorithmically, not manually.
This, to us, is nothing but an opportunity.