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Does Google Give Preferential Treatment to Brands, and How Does It Impact SEO?

There’s been a raging debate over the years about how Google treats big brands on its platform and its impact on SEO and non-branded domains competing for visibility and SEO supremacy. The confusion rages further, given that a brand is not a direct ranking factor in SEO.

So, why, then, does it matter?

It all has to do with how Google identifies a domain as authoritative and trustworthy. Google’s main goal is not to simply rank websites based on who has the most keywords. Given the rise in fake news, spamming, and poor-quality content, Google’s main agenda is delivering trustworthy, accurate, and top-quality results to the billions of users on the platform.

Does that mean you’re doomed to poor SEO performance if you’re not a brand? And how can you become a trusted brand on Alphabet’s big platform?

Here’re the answers to those questions and how you can still win the SEO game.

What is Branding in SEO?

Branding in SEO is the marketing technique used to help a business build its name, symbol, and reputation online. Search engines can identify these brands based on several factors and rank them higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Google natively ranks brands higher than less established businesses. That’s because brands tend to give a better user experience. For instance, if you search for a product such as “office chairs” online, often, you’ll get results from established brands such as Amazon and Officeworks.

If you’ve recently launched your office furniture business, you’ll be less likely to rank higher on SERPs than these established brands.

So, how do search engines determine which domain represents a trusted and top-performing brand?

The Factors That Contribute to Search Engines Identifying a Brand

Google uses a variety of indirect SEO factors to identify a domain as a trusted brand. There three most significant include:

Brand Signals

Bolstering brand or real business signals is often viewed as improving expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) in the SEO sphere. Brand signals can be broken down into the following:

  • A real address on your website – This address may be at the footer or About page. The address gains more visibility and authority if included in your business’s Google My Business account.
  • A phone number – It provides a contact point on your site. Preferably, it should be a local number instead of a call tracking or 800 number.
  • A strong About page – The page should feature employee information and detailed company information. Research the About pages of your competition and assess the quality and depth of their content. Aim to have something better.
  • Public reviews and company information on trusted public review sites – These sites include Trustpilot, Glassdoor, and Yelp. Higher ratings, a great number of reviews, and positive sentiments are some factors Google indirectly relies on to identify strong brands.
  • Active social media – Be active on top social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, depending on your demographic.
  • Unique logo and website design – The theme of a business’s website and its logo design are considered brand signals since they help customers identify the brand.

Brand Mentions

Google relies heavily on indirect mentions of your brand that don’t necessarily link back to your site to determine its authority and legitimacy. These brand mentions also extend to co-citations and local citations for local businesses.
The more brand mentions you have, the more Google will acknowledge your business as real and authoritative.
NoFollow links also play a huge role in bolstering brand mentions. Despite not directly affecting the page rankings of the site with the link, NoFollow links with anchor texts mentioning your brand boost its authority and brand signals within Google’s search algorithm. 

Number of Branded Searches

A high number of branded searches for your business tells Google that you’re a big brand existing outside the Google search scope. These branded searches often arise from people seeing your ads on traditional advertising media such as TV, billboards, and radio ads and then searching for your brand name online.
Besides boosting organic search rankings, these branded searches boost your status as an authoritative and trustworthy brand within Google search. Therefore, you need to compliment your organic search results with offline marketing efforts.
Tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush help businesses estimate the number of branded searches their brand or competitors receive and discover ways to boost them. 
For instance, searching HubSpot on these tools shows that the brand receives hundreds of thousands of branded search mentions monthly, which solidifies its position in Google’s algorithm as an authoritative brand.

Google's Transition to Favouring Big Brands

Google’s preferential treatment towards big brands did not start from the platform’s inception. As more people relied on the search giant to get information and shop for products and services, delivering quality, authoritative, and factual information became the company’s core mandate.

Based on that mandate, according to a tweet from John Mueller, a webmaster trends analyst at Google, it is technically inaccurate to state that Google is blatantly giving more SEO advantages to established global brands. 

Rather, the perceived “bias” results from the quality factors Google’s algorithm uses to ensure it’s delivering top-quality results for a user’s query. It also protects established brands from fakes, spammers, and fraudsters.

Some of the most significant steps taken by the company to fulfill this mandate include:

The Google Vince Update

The Google Vince update was the first significant jab by Google against fake information. This update also marked the company’s shift to searching, ranking, and favouring brands over unbranded domains in its SERPs. 

Before the update launched in 2009, the then Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, noted that the cesspool of fake information on the internet could only be drained by leaning towards brands. 

With the Google Vince update launch in late January 2009, big brands started ranking higher in SERPs. With the public weighing in on this shift and asking whether Google was blatantly favouring big brands in its search results, a Google Webmasters video elaborated that the algorithm was a push for trust, authority, and relevance on the platform. 

SERPs Have Changed Dramatically

Google is known for tinkering with its algorithm several times yearly. However, they do more than update their algorithm. The SERPs also undergo significant changes, some aligning with their goal of ranking reputable brands higher on Google’s search pages.

A good example is featured snippets, which were once on a steep rise before knowledge panels took their crown. Featured snippets appear on top of the Google search results and provide a quick summary of an answer to a user’s query.

After experiencing a 5.5% to 16% increase in two years, featured snippets dropped in a matter of days in favour of knowledge panels. 

Knowledge panels are a way for Google to use information from trusted brands and sources to elaborately answer a query without the user clicking on the link to the source. Wikipedia is one of the most popular brands and definition-based sources on knowledge panels.

These changes in SERPs are affecting user behaviour, with data showing that only 60% of Google searches result in a click. Therefore, 40% of the results generate zero clicks.

Google Displays Brands in Google Suggest

Google also gives big, trusted brands preferential treatment when users search with the brand name. As you type the brand name, Google auto-suggests the brand’s site giving it enhanced visibility. 

This concept was initially started as Google Instant in 2011. The effect on user behaviour is that users are inclined to visit the brand before fully typing what they were searching for, starving smaller brands and businesses of potential visitors.

How to Adapt to Google's Brand Preferences

The reality with Google’s SEO is that brands will maintain having the upper hand in the foreseeable future. But before we blame the search giant, we also have to acknowledge consumer behaviour that might have directed the company to take these drastic steps.

As per a survey done by Nielsen, 60% of global consumers with internet access prefer buying from familiar brands. If you’re searching for sneakers and you see a product from Nike and another from an unknown brand, what will you buy?

These changes are not a call for signing petitions to ask Google to bring back the good old days when keyword density only mattered. Rather, we should devise ways to adapt to the new landscape given, if you build your brand well, it will shield it from counterfeits and spammers. 

In a way, Google leaning towards brands for better SEO ranking is suitable for the platform and legitimate businesses. 

Here’s what you can do to adapt to Google’s preferential treatment towards brands. 

Transform Yourself into an Authoritative Brand

Take a step back and learn from big brands and competition in your industry or niche. You should shift your focus away from the traditional manual link-building and on-page factors that rely heavily on little Google algorithm changes and start looking at ways you can be part of the public’s consciousness. 

Big brands constantly bombard the public with news, information, products, and services from multiple channels, not just Google searches. That way, they drive direct and indirect search traffic toward them.

While you don’t have billions of dollars to spend on marketing, you can leverage your current brand awareness. If your product or service is decent, you have fans and evangelists who can spiritedly vouch for your brand. 

Engage with these fans, incentivise them to promote your brand, and reward them when they get results. Social media is a great place to start. Focus on constructive engagement instead of begging consumers to click on links or like your content. 

Be a Pioneer in Your Industry

Given the drastic changes SEO has undergone over the past few years, brands relying on Google for their survival have a tough time staying afloat. The way to survive in this new era is by being a pioneer in your industry. Find something that excites your demographic and promote it through all available channels.

Your brand should be more innovative with content on social media and be more willing to try new and unproven channels. Try out new on-page approaches, such as schemas, and tags, to set yourself apart from the competition. 

Also, ensure you’re agile to adapt to new changes and demands Google might put on brands and how they rank them in their SERPs.

Consult with a Professional and Start Transforming Your Business into a Powerful Brand

The SEO focus on Google is shifting from mere keywords to valuable, actionable content promoted on multiple channels. That’s one of the most potent ways to build your brand and gain favour from Google’s algorithm. 

Consult a professional copywriter today and learn what you can do to create a powerful brand using content that ranks higher in SERPs with strong brand mentions, searches, and signals.

Over to You…

Do you agree with Does Google Give Preferential Treatment to Brands, and How Does It Impact SEO? Or is there something missing, or you would like to add?? Would love to hear from you in the comments – any feedback is greatly appreciated.

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