There’s been much speculation, interesting theories, rubbish and misinterpretation about the “new Google branding algorithm”. As always, when I see respected bloggers covering it, I like to educate myself as much as possible before I make a decision. I take this very seriously because it affects how I carry out my work as an SEO, what I advise my clients, and my beliefs. One post is not enough for me to make up my mind, 50 blogs are not enough, I want to see outsiders with expertise tell me about it, and also I trawl through research papers and ask question to those I know who can explain it. After that I make up my mind.
I’m using Aaron Wall’s post here because it’s been the most cited and also Chris Crum who interviewed Aaron, and Charles Perlman who is a PhD and expert in metrics for brand affinity. I also mention Graham Jones who is an Internet psychologist. Obviously I share some research papers as well. I respect and am a fan of all of these people, so don’t misread this. I don’t agree with everything they have to say but that’s beside the point.
Aaron Wall’s post:
(Firstly giving a little more information, Random Walk has changed somewhat over the years and continues to change)
1) If you ask Matt Cutts what big SEO changes are coming up he will tell you “make great content” and so on…never wanting to reveal the weaknesses of their search algorithms.
There are weaknesses in the search algorithms (there are more algorithms than just those for search btw), it is a job that is never finished. If there weren’t then well done everybody let’s shut down IR we’ve cracked it. Google won’t go and say “this is not very good” same as you won’t go and say “The shoes I sell aren’t very good quality”. Thing is other people will. There are loads of research papers about algorithms used by Google, that are not specifically Google algorithms (like random walk) that are being improved all the time. If you take the time to look through those, you’ll get the insight.
2) Schmidt said ” “We don’t actually want you to be successful…the fundamental way to increase your rank is to increase your relevance.” - so yes, be relevant and write good content, create a brilliant, user-friendly, valuable site. I don’t think you’ll be at the top because you’re a big brand necessarily.
3) Eric Schmidt said “The Internet is fast becoming a “cesspool” where false information thrives”
Yes it is. There’s loads of spam, low quality sites, misleading sites…
4) ”Brand affinity is clearly hard wired,” he said. “It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away. It must have a genetic component.”
Graham Jones (Internet psychologist) says about the genetic component comment:
“That is, of course, mere conjecture; it’s unlikely that when we are born we have a gene that helps us recognise “Nike” or “McDonalds”.
He also very sensibly says: “The reason they are not searching for the brand is because they want something else.” He goes on to say that if brands are always at the top of the results, people will use social networks and social bookmarking sites instead.
Donald Ryan has a good post about it on DMNews.
On John Battelle’s blog there are some great comments, take a look. John says that Schmidts comments are interesting and that he wonders if there is an algorithm for brand affinity. He doesn’t say there is.
Charles Pearlman, Ph.D wrote an article with how to use metrics to measure brand affinity and even gives an equation on how it can be done.
A really interesting paper is “Towards an evolutionary tool for the allocation of supermarket shelf space“(Esparcia-Alcázar,Lluch-Revert, Sharman, Albarracín-Guillem, Palmer-Gato)
It’s the “Product to Shelf Allocation Problem (P2SAP)” This is nothing new, maybe this is worth thinking about too. They use evolutionary algorithms.
Also “The effect of brand awareness on the evaluation of search engine results” (Jansen, Zhang, Zhang – 2007)
And “Brand recognition, service quality and price competition” Ba, Stallaert, Zhang – 2005)
5) “Wouldn’t it be nice if Google understood the meaning of your phrase rather than just the words that are in that phrase?”
I’m pretty chuffed with this statement seeing as I’ve been working for 5 years in natural language understanding (NLU), I was clearly ahead of my time and beat Google to it!
There have been people working on this since the 60′s so yes it suppose it would be nice wouldn’t it?! It’s extremely complex, there are a plethora of subproblems which would be breakthroughs if just one was solved. Google need to do this just as many other systems need to. It’s natural language understanding. There is a vast body of work on this. I have no doubt that Google have taken note of this research. I look forward to seeing their work.
Avron Barr has a handbook on NLU freely available online which is a nice intro to the subject.
Ok now for the examples that “show that the Google brand algo is indeed here”:
Radioshack.com recently started ranking for electronics and Hallmark.com just recently started ranking for gifts.
My results from Oz (Sydney):
No brands listed for “electronics”
“Gifts” No brands listed there either. Maybe “red Balloon Days”
Apple ranking for “laptop” in the top 10
No brands there at all.
Same for UK, no big brands for these terms.
Chris Crum says that by reading the SEO Book article we can see “a good deal of evidence that Google is placing more emphasis on brands than ever before” – Well those are some examples but in my book a few examples are in no way “a great deal of evidence”
He interviews Aaron Wall which is really interesting, he’s a very sensible man as you all know.
Aaron says: ” If Google expands on this front” – He says “IF”
Also: ” They still have a long way to go to get where they want to be with relevancy, but some of the issue of search is simply creating the incentive to make people want to create the content that really answers search queries well in a good format.”
There is nothing “simple” about this. As we know people aren’t yet prepared to start creating RDF files to allow for search engines to pick up more relevant and insightful information. There is nothing simple about getting users to do anything! Of course if you have content that pefectly answers a query it will do well.
For example Richard runs a blog about coding, he often ranks #2 because he blogs about a specific error string. He gets a lot of traffic through those because of all the people typing in that exact string. It’s not very complicated.
I also doubt very much Matt Cutts writes blog posts just to give particular content to Google. When Richard can’t find help on a site to do with a specific java error, he solves it and then writes about it. He couldn’t care less about improving Google but wants to help out other coders. Google hasn’t given him any incentive in particular.
Aaron also says: “…People expect Google to be sophisticated under the hood rather than having to re-query again.”
This is what I was talking about in the “long-tail is rubbish” post. ”Re-query” is “repair”, and most people use 1,2 or 3 terms.
Chris Crum again but different post:
He says that “When discussion is taking place, relevancy is easier to pick out, and brands represent authority”
I absolutely agree to some extent but many academic sites are authorities too, and many research sites, smaller sites that are big brands in their little niche. What about all the big brands people complain about? Also, nobody has told me yet what they mean by “Authority”.
There are some brilliant comments on that post so read them.
Definition of “authority”:
Wordnet: an expert whose views are taken as definitive;
You can be sure that there are hardware specialists who know far more than Apple about laptops, and the same goes for many other things as well.
There’s also a DC comic called “The Authority” and sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t be looking there to understand Google!