Google, Brands, and SEO: Google’s New Search Refinement Highlights the Importance of Branding

Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist

Spammers assault Google every single day, trying to get their sites into the top ranks for specific high-volume keywords.  There's money in high ranks, and the low barrier to entry keeps spammers at work building millions of annoying, malware-ridden sites that present no original information.  For this reason, Eric Schmidt (Google's CEO) called the internet a "cesspool."  He said that in 2008, and added: “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

Now, in 2010, his words have taken on a new meaning as the very top results in Google for very high-volume words are showing links to brands. For example, when you search for "Cell Phones" you'll see a set of links at the top of the page that say "Brands for Cell Phones."  A sample of what this looks like in May 2010 is below:

New serp

Obviously, this is fantastic news for these brands.  Someone who's searching for "cell phones" now has the opportunity to click straight through to a trusted brand that he or she likes.  Clicking on "Alltel" from these links will bring up a new Google search "alltel cell phones," and from this search you can go to a site that sells Alltel cellphones (such as alltel.com).


Google announced this search refinement on 5/1/10, and it said it added these Brand links to "make it easier for you to find the brands other people consider useful for popular product searches." 

Google gave the example of someone who's thinking about taking up river rafting and wants to buy some equipment.  This hypothetical person might not know about the top kayak brands that are available.  Therefore, if someone types "kayaks" into Google then they'll see major kayak manufacturers in the Brands links.

Google states that these brand names are "determined algorithmically."  This may provide hope to all of those kayak manufacturers whose sites didn't get into Google's brand links.  Google only chose five kayak manufacturers to display in the brand links, but there are at least 100 different companies who make these things.  How did Google make this decision?

Google Brand Links

As usual, there are a number of different factors that contribute, and Google is keeping mum about them all.  One obvious factor is a lot of inbound links.  When people link to you, it helps your site out a great deal.  If you have a lot of inbound links, they’re likely to include your brand name.  These links not only tell Google what your brand name is, but they also tell Google that your site is authoritative and popular, and worthy of a prominent brand link.

We found that the searches that returned "brand" links most often referred to a physical object.  For example, while the search "Cars" or "Trucks" would return brand links, searches such as "Stocks" or "banks" would not return brand links.  There were some surprises, though; the search "software" returned no brand links, while "computer software" did return brand links.  The search "sneakers" returned brand links, while "shoes" returned no brand links. 

From our review of different sites that appeared in the Google brand links, one recurring element in all of the sites was that their architecture provided a relatively large number of links to pages with unique content.  In other words, if your site has only one page, and you have six products and all of the descriptions for all six products appear on one URL, you're probably not going to get into the "Brand" links. 

Strategies for Brands

More than ever, you need to identify the core search terms that relate to your brand.  Enter these terms into Google, and then find out a) whether Google returns brands for these searches and b) whether your product is displayed in Google's brand links. Are your competitors appearing in the brand links? What does their site have that yours doesn’t?
Google's brand links are determined algorithmically, which means that your brand will always have a chance to appear in these links; all you need to do is make sure your brand and your brand's value proposition clear to search engines. 

Google needs to see pages with a strong and unique topic focus.  Each product you make should live on its own URL, and "category" pages on your site should present plain HREF links to each of your product pages.  Tie your whole site together with a strong, logical set of breadcrumb links that fit your product lines into a clear informational hierarchy.

We also recommend that you give your visitors a wide variety of useful information about your products, and make sure this information is visible to search engines.  An Internet page offers far more opportunities for interaction than a newspaper ad or a blurb on a pamphlet; take advantage of this, and don’t settle for just a picture and a couple sentences of marketing text for your products.

Is there video of your product?  Does your site offer animated demonstrations?  Is there a forum for customers?  The more information and options your site offers your visitors, the stronger your brand identity becomes and the more likely it is that you’ll start appearing in these brand links.

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