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April 15, 2009

Brands and Search Engine Rankings Revisited

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Today on SEM Synergy, our weekly podcast on WebmasterRadio, Susan and Chris gave everybody the lowdown on IM Spring Break and Scott joined the convo to look at how the demand for conferences is growing and changing.

My guest was Danny Sullivan, one of the power figures behind the conference series Search Marketing Expo, and we talked about trends on the conference circuit and the increasing demand for search marketing education. In fact, next week the interactive marketing conference ad:tech is taking place in San Francisco and one day of the show will feature a search marketing track in partnership with SMX — SMX @ ad:tech. The winds of change are a blowin’.

I’ve written before about how I think developments in SEO conferences will play out. So instead of your regularly scheduled diet of SEM Synergy Extras, I wanted to point out some other exciting news of the day — that SEO Newsletter sitting in your inbox! (If, by chance, you haven’t subscribed, do your self a favor and sign up already! See where it says “Subscribe to our SEO Newsletter” in the right-hand side bar? No, right under the “Follow Us on Twitter” graphic. Yeah, there. Sweet!)

branding a horse
Photo by Clydehurst via Creative Commons

So, right, the newsletter. There’s a great feature piece this month about one SEO’s opinion of January’s branding update, a.k.a. the Vince update. Fernando Chavez was one of the hosts of the SEM Synergy episode where we dedicated significant time to the topic. While we were recording I remember watching, gape jawed, as Susan and Fernando passionately debated whether the change was indeed targeted toward brands or if the boost brands saw was merely a side effect of a greater goal. Fernando took the opportunity to lay out his argument in further detail in his article. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • He doesn’t think that Google intentionally increased the rankings of branded sites.
  • If Google had made changes to reduce the effectiveness of spam as well as changes to increase certain SEO factors, the combined effect could have easily resulted in increased rankings for branded sites for certain queries.
  • Matt Cutts has responded by saying, “We don’t really think about brands. We think about words like trust, authority, reputation, PageRank [and] high-quality.” Fernando believes that while Google representatives are usually vague, they don’t lie outright. What Matt said in his video amounts to a fairly direct statement.
  • Tweaks to the algorithm that increase the value of link age or domain age or the text surrounding a link are all alternative possibilities that could have caused such a shift in rankings.
  • In the end, an SEO won’t need to change his or her strategy as a result of the algorithm change. Recommendations for branding a site are just as important as they were before.

Based on years of search engine optimization experience, Fernando’s article is heavy with opinion and theory. I’m just guessing here, but I bet you’ve got your own, too. Was Google targeting brands with the update, even if only in their round-about way? What are some of the value shifts that could have occurred to lead to a brand boost? Has your strategy shifted at all since you learned about the change? Since comments can’t be left on newsletter articles, let’s open up the conversation here on the blog.

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