Google & The Big Bad Brand Wolf

Dec 16, 2010 • 8:23 am | comments (9) by twitter | Filed Under Google Search Engine

Google is far from being a little pig, but it certainly has the ability to build brick houses. For those that may not have recently read the "3 Little Pigs" fairy tale to their child, I am referring to a story that may be surprisingly relevant to the topic being discussed at Webmaster World Forums, Head of Google Search Quality denies brand bias in Google Instant.

In this case, I really feel Google got the brick house, because it will be very difficult to blow this argument down.

Also covered yesterday at SEW Blog, this topic came up in early 2009 after the Google Vince update, which many felt was unfairly favoring big brands in the organic search results.

This is different, in my opinion, because we are dealing with suggestions being delivered by the Google autocomplete algorithm, which has been the subject of concern before (when known as Google Suggest), often related to reputation management. It is far less likely that Google would manipulate autocomplete to "rig" the results with big brands, since this would likely decrease positive user experience.

As discussed in the forums, it is possible that people could see that as being biased towards big brands. Some claim this is typical of Google to "deny, deny, deny," and user "MrFewkes" comments that "Algo wise - this - unfortunately for small business - could favour the big brands."

Could it? I followed the link from SEW to the Advertising Age post on this topic, and provided my A to Z results for single letters typed into Google from Cleveland. The results made sense, and certainly were geo-targeted to me. I have to respect Google's brick house on this subject, and go with Amit's assertion that "We didn't want to introduce any bias into the mathematical modeling..."

Why would Google spend time figuring out which big brands made the most sense to show up for these results? Many will argue that it is for the AdWords revenue. If that was the case, I feel that once I get to "mes" in the search bar, "mesothelioma" would outrank the terms "mesopotamia, mescaline, messenger, and messi" in the autocomplete, since it costs so much to bid on that term versus the others. If they were interested in revenue they would be far more likely to "stuff" non-branded high volume results into the suggestions.

Please share your opinions at Webmasterworld Forums, or in the comments below. Yes, I know the end of the fairy tale...

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David Iwanow

12/16/2010 01:31 pm

So it's search volume based which means big brands will get preferential results and the autocomplete would just compound this issue overtime and more and more times Google will give preference to the brand. To much tied to that repetition factor and it's been proven you can manipulate it anyway....

Jill Kocher

12/16/2010 01:56 pm

I agree, Chris. This so-called brand bias is basically Google giving searchers what they want -- brands. Google doesn't have to rig the algorithm for that, searchers do it themselves by showing a preference for brands and topics they recognize. It's human nature to gravitate toward the familiar, the trusted. And that's what brands represent. As searchers choose those brand results more frequently, naturally they rise to the top in the algorithmic results. So yes, brands have the advantage in autocomplete and Instant, but they have the advantage in all marketing channels. To the naysayers I ask, "This is different from other marketing channels how?"


12/16/2010 04:42 pm

This is especially true during the holiday months it seems, as Google tends to skew towards the big brands when people are doing online Christmas shopping. It seems to even itself out during the rest of the year, but Christmas time always seems to make it tougher.

Chris Boggs

12/16/2010 04:52 pm

yep Josh that is a key point. more people are searching for brands during this time of year (we can see the branded search spike dramatically for our Retail clients). thus, the algorithm is "instant" and is updated to reflect the most likely intention of the searcher. will be interesting once a lot of data is collected and analyzed by our industry, to see how much of a shift actually occurs based on "buzz" being generated, prior to perhaps going back to the "default" auto completes during non-peak times of the year.

Chris Boggs

12/16/2010 04:56 pm

I agree we as "evil marketers" are able to sometimes manipulate autocomplete through the use of services like Mechanical Turks, for example. the thing is that the volume required to make an impact for the majority of the big terms would be too great. The manipulation would most likely be towards the 3-5 results suggested, in my opinion.

David Iwanow

12/17/2010 12:09 am

the problem is when the algorithm struggles with regional and still internationally on what they still should show... the problem is how do you reset those results when a brand/topic becomes too dominating?

David Iwanow

12/17/2010 12:10 am

ah yes but maybe that is the next thing for small business... if you can't win at SEO just pay to have someone impact some of the lower competition/less frequent search terms

Chris Boggs

12/17/2010 11:12 pm

"next" thing? ;)

David Iwanow

12/18/2010 01:29 am

mechanical turk....

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