That Update Google Denied; Seems Like A Brand Signal Update

Jan 24, 2013 • 8:48 am | comments (50) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Update BrewingOn January 17th, we reported on a pretty significant Google update that Google denied and then five days later they pushed out a Panda refresh. No, I don't think the Panda refresh was related to what we saw on January 17th - I don't.

Pete Meyers from SEOmoz is a man who does his research and he provided one example based on a pattern he saw with the update on January 17th that he thinks might shed some light on this.

Pete posted this on his Google+ page yesterday and explained how he thinks Google is pushing the search query towards the brands, and less towards lesser known brands, people or things. He showed one example of where before January 17th the search term for [kholes] would return results for the brand K-Holes but now, it is returning results for Kohls the department store. He has seen other examples of this but shows a screen shot of this in action.

Here is what I see now for a search on [kholes]:

kholes as kohls

Now, Pete shared a screen shot on Google+ that even hides the "did you mean" option! That is big.

Here is what you would have seen before (notice the did you mean):

kholes as kholes

I am not sure exactly how widespread it is, but I suspect Pete is doing the analysis now and will share his results when he has them.

I am also sure this will fuel some fire within the SEO community about Google once again being thought to favor large brands with big ad spends.

I'll ping Google about this but I suspect I know what the response, if any, will be.

Forum discussion at Google+.

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Praveen Sharma

01/24/2013 02:09 pm

If that is true and Google supports big brands over smaller ones, then in that case small brands can never become BIG and always have to suffer this dictatorship of Google. Unfair. Google should show better results, regardless of how big the brand is who is giving that information.

Peter Elmhirst

01/24/2013 02:21 pm

While that's true to an extent, Google needs to do what's best for it's users and a large brand is far more likely to be what people were searching for it. As shown in the example it's a pretty similar and uncommon search/did you mean term so as long as you're not calling your new business Wamlart I wouldn't be too worried about it. I'm wondering if they maybe activated this option on a term by term basis based on how many people clicked the "did you mean" in the past. That would make sense to me...


01/24/2013 02:28 pm

Could well be the case. One of my major clients suffered a drop and I've been keeping quiet whilst just reading people's opinions on whats happened. With no official announcement from Google its difficult to know how to approach things. Out of my clients main SERPs, only them and one other company suffered significant drops (top 3 to page 2 in our case. page 1 to page 3/4 in competitors case). I've just done a quick search in keyword tool for the level of search volume around my client compared to the new top-10, and they are way behind. However in the SERPs where they noticed very little drop (1st to 2nd, 1st to 3rd), they are on a much more level playing field in terms of brand search volume. Very interesting theory and it certainly fits with my case. Also, I have noticed that a major supermarket chain (UK) has rocketed into the SERPs into about 4th or 5th position.


01/24/2013 02:50 pm

I'm involved with the in-house SEO department, and I wasn't even aware that Google promoted the Google+ pages of brands before Jan. 17. Then on Jan. 17 I first noticed it when I did a brand search for Hubspot. I noticed is so much that I started researching it to get our site situated to make use of it. I think SEO's are going to need to focus more on the rel="publisher" tag. It's amazing how many SEO shops don't even use it.

Tony Heywoos

01/24/2013 03:07 pm

Have noticed this in the investment and saving sectors of the UK Google results. A large number of sub pages for large brands have been promoted and smaller more bespoke firms have dropped. News stories from broadsheets, news sources like the BBC and forums like money saving expert have also risen to the front page. Now this could be that those brands have strong domain authority and that sub pages on strong branded domains are going to rank without much work and smaller brands will have us PPC to catch some traffic. For a search such as Junior ISA which before the 17th produced a mix results of goverment pages, news stories and bespoke providers now produces the following Two forum results - both money saving expert (1st and 3rd) One Government information page (2nd - I think this is fair enough) Two News Stories - BBC and the Guardian (4th and 8th) Five sub pages of large UK brands (Barclays 5th, Legal and General 6th , Nationwide 7th, Fidelity 9th) One consumer website -Which (10th) The page metrics for the sub pages of Barclay, Legal and General, Nationwide and Fidelity are very low compared to more bespoke niche sites that have now dropped off the front page. Is it the domain authority that big brands can build of is it a branded push? More research me thinks!

Duane McLennan

01/24/2013 03:09 pm

I agree completely and that one SERP isn't going to tell us exactly what's going on. Likely the search for kholes is more often than not a search for Kohls. I don't personally believe the algorithm would base that on random letter association, but based on what's been clicked in the past. This issue I see with SEO's all over the place is that they don't give Google enough credit. One guy could go ahead and say, "let's make all the big brands rank". But, they've got hundreds or thousands of people developing their ranking strategies. Give them some credit for being as smart as they are. The billions in revenue are for a reason.

Manish Dudharejia

01/24/2013 03:21 pm

We've been monitoring Google's continual crawl process towards links devaluation and seen positive signals from industry blogs as well. Update on 17th January was not related to Panda OR Brand; It was related to Links Devaluation. We're working on writing a great post on it.

Mark Chalcraft

01/24/2013 03:38 pm

I have to agree with Peter Elmhirst on this. Get more people talking about your brand online and you give Google a stronger argument to increase your organic visibility. Relying only on Google to grow a business is likely to come unstuck at some point down the line.

Bryson Meunier

01/24/2013 03:38 pm

Are we seriously still talking about brand signals? It's not brand, it's entities. If this was about big brands vs small brands we wouldn't have small brands like Search Engine Land getting the same autocorrect feature: Or SEO book, which is both a brand and a book: I know that small businesses and affiliates can have a chip on their shoulder about enterprise SEO, but if you're going to present evidence to the contrary at least prove that it's about brands and not entities before stirring things up. As you know, Barry, I addressed this in detail at SMX West last year and most of the audience agreed there was no brand bias in SERPs: If we're going to start this up again we should address the evidence that's already been presented when presenting new evidence or we'll send small businesses into a tailspin for no good reason at all.


01/24/2013 04:32 pm

no brand bias? tell that to The Verge

Mukesh Kumar

01/24/2013 04:49 pm

i had seen worst results on the top of ggogle. Good websites having good content and attractive design are not on the top because of link building , i think link building is not a offence, Google should stop all this non sense as soon as possible. Worst results by google lets shift to bing.

Martin Harris

01/24/2013 05:19 pm

I've seen the brand jump the past few days, "Harrods" being a perfect example of this, 2 weeks ago lingering around 7/8th on page 1 for a keyword i'm trying to rank for, Now page 1, rank 1.

Martin Harris

01/24/2013 05:22 pm

"As you know, Barry, I addressed this in detail at SMX West last year and most of the audience agreed there was no brand bias in SERPs" the key wording in this sentence being "last year"....not last week.

Bryson Meunier

01/24/2013 05:29 pm

The Verge is a brand. Huffington Post has more domain authority and traffic so the scraped content they present is displayed in the SERPs for relevant keywords. If you want to blame someone for this, blame the people who made the scraped article more popular than the first. Not Google, who doesn't recognize brands-- only entities.

Bryson Meunier

01/24/2013 05:30 pm

Well, this "new" evidence doesn't change the argument presented last year. So unless you have other new evidence that does your point is moot.

Brandon Fritz

01/24/2013 06:38 pm

This feels authority driven and it's also important to point out that the HuffPo result is a Google News results.... but no one made the scraped article more popular than the first. It's not even an article. It's literally just this: The Verge: The defining feature of a "real" arcade, however, is that there aren't really any left. Read the whole story at The Verge

Bryson Meunier

01/24/2013 06:57 pm

All good points, Brandon. I stand corrected on that specific point. But yes, Google News listings are driven by freshness of content more than anything, so newer articles from more authoritative domains might trump originals, even if those news articles are content shells. I agree this is a poor user experience, as I think Google would, and should be corrected. However, as you say, it's likely driven by authority and keyword matching, not brand. Take, for example, the actual title of the article, which the Verge ranks first for: And Huffington Post or other large brands are nowhere to be found.

Brandon Fritz

01/24/2013 07:23 pm

Google News is certainly a different beast. Being in charge of SEO for a very authoritative news org. I know all about those tricks :) I agree, it's driven by authority & keyword matching. The ThreadWatch article was definitely designed to stir the pot.


01/24/2013 09:30 pm

In the gaming vertical its all brands now. For the first 3 pages of results you will find about 1 affiliate site per page of results starting bottom of page 1 . Most of the affiliates sites in my niche have been wiped out in the last 6-12 months. Not only that but on a search of all main money terms there is 1.5 organic results above the fold(on a laptop screen) the rest as to be expected adwords from these same brands. As per every other webmaster forum in every other vertical same thing these days.

Dario Petkovic

01/24/2013 10:56 pm

Rankings for brand keywords for my client who is a small brand has seen big brands overtake us, so there's definitely a 'big brand push' from ggle


01/24/2013 11:53 pm

If it is true that Google is favoring the big brands in detriment of the small brands or small business - and in fact there are a lot of evidence not only about this but also about the "coinicidence" of the ppc payers gain organic positions, and other things - so all the SEO speach falls to the ground. After all it is not a question of having a great site, good fresh content, etc, etc. Everybody is working like crazy to have a great site to intetest customers and after all should be working to earn a lot of money to buy a big brand and be well ranked even with a bad site.


01/25/2013 12:53 am

That's a bold move by Google IMO. This one might backfire on Google especially based on Dr. Petes example. To show Khol's results for kholes is very risky when you take relevancy into consideration... I can only imagine how many other poor results (a lot worst than this example) are out there - bad user experience IMO...


01/25/2013 01:00 am

Of course they're doing it based on that. They don't do anything without numbers that demonstrate searcher satisfaction. If they're pushing big brands, it's because searchers respond better to those SERPs. Period.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers

01/25/2013 01:05 am

I was simply pointing out an interesting anecdote that happened to favor a brand. Brands are one type of entity - I don't necessarily think this is a "big brand" bias, or that we should starting crafting conspiracies from one example, but I do think it's legitimate to talk about brands, because it's a concept consumers understand.


01/25/2013 01:20 am



01/25/2013 01:29 am

Whatever update it was, Google once again dropped the ball. Besides domain crowding in the SERPS, a search for "city auto repair" returns yellow pages at number 1 and edmunds at number 2. These are both directory type sites. Nothing like doing a search in Google that gives you two sites to search even further. That tells me that Google can't ascertain a local repair shop and must instead rely on a directory to meet the users needs.


01/25/2013 02:15 am

To do it based on how many people click on the "did you mean" link is ridiculous. I rarely click on a "did you mean" link and I'm sure there are many other there like me. Therefore, I doubt that 100% of Kholes searchers clicked the "did you mean" link and as a result, Google decided to shift the results to Khol's. To automatically show results for Khol's when someone types Kholes is just a very bad way of showing how relevant your results are. Now showing relevant matches for Kholes with a "did you mean" link for Kohl's is a different story.


01/25/2013 02:23 am

Many people talk about how smart Google is, but what happens when Google acts a little too smart? Can they make the searcher feel stupid?


01/25/2013 02:33 am

not at all... you'll learn nothing is 100% in this field but it is a numbers game. "kholes" gets 49,500 searches per month and since that word has little going for it, it's likely that a good portion of people are looking for "kohl's" which gets 7,480,000 searches per month. If a decent percentage (no where near 100%) of those people do click the "did you mean" link then google could assume it's the intended word. It's a matter of what the majority of people would want, not you, and some other people don't have perfect brand recall. With the automatically changed results it does show "Search instead for kholes" so don't worry you can still read all about them.

Peter Elmhirst

01/25/2013 02:38 am

Who said anything about 100% and why would Google require that?


01/25/2013 03:02 am

Well if you're going to start reading people's minds and correcting their spelling it better be 100%.


01/25/2013 03:18 am

Well the "majority" that want Kohl's actually type Kohl's. What numbers are you talking about? Do you have those numbers? The minute you "assume" things, you are making a big mistake. IMO Google is supposed to return relevant results and not to try and make a query relevant the results.


01/25/2013 06:31 am

Yeah I too have noticed Google has given a blow to brands and sites with hell lot of authority....So shall we believe that Google likes established brands? This is a cross-cut to "trust" as Google knows these big brand sites aren't likely to be crafty and are safe bets that will dish up vanilla content. But my question is will Brands offer exactly what the searchers are looking for?

Mathieu Chimei

01/25/2013 06:47 am

To me this makes no sense. If your brand is coming up, then why bother with the ad above it, when you get the front page for free anyway? So your saying if they weren't advertising, they wouldn't have this top result under the ad? How frustrating that must be for people advertising lol im paying all this money only to be sitting under my ad anyway!!!!! but if i dont pay im gone!!!! thats wack

Mathieu Chimei

01/25/2013 06:56 am

so the idea is if you pay money you will see the results in terms of added website views, enticing people to spend on advertising more. It's probably true, however, there is still hope of a turn around once USA starts doing better and Google doesnt feel the need to do these things once the country starts doing better economically

Mark Staffon

01/25/2013 06:59 am

This started from Jan 17 and still I think its updating!!! Google should focus more on information. I noticed many sites which are just a copy or having bad presentation are up in top and many good sites are down


01/25/2013 07:14 am

Affiliate sites wiped out? Hallelujah. They do not deserve to rank. Thank you Google.

Martin Harris

01/25/2013 09:35 am

I can only compare to my own clients, Until someone does a proper study, i don't think anyone can start making bold dismissive claims, just make comparables, be that old (March of last year in your case) or new (Yesterday)...

sid sharma

01/25/2013 10:39 am

its not like that as you think it is totally based upon the quality and quantity of the content if its really effective or helpful content for the visitor then your key word never gone fall down if you try to used black hat SEO then its really effect your work


01/25/2013 11:50 am

What happened last night Jan 24th? Check out 'car insurance' in the UK for a good laugh.

Fahad Siddiqui

01/25/2013 12:50 pm

17th January effect seems to be going away!!!

Guy Hadas

01/25/2013 01:42 pm

I belive most of knew this a while ago. Google is trying to give brands some extra push, and as some of the comments here mentioned, there is some sense in that. What I think is that we are about to change our approach for SEO soon, mostly because Google are using this signal for online brands. We will need to build a whole online brand and only then we will have the chance to show results on some competitive words... Bare in mind, online brand dowsn't have to be Nike or Coca Cola... It can be much smaller but Google have to know about it...


01/25/2013 02:19 pm

Maybe, just maybe Google screwed something up in their 'testing' and then rolled out a Panda refresh - which didn't fix their screw up but at least they can say, "all we did was a Panda refresh" So, there's nothing to 'admit' to on the 17th...we're all crazy you know. haha

Bryson Meunier

01/25/2013 04:41 pm

Thanks for clarifying, Pete. I do think there's a danger in classifying these as brand signals rather than entities. Though I understand people get the concept, many of them use the terminology to take the argument too far and claim evidence for a big brand bias. Not necessarily your fault, but if we shift the discussion to entities rather than brands it's likely to happen less often.

Bryson Meunier

01/25/2013 04:43 pm

You obviously haven't seen the research that I presented in March, but if you'd care to address why it's not applicable today we can continue this discussion.

Bruce Simmons

01/25/2013 05:42 pm

As an outsider looking in on this process of Google, Panda and what not, I remember when Big G (google) started to remove the highest ranked search term in the analytics package. Then they stated they were putting more search weight on the originators of content than the regurgitaters. And then the push for authorship in G+... (which seemed to be forcing folks to get in under the 'big g's' umbrella.) And if this brand observation is as it seems, I can't (IMO) disagree with the premise that Big G is pushing the web towards a 'big corporate' existence.' One where the small guy is getting forced or phased out, and why SEO camps are pushing more towards the social networking side of things, because despite the corporate looking revamp of the web by G, if thousands of surfers like one person's content, that can't be ignored by Big G. Can it? I've seen sites with huge traffic that do nothing with SEO... at all, and do well, because they have a good, solid following. One of my own sites took a huge (albeit very slow) hit in traffic. In the first year, I had hit a million visitors, and then, about a year and a half ago, there was a very slow ebb of traffic. Didn't notice it at first, then when I look back a 6-month window, bam... downward trend. And in the last 18 months, a 50% loss of traffic. So yea... the little guy is getting squeezed out. That's how it looks, unless you write the next "twilight" story or next big wave of "exciting subject," I think most little guys are screwed and getting screweder by Big G. So Big G is getting or acting like Facebook, except FB said it upfront. Big G... a little slower, a little quieter, a little sneakier. At least that's how it's feeling. That's my rant and I'm sticking to it. 'Nuff said.

Ann Davis

01/25/2013 06:47 pm

Google is nothing but a hypocritical money-hungry search engine! I really wish they would just go away. Of course they will rank brands higher than less known brands. It is obvious that they just want people to use their Adwords. It is actually funny that they are so afraid of Amazon. Maybe if they were not such a retarted search engine, they wouldn't have to be so scared of Amazon. Google sucks!

Dr. Peter J. Meyers

01/25/2013 10:51 pm

Not to speak for Barry, but I tend to use "brand signals" a bit loosely (maybe too loosely) as meaning "the cluster of signals a brand naturally tends to create", as opposed to big-brand bias. I agree, though, that it's often used and interpreted the other way. I think Google is definitely interested in translating real-world brand signals into search results. That doesn't necessarily mean that there's a box they can check to make a big brand magically rank.

Jaimie Sirovich

01/28/2013 04:44 am

Edit distance of 2 vs. a hyphen collapse. Honestly, I don't see it as a big shift.

David DuVal

01/30/2013 01:00 am

It takes a lot less work for Google to serve quality results at the top for a smaller data set. By focusing on fewer keyword possibilities, they can spend less time fighting spam and more time selling ads. Search seems to be something they want to "set and forget" to the best of their ability, so they can focus on more profitable parts of their business.

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