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Why Brand Signals are Crucial to Google Rankings

When it comes to Google, brands and branding signals are important. So important, in fact, that Google has created algorithm tweaks since 2003 that give more prevalence to brands over independent companies and valuable individual search results. The perks Google has added into their search results over the years seem to suggest that they believe “good” websites are corporate pages that have thousands of dollars in web and marketing budget to spend on optimization and content development.

It’s easy to think that small businesses will never see any of those perks, but with an emphasis on brand signals, your business can cut a sliver for yourself out of the SERPs pie. Here’s why honing on brand signals for your website is more important now than ever before when it comes to Google rankings.

Fortune Favors the Brand: Google’s Brand-Oriented Search Features

As mentioned, Google has added features to their search pages that favor brands over individual unique content since 2003. Many of these changes were implemented under the guise of “cleaning up the internet” and providing “better” search results for users. On the surface, many of these updates did what they were supposed to do, but they also played into a larger framework within Google’s search result strategies that gives heavy favors to major brands.

One of the first major hits to small businesses and minor brands came in the form of Google Sandbox in 2004. Sandbox was a sort of penalty box for search results, and it automatically penalized brand new websites. How do small businesses compete with SEO if they’re trapped outside of search rankings no matter how well they optimize? Google’s “new sites can’t be good” approach played direct favor to long-running websites—large brands—that had the spend and strategic capacity to maintain a website long before Sandbox came into effect.

The bonuses kept coming for major brands, from expanded search results to larger than normal AdWords listings and other brand-favoring results features. Even Google Instant, the auto-filling instantaneous search feature that rolled out in 2011 was partial to established brands over logical, intent-based search strings.

Social Signals More Important Than Ever For Brand Success

Now more than ever, website branding and unified SEO content strategies are clearly an important part of your web marketing. Social media has given small businesses a major edge in the SERPs and brand signaling field; however, free services like Facebook and Twitter are rapidly becoming some of the most important brand signals on the internet.

A June 2012 Searchmetrics study shows that social signals account for five of the top six branding signals that correlate with Google search results. Backlinks, an SEO mainstay, took a back seat to Facebook shares in this study’s findings. Following backlinks were followed by Facebook comments, likes, and tweets on Twitter.

This only validates another BrightEdge survey taken in January of 2012 that found 84% of search marketers believe that social signals (+1, tweets, likes, etc.) will become more important in 2012 compared to 2011. The Searchmetrics study also found that advertising can kill business if used too much, and that—consistent with Google’s brand-forward approach since 2003—strong brands don’t have to follow all of the “rules” of high-ranked sites to rank in the top 5; they simply maintain ranking due to being a strong, established brand.

Small Businesses: Fresh Content Worth Sharing Ranks Best

As demonstrated by a surprising little experiment in white-hat SEO, SEOMoz user Philip Petrescu found that the two best solutions for getting branded content to rank well is to make sure it’s fresh and make sure it gets passed around social networks well. Shares and discussions—even offsite shares on Twitter or Facebook—highly impact the rankings relevance of certain contents over others, to the point that content that is shared enough in a short amount of time can rank in the top five for even tangentially-related keywords.

Careful title creation, keyword optimization, and search history research will show you what content will work, and with a consistent feed of valuable content worth sharing, your content will consistently rank highly even despite all of Google’s preferred features for major brands.

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