Many people have been ranting in the forums for the past several years about the "unfair advantage" big brands have in Google's search results. Ever since the "Vince Update" of February 2009, things have been very different in SEO.
I suggest that understanding Vince is perhaps the most important way to get your SEO programs on track.
Google's Vince Update: What Happened?
When Vince was first announced, Matt Cutts of Google called it a "minor change". Many smart folks in our industry discounted that assertion.
The first discussion on Vince began on WebmasterWorld. A member had posed the question as to whether others had noticed more preference toward "big brands" in Google’s search results.
I also have the sense that there is a change in this direction. In 2008 Eric Schmidt made some comments that brands were more important. My only question is whether the influence is from offline or possible some other factor - such as unlinked brand mentions, or social media buzz.
Aaron Wall wrote a great post on Vince shortly thereafter.
The truth is, big brands already had a lot of the "good stuff" baked into their web presence that others would have to fight like hell to achieve. The challenge had been that many of those big brands had no idea how to build a search engine friendly website.
Google has done a pretty good job of getting around those hurdles, as I had written about in my 2009 series on American Express and "credit cards" rankings on Google.
Check out the rankings for "credit cards" on Google, now. More brands. Less affiliates. Not at all surprising.
What Vince Taught Us
You must try and build a brand online, just like you – in the "old days" had to build a brand – by marketing the business using multiple channels.
Coca-Cola didn’t just buy television ads to become one of the world’s best-known brands. They used a multi-channel approach.
Some way to build a brand online could include:
- Public relations
- Blog content that goes viral
Once you've built a brand, you've established "trust" (with your target audience, as well as the search engines). Again, this isn't achieved simply by writing some title tags and buying some links. Those days are, gladly, done and over.
Google may be trying to evolve past a (mostly) link-based algorithm. It’s pretty safe to assume that they can monitor for any mentions of your brand in social media (and elsewhere) and that they can probably attribute value to mentions of your domain/URL, even when it isn't hyperlinked.
Once you have trust, you can get away with a lot more than other websites may be able to get away with.
Links Still Matter (For Now?)
If you represent a brand new website, it takes a lot of time and effort to build this trust (whether that be link equity, or what have you). In fact, if you employ some of the SEO tactics that I still see today from large brands, you could be in for a world of hurt.
Case in point – as I write this, I'm finalizing a proposal for a large brand. They had given me a couple of competitors who were "kicking their butts" in a few categories.
Within a 15-minute review, I easily determined some of the spammy techniques that one of their competitors was employing. For one specific keyword, this competitor had eight websites linking to them with an exact anchor text match through methods such as creating fictitious profiles on "awesome" sites such as http://besttourtravels.com/ and http://mysocial.ws and http://wiki.oziosi.org – plus some good old-fashioned blog comment spam. Here’s a sample of that "nice little piece of work":
Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't show up. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say superb blog!
And the user’s name for this blog comment? "Keyword".
The really scary thing about this is that this blog comment spam was posted 19 weeks ago. This is current stuff. And this is a big company. And, this company is "kicking my (hopefully soon-to-be) client’s butt" in this category.
So, if you were a "common SEO", you might say to said client, "well, we know that this works for your competitor. We believe you should do this, too!"
Which reminds me, once again, it’s not what you do in SEO, it’s how you do it. If you simply take a "what works for them will work for us" approach, you can often find yourself in hot water. Here’s a list of some outdated SEO tactics that you might not want to employ any longer.
You must realize that for this competitor, eight links represents a very small fraction of their total link profile. They have earned (mostly "earned") their trust, links, and brand. If you represent that company that’s smaller, doing something like this could have disastrous effects.
Do the diligent work to build up all of these other trust signals, and perhaps you – too – could get away with (for now) some aggressive activity. Otherwise, now is when you can start talking about Penguin.