SEO: Will Brand Metrics Replace Link Metrics in 2012?
If you take a look at the SERPs (search engine ranking positions) at the moment, it seems like there is far too high an emphasis on thin affiliate websites with exact match domains plus backlinks. Tons of webmasters have argued this to Google in their Webmaster forums.
I’ve also talked about how easy it is to rank with an EMD in the past, however I think Google has already caught onto this and is in the process of making changes. You can already see the difference in search engine ranking factors from 2009 – 2011 at SEOMoz.org here. Notice that EMDs have already been devalued and domain level brand metrics have become more important.
Towards the end of the video below (dated March 2011), Matt Cutts (Head of Google Webmaster Spam) clearly states that they are looking to “turn down the notch” on the power of EMDs, so I would expect this to happen in no small effect in 2012.
Matt Cutts Discusses Importance of Keywords in Domain:
SEO people and affiliates can talk about gaming link metrics, content metrics and social metrics in the future, but the most difficult thing to game is “brand metrics”. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty much impossible to game brand metrics, which is why Google will have such a strong motivation to incorporate this into their algorithm.
Why Should Google Favour Brands?
Google’s sole mission is to provide high value results to users. Everyone knows that strong brands provide excellent, fresh content, with strong user-metrics and high value to the end users. In other words, brands are essentially what Google should be targeting.
The CEO of Google, Eric Smidt, has said on many occasions that brands are the answer to the cesspool of spam on the Internet.
For those of you who just think all this “brand” talk is nonsense, and that Google will be forced always rely on links, you only have to look at the recent developments Google has made towards focusing on brands. In 2011 we’ve already witnessed extended site-links for brands, and Google recently launched extended links for brands in commercial queries in Google.com. For example, search Handbags in Google.com and you’ll see a list of recommended brands and stores just below the sponsored ads.
It’s rumoured that these “brand suggestions” are calculated by Google looking at related brand queries. For example, if 10,000 people search Gucci Handbags then Google will start associating that brand with that accessory. It’s also been posted many times by other people that if your brand gets mentioned a lot in social media or news stories (e.g. 500 tweets on Twitter) then you’ll start to see increased rankings for you site in the interim. Thus, Google is paying closer attention to brands on the internet.
How Can Google Monitor Brands on the Internet?
One reason many affiliates don’t believe Google can move away from their dependence on backlinks is that they don’t understand how Google can monitor brands.
I think for starters, one of the easiest ways for Google to understand what is a brand or not is through brand query searches (also known as navigational searches). The fact that users will be search for a brand in Google should already technically be acting like a +1 to a site. (You can also watch an excellent SEOMoz.org webinar about how Google can target brands on Internet). It includes other factors such as a company listing, facebook profile, social media mentions, news references, images, shopping, Google Places listing, Shopping listing etc).
It’s scary to think that just as easily as Google launched the Panda update in February 2011, which filtered low content quality sites from their search engines, Google could also launch a Brand Update, which reduces rankings for thin affiliate sites which get no organic brand query searches. I’ve said it before, it’s fine to build a nice affiliate site with great content, but unless users are coming back to your site and you’re offering something really unique then you don’t have a brand. There’s a HUGE difference in my opinion between building a site on a brandable domain and then actually developing a brand that gets real searches and return visits.
Take a look at APMEX.com for example, which gets 110,000 exact brand query searches per month. This tells Google that this is a high quality brand that users are coming back to, and in the future Google should be promoting these sites. This could make sites on EMDs in the end virtually worthless.
The only thing that I will say against all this “Brand” talk is that in 2009 Matt Cutts answered questions on the Vince Update, saying that Google doesn’t necessarily favour brands. They just look for high quality sites that will return good results for users. But I think since then they will probably have changed their position with the increasing number of EMD spam on the Internet.
How Can Google Monitor Brands on Generic Exact Match Domains?
One of the big issues in the brand debate is how can Google still find high quality brands on EMDs such as Ski.com, PokerNews.com or Amazon.com. A lot of SEO analysts, such as this blog post at Search Engine Journal have argued that Google doesn’t know how to distinguish between brands and generic informational search queries.
However, it seems a file patented by Google back in 2003 (headed by Matt Cutts) allows Google to distinguish between navigation and information queries. I’m not going to explain it all here, but Google could basically understand brands on EMDs by looking at the CTR. For example, the Amazon is a river in South America, but if 80% of search queries’ for Amazon click on Amazon.com then Google can clearly see that they are looking for the brand Amazon.com. This makes it a navigational brand query as opposed to an informational query about the Amazon River.
I also managed to get in touch with James, who owns BabyNames.co.uk and recently launched Pregnancy.co.uk, to share his opinion on the matter. James told us:
Exact match domains (2 words or less) will always hold their value if they are built out correctly. Generic queries are very easy to brand as long as you give the person searching for the generic query exactly what they want. Google is looking to ween out poor quality results over time and they are getting better and better at it. If you build a quality site on a quality generic exact match domain you will gain from brand metrics rather than lose from them.
Conclusion on Brand Metric Rankings Becoming More Important than Links in 2012
In conclusion, think it’s inevitable that brand metrics will have to become much more important in 2012, and it’s going to be impossible for affiliates to “game” this sort of stuff. Big brands receive literally tends of thousands of brand query searches per month, so the idea that you can pay someone in India to do this for you site is nonsense. Also bear in mind that successful companies market themselves to end users, and brand metrics and SEO gains are just a natural reaction to that. If you wasted lots of money paying people to search your site then it just wouldn’t be cost effective, not to mention it wouldn’t look good at all if all your fake brand searches came from India instead of the markets that you’re actually targeting.