Is Brand The Only Future Ranking Factor?

by Malcolm Slade Epiphany

For several years now, I’ve had an interest in how Google might improve. It has long been my belief that traditional metrics within SEO have less impact within the top tier of search terms than we think and that over time, Google will push so far in to machine learning that metrics as a whole will become redundant. For a long while now, Google patents have talked about entities and using them to better understand the web. If Google is looking at a website/domain as an entity, then we need to think about value in a different way.

Historically, we would consider value to be a number. Five is better than two, 98 is better than 52 and so on. If we consider Google to be a using a complex mathematical model or a very basic algorithm, then it is easy to imagine that the fact site A ranks above us, and has a higher DA, go hand-in-hand.

Entities are different. An entity will have many characteristics that allow it to be classified as a particular thing. Adding more of a particular characteristic doesn’t always make it more of a particular thing. It could change it in to a different thing or make it overall less classifiable as anything.

The term “over-optimisation” comes to mind. By going beyond the defined boundaries, you are making things worse rather than better. Put “Mattresses for Sale” in your title and Google will know you sell mattresses. Put:

“Mattresses for Sale | Buy Mattresses | Mattress Shop | Cheap Mattresses”

and Google won’t think that you sell mattresses!

What’s The Relationship Between Brand And Rankings?

Historically, in SEO, your brand didn’t matter that much; you could easily game the algorithm by writing more content, then writing better content, then gaining links, no matter who you were. Times have changed. Google needs a differentiating factor between a website that humans expect and want to see over a website that doesn’t satisfy user needs and will result in a bounce back to Google. Dissatisfied searchers will eventually choose a different search engine and Google will do everything in its power to keep users – all perfectly logical.

This however raises the question of how Google judges which websites are quality – and which websites users expect to see – over those which are not. There are standard concerns that all SEOs work with clients to help improve, crucial elements like crawlability and useful, shareable content, but improving these elements to best-of-breed only works to a point, a ranking ceiling if you will.

This ranking ceiling is the point at which you start to butt heads with the big boys. The other sites that have built a good website, written great content, got some great links. Once you hit it, doing “more of the same””, seems to just stop working or, at best, has diminished returns.

Is Brand Search Volume A Ranking Factor?

It’s difficult to broach a new and abstract concept without everyone jumping to the simplified conclusion, that I am suggesting you need to generate brand searches. By itself, brand search volume is not a ranking factor. When we looked at this on its own, it didn’t hold up in any test. Nor does it make sense for Google to use this in such a straightforward way.

On this point, there may not be “ranking factors” as such any longer, as the introduction of artificial intelligence negates a simpler set of ways in which one site can easily be measured as better than another.

What may hold up instead is that Google is seeking the traits of a brand entity and using this to help order rankings. If Google is using machine learning to seek out what makes a brand, or simply to order documents, this will be very challenging to reverse engineer. It is much more difficult to become a brand that people recognise and choose than it is to buy hundreds of links – especially as we know that there could be thousands of traits that make up a brand.

What Does The Future Look Like?

At least some of our effort in the future must be devoted to helping brands grow and become established. Even more so if they have hit the hypothetical ranking ceiling.

It’s difficult to imagine a future in which Google, or any other search engine, would not take a brand into account. As consumers look towards trusted brands to guide them in a more uncertain future, we suspect that brands will get ever more dominant. In fact, intelligent minds, like that of Jono Alderson, have speculated about a future where all prices are the same due to mass production and standardised distribution.

It could be a race to the lowest possible price – what will set you apart then? Moreover, virtual assistants may come to dominate our homes and make all of our decisions for us. Need some new jeans? No problem – your virtual assistant will order you the same jeans as you’ve had before, or will offer you available options based on the brands you like. That initial decision, where you choose something and set a trend, will be key. To get in at that stage, you’ll need to be recognisable and people will need to trust you. With no difference in prices, there will be no other factors. Being a recognised and preferred brand will be the answer.

Taking this as a useful conclusion, then, what do we need to establish as our goals? Becoming a brand isn’t easy and is a big task. We need to get more people thinking about our brand. We need to be the first and foremost option, before consumers have the opportunity to go elsewhere.

To get people thinking about us, we need to get them to talk about us. We need to get them to talk to each other about us and pass on positive messages about what we offer, whether that’s a product or a service. We need to get people to choose our brand; we need to get people to choose us consciously, subconsciously, and in search results. More clicks on your SERP listings is always a good thing; making them as attractive as possible is a tactic that has been around since the beginning of search engine optimisation and is one that is incredibly unlikely to go away.

It may sound cliche, but the best thing you can do to help build your brand is to be memorable and stand out.

Malcom is speaking at our upcoming Digital Marketing Summit on 26 April 2018. For more information regarding the event and for the full agenda please see here.