Aaron Wall likely increased the amount communication between SEOs and their clients the other day with his post speculating about Google’s new algorithm that favors brands in the SERPS. As usual this got me thinking about what the implications are for local search and my initial reaction is (as always) local search is where you want to be baby!
- How does Google define a local brand?
There’s all sorts of speculation about the signals Google is using to define a site as being a brand that deserves boosting. Over the past year local search has seen a number of these types of signals play a part in rankings – see Matt McGee’s musings on why trust matters for SEO and David Mihm’s excellent Citation is the New Link for an elaboration on how Google may be using mentions of local brands on web pages as a proxy for links. In a world where many small businesses don’t have websites and those that do have few inbound links, this may in fact be a great way to judge how to rank one SMB site v another, all other things being equal. While I am sure my buds at Google have worked hard on this formula, it doesn’t seem particularly hard to game. The fact is that it’s just plain hard to define the strength of a local brand using an algorithm. So my initial reaction is that local search is where you have the greatest opportunity to play against the brand algo.
- National-Local Brands May Have a Momentary Advantage
IYPs and companies that have a national/local presence (e.g. car rental, starbucks, etc.) might receive some benefit from the new algo. It will be interesting to see if “branded” IYPs like Yellowpages.com, Superpages and Yelp see any lift from this change v. startups like GetFave, CitySquares, Click2Connect, Centerd, etc. Most IYPs all have similar datasets and the only things that distinguish them are their brands, architecture, inbound links and user generated content. My guess is that the start-ups are going to have to do an even better job of generating links and creating unique content, but because of the difficulty in determining strong local brands, there will still be a big area of opportunity targeting the categories that do not have strong national-local brands (think upholsterers, taxis, dry cleaners, etc. which are the majority of yellow pages categories). In the case of national-local brands like Starbucks and car rental co’s, I think these guys will be able to do even better in the SERPs against local brands, but it’s not like these companies aren’t already strong local brands (online and off) and are already kicking mom’s and pop’s asses.
- SMBs Have The Most To Gain
My unifying theory of the universe is that the search engines are on the path to favoring SMB websites (when I say SMB I actually mean truly local sites – Starbucks is in there too) in as many local-oriented queries as possible. If many searches are indeed local in intent then this only makes sense. So in this brave new brand algo world the path forward for SMBs seems to be to keep listening to your SEO guy. Do all of the good onpage SEO stuff. Build up quality inbound links to your site and make sure that your data is up to date on all local search sites and other relevant media. The more you can look like a local brand and a local website the better it will be for you.
In short, I don’t think this new brand algo changes the game substantially in local (of course I reserve the right to delete this post after running a few tests). Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.
Other interesting posts on the brand algorithm update: