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Google loves brands. Google's Vince update was referred to by many as 'the brand update' because major brands seemed to benefit most from it.
That Google would seek ways to incorporate 'brand equity' into its algorithm is not entirely surprising. After all, in many cases, there's an argument to be made that the websites of recognized brands are more likely to offer Google's users what they're searching for when it comes to particular queries.
Earlier this year, Google started experimenting with a subtle feature that, for certain queries, aimed to make it easy for its users to identify brands commonly associated with the subject of those queries. For instance, a search for 'diamonds' would highlight well-known diamond brands like DeBeers, Tiffany and Tacori.
That experiment continues, and now Google has added to it. Instead of recommending 'brands', Google has started to recommend stores as well as product types. A search for 'diamonds', for instance, returns the following:
While Google's experiment is subtle, it is important nonetheless. It serves as a reminder that brands, be they manufacturers or retailers, have many advantages when it comes to SEO, and that those advantages are only likely to get stronger going forward.
The truth is that as good at search as Google is, search is tough and getting tougher. There's a lot more chaff to sort through out there but at the same time consumers are expecting a search experience that's much more efficient and effective. So it's not really surprising that Google CEO Eric Schmidt once stated, "Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool." Brands, after all, represent familiarity, reputation and trust.
The question, however, is whether Schmidt and Google will look beyond 'Coca-Cola brands' and recognize that there are a lot of brands -- some pure-play internet -- that exist in small but nonetheless important niches. For instance, if I'm looking to buy a recumbent exercise bike, chance are I don't know the 'best' brands in this market and would probably value several recommendations here a lot more than I would a reminder about DeBeers and Tiffany when searching for 'diamonds'.
While I'm not sure how viable it is for Google to boost niche brands in this fashion, Google shouldn't overlook the potential benefits for everyone in letting smaller brands shine a little brighter in the SERPs too.