Google Algorithm Shift – Branded Sites Taking Over?

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Last week Search Engine Watch posted an article which referenced a post from Aaron Wall regarding an algorithm shift in Google. Basically, mid-January many “brand” companies started showing in the Top Ten of the organic search results without doing any “real” SEO … they just “showed up” because they were “branded.”

For the last week many have stated “this is the end of SEO as we know it” or “this is bigger than the Florida Update.” Sorry, I don’t see it. Let me just ask you a question….

If this update is so big and will basically kill off SEO as we know it, why did it take six weeks for it to be a discussion? After all, as soon as Update Florida hit, there was blood in the streets that afternoon … but six weeks?

The answer is simple really. The update only affected upper-level keywords … mainly one-word keyphrases. No one really cares about keywords such as electronics, airline tickets, mortgages, gifts, etc. as those keywords don’t convert well.

I do hope this news doesn’t spur some “Guru” to come out with a “business saving” product to reverse the effects of this new “algorithm change.” That would be a joke in my view. We’re all smart marketers. We want to rank for the keywords that actually bring us revenue. Non-converting traffic is a waste and a huge distraction.

Ignore the posts that the “Sky is Falling” with this update. If it was, we would have been discussing this in January, and not in late February and March. I see no significant change in my rankings or revenue.


  1. Dave Roth says

    I concur Jerry and I can’t think of any niches I compete in that this will have any effect on me. I have a lot of respect for Aaron Wall, but his posts often leave you with the impression that a) the sky is falling b) It’s about to fall if you don’t change. When in reality, I’ve followed basically the same strategy (with some tweaks) and continued to get excellent results.

  2. says

    Excellent article, Jerry!

    I applaud Google for doing this, as it was much needed…but I’m not seeing the results bringing much “trust” to it’s users, as I see many results that still show up for lots of popular keywords – and they’re bringing me a few affiliate sites or MFA sites within the top 5 results:

    You can see “laptop computers” shows several results for comparison sites, and 1 is obviously MFA.

    So, with this being 6 weeks ago – I say it’s definitely JUST a scare tactic.


  3. says

    I understand your logic Jerry and I appreciate the warning about the guru solution to a non-problem.

    But could this be the thin end of the wedge as Google concentrates on bigger name sites to deliver more “quality” searches?

  4. repair hard drive expert says

    In my niche, I have not seen any change at all. The same “brands” and “non-brands” are there. Like you said, if the big box stores are ranking high for the generic terms that is just fine. They don’t convert effectively.

  5. says

    Paul, many have said that Google hates affiliate sites and wants them to go away. That’s just not true. What they hate are the obvious scrapper/Spam sites.

    All they have ever asked is that the affiliate add something of value, which most high-powered affiliates do. However, moving the big brands for these upper level keywords is just fine for me … I was never playing in that sandbox anyway. :-)

  6. says

    I totally agree with the “but can you convert the keyword to a desireable action” however most of my corporate consulting clients still get worried because they believe in branding.

    It’s up to all of us to provide better connection between conversion and results as opposed to branding so how do you suggest we educate them the best on the conversion subject?

  7. Niall says

    lol the funny thing is that this is the first I’ve heard of this AND I was wondering why my income has increased a lot in the last few weeks.

    Oh and my sites aren’t branded in any way – not even close. Good content, good SEO and keep working it. Simple really.

  8. says

    Like Niall, this is the first I’ve heard of this. I haven’t noticed any of my sites taking a hit over the last few weeks, so either I’m a lot more branded than I thought I was or this isn’t as big an issue as some people are apparently saying.

  9. says

    Did anyone explain though how the top 10 branded companies all of a sudden did pop-up in their newly aquired positions. I think it’s wise to find out why it occured. I agree that converting keyword phrases will remain imperative but let’s face it, you still need traffic for that to be viable… and visa versa.
    I’d hate to think that you automatically gained a top 10 position because you were a (blue chip) branded company. Where does people’s preference come and competitive fairness come into that. Perhaps you can sponsor your way in…dare I say it!

  10. says

    I agree with you that it seems to be affecting primarily one word and highly competitive two word phrases and that those do not convert as well as longer tail more specific keyword phrases with buyer intent.

    However, do you think that this is a move by Google to weight the “brand” of a domain higher just for these more competitive keyword phrases and then eventually enable this brand weighting for longer tail keyword phrases as well?

  11. says


    Funny you should mention this. I’m in the middle of a blog post on the meaning of this for those involved in social media marketing. We at Social Media Science agree with you, in general.

    What we are looking into is the possible relationship between increased Google branding/ranking power brought about through expanded social media campaigns/activity in general. We are finding that Google is ranking many sites purely on the basis of how the social networks respond to them and their SEO quality seems to be less and less the main factor in that process. I wouldn’t call this by any means the “Death of SEO” but it does seem to be a clear and verifiable emerging trend that warrants close scrutiny.

    As with anything on this topic the truth will eventually be discovered only through testing and quality analytics; something we know you’ve always been committed to. Let’s all keep on digging…and sharing. I think we have all learned over time that CHANGE is a great benefit to the alert and prepared. It certainly keeps those of us who are on top of our game in the educational wing of Internet marketing in business…for good or ill. I choose to embrace it…and so far it has hugged me back.:)

  12. ross says

    There has been another Google change which has not been highlighted.
    The number of indexed pages in some sites has dropped quite dramatically.
    I know of some sites whose indexed pages dropped from 10,000 to less than 300.

  13. Rick says

    As always Jerry, I trust your info because of 2 reasons.

    1- You have a ton of test domains. You actually test for real results, not what you want. – Go figure

    2- You are very logical and always have logical explanations. This explains why some would claim (and get away with it for the unseo educated) that Google is going to branding versus SEO.

    Thanks again!

  14. Fat Spammer TV says

    I am so glad the sky is NOT falling! I do not want to have to re-learn all I now know about SEO. Thanks for clearing that up.

  15. says

    I have noticed some improvement in ranking on several of my sites via google so this update is fine by me. Some of my other sites have shown no change to speak of so my task now is trying to determine why certain sites moved up. Lot of factors to consider both with the sites and with the keywords and competition but I hope to have some idea soon. Just a process of working through the facts.
    Jerry, you have a great site and your information is always top shelf. In my view you are one of the true “gurus” on the net. I appreciate the way you make your case with statistics and facts and not embellished stories. Thank you for your efforts!

  16. Leah Dubyk says

    What I found and still find very peculiar is the update you did on Nov 21, 2010 Jerry | Google Themes Jerry West Announces Major Google Algorithm Change : Theme Zoom Blog.

    jerry west nov 21, 2010 google <<—Top 2 spots for that search phrase!!

    NOBODY wanted to hear any of that new info even though it would have helped a lot of people save their money instead of buying more useless links.

    I posted the "new" information several times on the WF and almost every time, the thread was deserted with no further comments after mine, it was hilarious so I kept doing it until it became too obvious!! If I had used your name instead of just the date, I'm sure the outcome wouldn't have been so much fun!! Thanks

  17. Dehumidifiers for Home says

    The internet is slowly being annexed. Big business can’t afford the little man to play with the big boys.

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