It’s not a rumor. Google really does favor big brands in its ranking algorithm.
Prior to Google’s Penguin algorithm update, it was easy for small websites to rank ahead of big brands by using spammy SEO tactics that were specifically targeted by Penguin.
Unfortunately, spammy short-term tactics don’t work anymore.
The solution to beating big brands in online marketing is to move beyond the general perception of unfairness and work toward becoming a brand yourself. And I would argue that whether Google favors the big guys or not really doesn’t matter.
If you want to win in SEO (and business) go where the enemy isn’t.
That’s exactly what Walmart did. And now they’re the largest company on earth by gross revenue.
It’s called a Blue Ocean Strategy.
Long-tail SEO targeting is a Blue Ocean Strategy.
One of the easiest things to observe is that big brands—the seemingly invincible market leaders—rank for only a particular set of keywords. Not every keyword that relates to a niche can be targeted by the top brands, so there’s a considerable array of keywords—mostly long-tail—that are lying about.
While ranking for core keywords is probably not going to be possible, that’s ok; long-tail keywords are your opportunity to shine, and they often yield better conversion rates, bounce rates, and time-on-site metrics than core terms.
Regardless of how big a website is (in terms of brand value) and how long it’s been established, it can’t possibly account for every possible keyword combination in its content strategy. The authority websites are strong because they built a solid content strategy around a few keywords and stuck to it, with plenty of dollars and hours invested in that strategy.
Key Takeaway: Figure out the keywords for which your big-brand website doesn’t rank well. Then take on the competition with those keywords. There are many ways to find long-tail keywords, but the most basic is to use Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool to perform keyword research.
A key feature of Google’s algorithm is the concept of authority; Author Rank seems to be the mantra of every SEO effort. But, in truth, how many websites with correct author information have you observed still failing to secure the top spot? Some of these, you’ll notice, are from websites that are in the big-brand league.
For instance, you won’t see Mashable or BuzzFeed ranking right at the top for every “tech-related” keyword. But honestly, they’ve got some really awesome content.
Key Takeaway: The ranking algorithm is a summation of factors that consist largely of:
So, while big brands easily get inbound links, social shares, and comments at the page level, this isn’t an algorithmic favor from Google; it’s simply the result of big brands investing time and money into developing and nurturing their reader base.
Counter this advantage by creating better content around the keywords for which you want to rank, properly optimizing that content from an on-site perspective, and strategically marketing it. Big brands may get links and social shares more easily, but great content will always win out over time.
This is the age of social signals. Google and Bing are actively seeking out social signals to value the websites they rank, and this offers a huge benefit for new websites looking to compete against authority websites. What is interesting is that the notion of authority itself is often deciphered through the kind of social shares and signals your website/page sends (besides the other, usual factors of Author Rank and links, of course).
When it comes to social signals, brand/authority doesn’t really matter. If you provide value, you win. If you provide the most useful and unique content, you win.
Key Takeaway: Encourage social shares and maintain your social media presence. It’s the perfect intersection between SEO and user engagement that offers you an opening to beat the big guys.
An exact match domain strategy, while repeatedly downplayed by search engines and SEO still has some value. For instance, we ranked InvestmentBank.com above from Goldman Sachs, UBS and Barclays. It only took a mere four years to build it up as a brand and outrank some of the largest investment banks on the planet, but the domain authority of the site is still less than 50 and the link profile isn’t THAT impressive:
Key Takeaway: exact match domains are tough to build brands around, but there is still SEO weight in a really good domain name. That is, if you’re willing to be patient and have the budget to acquire a quality domain.
Pause a moment and think about this: What actually comprises an authority website? Most of the big brands have taken years to build a strong and credible following, a fan base, or active user-engagement. That boils down to just two things: 1) value and 2) people. When you provide value through your content strategies and your products, you attract people. As such, your focus should be on people.
Key Takeaway: Treat SEO as a tool and not as the means to achieving the goals of your website/brand. The real means involves pushing value outward and enabling it to be shared across a wide platform—ideally, multiple platforms. This will draw in customers over the long run, and establish you as a brand and authority in your own right.
If you’re already doing the things that are recommended by content strategists, user-engagement experts, and community managers, you’re already on your way to building your own brand. Why, then, should you worry about whatever bias Google might harbor with regard to the big brands?
In the age of “authority,” the challenge for new websites is that, by the time you get halfway toward becoming a recognized authority on Google’s radar, many of your competitors may have established a firmer brand, better positioning, and a stronger level of authority.
That’s why you can’t waste time by competing with them on every keyword they rank for. Instead, build your brand, gradually, by targeting the areas the bigger brands and authority websites haven’t included in their net. From then on, it’s merely a matter of repeating the efforts, using social channels and strong content strategies, while expanding your territory.
Or, if you’re looking for a DIY solution, we suggest you check out 101 Ways to Improve Your Website’s SEO.