Backlinks are a significant ranking factor because of implicit authority signals.
But… doesn’t this mean that the top search results will eventually be the sole domain of big brands that can afford to invest in high-end content and backlink strategies?
For consumers, the monopolization of the SERPs by powerful brands surely can’t be a good thing.
It’s certainly not a good thing for less powerful brands with great services, great content, and great value propositions, to be sidelined because they have no backlinks leverage.
Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Andrew, from social. Andrew asks:
“So, will we see a day when Google gets beyond backlinks as such a key ranking factor and looks at the true value offered by smaller brands?”
For years, SEO professionals have complained that big brands seem to be favored by Google in the organic search results.
The reality is that brands are favored, but not because of any implicit bias by the search engine.
The author of this question hits the nail on the head.
Brands are favored because as established names in their field, they are much more likely to attract a number of quality links to point at their sites.
Established Brands are… Well, Established
Big brands get more links because they are big brands.
A big brand is big for a reason.
That reason typically involves years of spending millions of dollars in order to position themselves in the consumer’s mind as the product a consumer should buy when looking in a specific category.
This familiarity translates into links because webmasters are consumers, too.
People Need to Find What They Expect to Find
If you were to search for running shoes, you would expect to find Nike, the largest shoe company on the planet.
In fact, if Nike wasn’t listed in Google’s results for a query for [running shoes], you would probably consider that result flawed.
I don’t know if Google ever manipulates the search results to consumers the brands they expect to find.
But in most cases, they don’t have to.
The algorithm favors the “filthy linking rich.”
And as discussed before, big brands get links because of the familiarity they have worked to build.
Big Brands Do Great in Spite of Themselves
Over the years, I’ve seen some brands that ranked well despite incredibly bad on-page SEO efforts.
Anyone who has worked in enterprise SEO knows that on-page optimization is more challenging to implement than link building in those environments.
In smaller companies, link building is the bigger challenge.
There are many reasons for this, but the biggest one is that on-page changes for enterprise clients require significant effort for approval and implementation.
But even the biggest enterprise can’t control the links that point to their site – despite the best efforts of some in the enterprise to sabotage the links garnered naturally because of brand positioning.
How Do Small Brands Compete?
We have established that large brands do well in Google.
Many small businesses mistakenly come to the conclusion that they just can’t compete with larger brands in the search engine results.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the search engine results are a great place for a smaller, more nimble brand to be the David to a big brand’s Goliath.
It just takes some knowledge and creativity.
First, even in the most competitive search engine results, there are 10 listings on the front page.
A small business may not be able to obtain the top organic spot, but with lots of effort and a bit of luck, small businesses can appear on the front page of very competitive SERPs.
Small brands that take care of their on-page SEO and create content that others want to link to can rank for any keyword phrase they aspire to, given enough time.
They just may not rank #1.
But it’s ok not to rank at the top.
In fact, there are many times consumers that are searching in a category where there is a dominant brand are actually looking for an alternative.
The Most Popular Keyword Isn’t Always the Best
Small brands frequently do very well when targeting peripheral keywords.
Peripheral keywords are phrases that may not have the highest search volume, but have great buyer intent.
Large brands frequently don’t appear as well in peripheral keywords, giving smaller brands huge opportunities.
Also, there are many “tail” keyword opportunities for smaller brands.
Tail keywords may not have a high volume of searches, but in aggregate, their intent-based searchers can contribute a significant amount to the bottom line.
So in conclusion, is it a travesty that big brands dominate the landscape of the most competitive queries?
I don’t think so.
In fact, I think that if they didn’t, something would be wrong with the overall search algorithm.
But just because the big brands are on top doesn’t mean smaller brands can’t compete.
Quite the contrary.
With a lot of work and little bit of luck, small brands can have incredible success in SEO.
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by . Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
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