Back in March 2009 Google rolled out it’s brand update in the US, otherwise known as the Vince Update. It now seems that over the weekend (27th/28th June) this brand update was rolled out in the UK. For a few weeks now the UK SERPs have been a complete mess and no-one really knew what was changing, the SERP roller-coaster finally settled on 27th/28th June and it became apparent that the update that Google rolled out favoured brands, or at least websites that were seen as big online brands. There are still a scattering of US, AU and few other foreign websites in the Google.co.uk SERPs, but seemingly a lot less than the last couple of weeks, either this is an error which will soon be resolved or these sites could be seen to hold enough weight to deserve a ranking in Google.co.uk.
What makes an authority online brand?
There’s a natural assumption that brands are just the big name players, and that they will essentially be given an easy ride to the top of the SERPs. I don’t buy-in to this theory, there are a lot of companies out there both big and small that have either been activity engaging with Online PR firms or making sure that they are getting mentioned online in both the online press and news site as well as a the social media space. I think brand search data and user search behaviour will become contributing factor, as the users have a pretty good idea of what they want. Traditional link building just doesn’t tick any of the boxes that help to build an online brand, so if you have just be concentrating on traditional link building (directories, reciprocal links and paid links) and not getting mentioned elsewhere on the web, then how would you rate your online brand strength?
Now let’s get this right here, I very much doubt Google can tell how big or small a company is based upon offline factors and as such cannot tell if you’re a big brand or not. If you actually start thinking of how you would define an online brand and the avenues and metrics that you would use for this comparison/definition then I think all becomes fairly clear. Creativity, social engagement and Online PR are a few of the avenues that are worth exploring to improve brand strength and authority on the web. Patrick over at BlogStorm wrote a good post exploring the factors that determine brand authority, which is well worth a read. Rob Watts also wrote a must read article exploring the difference between Online PR and off-site SEO.
Has this update killed traditional SEO?
NO! SEO in my opinion isn’t just about link building and let’s face it traditional link building (directories, reciprocal links and paid links) has been dying out for a while (as I discussed in The face of SEO is changing are you?), this is just the icing on the cake. Personally I think traditional on-page SEO won’t be affected and will continue as normal. A well structured, technically sound site with a good internal link structure and keyword strategy has always and continues to go a long way to gaining rankings. Going forward I believe there just needs to be an increased focus on Online PR and Social Media, and yes this means getting creative.
I see the biggest change for SEO being that in the guise of the so called brand update Google has taken another step in devaluing link buying, which personally I think is great! Yet again SEO will evolve into a cleaner playing field. The downside to this update is that it favours the companies with the big SEO and Online PR budgets, as the smaller players may not be able to compete at this level. Now I say may not be able to compete – not everything is about budget! A low budget SEO/Online PR campaign can still be very successful and even more successful than a larger budget project, but this will largely depend on creativity and the production of content and news that people want to read.
Is traditional link building dead?
Again No, I don’t think so, but its importance in the bigger picture of SEO has been vastly reduced. Traditional links will still be a part of SEO, but in my opinion only a small part. Links from the social web and online news sites will be the links that really count.
What’s the way forward?
I imagine that many people woke up Monday morning and pretty big surprise (good or bad). If your website did well out of the update then continue with your current SEO and Online PR strategy. If you had a bit of a shock and you website dived all is not lost, but it may take you sometime to climb back up the rankings. To get your rankings on the increase I suggest you really start thinking Online PR and Social Media as the traditional link building methods aren’t going to dig you out of this hole.
Has this update changed SEO?
Nope, in many respects rankings will depend on links as they always have done, all that’s changed in my opinion is the type of links that really hold the weight within the algorithm. SEO’s that are already engaged in Online PR and Social Media won’t have any issues going forward, those that either aren’t using it or don’t get, have a bit of a shock coming.