Will Google ever fix the big brand ranking advantage of more backlinks?

Backlinks are an important ranking factor due to implied authority signals.

But… doesn’t that mean that top search results will eventually be the exclusive domain of big brands who can afford to invest in high-end content and backlink strategies?

For consumers, the monopolization of SERPs by powerful brands certainly cannot be a good thing.

It’s definitely not a good thing for less powerful brands with great services, great content, and great value propositions, to be sidelined because they don’t have any leverage on the backlinks.

Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Andrew, from the social network. Andrew asks:

“So, will we see a day when Google moves beyond backlinks as a key ranking factor and examines the true value offered by smaller brands?”

For years, SEO professionals have complained that big brands seem to be favored by Google in organic search results.

The reality is that brands are favored, but not because of any implicit search engine bias.

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 their sites.

Established Brands Are… Well, Established

Big brands get more links because they are big brands.

But why?

A great brand is great for a reason.

This reason usually involves years of spending millions of dollars in order to position itself in the mind of the consumer as the product that a consumer should buy when searching in a specific category.

This familiarity translates into links because webmasters are also consumers.

People need to find what they expect to find

If you were to search for running shoes, you would expect to find Nike, the biggest shoe company on the planet.

In fact, if Nike didn’t appear in Google’s results for a query about [running shoes], you would probably consider this result wrong.

I don’t know if Google ever manipulates consumers’ search results of the brands they expect to find.

But in most cases, they don’t have to.

The algorithm favors “dirty link rich”.

And as stated before, big brands get links because of the familiarity they’ve worked to create.

Big brands do good in spite of themselves

Over the years, I’ve seen some brands rank well despite incredibly poor on-page SEO efforts.

Anyone who has worked in enterprise SEO knows that on-page optimization is harder to implement than link building in these environments.

In small businesses, link building is the biggest challenge.

There are several reasons for this, but the most important is that changes on the page for enterprise customers require significant effort for approval and implementation.

But even the biggest company can’t control the links that point to its site – despite the best efforts of some in the business to sabotage links garnered naturally due to brand positioning.

How do smaller brands compete?

We’ve established that big brands do well in Google.

Many small businesses mistakenly conclude that they simply cannot compete with the big brands in search engine results.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, search engine results are a great place for a smaller, more nimble brand to be the David to the Goliath of a big brand.

It just requires knowledge and creativity.

First, even in the most competitive search engine results, there are 10 listings on the first page.

A small business may not be able to get the top spot organically, but with a lot of effort and a bit of luck, small businesses can appear on the first page of highly competitive SERPs.

Smaller 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 can’t rank #1.

But it’s okay not to rank at the top.

In fact, it often happens that consumers who search in a category where there is a dominant brand are actually looking for an alternative.

The most popular keyword is not always the best

Smaller brands often do very well when targeting peripheral keywords.

Peripheral keywords are phrases that may not have the highest search volume, but have high buying intent.

Big brands often don’t show up as well in peripheral keywords, which gives smaller brands huge opportunities.

Additionally, there are plenty of “tail” keyword opportunities for smaller brands.

Tail keywords may not have a high search volume, but overall their intent-based searchers can contribute significantly to the bottom line.

So in conclusion, is it a travesty that big brands dominate the landscape of the most competitive queries?

I do not think so.

In fact, I think if they didn’t, something was wrong with the overall search algorithm.

But just because the big brands are on top doesn’t mean the smaller brands can’t compete.

Quite the contrary.

With hard work and a bit of luck, small brands can have incredible SEO success.

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Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO tips column written by some of the top SEO experts in the industry, who have been handpicked by Search Engine Journal. Do you have a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO article!

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