Google algorithm change – big brand bias?

Ian Lurie

Google just announced a change to their algorithm: They’re now going to show more pages from a single domain for certain queries.

You’re tempted to run out into the street, strip naked with sheer joy and yell OMG all our troubles are over reputation management now a cinch!!!

Wrooooong. Stay inside. Keep yer clothes on. Google’s webmaster blogging team is as detailed as ever (cough). They use the query ‘exhibitions at amnh’ as their example, and sure enough, that turns up 7 results from from

amnh exhibitions search

That may seem like a sign that you’ll dominate page 1 of the rankings for any branded search, but not so. Oh, if you’re a big brand, or a well known institution like the American Museum of Natural History, you’re golden. AMNH dominates page one for a brand query:

amnh search

Alas, for us mere mortals, that’s not the case. Do a search for ‘Portent Interactive’, and you’ll see only two listings:

portent search August

Search for ‘Portent Interactive info’, on the other hand, and you get seven results from my company’s site:

portent info search August

I did 6 other tests, comparing big and small sites. Same result. If you’re Toshiba, you’re smiling. If you’re Solar Joos, no change when it comes to a search for our brand name.

The way it (seems) to work

Here’s how the new algo appears to work: If you’re a big, big brand or organization, you can grab 5-7 of the top 10 positions with pages from your own domain whether someone searches for [brand name] + [informational keyword] or just [brand name].

If you’re a small brand/organization, though, you can only grab 5-7 of the top 10 positions for [brand name] + [informational keyword].

Uh. Why, exactly?

Google: Big brand bias, for real?

A lot of well-known SEO bloggers believe that Google now biases their organic rankings towards big brands. I don’t think Google’s intentionally set out to favor big brands, myself. I think it’s a side effect of their algorithm. But that doesn’t change the result. It’s sure easier to rank big if you are big.

This new change seems a little more ominous to me. If this algorithm change applies to all brands and sites for informational searches, why wouldn’t it apply to all brands and sites for brand searches, too? I mean, if someone searches for ‘Portent Interactive’, isn’t it pretty obvious they’re interested in my web site?

I have no answer. I’m going to go buy some tin foil for a hat, though…

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Heh. After reading this, I thought, “I will google the particular Great Big [Athletic Apparel] Brand for which I write ecommerce copy. I will type in only the Brand Name. I bet $50 or my next paycheck, whichever is higher, that said Big Brand Name will share Page 1 with spark plugs and replacement windows.”
    Darn, I must be prescient because I was right. 😀 😀

  2. This may be good from the Company’s point of view, but I am not so sure about from the user’s. What if I am Googleing a company to see what other people think about them and not what they think about themselves. More top listing from the company may just mean more of the same and will force me to dig deeper to get what I am looking for, a 3rd party unbiased opinion (which admittedly may still be hard to find).

  3. I don’t think it’s a “brand name bias”. I think it’s the fact that these BIG BRAND NAMES have billion dollar marketing budgets and know all of the best SEOs in the world probably.
    When it comes to multi million dollar companies, their advertising budget will put them in front of any number of eyes and people they want.
    Which is why us smaller guys don’t try to rank for “home depot”

  4. @Adam I hope you’re joking. Or new to internet marketing. The big brands are 99% clueless when it comes to SEO. Target, et al have some of the worst SEO online. They couldn’t organize a content strategy if their entire senior marketing team was forced to at gunpoint. They refuse to learn and refuse to change.
    Gonna have to find a much better reason for their rankings than their ‘competence’.

  5. I did some searches as well and the algo (IMHO) is deciphering the intent of the user as it pertains to looking for information on a specific site. So “Portent Interactive” is someone searching for general information on the topic and therefore not site specific. “Portent Interactive info” is someone searching for info on your site.
    This string [brand name] + [informational keyword] doesn’t always hold true if the intent is not deemed to be a site related search. For instance “nike shoes” is mostly populated with non-nike sites.
    Overall I think this part of the algo will go through some rapid adjustments over the short term as goog’s intended purpose is tested in the real world.
    Rep management will not go away though as [brand name] + “reviews” will always need to be managed.

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