Early this year Google made a change to their organic rankings algorithm. Named Vince’s Change, after the engineer who worked on it, the search marketing industry describes it as favoring brands. Here is what Google’s Matt Cutts had to say about Vince’s Change in March.
A few things that Matt says about Vince’s change caught my ears.
It affects a small number of queries
People made 9.1 billion searches on Google during June of 2009. That’s 9,100,000,000 searches. Let’s say Vince’s Change impacts 5% of searches. Five percent is 455,000,000 or 455 million searches. That does not seem like such a small number to me.
It does not affect lots of long-tail queries
The inverse of this statement is that Vince’s Change is more likely to affect high-tail searches. Is Vince’s change more likely to skew the results of competitive queries that companies like Portent Interactive’s clients compete for?
Google does not think in terms of brands
Matt says Google cares about, “trust, authority, reputation, PageRank, high quality…” “Sometimes that’s a brand search, sometimes that’s an informational search, sometimes it’s navigational, sometimes it’s transactional…”
This sounds good, however, the search marketing community’s concern about Vince’s change is not the type of search–whether it’s a brand search or not. Our concern is with the results–are brands more likely to appear in the organic search results because they are brands?
Trust, Reputation, Authority, PageRank
Matt Cutts says, “Try to make a great site. Try to make it a site that is so fantastic that you sort of become known as an authority in your niche. And it doesn’t have to be a big niche. It doesn’t have to be a huge well known keyword. It can be a smaller niche. And if you’re still the expert that’s the sort of of thing that they’ll link to, that they’ll talk about, the sort of thinks that people really enjoy and those are the type of sites, the experts that we want to bring back.”
At Portent we like to advise our clients to become a resource, not just for their specific product or service, but for the market or niche that uses it. This expands clients’ ability to create great content and to become a recognized expert and not solely bent on self-promotion. When you do this other websites are more likely to mention you and link to you.
The Power of the Mention
I think that Vince’s change places added emphasis on mentions. Notice in the quote above Matt says, “…that’s the sort of thing…that they’ll talk about.” Google likes to do things algorithmically. When creating a list of brands, they do not want to use someone else’s list. They want to create their own list from scratch, using math and statistics. Nouns that are mentioned frequently throughout the World Wide Web are more likely to be important, like brands. This is an important change. Previously search engine optimizers placed almost all of their off-site focus on getting links from other websites, not just mentions.
Matt also emphasizes reputation. This indicates that sentiment is important too. If lots of people write good things about you on the web, then your business will have a good reputation. Inversely, if lots of people write negative things, your business will have a poor reputation. If nobody or few people mention you, that’s not a bad reputation. It’s no reputation or a lack of reputation.
Another word for reputation in this context is sentiment. Terrific sentiment, good sentiment, non-existent sentiment, negative sentiment and wretched sentiment. Measuring sentiment is fairly straight-forward. Some words and phrases are typically used to say good things while others are used to say bad things.
So now we have the frequency of mentions and sentiment.
Is This How Vince’s Change Works?
Is this graph a good representation of Vince’s Change?
It’s a frequency of scatter graph on two variables, placement value and sentiment.
Placement value means the credibility and importance of the web page on which the brand mention takes place. All websites are not created equal. Some have more trust and authority than others. Also, within a website, some pages have more authority than others. A website’s homepage, for example, is typically more important to search engines than a page that is five clicks away from the home page.
Each brand has a footprint. In the image below this website receives a lot of positive sentiment mentions.
The brand also receives many mentions on high-value pages or high authority pages. This brand is quite likely to benefit from Vince’s Change and get higher search engine rankings.
Next is a brand that Vince’s Change might hurt.
Once again the brand gets a lot of mentions on the Internet, except this time most of those mentions contain negative sentiment. This means lots of people are saying bad things about this brand, which can contribute to a poor reputation.
Before Vince’s Change affects your brand it needs to exceed a threshold.
The brand I graphed above has neutral sentiment and most mentions are on pages with average authority. This brand is unlikely to receive any direct affect from Vince’s Change. However, this brand should work to get positive mentions on high value or authority pages because a different brand, one which receives a boost from Vince’s Change, could push this neutral brand down in the rankings.
It also makes sense that a few mention on highly trusted pages will have more impact than the same number of mentions on average or low trust pages. However, a large number of mentions on average trust pages will likely trigger Vince’s Change.
I do wonder if there is a cutoff for low authority or low trust pages. It makes sense that pages with negative trust or very low authority cannot trigger Vince’s change, no matter how many of these mentions occur. Of course, if many many mentions occurred naturally on low authority pages, one would expect to see brand mentions on average trust pages and even some high trust pages too.
Let’s put it all together. Here on one graph is how I think Vince’s Change may operate.
Here’s a caveat. By collecting the scatter graphs for a large sampling of brands then charting their patterns or footprints, you will likely generate a normal distribution or bell-curve Participating in a scheme to manipulate Vince’s Change by creating an unnatural pattern–one which falls outside of the bell-curve–could identify a website as being a member of a bad neighborhood and cause Google to penalize that website. Vince’s Change emphasizes the importance of participating in aggressive brand building while avoiding brand manipulation.