Love it or Hate It, There’s No Doubt That Google Prefers Brands

SMS Text

Maybe “prefers” is an understatement: brands rank faster, rank easier and are more durable to updates

Which probably leaves you thinking: “I don’t stand a chance.”

But because you run a small site doesn’t mean that you deserve to be bullied by your branded competitors. I have helped my small business clients build strong online brands. Although we are small, we lay the beat down on Fortune 500 companies in Google.

And you can to.

You just need to know: a) what brand signals Google uses and b) how to get them.

How to Look Like a Big Brand

Obviously, the best way to build brand signals is to actually build a brand.

Easy, right?


Building a brand can take years.

And if you’re going toe-to-toe with companies with a massive offline presence, your dinky brand signals won’t be enough.

That’s why it’s important to proactively build brand signals.

When you do you’ll be rewarded with more traffic, more trust and a nifty shield against future updates.

Step #1: Get a Branded Social Media Presence

Social media is a huge brand signal. Google uses social media to gauge the size of your user base and overall popularity.

Social Media Followers

Almost all big brands have a lot of followers.

Even boring brands. Walgreens has over 2 million Facebook likes (!):

Walgreens on Facebook

At a bare minimum you should have a full-functional account set-up at Twitter, Google +, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

But a lonely account with zero followers isn’t going to get Google’s pulse racing. You need to do whatever it takes to acquire thousands of fans, followers and likes. That’s what makes you look like a brand.

Social Media Activity

Followers is step one.

But engaging on these social media sites is another important brand signal. Brands large and small have conversations with their community:

Home depot Twitter


There are two ways to leverage LinkedIn for brand exposure:

1. A business profile: shows that you’re a legit business and not a one-man show (you need to have at least 10 connections to your personal profile to build a business profile on LinkedIn).

2. Employees: If you’re a brand it makes sense you’d have at a few employees. LinkedIn profiles that show people working for your business is a fantastic way to showcase your site as a legit business:

LinkedIN Employees

Step #2: Build Search-Based Brand Signals

It’s something you probably already know but never thought much about: people search for brands.

In fact, people love to type brand names into Google:

Coca Cola Brand Signal



And, according to this cool chart from SEOBook, Google is very adept at determining brand keywords. How? Based on the percentage of people that click on the top result:

SEOBook Brans Signals

Most searches have clicks all across the board. But brands have a much higher percentage of clicks on the #1 and #2 results.

Searching For Your Brand

There are some easy ways to get more people to search for your brand in Google:

1. Say Your Brand in Videos: Next time you make a video, instead of saying “This is Bob”, say “This is Bob from Big Bad Brand Signals”. I use this trick all the time and it works great: I almost always see a surge in the number of people searching for my brand name.

2. Reach out on Twitter: I love to bug big brands on Twitter because it shows off my brand name to a new audience…which entices them to do a Google search.

3. Brand Images on Pinterest: Put your logo somewhere on photos that you post to Pinterest:

Pinterest Branding

When people see your brand name in the image, they’ll search for it on Google.

4. Display Ads: Offline ads, like print and billboard advertising, and the Google Content Network is another way to get people to type your brand name into Google’s search field.

User Experience

The way people interact and talk about your site is another important brand signal.

Pay particular attention to:

User Interaction: Blocked sites in Google and via Chrome is one way for Google to determine a spammy site (and spammy sites usually aren’t beloved brands). Do everything you can to keep people on your site and loving their experience.

Repeat Visitors: Google may see how many people bookmark and return to your site. People tend to go back to sites they like over and over again. And those sites tend to be brands.

Multiple Authors

If you run a content-heavy site, you probably have multiple authors contributing to your site.

And multiple confirmed Google+ authors is a strong brand signal:

Brand Signals Multiple Authors

Step #3: Branded Links and Co-Citations

How people discuss and link to your site is an important brand signal.

Anchor Text

It’s well known that over-optimized anchor text was one of Penguin’s pet peeves.

But switching some of your anchor text to “this site” and “here” doesn’t look natural either.

And it sure doesn’t make you look like a brand.

That’s why it’s important to use branded anchor text whenever possible.

Just look at the anchor text distribution for the entire domain (not just the homepage) of, via MajesticSEO:

TechCrunch Anchors

Now that’s what I call branded anchor text!

Let’s say your site was It should have a variety of anchors, with an emphasis on branded anchors:

Sandals 4 Less

Cheap Sandals

Low Cost Sandals



According to SEOMoz (see what I did there?), co-citations are the new anchor text. Co-citations are simply instances where people tend to mention your brand name, but not necessarily link to you.

And it’s a powerful ranking (and branding) signal.

The best way to take advantage of co-citations is to drop your brand name on pages about your target keyword. This could be in the form of blog comments or online reviews.

Over time Google will begin to associate your brand with that keyword…and give you a rankings boost.

Negative Reviews

Google has stated publicly that they algorithmically penalize sites with lots of negative reviews. If this is something that affects you, it my be time to do some reputation management to clean up as many negative reviews as you can.

Step #4: On-Page Brand Signals

Here’s how to turn your site into a beacon of branding.

Address and Contact Information

Real businesses have offices and transparent contact information, which includes a valid phone number and address.

Don’t think Google pays attention to this stuff?

A good chunk of a leaked Google Quality Guidelines Document discusses transparency and signals of legitimacy, including contact info:

Leaked Google Guidelines

Make sure you include a real address (even if you operate your site out of your mom’s basement) and phone number on your contact us page. A contact form doesn’t cut it.

Extra credit: Verify your address in Google places.

Logo and Unique Design

It goes without saying that your site should have a unique theme, including a logo. No brand has the same WordPress theme of a thousand other sites.

About Us Page

It may be time to rethink your About Us page.

All big brands have insanely-long About Us pages to brag about their history and mission statement.

Some sites even list their staff:


Now It’s Your Turn

Building a strong online brand presence can give you a massive edge over your competitors.

I hope you realize that it doesn’t take a 6-figure marketing budget to look like a large brand.

It just takes a concerted effort to build the brand signals that Google pays attention to.

Brian Dean
Brian Dean is the link building rock star behind Backlinko, a site that helps SEOs build powerful backlinks to their sites. When he's not building... Read Full Bio
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  • Great article Brian. Very thorough and excellent step by step points for the little guy. Many of my clients find it intimidating to venture into online branding on their own – especially for mom and pop shops. They think, “what’s the point?”. In the end however, the search engines are all running based on algorithms and don’t have deference to a person or a company, but to numbers, signals and codes – which anyone and everyone can make.

    • Thanks, Aaron.

      You’re absolutely right: most Mom and Pop shops already have an offline brand. It’s a matter of transferring that brand to the online world (where Google can see it).

  • Mar Rivera

    I really like the post you presented here. It gives me new ideas about what Brands is all about and I like how it is presented in detail. SEO has really evolved and with that evolution many ways of doing online marketing have been discovered…

    • That’s true. SEO has definitely evolved (thanks to Google’s algo changes/updates). Now it’s about becoming the most visible and talked about brand.

  • Hi,
    Useful stuff, Thanks for your posting. Can anybody tell me that what’s the precautions when we just start up to branding our product.

    Warm, Thanks.

    • Thanks Prem. You don’t need to take too many precautions. Just get your name out there and in front of as many people as you possibly can.

  • Hi Prem,

    As we know Access of everything is bad. So always do things or promote your brand in limit. Don’t share things in a large number or so less. Be limited.

    • Not sure I agree. It’s hard to go too far with promoting your brand.

  • Good one Brian. A good brand is what stays in people’s mind for a long time and is the one that impacts people’s judgement or decision making. The power of a great product or a service depends on the credibility of a brand. Hence it does make sense for Google to give importance to good brands, the one which people like. Number of brand name searches will surely be a branding signal used by Google for rankings.

    • Your point is right on: we should all be building a brand so we stay in people’s minds. That way we can get people searching for our brand…and we’re always ranking #1 for that keyword!

  • Well crafted post Brian. It was link building earlier – now it should be brand building. Not only Google, we all like branded and trusted product. So, we need to build brand ethically and naturally and not run after another brand building campaign.

    We can also use schema micro data on sites with branded keywords or something like this, to build brand and rise higher on SEPRs.

    Great reading all way. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Kaylan. You bring up a good point: building a brand (ironically) makes you more self-sufficient and less reliant on Google.

  • Great post, hopefully this will reduce the amount of crazy URLs people buy such as

    A brand seems to be more considered and hold more trust than these over optimized websites.

    • Thanks Ian. I hope that most people realize the importance of a branded domain name for establishing a brand with Google…and with customers.

  • Ron

    Hi Brian,
    Nice article and in theory sounds good but really isn’t going to work with small companies trying to compete with the big brands that google loves so much now. For instance my small clothing hanger business (Only Hangers) specializes in the largest selection of high quality clothing hangers available. We have a better selection and price point than any of the large brands yet we have been knocked off the first page for many keywords to companies like Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sam’s Club etc…A small business like mine will never be able to compete with brands like this. I could stay on Facebook, LinkedIn , Pinterest and Google + all day 7 days a week and I’ll never be able to get the kind of social signals as these guys have. Your ideas sound great but coming from experience they just aren’t going to work for the small mom & pop businesses out there. Google has changed the playing field now and made it very difficult for small companies to compete. I wish I could implement your ideas and suddenly rank up there with the big guys but frankly that doesn’t seem possible.

    • Hey Ron,

      Thanks for your comment. You’re 100% right: Google definitely shows more big brands in the SERPs than ever before.

      And you’re right that it’s not possible to get the same social or brand signals that they have. But I can tell you from experience that big brands CAN be beat (especially for long tail keywords).

      The key is to use the one advantage small business owners like you and I have over them: flexibility and creativity. I can see some outside the box content working in your niche that your larger competitors are too lazy or bloated to even come up with.