Google fiddles search, does no evil for brands like Expedia

This will either be a bit of a storm in a teacup or a fundamental change to how Google produces search results when users are searching for brands on the web.

First picked up by search blogger Malcolm Coles and now Search Engine Land, this is what is supposedly happening.

On SOME search queries for big brands (“Apple iPad” was the one Coles used), Google is returning a first page of results dominated almost exclusively by results from Apple.

What’s the wrong with that?

Well, previously the results algorithm worked by displaying the most relevant pages found across the web, based on page rank, originality of content, title, influence, etc.

This would be the same across verticals, content types as well as photos, video and news.

A traveller searching for Expedia, for example, would ordinarily see results for the brand itself, news items, affiliate sites, high ranking content sites which mention Expedia.

But perhaps no longer:

expedia SEO

Eight of the ten results on the first page when searching for “expedia” belong to Expedia or a Expedia-run domain. The remaining two are a Twitter profile and Wikipedia page.

The same could also be found for “opodo”:

opodo SEO

Seven of the ten belong to Opodo.

The point here is that results are being served regardless of page rank and existing SEO disciplines. Maybe it’s just a freak of the searches carried out on a particular day for a particular brand?

A clearly concerned Search Engine Land eventually got a statement from Google [officials have yet to respond to calls]:

“We periodically reassess our ranking and UI choices, and today we made a change to allow a larger number of pages from the same site to appear for a given query. This happens for searches that indicate a strong user interest in a particular domain.”

So there you have it. Big is beautiful… when it comes to SEO.

Andrew Girdwood of BigMouthMedia is playing down the change:

“Search is about finding what you’re after. Google wants to be the best at doing that for you. This tweak doesn’t favour brands, certain types or anything like that. Google just used to think that searchers probably didn’t want t see more than two results from the same  domain – now they’ve changed their mind.”

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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    […] week or so back Dan Taylor of Destination 360 mentioned in a comment on the travel technology blog Tnooz that for the search query [bellagio las vegas] he was seeing 7 out of 10 results from […]

  2. Darren

    I never thought of it from a hotel brand perspective! It’s going to be very interesting if this pans out. I wonder if this will also put more focus on the longtail keywords for the likes of trip advisor.

  3. Dan Taylor

    Try “Bellagio Las Vegas” 7 of 10 and Tripadvisor barely holds on to position 10. If this sticks companies like Tripadvisor that depend on the above the fold placement will suffer.

    • Andy Beard

      Dan I would love to use that example in a followup, with a nice credit link to a related section of your site.
      Would also give me the opportunity to link through to the conversation here.

  4. Darren Cronian

    Good example Andy.

    So, from this example, the biggest impact could be on affiliate sites who are optimising for the brand name, as I think Sam suggested. From a consumer perspective, if your looking for info on Opodo and Paris flights, you want to see the Opodo website, rather than a number of inferior, affiliate sites, that you end up clicking through to the Opodo site anyway.

    • Andy Beard

      Yeah that is why after a huge amount of deliberation I opted to call it pseudo site search – Google have to be able a single domain as the intent before they would pop up results.

      Search for [matt cutts seo] or [matt cutts pagerank]

      It doesn’t appear

      Search for [matt cutts linux]

      It does appear, because there is a lot less confusion about intent

      I actually find it a little strange with Apple Ipod that they have those results – I would have thought there would be significant confusion in which entity was meant.

      I don’t think it will make any difference with traffic, but it might boost conversions if people find what they are looking for.

  5. Andy Beard

    I wrote about this as well, though Malcolm and SEL both ended up beating me to the post because I spent 24 hrs chatting with the guys in the SEO Dojo about what to call it.

    What you are seeing here on these queries is normal, even before this change.

    You search even for my name in the SERPs certainly Google US and you will find mainly my social media profiles.

    You can boost that with subdomains etc

    Expedia is a bad example because they have multiple international sites so the entity is confused.

    Here is a real example search

    I couldn’t get that result with Expedia due to brand fragmentation.

    I thought the Amazon Lawn Mower results I pulled up for the UK were a superb user experience.

  6. Eddie Lubbers

    Another clear sign to me that Google’s reached a turning point; from organizing the world’s information, they’ve begun to monopolizing the world’s information.

    This happens to coincide with another turning point; search no longer being the #1 online activity and Google is no longer the only platform around.

    In the multi-channel world, brands gain in importance, and it seems ironic that the king of search is acknowledging this by tweeking of search results in favor of brands.

    It’s time to “brand away” from Google.

  7. Darren

    I wonder if Google will use this just in the web search results, or if you use their search tools, i.e. search for ‘expedia’ under discussions, would it show non-expedia search results?

    I am just thinking that I use google search to find negative reviews/posts on a brand that I might be looking to use. So, it could mean consumers would have do more searching on Google to find this type of content?

  8. Ian McKee

    At first I thought this was fantastic news for some big brand clients – total control over search results, all power to block out bad news.

    But having thought about it, whilst it’s great for online retail sites like Expedia & Opodo, many big brands don’t focus entirely on their own site. Sometimes they don’t want results from their own site, they want results from news sites, YouTube, Twitter etc.

    Example, campaign from American Express (client) with Charley Boorman doing travel vodcasts.

    Search for “American Express Charley Boorman” and you get the YouTube clips, his Facebook page, the vodcasts on iTunes, Tweets about Amex, blog posts about the campaign…

    Now search “ Charley Boorman”. Hmm…

    This means some brands are seriously going to have to ramp up their site’s content to cover the breadth of what they do.

    • Sam Daams

      But surely only the first query matters for real customers?! And that shows what you’d expect, no? I’d wager a guess that site: searches are used very little when in booking modus 🙂

      One thing is for sure; this is aimed squarely at affiliate sites, news sites and sites like Mahalo et al that try and get rankings on brand names. This makes that a LOT harder.

      • Ian McKee

        Depends how you look at it – I’m looking at it from a PR perspective, for me a Google search should show the many facets of a brand, not all of which is going to be on their own site.

        If you’re a sales focussed marketer then yeah, you just want the ‘real customers’, by which I assume you mean the people who are going to come into your site and buy/apply there and then.

        Agree on that though – pretty clear who this move is aimed at… just not sure if that’s good news, for anyone.

  9. Sam Daams

    It’s pretty neat indeed. Wonder if the number of results you get on the first page could be a reflection of the strength of your brand…

    • Dan Taylor

      More a reflection of your SEO capabilities. In the example I mentioned of Bellagio they have significant resources.


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