Is It Possible to Beat Big Brands in Search Results?
When the marketing and advertising landscape shifted to the web, it was good news for small-and-medium-sized businesses. While these companies couldn’t afford to compete with their big brand competitors by taking out airtime during the Super Bowl or even taking out highway billboards, they could afford to compete with them online.
Search engine marketing through SEO and PPC became an extremely cost-effective way for these small businesses to place their listings in front of consumers at the exact moment those consumers were seeking their products or services.
But as companies began to realize the value in being on the first page of search results, many started to try to “cheat” the system—to get ranked in spots that they arguably didn’t deserve to be in.
Take a look at this screenshot of search results from 2011 (from here):
If you were shopping online for car insurance, would you be likely to click on listings for companies you hadn’t heard of before?
Over the years, Google has modified and advanced its search algorithm many, many times in an effort to improve the quality of results shown to its customers.
In fact, just yesterday, Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that “there were changes to its core ranking algorithm in terms of how it processes quality signals,” though the search engine wouldn’t confirm the changes in how its algorithm was assessing quality.
Just as an experiment, I revisited the “car insurance quotes” search query from above to see how much the search engine results have changed in the past few years. The top results?
- The General
- State Farm
- All State
- Liberty Mutual
- Nation Wide
- Safe Auto
- carinsurancequotes.com (a quote and compare resource site)
Aside from the quote and compare resource site in the 10th organic spot, I recognized all of those car insurance brand names!
Do Big Brands Now Have an Advantage When it Comes to SEO & Search Engine Results?
The answer is “no,” but there are several reasons why you likely see more big brands ranking now compared to in 2011.
First, big brands finally started investing in SEO. In general, there’s a lot more red tape at big companies, and therefore takes longer to get certain strategies and budgets for them approved. Now, many big brands actually have in-house SEO teams.
Another reason is because some of Google’s algorithm updates (like I mentioned above) have worked in some big brands favor.
For example, back in the early days of getting ranked in search engine results, the sheer volume of backlinks you had could help you rank. Now, the volume isn’t as important as the quality of those backlinks. It’s easy to assume that big brands—simply for their brand recognition—attract these high quality links.
Just for shits and giggles, I ran the top three auto insurance quotes results through our SEO software to see if their grades would match how Google ranked them:
While all of the sites received an A in our grader, the actual scores pretty much perfectly coincide with how Google ranks them: Esurance, then Geico, then Progressive.
All Hope Is Not Lost for Small Brands Though
The same things that help big brands earn search engine rankings can also help small brands earn them, too. Here’s what we recommend:
- Invest in building your brand. This is the biggest advantage that those large brands have over you—they’ve already got that brand recognition working for them. There’s an almost universal acceptance that building a brand and establishing your business as a trusted, recognized, and respected authority in your industry and area is the path to sustained business success. Yet, very, very, very few local business owners demonstrate buy-in to this statement by way of their actual actions and marketing behaviors.
- Create a website that caters to your users. Good user experience isn’t just crucial for your website visitors, it’s also super helpful when it comes to getting ranked in search engine results. Many of user experience signals (page speed, mobile-friendliness, security, etc.) are baked right into Google’s ranking algorithm. Not to mention, Google takes into consideration when users click back to the search engine results page and choose another results. How can you keep people from clicking back? Providing them with a great user experience.
- Invest in SEO. It’s true that many early SEO tactics no longer yield the results they used to, but SEO isn’t dead. If your site isn’t crawlable by search engines and you don’t have plenty of relevant content throughout your site, your chances of ranking start with a “z” and end with an “ero.”
- Look beyond SEO, too. Integrating different marketing channels is helpful because your potential customers are using these different marketing channels in tandem. Say someone who is considering upgrading their AC unit finds your HVAC company through an organic Google search listing. They sign up for your email newsletter while they’re on your site. Later, your remarketing ad pops up while they’re reading an article on a local news site. They check their Facebook news feed and see an ad suggesting they like your Facebook page. Next week, they get an email from you saying you’re running an AC replacement special. They check out your reviews on Yelp—all 4 or 5 stars. They call you and schedule an appointment. Boom.
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We specialize in helping small brands beat big brands in search engine results—check out our results here.
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