Google brand update February 2009

March 2, 2009 // Internet News, Search Engines, seo

February 2009 has been an important month for SEO’s around the world as some theories were put mainstream by Aaron Wall over at SEO Book. A recent debate had been brewing concerning brands getting more priority over less established sites in natural search? Well it seems that such an update has happened as this is something that I have been monitoring in the very competitive industry of “travel insurance”.

I work on SEO for a number of clients in the travel insurance industry and I started to notice strange listings appearing in the top 10 results. At first I assumed it was Google testing something out, I researched the competitors to see if they had received a sudden impact of link juice, which they hadn’t. What startled me was that some of these websites had very few links in comparison to the usual “top dogs” of the industry. Added to that the actual content on these pages was not great usually and the listings looked completely out of place an irrelevant.

What I did notice was that the sites were .gov or a brand I recognised through other marketing channels, i.e. TV, direct marketing etc. As it’s probably been a week since this update has occurred (I don’t care what Matt Cutts says, this IS AN UPDATE). The random brand websites making an appearance seems to change daily and only one or two websites actually change on the first page, however pages two and three are moving all over the place.

To give you an example of what I mean about this update, look at the screenshot below, displaying the top 10 UK results for Travel Insurance, I have highlighted the term travel insurance to show which listing doesn’t belong in the results.

Now I’m sure this will calm down a bit over the coming weeks but this makes ranking for the smaller brands and sites that much harder and the bigger boys seem to have it easy – More to follow.

Areas to keep an eye on that I will investigate:

  • Brand anchor texts
  • Brand mentions
  • URL anchor texts
  • Domain age
  • Brand Universal Search

Matt Ridout

About the author

My name is Matt Ridout, I've been working in digital marketing for 9 years; worked for agencies and currently Head of SEO at fashion startup called Farfetch. Try to test my own theories.


  1. Very relevant topic for those of us in SEO.

    I believe that there are two other factors that could be playing a part in “brand preference” is :

    1. Traffic + average user time on site
    A well known brand is likely to attract more traffic due to the extent of their marketing in other media, brand loyalty and consumer awareness. Alexa comparison of top ranking sites???

    A reader is likely to spend more time on a “brand” website where the information is trusted rather than on a generic site where they tend to scan content and click away usually within 30 seconds.

    2. Direct address access vs links from a search engine
    Surfing trends show that often internet users will attempt to ‘guess’ a URL (often with some success) rather than resorting to a search engine as they have recently grown frustrated with the onslaught of useless links in the SERP’s. Addresses that have been bookmarked or accessed directly may tend to perform better than links from SERP’s.

    The above two points are trends that we have been noticing on the SERP’s for health and medical content just prior to the December 2008 update.

    Matt Cutt’s may not be evading the question when he offers the answer “make great content” in response to enquiries about upcoming SEO changes. Brand websites may not always be laden with text content but have you noticed how their flash videos, online forms and calculators or little scripts that offer a level of user interactivity tend to keep us glued onto the site for longer than 30 seconds?

    It’s a collection of factors, never just one and Google just loves keeping us SEO’s on our toes. Looking forward to hearing more about your findings Matt.

    Once again, great post on a relevant topic – always useful information.

  2. Pingback: Google Brand Vince update hits the UK | SeoUnique Blog

  3. Nice post! but you fogot to add free website monitoring –

  4. Pingback: The Biggest (But Lesser Known) Online Marketing Myths | Datadial Blog

Leave a Comment