While there has certainly been a haze about the factors behind the Google Panda update, one thing has been pretty clear, Panda has not aimed its fangs at Big Brands! In fact, the brand domains have benefited, as their pages bubbled up above the Panderized pages that have been demoted. So what is going on? I am quite confident that there is no line of code in the bowels of Google source code that reads:
"If domain = "Amazon or Ebay or .... then don't Pandarize".
Why did the brands deserve inoculation while so many other sites, specifically non-brands, were so devastated? Why does Google love brands?
So what is it about Brands? Do they make all the great quality pages and do they all provide a quality search user experience (or more specifically better than the non-brands that got hit by Panda). IMHO, that is not the case, many branded sites provide no better than average (and in some cases poor) user experiences.
I know of at least 2 companies that own very similar sites in the same niche and I have done detailed comparisons between the brand and the non-brand. In each case the brand was spared and non-brand got Panderized, yet the sites were substantially the same.
I have seen some opinons on the forums that reputation provide protection (links and social mentions)? I think not. The concept of reputation from Goog has been around since the onset with PageRank and besides, many sites with high PageRank got panda-handled quite harshly. Plus, if sites were penalized for not having a reputation, how would the build the search traffic required to create a reputation?
That really just leaves behavior and to me the Panda inoculation provided to brands is strong evidence that the Panda is behavioral. When you think about how user behavior is different with a brand, it provides strong clues to what is going on with Panda.
A brand brings a certain level of trust and prior knowledge. It means users will give it a chance. If I click on a TripAdvisor result, I won't abandon if the page is slow to respond. I'll wait because I specifically chose the site from result based on it's brand reputation. However If I randomly landed on FancyDancyVacations.com which I had never heard of beforehand the page was slow to load, I'd be gone in second.
If I was looking for hotel reviews, and FancyDancy did not make it easy for me to find it - I'd be gone. Not so with TripAdvisor. They are known for their reviews and I would find them even if it was a messy page loaded with links and text. So this means with the brand, users are less likely to do a G-Bounce to find another site.
Another behavior that is likely different from SERP is click-through rate from search. Google certainly know average click-through rate. Users are more likely to click through to the brand. If I am searching for a good price and information on Call of Duty and I see Amazon in the result, I am going to click through at a higher than average rate. What does that tell Google? You like the result! Google also knows your search history (in many cases). Have you been to that site before and then decided to click through again? That is another signal that that tells Google you like that site.
Ok - so Google loves brands. Your site is not a brand. So become a brand. Yeah - right - easy for me to say .. and not so easy to achieve.
So what is non-branded site to do? You need to inspire brand-like behavior from search. Your site has to be better than your competitors and the brands, faster, cleaner pages with very focused content and very well optimized pages. I start getting into more specific recommendations in my next post. And guess what, by inspiring brand-like behavior, you are more likely to become a brand!