August 23, 2013
Who’s Afraid of the Big Brand Wolf?

It is undeniable that Google gives search preference to big brands.

Or, perhaps a more accurate way to phrase that; it can be easier for big brands to generate social mentions, natural back links, have bigger budgets to play with to create interesting and sticky content.

Essentially, large brands have digital assets and a level of natural engagement that can be leveraged for search.

Therefore, big brand SEO is thought of as ‘easier’, that an SEO can simply sit back with a big brand and watch the traffic and revenue increases roll in.

This is simply not the case, and as someone who has had experience on both sides of the spectrum I’d like to set the record straight.

Big Brands = Big Restrictions

In my previous job I spent a lot of time fiddling about in a clients’ CMS – testing title tags, adding semantic mark-up, speaking directly with their developers, just simply going in and changing the things that I wanted changing.

This is a luxury that I very much took for granted before – for those of us fortunate enough to work on big brands will probably understand the frustration of waiting 12 months to get a H1 changed, if it can be changed at all.

Working with a smaller brand you can have a creative idea, ring up the MD and have it underway before your coffee has gone cold. The bigger the brand, however, the bigger the process, the bigger the teams, the bigger the brand guidelines document and the bigger the headache in getting creative concepts pushed through the door.

What really works, however, are the big brands that have the agility and responsiveness of a small brand – like this really cute exchange between Oreo and Kitkat. Where internal teams are given the freedom to act responsively and topically – this is where big brands can really take the lead, unfortunately however, this is more the exception than the rule.

Big Brands don’t rank for generic short tail search queries based on brand presence alone

Yes big brands get lots of links, they get national coverage, they have PR teams working around the clock to get their story told. I recently had a slide in a presentation for a client which included an imagery for some of their top external links. This was the slide:

This backlink profile is from a brand which have previously never done any SEO – these links were all just naturally accrued (and deserved!). In my previous job, I was working mainly for very small companies; one of my key clients being an E-comm start up; achieving a single link like any of the above that my current client has in hoards would have been such a big win, and of course very, very difficult.

However, does this brand currently rank well for any of it’s key category generics?

Nope. They’re nowhere.*

Why? The reasons are threefold:

1. 100% of their anchor text profile is brand or click here etc.

2. They have very strict brand guidelines that control the on site tone of voice, meaning that the way the brand communicates on their site, is very different to how people search within their category.

3. They struggle to compete with the retailers (Amazon, Tesco etc) that are selling their products.

So yes big brands do generate lots and lots of lovely links which, given the opportunity, if coupled with targeted SEO activity allows for better performance. However, as we know, brand links alone will not de facto correlate to good rankings for targeted (long tail or short) keywords.

Big Brands are Still Competing with other Big Brands

There’s lots of big brands out there, and they’re all increasingly investing more and more in SEO, making the competitive sphere incredibly difficult for any brand big or small.

What this does do, of course, is make it even harder for small brands to gain presence for SERPs monopolised by big players.

But it’s easy to forget that most transactional retail brands will be trying desperately to compete with Amazon and other big retailers for their own product terms.

Bigger Brands = Stricter KPIs

This is speaking only from my personal experience and I imagine varies wildly, but bigger brands will have targets signed of at a board level often 1 or 2 years in advance of them filtering through to channel specific activity.

This means that KPIs can be tightly locked down, and difficult to achieve.

How can Small Brands Win?

Small brands benefit from agility – less internal process and structure means that content can be turned around quicker, ideas can perhaps be more creative and day to day contacts may be the bid decisions makers.

Where a small brand can win is through longtail targeted content generation; use regional dialect specific language in copy, find untapped SERPs within your niche which big brands will struggle to harness (for example, a previous client was a toy company and I suggested they introduce same sex families into their doll collections), build a local and engaged audience, use social to drive brand loyalty, be familiar with your audience and adopt a TOV that really suits your brand message.

To conclude:

Despite the undeniable natural acquisition of links and authority, SEO is not automatically easier day to day if you are working on big brand.

Yes small brands struggle to compete with the competition, but all of the big online brand players now (take boohoo and missguided, or the ‘women’s fashion’ SERP for example) started out as small brands adopting clever, agile, digital strategies that created a barrier of entry for it’s big brand, high street counterparts who simply were too slow to the uptake.

*I’d like to point out, this is a brand new client and I’ve not started work on them yet…видеорегистратор texet

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August 30, 2013

Good post Kirsty and agreed on some points. However would you have the same view if you were not working for an agency and actually employed in-house? do you have any experience of this, if so were you restricted then? – less restrictions i find and more freedom on what is possible to do to generate the right types of SEO signals to improve visibility in the search results.

I understand your frustration working from an agency point of view but from an in-house point of view working for a big brand providing less restrictions that agency people typically get for me is easier then working with a small brand.

Totally agree with your argument from agency point of view but not from in-house. As typically in my opinion in-house people are trusted more, work with developers getting involved in the code/onsite and typically get more freedoms an external agency will not.

Totally great point on stricter KPI for bigger brand though, but surely you should be getting paid more for this.

I wonder if it seems to be a growing trend more and more companies are employing in-house SEO people for these very reasons to get the absolute best results?

August 30, 2013

No I’ve never worked in house, so can’t comment on that, though imagine you’re right.

Obviously in-house teams have the proximity to work closely with devs, for a brand who inherently understand the value of SEO.