I agree with Traphangen and Fishkin’s ideas, but want to take it a step further. It is not enough to have a big brand.
1) Brand Reputation
The brand must be seen as reliable to customers. I have worked with a client whose stores are a household name, but they have had a very hard time competing in rankings. For large topics like “air conditioner repair”, they struggle to hit page three of SERPS.
As Traphagen notes, “People have a preference for brands they know and trust, and that sends signals to Google that people want to see more results for those brands…people tend to take actions with major brand content that happen to be ranking signals for Google: they link to it more, they share it more (which leads to more links), and they don’t pogo stick (jump back quickly and choose something else from the results page).”
That is what this particular client has failed to notice. Their Yelp and Google reviews are typically atrocious one or two star ratings. This affects SEO in two ways:
Top Rated Options
Any Google search that can potentially yield local results will add a section with top-reviewed companies. Having poor reviews (via Google reviews) hurts your chances of being seen on this section.
Links Back to Your Site/Onsite Activity
As Traphagen mentioned, people link back to sites that they trust. If they have had a bad experience with your brand, they are less likely to visit your website, let alone share content from it.
That’s why simply being a big brand isn’t enough. You have to be a big brand that people like.
However, this is not a new concept. Domain authority has always factored in backlinks and onsite activity.
2) On-page SEO
Though Fishkin notes that Google new algorithm have rewarded more holistic content by understanding content’s intent and not just keywords. This has still not been bourn out by keyword searches.
Google has simply not reached the point where it fully understands your search queries and exact keyword matches still get preference in rankings.
I’ll use a search for “call center management software” as an example. As you can see in the image below, Google still gives bumps to exact-match keyword-optimized pages. Otherwise, there can be no reason that sites with domain authority in the 30s (VPI Empower) would show up so highly in search. Also, please note that VPI Empower had exact keyword matching in its meta title.
I encourage you to try this with your own search terms. You will see that keyword optimization and matching still matters.
One thing Google does for sure is give preference to local options. If you have a karate studio or fix air conditioners in Chicago, you had better have your address on your site and mention Chicago as much as possible.
Let’s look at Imagination, my company. When you look at our website, the first thing you see is “A Chicago-based content marketing agency for thought leaders.”
Make these types of specifications about location as often as you can. It will pay off in search results:
Keywords Still Matter
Reputation is important because reputation affects rankings due to reviews. Reputation also affects your domain authority through links and on-page activity.
That said, keywords are still important for winning search battles and for localization. One day, I’m sure Google will be perfect at discerning meaning, but it’s not there yet, so don’t throw keyword research and optimization out the window.
Similarly, I’m sure that one day we will have indestructible teeth, but that doesn’t mean you should quit brushing today.