With the introduction of Knowledge Graph, Local Carousel, and the more recent algorithm change Hummingbird, there is no doubt that Google is in a period of major change regarding how search results are populated and displayed.

Google is now gathering a multitude of different data points on our search behavior (intent and contextual), and generating results based on our complex queries.

A more recent change involves competitors now being displayed prominently in the most sacred search queries – brand searches (as displayed below in the new knowledge graph format).  As a result, brands are under more competition than ever in the search results, and marketers must try harder to separate themselves from the pack.

chanel

Is there a particular order to brand listings in the carousel and knowledge graph?

Take a look at the search query “US Airways,” and in the knowledge graph you can click on the “People also search for” or another competitive brand logo.  Both results will bring you to the local carousel, where there seems to be a very specific semantic order to the displayed results.  From left to right, there is a direct correlation with semantics with the top left being the most relevant to your original brand search.

In this example, Delta Air Lines is the first result followed by a set of four other U.S. brand name airlines, moving to some Canadian airlines and continuing to expand farther out geographically.  Note, however, the original brand search logo for “US Airways” cannot be located on the local carousel.

If you were to click on a brand logo result instead of the “People also search for,” you will be taken to the same set of results in the same order, but this time your brand logo is highlighted.  So, although the semantics of the results seem to trend from left to right, Google does not want the user making the assumption of priority placements:

usairways

You will also notice that your brand search query changes, but there are very clear breadcrumbs displaying your originating source.  Google has a wealth of information to use to render these types of results.  While large brands like US Airways might have a very defined and validated understanding of their true competition, this might not always be the case for small and mid-size companies.

What are the types of brand search results?

The other significant peculiarity that you will see within brand searches is local versus brand results. Let’s compare the results for “Starbucks” vs. “Crate & Barrel.”

starbuckscrateandbarrel

 

Both search queries are simply brand names without any localized intent.  However, “Starbucks” gets a set of top-level brand competitors, while Crate & Barrel gets brand results based off location.  There is a bit of disparity in how these types of results are displayed.  I can only assume that Google has some back-end statistics that validate these decision types for each unique query.

Are small businesses immune?

Although large brands seem to be the results driving competitor secondary searches into the local carousel, small business are not exempt. When conducting a search for one of my favorite local establishments, the knowledge graph pulls a similar set of results for a neighborhood bar and restaurant:

craftandcommerce

As noted above, these results will not pull into the local carousel upon clicking on a competitor; the results will just change.  This is an oddity because we know that these restaurants show up in the local carousel when you are looking for a non-brand specific search (e.g. “restaurants”), but they don’t seem to be triggered right now when coming from a competitive search query.

Actionable Insights

In the current search landscape, it is impossible to not be compared to the competition. With an anticipated influx of brand searches, here are a few recommendations to stay ahead:

  1. SEM impact:  With more visibility on comparative queries, users now have the ability to more easily drive branded and competitive searches.  Brand results are readily available, and will probably see an increase in brand impressions as they feed off their competition.  This may mean that SEM budgets will adjust positively to compensate.  Additionally, with both Microsoft and Google testing new visual brand ads, this will give brands the opportunity to control their search results, while allowing Google to remain displaying their competitors in the knowledge graph.
  2. Understand your true competition.  Look at this as an opportunity to examine your competition.  Who is visible in your brand searches?  Google has a wealth of data to back-up layout decisions, so take note and get a better understanding of your true competition.
  3. Be present in Google+.  You have heard this time and time again, but presence on Google+ is vital.  Many of the images pulling into the local carousel and knowledge graph are coming from Google+ brand profiles.  Why not be present in a platform where you can drive some of these image based search decisions?
  4. Schema.org Mark-up for Brand Logo:  This information is used to improve Google’s knowledge graph, giving deeper meaning to each query and driving expanded information within each search result.  Using the schema.org mark-up for organization logos, you can now connect your site with an iconic image.  You can specify which image you want Google to use as your logo in the search results.
  5. Create Competitive Content:  With searchers being encouraged to “cross shop” you against brands you compete against, creating content that clearly delineates the advantages of your offering over your competitors is a smart move.  Comparing key factors such as pricing, value, included services, shipping and return information, and other competitive advantages will help retain customers searching for your brand, and possibly win over new customers searching for your competitors – a win-win for your brand.

Coming Soon … The SEM Perspective on Google Brand Search

In the coming weeks, we will release a second part to this post that will focus on the SEM perspective of Google brand search.