In this week’s Google Webmaster Office Hours, Barry Schwartz asked John Mueller about brand related searches and whether Google would be demoting brand sites if they are not mobile friendly. After all, this new mobile friendly search ranking signal is supposed to give preferential treatment for sites being mobile friendly.
So in general what happens with these kind of demotions is we try to demote the sites a little bit and what will happen with a branded query or one where we know that it’s very navigation is we’ll know that this is a really, really strong result and even if we demote it slightly it will still be up top.
So it’s not something where I’d say there is no effect at all on branded queries because they’re somehow magically different. It’s just that these sites are often very, very relevant for these queries and even if they’re slightly demoted then it is not going to drop them from page one or drop them, sometimes like not even from the first position.
So that’s something where we don’t treat the branded queries in any way special there, but these pages are really, really relevant and sometimes even if they are demoted slightly, then they’re still the top result.
The real key is that while mobile friendly sites do get that boost, for the most part a non-brand site won’t rank above a brand for that brand’s name simply because the brand isn’t mobile friendly. Even though a competitor’s site might be getting that that preferential treatment for being mobile friendly, it still won’t be enough to make it outrank the brand. And for the most part, many brands are likely also getting a small boost for being a (non-spammy) Exact Match Domain as well. Of course, this is as long as there aren’t other spam issues coming into play as well and that big brand is currently ranking for it’s name in regular search.
So why is this a good thing, unless you happen to be the brand’s competitor, of course? Google needs to ensure they are serving the users first and foremost. And if Google isn’t giving users A. what they are looking for and B. what they expect to see, then those searchers could decide to use another search engine entirely.
Will we eventually see a change from the “Mobile Friendly” tag to something that declares when a site ISN’T mobile friendly? Similarly to the way Google tags sites as “Slow” or “This site might be hacked”, it could be a way to alert a user on a mobile device that it could be the site they are looking for BUT the experience for the user on the site could completely suck.
It also brings back something Matt Cutts said years ago when BMW was caught spamming. Many SEOs were bringing out their pitchforks demanding that Google remove BMW for a long period of time. In the end, BMW was removed from Google for three days before it was returned to the index – a short little slap on the wrist to send the message they couldn’t spam, regardless of how big of a brand it is.
Shortly after this happened, Matt spoke at a conference where he said something to the effect of “When people search for BMW, they expect to see BMW’s site in the search results. If they can’t find BMW in those search results, they question how good our search results actually are.”
And that is precisely why big brand terms will continue to rank for their brand names, even if they suck at mobile, when the mobile algo signal hits on April 21st.
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