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How Big Brands Do SEO (and a Few Hacks to Beat Them)


Big brands are everywhere. But I don’t care that there is hardly an aspect of our lives that Apple, Samsung, Nestle, and others do not dominate.

Given my professional affinity, though, their unfair prominence in search gets to me. Type any keyword into Google, and you are bound to see big brands occupying top results. And trying to come up with ways to compete with that often feels like this.

SEO reality often looks like this

After all, how can you win in a world where even the major search engine prefers big brands (and so do most of the consumers)?

Well, there are a few hacks. And getting to know your enemy is the first of them.

A kick of reality

Yes, it’s true. Big brands have a ton of advantages over you:

They enjoy a high brand affinity. Everyone knows big brands. Even if it’s not a universally known one, customers searching for its products most likely have heard its name. And they will search for it.

They work with much bigger budgets. From cash they can spend on development to content, big brands undoubtedly have more money than you.

They also have bigger teams, not to mention the SEO team’s integration with other depts. Their workforce is definitely greater than yours as well.

They hardly have to do any link-building. Just think of it: when was the last time you linked to a big brand to have a link to an authoritative source from your post? There you go. Big brands have to do any link building hardly they attract a great number of connections, though. You, on the other hand….

And if they do, they can openly break the rules. Glen from Viperchill already reported how big brands get away with buying links, for instance. In this post, he goes in-depth to analyze how brands like Wix or Weebly openly pay for links with heavy anchor text and still escape the Google penalty. Now, that doesn’t mean that small businesses don’t do it. It’s just who do you think is more likely to get hit.

There is more trust built into big brand domains. This goes without saying, actually.

They have bigger resources at their disposal, too. From designers, coders, and writers to brand value, they have loads.

They also do SEO differently than you.

They can get away with ignoring the basics. How often did you see a brand popping up on top of a search for a keyword their page wasn’t optimized for? Because of their strength, big brands can ignore some of the basics and still rank high for keywords related to their products, categories, services, people, etc.

They often focus on ranking for brand keywords only. Many brands don’t stretch their SEO muscle trying to rank for non-brand-related keywords. Part of this relates to the previous point: they don’t have to. It’s also due to getting so much direct traffic.

They do shady stuff. Links in widgets, paid links, and rich anchor text are just some of the examples. Big brands seem to be able to pull a lot of dark SEO stuff and get away with it.

They invest in content. Big brands can produce some amazing content. Just check Pardot’s whitepapers library or Marketo’s Definite Guides to see what I mean.

seo definitive guides

But there are also things they lack.

Brands typically have a very long decision-making process. Where you can put the idea into action the minute you conceive it, big brands need to run meetings over meetings until it is signed off. There is an opportunity there for you.

They aren’t agile. Big brands don’t pivot. Once they put themselves on a certain course, it’s difficult to change it.

They also aren’t as creative as it seems. This is mainly due to a long decision-making process but also many people’s involvement in the process and restricting guidelines they have to follow.

And they actually aren’t everywhere. I know I started this post stating otherwise, but there are still industries not dominated by big brands. Or at least there aren’t any major giant players occupying them.

Likewise, often, you can use big brands to your advantage, too. Ecommerce is a great example of this. Customers usually associate the perceived quality and other attributes of brands you sell with your store as well.

So, how can you beat these guys at SEO?

Beating big brands to rankings and clicks isn’t easy. It’s certainly not a fair game, but also not one that’s impossible to win either. Sure, big brands can do much more than you, but there are also things you can focus on to level the playing field:

Focus on Branding

Perhaps, but since it is branding that gives the big boys so much advantage, you should focus on building a brand, too.

You don’t need to reach global stardom, though. Being known among people looking for products or services you sell is enough.

And there isn’t a complex path to get there.

First of all, work on your brand presence. Your logo, color scheme, and tagline should clearly communicate to the reader what your brand stands for.

Develop a strong USP. After all, no business can exist without a differentiating factor. Your unique selling proposition is exactly just that, a factor making your brand different from the others.

Your website’s content is crucial, too. But the tone of voice you use is equally important. Big brands build relationships with their audience through the way they speak to them, too.

Customer service, even though it has very little SEO relevance, will affect your brand as well. After all, as Stephen Brown, a renowned marketing professor, put it: “a brand is nothing more or less than sum of all the mental connections people have around it.

Target more branded keywords

Remember what we said about keywords big brands optimize for? They mainly target their brand-related ones. And it makes sense. Since they already enjoy brand recognition, why bother optimizing for generic keywords? People have already associated them with the product, and optimizing for generic keywords might be less productive.

Use the same mentality and focus less on generic keywords (i.e., “WP themes”) and more on ones relating to your brand (i.e., “Woo WP themes”).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore generic keywords altogether. But being realistic, your chances of ranking high for many of them are slim. When it comes to your brand-related ones, though…

Local Search

Local Google presence is often the quickest way to shoot your site to the top of search results. Regardless of how many big brands dominate them, Google is still bound to display some local results (if applicable). Sure, this strategy won’t work for every business. But for a company serving their local areas, it can be a blessing.

Just take hotels as an example. Brands like Hotels.com or Tripadvisor dominate the niche. Yet, in spite of their strong presence in searches, Google still displays local hotels in the results. For many hotels, these local search listings are the only way to beat big brands to the top of the search.

Lastly, don’t ignore social media.

Social may not be the channel that converts the most. In fact, in many industries, it brings hardly any sales. But when you’re focusing on competing on a brand level, it’s invaluable.

Sure, many of your customers will use it for customer service and other support-related queries, but what’s a better opportunity to develop your brand than by helping customers in public?

That’s not the only way you could use social media, though. Contests and other ways to entertain your audience are other ideas that help build a connection with an audience.


Big brands are everywhere. And they seem invincible, too. After all, how could you take on Apple or Racor in search? Well, turns out you just might by using their very own strength – branding.

“Frustration” creative commons image by Eric / Flickr.