This week, Google has made a change to its search engine rankings which could yet prove to be the most stupid action it has ever taken. According to several reports of the latest Google developments, the company has quietly changed its search algorithm to place a heavy emphasis on brands. The idea, apparently, is to ensure that searchers get trusted results. According to Google, we trust brands. The company’s CEO, Eric Schmidt reportedly said: “Brands are the solution, not the problem.”

Indeed, Mr Schmidt believes that we have a genetic affinity to brands that is “hard wired” in our brains. That is, of course, mere conjecture; it’s unlikely that when we are born we have a gene that helps us recognise “Nike” or “McDonalds”.

Seemingly, Google has a desire to please these brands by pushing their results up the rankings at the expense of, say, bloggers, who might criticise these brands, or smaller retailers who use the brand names to help build traffic. Brands are really loved by Google. Last year it changed its advertising terms so anyone could use brand names in sponsored links. Now, it has changed the core search system so that brands are favoured in the natural search results as well.

As SEO Book reveals several brands are now – just a week after the algorithm change – featuring in high ranking search positions for keywords that they previously didn’t. For some words, the first page is full of links to brands and not to what you might call “real content”.

Google appears to have forgotten the lesson it learned from Yahoo! when it first began. Millions of people switched from Yahoo! to Google because Yahoo! was getting worse at providing search results that mattered. Google listed what WE wanted in its results, not what Yahoo! decided to provide us with. For many people who search for keywords such as “gifts” or “electronics” they don’t want a brand; indeed if they did they would merely search for the brand itself. The reason they are not searching for the brand is because they want something else.

If users are provided with results that emphasises brands – when they don’t want them – those users will depart Google and use another search engine, in just the same way as they left Yahoo! in their millions. In particular it will alienate young people who are not as brand aware or brand connected as older people. They will merely use social networks and social bookmarking sites to search for the information they want – and that is likely to hit Google as well.

Google is right, of course, that we want trusted results. But favouring brands over other content is not the way to go about it – and could well prove to be a retrograde step for the brand that is Google.

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