I could go spend an hour or two to go into great detail here, but Aaron Wall stayed up all night to write this incredibly insightful post about the issue so I recommend you read his take on it.
In a nutshell, it looks as though Google is now giving ranking preference to the sites of large or well known brands in the search results for certain queries, even when those sites aren’t particularly well optimized for search engine compatibility and were not ranking well with the previous algorithm. There’s been no official word from Google on the matter one way or the other, but plenty of people are voicing their concerns about the change so it probably won’t be long.
I have to admit that if this truly is what it appears to be, it scares me. Part of the appeal for me of optimizing web sites was the fact that Google SERPS were a relatively level playing field. Even with Universal Search thrown into the mix, you could still optimize the site of Joe’s coffee house in Halitosis, Missouri and have it outranking Starbucks and Gloria Jeans for target keywords if you knew what you were doing.
Perhaps this algorithm change (if that’s what it is) is an attempt to clear up the spammy scum out of the Top 20 SERPS, but it may also handicap the authentic underdogs from being able to compete with the big brands.
What do you think? If Google really is giving more weight to brands, is that a positive or negative? Please comment below.