You might want to check out these earlier discussions about possible brand signals:
What creative ways can you stretch $100/week into brand signals? [webmasterworld.com] June 2013
How to look like a brand [webmasterworld.com] Dec 2012
How do little brands become big brands [webmasterworld.com] Nov 2011
I would humbly disagree with some of your suggested signals like "Not an exact match domain" because popular brand names can also be highly searched terms which would turn their brand domain into an exact match domain. Also some big brands have many affiliate links on their sites (I'm not sure but would guess most top traffic sites have some affiliate or outbound redirect).
I think that a signal may also be a critical mass of searches where the user is searching for a product in conjunction with a website name, such as:
wigets websiteName (with or without .tld)
and *especially* if a widget is a product that is offered/can be bought on many sites.
This could indicate to Google that you are interested not just in widgets but in fact that for some reason you may want to buy it from this particular website.
Here's the thing...
The people who are designing the goolg algo are probably NOT asking:
"What constitutes a "Brand" according to us (Google)?"
Instead, they are probably asking:
"What constitutes a "Brand" according to searchers?"
So if we focus on what it is that compiles a brand in the mind of people, we might arrive at the same conclusion as google?
Here's my opening quicklist:
- editorially reviewed and white listed sites ( usually in top verticals - chances are regional reviewers know your site well already)
- probability score ( as shown in auto suggest ) it always intrigues me when a not so well known person pops up on a TV show and how immediately the name is suggested using Googles auto suggest query. Including terms that surround the name that broaden the popularity of that name.
- links ( yes, they are scarce as hens teeth for some, but I believe they are still a key indicator)
- association and circles, who's in your neighbourhood
- newsworthy , who's regularly being picked up in the news ( this is not merely about press releases - it's about what's sticking out there )
- $$'s ; lots and lots. Unfortunately, you need to cleverly outspend your rivals in marketing promotion which self circulates into a reason for folks to search for you.
Hope that provides some food for thought. As always it comes down to action plans to make these things and others translate properly. Some of the above references might assist in complementing that plan.
But first, before you can position your site in the market with a brand reputation, it must pass the test of being "useful" before folks retain knowledge and share their positive experience.There's a separate thread on that.
Valuable responses, thanks.
I agree to an extent but I also see brands ranking that have terrible websites, average products and use horrible blackhat techniques.
Big $ indeed. This is becoming more and more obvious.
A brand is a name used to identify a company and its products or services.
If the "name" is associated by regular SE searchers with line of products/services then the "name" becomes a brand name.
I can assume that when Google algo sees a high volume of searches and direct traffic using that name it (the G algo) correlates it with the niche that this brand is popular in and favor it over other sites on that niche.
"If the "name" is associated by regular SE searchers"
Makes sense. I tried my domain...greenwidget.com. For years many have always thought it was the plural. I know they aren't looking for greenwidgets.com because the site is a hastily put together mom and pop site, but they get the type in traffic:( I should have made an offer when I had the money.
Lesson: Think ahead or buy both domains.
Wait, check that. When I use greenwidget it brings up auto suggest for the other site, but the moment I add the dot before com my site appears. I guess that's good? I also tried this on the Google home page and it showed a link box with description below the search bar.
"I agree to an extent but I also see brands ranking that have terrible websites, average products and use horrible blackhat techniques."
Yes, this happens.
But I would argue that their black hat techniques occur DESPITE their lack of branding. I don't think we should confuse their black hat techniques as being a form of branding.
While I understand and agree that associated words used in search can help google understand that your site has a relationship to a product or service.
But I think that google is also using non-linked citations as well to establish the connection. Having your site mentioned on a page in near proximity to the key words is, I think, also helpful to google.