You might be right diberry - maybe it's about the "spend signals". I have a site that got heavily demoted by Google last year. Probably it got penalised (though not officially, Google say it's not penalised). It gets quite a bit of traffic outside of Google - about 300 uniques per day (type in traffic, direct referals). Not bad considering it's all but invisible to any Google search outside of brand search and it's a small niche. The only traffic Google brings is brand name traffic (about 50 or so visits per day) - I reckon this is quite healthy, but Google didn't seem to care for more than a year now. Maybe a brand signal is all about volume of brand searches (i.e. thousands or tens of thousands per day) no matter the niche? If so what hope do small businesses have?