For the third year in a row, Google topped the list of the 100 most powerful brands in the world, beating out Apple, according to a report (download PDF) released Monday by market research firm Millward Brown Optimor.

Google is worth $86.1 billion, up 30 per cent since last year's report was released, the firm said. The results of the report were based on financial data as well as on interviews with more than a million consumers worldwide.

The combined value of all brands in the top 100 increased by 21 per cent from $1.6 trillion in 2007 to $1.94 trillion in 2008, more than double the increase experienced the previous year.

General Electric Co. came in second at $71.4 billion, followed by Microsoft at $70.8 billion.

"This year's brand ranking demonstrates the importance of investing in brands, especially in times of market turmoil. Strong brands generate superior returns and protect businesses from risk," said Joanna Seddon, CEO of Millward Brown Optimor, in the statement. "Our data shows that strong brands continue to outperform weak ones in terms of market share and share price during recessions."

Apple, valued at $55.6 billion and Nokia at $43.9 billion moved up the list into the Nos. 7 and 9 spots, respectively. (Last year, Apple was in 16th place and Nokia was in 12th place.) IBM, with a value of $55.3 billion, came in at number 6 and China Mobile, valued at $57.2 billion took fifth place.

Twenty-eight of the top 100 firms are technology related, including Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Intel, Dell and BlackBerry. The technology sector, including mobile operators, outperformed all other categories in this year's ranking, growing at $187.5 billion. That was more than half of the total 21 per cent increase among the 100 companies, according to the report.

According to the report, innovation and brand experience drove growth in the technology category; strong technology brands included consumer companies like Apple and Google, but also software, B2B and professional services firms.