Conquering the top of search engine result pages have always been the dream and goal of every marketer, website owner and online business. Yes, there is always the paid and direct route (like online advertising and the now-emerging social media advertising) to get a stream of targeted traffic right into your virtual doorstep – but organic traffic through search engines still get the biggest slice of the pie.
What better way to dominate search results than brandishing all the neat tactics in Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? But over the years, mastering the SEO game has always been a speculative (and in some cases, hit and miss) endeavor in a bid to keep up with Google’s algorithm changes.
Google, of course, will guard its algorithm treasures to the max, and all the industry can get are public updates, hints from released patents, and clever analysis from experts who understand the game well.
Now, the main focus in SEO, and digital marketing as a whole in fact, is to create and maintain an effective high-quality content strategy. But important as it is, content strategies are not the sole basis for ranking well in search results. Generating quality inbound links remain a very important SEO element that affects ranking, although the definition of “link” as online people know it is changing.
The digital marketing sphere is now a-buzz analyzing an innocent-looking patent that may provide the key answers as to how Google is actually measuring brand authority. Here, it is being established that citations and brand mentions – link building without the actual links – is important to Google and is redefining SEO as the online world knows it.
OId School Link Building and Why it Won’t Work Anymore
Marketers have always been comfortable with old school link building. It can be measurable as all digital marketers need to do is to measure how much do-follow links they can generate and avoid no-follow links altogether. The norm then was – or so digital marketers think – was to build as much links as possible. The more links, the better your rankings would be.
There was a loophole to this system though, and those scheming black-hat practitioners found their way through and manipulate the system. But Big Brother Google has always been on top of things and attempted to stem the tide of these practices. Drastic changes to the search algorithms took place, reinforced with updates that made it even difficult for black hat practitioners to exploit the system.
In the end, traditional link building as online people know it lost its magic and muscle in the ranking factor game. Sticking or insisting on these tactics can get you branded as one of those black-hat schemes and do more harm than good to your brand authority. Even guest blogging, a favorite among traditional link builders, is scorched if the sole purpose is to generate links.
This has been emphasized and pointed out well by none other than Matt Cutts himself in his blog, explaining that guest blogging should be used to generate new audiences, establish yourself as an expert and engage with your targeted community – just like what true SEO should be.
Implied Links and Brand Mention
Google is changing how it sees links and how these will affect ranking. A new patent granted last March 25, 2014, registered to Navneet Panda and Vladimir Ofitserov, most probably establishes the new definitions for link, as explained in the following excerpt:
“An express link, e.g., a hyperlink, is a link that is included in a source resource that a user can follow to navigate to a target resource. An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.”
The term Express Link is now the new hyperlink, and the new player in the ranking factor ballgame – implied link – is now factored in. Implied, because there is actually no links going back to the source site, but only a citation or a mention of the brand, company name, product, website or anything that identifies the source.
Brand mentions and online citations should be well integrated into the site’s content and this could be done through so many forms. A site that cites or mentions the brand might be talking about its products or services and how it is related to the page’s content. It can even be integrated into a comment that intrinsically weaves well into the content as well. As long as the brand or the website’s name is mentioned – a brand mention or an online citation is established.
Why Citations and Brand Mentions are Important
There could be a hundred different reasons why Google is giving importance to brand mentions and citations. The point to understand from all this however is this – if it’s important for Google, then it’s important for SEO. Here are some of the possibilities:
- It Provides a Better Measurement for Brand Authority
As mentioned earlier, Google has turned away from traditional link building as a sole factor for establishing brand authority. Doing so, it will need a better alternative for establishing authority and they found it through brand mentions.
- It Provides Better Protection Against Manipulation
Anchor text and links can easily be manipulated. Sometimes, the links would point back to a site that is totally irrelevant to the source site. Brand mentions on the other hand will be harder to manipulate as the citation or online mention of the brand should be relevant and within context for it to be woven seamlessly into the content.
- It Can be Used to Leverage Social Signals for SEO
Brand mentions would be a better way to leverage on social signals for SEO. The links generated from social media are basically no-follow and definitely would not affect your ranking. But with these changes shares, comments, tweets and other social network generated citations – even without the link – may now be a significant factor for ranking
- It is Already Important for Local SEO
Local SEO is important for small and medium enterprises that target customers from within a certain locality. As discussed previously here at Digital Marketing Philippines, citations were described as already an important factor for local SEO, particularly the usual NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) information. It is but logical that Google makes use of this importance for the bigger picture.
Setting a Balance
At this point, you might get the wrong notion that traditional links are no longer necessary and thus are obsolete. Traditional links are still important, although from a different capacity that what it was previously accorded. This is implied in the patent as well, when both Express Links and Implied Links were defined – putting equal importance to both.
So, setting a balance between brand mentions and link building is important for your SEO strategy. The following are some tips from Jayson Demers in his Forbes article on how to create a balanced link building strategy between implied and express links:
- Avoid having a higher ratio of express links to your brand mentions to avoid being tagged for spamminess which can affect your brand authority
- Visual content that go viral is a good and natural way of keeping a good ratio of express links to brand mentions – a thing which Google likes
- Guest blogging is still in but as Matt Cutts mentioned, it should be used for brand and thus a good avenue for brand mentions
- It is obvious but it is still important to mention that you should keep your link building strategy as natural and as ethical as you can possibly do it
- Use all available channels to generate Brand Mentions – guest blogging, comments, social media, and syndicated and shareable content that can go viral
- Finally, it all boils down to giving your targeted audiences what they want. Make your site authoritative, relevant and a valuable resource for targeted audiences – and you’ll soon see a stream of Brand Mentions flowing in
As a great online service provider, Google would naturally want to give their users the best information and resources that they need and want. Many try to manipulate and work their way around the system and “fool” the algorithms and the mechanisms that define ranking.
With these new changes, the natural process of citation and brand mention – a natural by-product of people and companies trusting your brand and your company – has finally been placed into importance into the ever-important ranking pedestal.
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