As we all know, link building has long been an essential part of a good SEO strategy. However, over recent years, it has become apparent that many companies have been acquiring links to their websites using less than white hat methods, often purchasing low quality, spammy links in an effort to build authority.
Google has taken significant steps to penalise such link-building activities and, in 2014, the search engine sanctioned penalties against several high profile guest blogging sites, including MyBlogGuest, in an effort to drive the ‘quality over quantity’ message home.
It’s perhaps fair to say that, nearly a year later, many people are still confused about what their link building strategy should be in 2015.
These days, it isn’t just expressly stated links – i.e. live hyperlinks and anchor text – that can benefit your overall SEO strategy. As the search engines continue to improve their semantic capabilities, citations and brand mentions will become increasingly important.
Here’s what you need to know about the links that don’t appear to be links:
The Panda Patent
Back in April 2014, the SEO world was abuzz with news that Google had filed a patent – commonly known as ‘The Panda Patent’ – that could (and would) have far reaching consequences in terms of link-building strategies and how Google measures brand authority (a topic that is often hotly debated).
Among other things, the patent allows Google to look at what terms people have previously used to search and then map semantically-relevant queries and brand mentions to improve the search engine’s understanding of the ‘popularity’ or ‘authority’ of a particular person or company.
The patent mentions that links can be expressly stated or implied:
“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.”
Why is this important?
What the patent recognises is that people may talk about your brand on their websites and social media without including a live link but that these mentions or citations could and should still be taken as a vote of confidence about your reputation and/or popularity, or that of your brand.
Using their latest algorithms, every time your brand name comes up in a search query and someone clicks through to your site, it creates a connection in Google’s eyes.
The patent is clever because it looks at the quality of the implied links rather than the quantity. Why is this? Well, one of your competitors may have a second business or an affiliate who mentions their business numerous times on their site but Google wants to safeguard against unfairly weighting a hundred mentions of their brand on one site against three or four separate mentions of your brand on a three or four different sites, especially if you’ve got reputable people talking about you.
Popularity vs. authority
It follows that a popular brand will have more people talking about it on other websites and on social media platforms than a brand that is simply playing the algorithms or paying someone to carry out dodgy link-building activities on their behalf.
But are popularity and authority one and the same thing or do they need to be separated?
In April 2014, Matt Cutts recorded a video which answered the question, “As Google continues to add social signals to the algorithm, how do you separate simple popularity from true authority?”. This is an important question. As Cutts points out in this video, popularity often reflects sites where people go but don’t link to – think porn sites – whereas websites with authority or reputation may not have many visitors but are linked to by lots of other sites, e.g. local and central government websites, or news sites.
The challenge for search engines is to reward sites that show they should rank well for specific queries, based on a mix of popularity and reputation. One way to do this is by looking for citations, mentioned and implied links.
If implied links and mentions by good quality websites suggest that your site is a good fit for a specific query, then you have a much better chance of showing up in SERPs – Google will give some links – expressly stated or implied – more authority than others based on the authority of the site that’s making the recommendation.
No follow links
Despite the question marks around link building, it is still an integral part of most SEO strategies, not least because a backlink is still a clear vote of confidence.
Guest blogging is arguably also still one of the most effective ways to gain back links to your website, although it is essential to guest blog to an audience who will get real value from your contribution, and to be selective about where you guest blog (the higher the authority of the site hosting the blog, the better).
One question that has been debated since Matt Cutts’ “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO” post in January 2014 is whether links in guest blogs should be downgraded to ‘no follow’ links to protect the guest blogger’s site from Google penalties. We know that ‘no follow’ links don’t add to your Page Rank but it is probable that ‘no follow’ links will still be noticed as a mention or citation, and may still have a positive impact on your rankings in SERPs. After all, if you’re still prepared to guest blog for someone and they’re happy to vouch for you as an authority, without a backlink to muddy the water, then the chances are that you’re blogging for more than just link juice.
If you do provide a guest blog for someone and they would prefer that you make any links to your website ‘no follows’, then it’s worth asking them to still mention your name, company name or domain somewhere on the page so you get the value of a citation.
Our advice is to allow ‘no follow’ links for your guest blogs and build a strong profile of brand mentions instead.
As most social shares include ‘no follow’ links and many brand mentions have no links at all, It’s likely that Google will increasingly fine tune how it captures and processes citations and brand mentions on social media to help build a clearer picture of each brand’s popularity and authority.
The core advice that applies to SEO strategies in 2015
Therefore, we come back to the core advice that applies to most SEO strategies in 2015 – concentrate on your customers, create high quality content that is written for them and that they will want to talk about and share with their social networks. Understand them, tap into their key emotions, acknowledge what keeps them awake at night, and show how you can solve their problems.
By doing this, we are confident that you can maximise the potential of brand mentions, implied links and citations without it looking or feeling contrived to your customers or to Google.
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Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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