It is no surprise that Google consistently rolls out updates in an effort to reshape the web. The start of 2012 brought with it a new surprise as Google announced several changes in its quality evaluation of websites. While this gave some marketers nightmares, others were at a loss as to how the different changes will influence their link building efforts.
For all such readers, this article will shed some light on how dominant the classic ranking signals are in the current scenario and the significant way they have altered link building. Apparently, anchor text, that was once believed to be a life saver, will soon vanish into obscurity as co-citations or co-occurrence will climb up as one of the most influential factors affecting your rankings.
The point made here is not that anchor text has lost it potential altogether. However, what cannot be denied is that it really is diminishing quickly as a signal indicating quality. It is quickly being replaced by co-citation. Not just Google, but Bing is also using co-citations as a means to evaluate quality and this is where things start to get tricky.
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For those who do not know, co-citation can be thought of as the use of phrases or terms repetitively with a link or brand, but before moving to that part, let’s take a look at some examples that will help you achieve a deeper understanding of the entire scenario.
First and foremost, what you have to find are some websites or brands that are being ranked for highly competitive terms and phrases despite the fact that these pages do not appear to be targeting those keywords specifically. The keywords aren’t a part of the title and you will hardly find them on the page. It won’t even seem that they are targeting the particular keyword, let alone be ranked for them.
What further comes as a surprise is that they won’t even find much anchor text targeting these sites. Still, they are ranking well against all others making the best use of conventional SEO practices. Answers will be revealed as you will continue reading. Some examples worth mentioning in this regard are as follows.
First and foremost, we will talk about the phrase “Cell Phone Ratings”. A page on the website ConsumerReports.com secured fourth place. The page doesn’t seem to be using the specific terms of ‘ratings’ or ‘cell phone’ that often. Even when you do find them, they are in the text and not in the title where they are believed to be of utmost value. Still, it is ranking well for such a competitive query.
Second example is that for the phrase ‘Manufacturing Directory’ which is again a competitive phrase. ThomasNet stands proudly at number three without mentioning any of the terms. In fact, it may seem that the website hasn’t made any efforts in that direction and its ranking is out of sheer luck. Honestly speaking, it’s not and we’ll explain why.
Last but not the least, we have ‘Backlink Analysis’ and SEOmoz’s very own tool, Open Site Explorer enjoys second place. As in previous examples, you won’t find the keyword on the page or in the title. If you think this behavior of Google’s is beyond comprehension, the case is not so. There are reasons that justify as to why things are so.
Some questions may have found their way into your mind. Questions like: people are striving to incorporate anchor text and pulling out all stops to link root domain in order to secure higher rankings and nothing is paying off? They are willing to go to any lengths just to put the keywords in their title tag only to find out it is useless? What’s going on?
Well, this is where co-citations step into the picture. If you observe closely, you will find out that there are several articles on the web where you will find the mention of Consumer Reports along with words like cell phone reviews or ratings.
Most of these articles may not even link to the page, and if you read a snippet of those pages, they will read something like, ‘Cell phones as reviewed by Consumer Reports’. No live link exists there but Google is smart enough to detect the association. The words that stood out were ‘cell phones’, ‘reviewed’ and ‘Consumer Reports’.
The competent search engine understood the popularity of the Consumer Reports with respect to cell phones and reviews. It understood that there are several people on the internet who believe that cell phone reviews and Consumer Reports go hand in hand and this is where ‘Consumer Reports’ scored.
The same is the case with the second example. There aren’t many websites linking to a page specifically targeting the phrase ‘manufacturing directory’. In fact, there are only a few linking to the website’s home page. There are, however, many pages where ‘manufacturing directory’ is used in conjunction with ThomasNet. This makes Google jump to conclusions like I know there is visible linking but since I am smarter than ever before, I can sense the association.
There are countless articles on the web explaining Backlink analysis, how to use it and how detailed information can be obtained from sources like Open Site Explorer. Some of these websites have linked to it while others haven’t. Since Open Site Explorer is a term commonly cited for ‘Backlink analysis’, you will find that the website is going great for that particular term.
The way SEO is done is changing. This article only aimed to provide an insight into brand association, make people write about you and how others can help you to improve your ranking without even linking to you. The association needed can come in many forms for instance mentioning you as a high quality, authoritative source on the topic.
Sadly, the practice specified above is not very commonly used today. However, for those who wish to stay ahead of their competition, it will come as a relief that co-citations are redefining how SEO will be done in near future. So, the next time you come across a website ranked highly for a certain keyword that is not prominently placed on it, know that it is the co-citation giving its ranking a boost.