the power of brand mentions

Why Brand Mentions are Just as Crucial as Links

Julia Ogden 5 years ago

The authority and ranking of a website has historically been powered by links.

Before Penguin, Google rewarded sites simply for the volume of the links it had regardless of their quality but this changed in 2012. The Penguin algorithm targeted sites which used manipulative link building practices, resulting in spammy link profiles. This penalty had a huge impact on a site’s organic traffic and ranking and saw many sites lose 53% of their visibility on average.

Post Penguin, Google’s focus switched to rewarding sites for the relevancy and authority of their backlinks, as well as how ‘natural’ they were. Part of the reason for this was to ensure users had the best, most relevant, search result. Consequently, the importance of links became more prominent and targeted, with many brands becoming obsessed with getting as many of them as possible.

But there are many other factors that help a site rank:

  • How technically proficient the site is e.g. is it set up correctly?
  • Can users navigate around it well?
  • Is the content regularly updated?
  • Is the content unique (no instances of duplication)?
  • Does the content target specific keywords or answer long tail search terms?
  • Does the type of content vary to appeal to different audiences?

Perhaps most important of all - and the subject of this article - are brand mentions.

The prominence of the brand mention

In March 2014, a Google registered patent revealed that an implied link would count as a ranking signal.

But what is an implied link? If you can’t figure it out, don’t worry. This has made even experienced SEOs scratch their heads.

Let’s take a look at Google’s definition of an implied link. In the words of the patent:

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.

...“a source that’s not a link” – can only mean one thing, right? A brand mention.

All of this raises a question: why do implied links matter?

In short, they represent what very well may be the future of ranking.

I know that’s a bold statement, but stay with me.

For years and years, doing well on Google meant link building, and that’s true even today. There’s no mega-successful site out there that doesn’t have a good backlink strategy. But there are also people (like marketers and SEOs) who have learned how to game the system.

So, how do you go about getting more brand mentions?

  1. Understand your audience. As we all know, marketing begins and ends with people. So, the very first thing any brand must do is identify who it is targeting. Where do these people hang out online? What sort of content do they engage with/enjoy? And what do you offer that will resonate with them? As well as using your own data, there are many free and paid tools that can help you to delve deeper to really get into the detail of your consumer. Tools such as YouGov Profiles (free) and Global Web Index (paid) are worth using. Find out more here.
  2. Look at your competitors. Don’t just copy what they do or think that by dropping your prices you will take business from them. Think about what makes you different. What is your unique selling point (USP) and how do you make it work for you? Why would people be interested in what you offer and how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd?
  3. Grow your brand’s social media presence. Most people interact with a brand via social media, so it’s important to keep these channels regularly updated with engaging content to encourage, shares, likes and comments. Make sure you respond to customer questions and queries quickly too - don’t leave any comment unanswered. Show you care and make sure you remain polite and professional even if the comment is critical or even unfair.
  4. Build your own online presence. Speak at relevant events and conferences, write thought leadership articles for industry publications and sites, keep your own LinkedIn profile up-to-date and use it to promote your brand services/offerings. Establishing yourself as an expert in your field will help build trust and authority into your brand .
  5. Create amazing content. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, your website needs a blog. And if you don't then check out our podcast on why all businesses need a hub for their content. It is a great place to house regular up-to-date content and gives you the opportunity to create lots of different content to target keywords as well as long tail phrases. Answering users specific questions will help you rank as well as capture that elusive ‘position 0’ or featured snippet/answer box.
  6. Influencer marketing. People buy from people, so working with influencers who can share and promote your brand to their audiences is a good way to increase your brand’s online presence, particularly to the millennial generation. It can be pricey, especially if you want to work with a big name, but smaller micro-influencers still have a lot of reach and can target a new audience that might not have heard of you any other way.
  7. Media relations. One of the more established ways of getting a brand mention is via the press. However, you have to give them something that they would want to publish. Unique data works well, as do stories with news hooks/angles, but it does come with some risks as you cannot control what the journalists will write; unless, of course, you want to pay for an advertising feature.

When it works - a brand mention case study

Proving the point that simple often works best, is a campaign we worked on for Halfords Autocentre at the end of last year.

The brand ran an offer which gave anyone who spent £1 or more in their stores, between September 10 and October 14, a coupon for a free MOT, valid for 12 months.

Our Digital PR team wrote a series of press releases to promote the campaign targeting the national, regional and motoring press, as well as a host of relevant sites including parenting, student and lifestyle.

This campaign picked up a brand mention in the Express, achieved 46 pieces of coverage in the regional press (24 of which linked) , 10 industry sites, nine lifestyle sites, six student sites, eight discount sites, eight parenting sites, five tech sites and four travel sites.

halfords express mention

What are the benefits of a brand mention?

A brand mention is not just about aiding your site’s ranking. As I like to say, content marketing is first and foremost about ‘talking to’ people not a Google algorithm.

So brand mentions can:

  • Build awareness and visibility, helping people become familiar with your brand and inadvertently feel confident in your service/offering. After all, people have an affinity with a brand they have heard of/recognise.
  • Pick up organic links from other relevant sites. These natural links are often considered to be the best kind as they have not been elicited in anyway and are therefore considered by Google to be a powerful recommendation almost as influential as word of mouth. These natural links are also the ones most likely to be picked up by the algorithms which help rank a site or even capture that elusive 0 position – the featured snippet.
  • Be used as a means of getting follow links at a later date. Tools such as Google Alerts or Ahrefs can help you track down your brand mentions. You can then approach the site/person who has mentioned you and ask them if they will add in a link retrospectively. Many will be receptive, as they are already familiar with your brand – otherwise they wouldn’t have mentioned you – although obviously make sure they are talking about you in a positive light; after all no brand wants a link from an article which has criticised them.

Why do so many brands still want links for SEO?

I think, in part, this is because it is much harder to quantify the ROI of a brand mention in comparison to a link.

But there are tools to help you.

The main one, of course, is Google Analytics. This is perfect, as not only does it determine the sources of traffic, it also knows the demographic of your audience and how engaged they are with your brand/the content you produce.

Social listening apps such as Hootsuite can help you track brand mentions too, and understand how popular your brand is online via the number of comments, shares and likes the content you produce achieves.

At the end of the day, the more your brand is ‘out there’, the more likely it is for people to remember it and engage with the content it produces, which is critical to its success.

Branded search is an important indicator that should not be ignored. It shows users know who you are and are looking for you. An increase in branded search may not guarantee you that position one spot we all crave, but it will certainly go a long way in helping you reach it. We wrote all about branded search and improving your brand reputation in the SERPs here. Google now understands, more than ever before, conversations and searches around a specific brand mean that the site has authority and a reputation users trust.

Building equity into your brand is incredibly valuable as once a consumer knows you exist they will start to recognise you and use you over your competitors. However, this does not happen overnight, it takes years of hard work and is not just about how much cash you splash on advertising.

It is important that your brand has a personality; that you’re not just trying to get consumers to spend money with you, but are genuinely interested in helping them, engaging with them, building a relationship with them. By creating content that does all this, you will give your audience something tangible to interact with and remember you by.

Storytelling should be a huge part of your marketing efforts but it must be authentic and easy for others to share whether it’s written articles including product pages, blogs and eBooks, visual content such as infographics and videos or even podcasts. We recently wrote about how to serve the right type of content at the right time which you can read here!

How to track your brand mentions

The value of tracking online conversations about your brand should not be underestimated. It helps you understand what consumers really think about your product/service/offering, and how they wish to interact with you. However, it searching for brand mentions can be a resource drain; but there is a variety of tools that can save you time.

  1. Hootsuite - normally used for scheduling posts on social, Hootsuite can be used to track brand mentions as well as keywords and phrases across in social channels. A basic account is free and you can add up to three social profiles and RSS feeds, but the professional plan cost around £25 a month and allows you to add up to 100 profiles and unlimited feeds.
  2. Social Mention monitors and combines data from social networks, identifying specific keywords and providing the data in an easy to digest, visually appealing format. As well as the list of mentions it also provides information about how often your brand is being discussed on social. It is also completely free to use.
  3. Awario enables you to track all your online brand mentions from social media to websites and even forums and directories. The data is provided in real-time and informs you instantly whenever someone mentions your brand. It’s easy to use too, all you have to do is sign up and enter your keywords. A 14-day free trial is available, and there are a range of payment plans to use from.
  4. Mention monitors various social media platforms in real-time. You can set up alerts for different categories and share the with colleagues and the data is easy to collect and generate reports from. Mention offers a 14-day free trial and if you want to continue using it, has three different pricing options.
  5. Talkwalker Alerts enables you to set up alerts and track keywords and brand mentions, sending the results straight to your inbox. Data about the performance of your brand mentions as well as sentiment analysis and information on influencers discussing your brand. The tool is free, but if you want to access its premium social media analytics and monitoring tool it costs around £580 a month.

How do you measure brand awareness?

Perhaps the biggest challenges for marketers is to know if your brand awareness efforts are paying off.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to measure ROI of brand awareness but GA again can certainly help.

Look at direct traffic figures to understand exactly how many people are coming to your site by typing in your URL. Those who do have clearly heard of you. You can also see how long people are spending on your site and how much time they take to read and engaging with your content.

Social engagement is also a good measure of brand awareness. Look at how many followers you have. Do they share, like, comment and retweet your posts? The more that do, the more you know have an affinity with your brand.

In conclusion...

To achieve online success, you need to showcase your brand in front of existing and new customers. Building and growing a brand is a never-ending but is incredibly valuable process as ‘word-of- mouth’ is the most effective way to build trust.

Brand mentions are much harder to manipulate than links, as they tend to appear naturally and on better quality, more relevant sites.

As a former journalist and traditional PR professional, I think the Google patent emphasised the importance of earned (free) coverage/placements, as well as the power and relevancy of editorial quality for SEO.

The shift from quantity to quality has begun and long may it continue.

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