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