This goes to the heart of every company’s SEO strategy. The clues come in a patent filing for something called an “implied link.” Before I explain why this is important, let’s first take a trip back to the early days of SEO and link-building.
Early on, Google would evaluate where a site ranks for any given search by looking at how many other sites were linking back to that page. If you were a valuable site, visitors would link to you in order to share that with their audience or to cite you as a good resource. That type of analysis would seem like an obvious way to measure the quality of the site.
But SEO gurus are always trying to stay one step ahead, and once link-farms and other shady techniques for creating myriads of back-links became prevalent, Google recognized that there’s no way to verify whether a link was added because a user genuinely likes the content or whether the link was paid for. The quality of a link can be corrupted through a wide variety of Black Hat tricks, and thus the value of all links came into question.
And while Google has updated its algorithms on numerous occasions over the years, that doesn’t mean that links aren’t still valuable for SEO. They are just much less valuable than they once were. Google is now much more selective about the quality of the site that is doing the linking. The New York Times continues to be the gold standard for the most valuable links.
But what if a publication like the Times mentions a brand or its product without a hyperlink? Shouldn’t that carry some weight, even though it doesn’t include a url?
That’s where Google’s patent comes into play. SEO insiders believe that the patent is related to last year’s Panda update, and that it describes a method for analyzing the value of “implied links,” that is, mentions on prominent sites without a link.
Let’s say the Times mentions in an article the website of NewCo as a great resource for a particular topic, but doesn’t include a link to NewCo’s website. Previously, there really wasn’t a measurable way for NewCo to benefit from that quality mention. With implied links, Google sees the mention in the Times article and factors that into its search ranking.
Implied links are also used as a sort of quality control tool for back-links in order to identify those that are most likely the result of Black Hat tricks. For example, if Google sees numerous incoming links from sites of questionable quality, it might search for implied links and find that no one is talking about that brand across the internet. Google looks at that evidence from the implied links to determine if the back-links are real and adjusts the rankings accordingly.
Here are four tips for adapting to Google’s focus on implied links:
• Don’t abandon your link-building strategy. Earned links are still effective when they come from valued sites. The most valuable links will still be for relevant, unique content.
• Brand reputation is key. When asking for mentions on other sites, try to have them use your brand name as much as possible. The same is true when you are posting on other sites. Use your brand name. Do the same in descriptive fields such as bios at the bottom of contributed content.
• Engage your audiences in conversation. Similar to word-of-mouth marketing, the more your brand name is being mentioned, even without links, the more it will benefit your SEO. Encourage that conversation as much as you can.
• Be creative and flexible. Google is always evolving its search engine algorithms. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to predict how they may change over the next year, or how effective today’s best practices will be tomorrow if you know how to follow the clues.