With news of an imminent Penguin algorithm refresh on the cards, I’ve begun to re-examine how Google could use data extracted from the web to help determine if a site triggers a Penguin penalty action when refreshed.
Last week I came across an academic paper written by 3 Spanish scholars (Jose´ Luis Ortega, Enrique Ordun˜a-Malea and Isidro F. Aguillo) entitled Are web mentions accurate substitutes for inlinks for Spanish universities? which looks into the relationship between hyperlinks and web mentions; and attempts to establish if the former can be used to supplement the link graph with a view to eventually replacing it.
“In order to predict inlinks, URL mentions are enough to predict (in 82 per cent of cases) the number of inlinks that a website receives whereas the title mentions should be rejected.”
The correlation analysis shows that the closest web mention alternative to inlinks is URL mentions as they may better express the transitivity of a hyperlink. The similarity of these results with the findings obtained in the analysis of the Spanish university system reinforces the hypothesis that these different web mention types could be used as a proxy to measure the web impact and visibility of a web site on the web.
There have been rumours within the community inferring that brand mentions count as SEO-friendly links and, in turn, confirm the significance PR plays in SEO performance. This idea is based on patent exploration originally uncovered by the blog SEO by the Sea (a respected SEO blog covering search engine patents), further discussed by industry thought leaders at Moz, and ultimately brought to light in the PR world by industry leading publication SHIFT Communications.
The point in question is in a reference to an “implied link” element within Google’s US Patent 8,682,892. The patent argues that links to a group can include “express links, implied links, or both.” The “implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource.”
Are “brand mentions”, in the classic sense of public relations, truly the objective in this portion of the patent? Bill Slawski, the author of SEO by the Sea, argues in both Moz and SHIFT articles that the word “brand” is not mentioned in the patent filing, and the “implied links” mention most likely covers “entity associations.”
Here I agree. When defining entity associations, brand mentions could be implied but shouldn’t be assumed. Entity associations are concepts that businesses or entities are “known for” which is a more complex discussion than just brand mentions. There is a fantastic resource for more background on entity associations.
Beyond entity associations, “implied links” could also infer un-linked URLs written in text, as a blog comment on the SHIFT article indicates. The point is that we’re all interpreting the patent information in some way or another and have no concrete way of knowing the true aims. Bill Slawski concedes that drawing the connection between entity and brand “isn’t much of a stretch, but it doesn’t limit the patent the way that just saying that this applies to brands might.”
Do brand mentions have direct impact in SEO today? Despite various experiments with suitable correlation it is still difficult to assess. The information found in this patent filing is interesting and exciting but it’s difficult to draw a conclusion that brand mentions, linked or not, have direct influence in a website or web pages’ ability to rank well in search engine results but one thing is certain; the search engines continue to refine, reassess, and optimise the factors that should impact the results a user requests, and they recognise that offsite factors, beyond the traditional “inbound link” should play a part in establishing relevance.
Where I see the clear opportunity is for SEO and Digital PR practitioners to collaborate in a much more cohesive fashion. This is something we can start making inroads on today before SEOs are chasing their tail on the goldrush of citations (anyone remember the early 00’s?)… SEOs need to better understand the organisation’s brand, including its objectives, target markets, points of differentiation, and the competitive landscape in a more traditional sense. SEOs can also help PR pros understand how to more succinctly connect the dots between brand mentions and SEO visibility.