Brand mentions in SEO: do unlinked brand mentions matter?
If you’re familiar with SEO, you probably know how important it is to build high-quality followed links from semantically related sites back to your own company’s site. More specifically, link building helps to improve your site’s domain authority (a metric invented by Moz) and, by extension, its keyword rankings.
Google has been using links to gauge the authority and trustworthiness of websites for a very long time: they act as a vote of confidence, indicating to search engines that a page or domain can be trusted as an authority on a specific subject.
But link building isn’t always easy. Many top websites (think national news outlets, for example) are no longer willing to provide followed links when mentioning a brand – at least not without a very good reason – due to the (perhaps overstated) risk of being penalised by Google for spammy practices. This raises an important question about brand mentions: do unlinked brand mentions actually carry any SEO weight?
The answer, in short, we suspect, is yes. As the internet has evolved over the past 20 or so years, links have become just one part (albeit an important part) of a complex landscape of content platforms, mentions, and relationships between websites. We don’t have an exact list of everything that the Googlebot software takes into consideration when crawling, indexing and returning pages, but we do know that linkless mentions play their part in determining how a site is treated.
This coincides with the rise of ‘digital PR’ – a practice blending traditional PR with SEO and other digital marketing disciplines. Achieving relevant brand mentions – whether linked or not – is more important than ever.
So, where is the evidence to support this?
Why unlinked brand mentions do matter
Top search engines have said so. Key figures from both Google and Bing have highlighted the importance of unlinked brand mentions in recent years. Search engines can indeed recognise brand mentions without the need for links and treat them as strong signals of authority – perhaps even on par with linked mentions.
There is also the small matter that Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines say that “outside, independent reputation information about the website” can be more important than the information on a company’s own site.
Implied links are a thing. Additionally, if a web page references a brand as a source of credible information, but does not necessarily offer a link to that brand, search engines can still recognise this as something known as an ‘implied link’, which could hold similar weight as an actual link. Once again, this is made clear in official Google documentation – check out the information on implied links in the Google Panda algorithm update.
Essentially, search engines have grown more advanced – they can recognise brand mentions, as well as the context of those mentions, without needing to rely specifically on links as signals.
Tips for boosting and tracking brand mentions in SEO
With those important points in mind, here are some quick tips for getting more brand mentions – as well as how their impact can be tracked:
Do great PR
Doing great PR (contributing thought leadership articles and publicising newsworthy content, for example) is an effective way to achieve contextually relevant brand mentions (linked or unlinked).
Track brand mentions
Tools like Google Alerts and BuzzSumo are popular options when it comes to keeping track of brand mentions. An unlinked mention is great, but you may be able to ‘reclaim’ a followed link by contacting the outlet that has mentioned your brand – and simply asking for one!
Don’t neglect social media
Interacting with you customers and prospects lots on social media means mentions of your brand (and brand awareness in general) are more likely to spread.
Work with a link building expert
It’s all too easy to be misled about the nature of link building by fraudulent and spammy SEO agencies. Make sure you work with an experienced agency that knows why link building is important!