Co-Citation: The New SEO Killer?

Not too long ago, Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of Moz, released a Whiteboard Friday video that detailed a potential ranking factor called co-citation (or co-occurrence as it is sometimes referred to).  Many other SEOs have since come out with posts that have agreed with Rand’s opinion that anchor text links will eventually be replaced by co-citation as the main ranking indicator used by search engines.

So, What is Co-Citation?

Source Forge gives a pretty good general definition of co-citation:

“Bibliographic co-citation is a popular similarity measure used to establish a subject similarity between two items. If A and B are both cited by C, they may be said to be related to one another, even though they don’t directly reference each other. If A and B are both cited by many other items, they have a stronger relationship. The more items they are cited by, the stronger their relationship is.”

So what does this mean in SEO?  Co-citation is about a site/brand ranking for a competitive keyphrase without appearing to target it. So, the keyphrase isn’t necessarily included on the page title or on the landing page and doesn’t receive very many anchor text-focused links. It appears that search engines are ranking the brand for the keyphrase because they‘re able to connect the linking page’s content, which is related to this keyphrase, to the actual brand. Furthermore, the page with this content may not even link back to the brand but it can simply mention the brand name and the related keyphrase(s) somewhere on the page. The theory is that the search engines will be able to interpret this relationship in the future, if they’re not doing so already.

Is This Another Sign That “SEO Is Dead?”

Because links, and particularly those that contain optimized anchor text, have been identified as a main ranking signal for so long, their devaluation might be seen as an end to all SEO practices.

However, I have to disagree because I believe that the same principles of a solid link building strategy still apply when you aim to earn co-citations: create interesting, relevant content that will gain attention and will be shared by visitors and talked about on social media and other sites.

If co-citation does become a primary ranking factor, brands that have a unique word or phrase for their brand name stand to benefit even more than they have in the past.  Possessing a unique brand name would not only mean your brand would have an easier time ranking in the first position of organic search results for your brand name, but also your co-citations would be more easily decipherable by search engines.

For example, “Jaguar”, probably wouldn’t be a great choice as a name for a startup today because had the motor company not existed for several decades and built up some much brand equity, the first page of the search results for the term “jaguar” would most likely be dominated by results referring to the big cat jaguar as opposed to the car. If Jaguar launched as a motor company today, it might take a while before it could have the full co-citation benefit from car-related references.

It could be argued that large brands who receive a lot of mentions (whether good or bad) will have an unfair advantage with co-citation over less familiar brands.  I think co-citation is dangerous without accurate sentiment measuring.

For example, if as a blogger you are writing about how much you disliked a product, such as a camera, and you mention the brand name and the keyphrase “camera,” would the brand still get credit for being related to “camera” even  if you’ve written negatively about the product?  What about sarcasm?  How does an algorithm account for that?  At least with anchor text links the author could choose how they were / were not linking to a brand site (no follow links, only mentioning the brand without linking, etc.).  Now, authors / webmasters will have less control.

To counter this point, I don’t believe that search engines ever intended for authors/webmasters to provide a backlink to a brand as a “seal of approval.” For instance, Reevoo, like many other review websites, provides links to where visitors can purchase any of the products they have reviewed -irrespective of whether  they have actually favorable opinion of the product or not.

Co-citations are particularly important for Local SEO and businesses in less-competitive niches (like plumbing or electrical) where many service providers don’t have websites themselves. Without very much other information, the search engines will have to rely more heavily on any mentions that they discover.

In summary, I believe that SEO professionals should see co-citation as a step in the right direction.  It’s just another way in which search engines are becoming better at interpreting the content of a page and how it relates to other online entities.

Now relax and keep proving the SEO-doubters wrong with those campaigns that thoroughly shake up the digital space!

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