There has been plenty of buzz about the power of co-citation as a signal that Google may use when determining ranking relevancy. No more so than in local search where it makes sense to give a site more ranking kudos if it can be verified as genuinely location appropriate for a local business listing.
For example, if I’m a search engine and I index plenty of pages that have the words Traphic Marketing on them frequently next to the words ‘worcester’ or perhaps a ‘01905’ phone number or maybe the word ‘midlands’ then I might assume that Traphic Marketing might be particularly relevant for a local business search result (biiiig local SEO hint there business listing fans).
But are we starting to see a shift away from a reliance on Google using anchor text links as a reliable signal (yes, if recent algorithmic shifts are anything to go by) and towards co-citation as a broader, far stronger and more meaningful signal (yes, if our case study here is indicative of anything)? Are Google devaluing anchor text links? Is co-citation something we need to be mindful as we future proof our ongoing SEO efforts?
Yes to both I would suggest and here’s why I think that:
What is Co-citation anyway and how is it different from good old fashioned anchor text links?
First things first, co-citation is simply the common association of multiple words. For example if you often hear the terms ‘fizzy drink’ mentioned together with the brand ‘Coca Cola’ then you are naturally going to make the association when you hear one or other of these often co-cited terms:
“Did somebody say fizzy drink? Coke is a fizzy drink!” (arguably better with scotch in it…)
This is where Google is starting to get a lot smarter at figuring out who is good at what and how they should be associated appropriately in the search results. Let’s go right ahead and look at a clear example. We’ll perform a search using mega competitive term ‘electrical store’ and see who pops up:
Two that stand out as slightly unusual from an SEO point of view are Maplin & Euronics (you could argue Comet should be included but they’re having a rough time so I won’t pick on them…). Check out those title tags – the words ‘electrical’ and ‘stores’ aren’t there. Neither are they on the pages themselves (Maplins has the word ‘stores’ on the page once) but generally, these pages are ranking with none of the on-page signals that us SEOs typically make sure are in all the right places.
So what’s going on?
Must be the inbound link anchor text right? They must have loads of links pointing to them (not too many, we don’t want to upset the penguin…) using the term ‘electrical store’ right? Nope – take a look at the inbound anchor text as indexed by opensiteexplorer:
There’s no sign of any anchor text links using this term, in fact the distribution ratio looks decidedly natural.
It’s still kind of hard to say ‘this is definitely caused by co-citation’ and there are no real tools available yet to quantify this sort of result but similar examples are not hard to find and we can certainly back this up with some common sense correlation. Is the brand Euronics commonly co-cited with the words ‘electronics store’?
A quick phrase match search in big G is quite telling:
Bingo – they are indeed often co-cited and what’s more interesting is that for the most part a link is not even involved. It’s quite literally all about the co-citation, the words being next to each other.
Is this the death of anchor text links?
There is going to be a lot more to this than simply plonking words next to each other. You would imagine (and hope) that quality, trust and social signals would play just a big a part in this (so don’t go and fire out a bunch of crappy articles to poor quality domains just to get your brand next to your target keywords ok??) as they more recently have with links.
And I don’t for one minute believe that this is going to replace links as a strong signal either but the evidence thus far and common sense dictate that we consider including a co-citation strategy in our content marketing mix, reminding Google of the terms we want our brand associated with, because as anchor text signals get dialed down, so co-citation is going to become a stronger signal along with other future proof SEO strategies like AuthorRank.
Start thinking about it now and be already on that curve when it starts shifting up a gear in the not too distant future. Big brands now, but everybody before too much longer…