PostHeaderIcon Prediction: Anchor Text is Dying…And Will Be Replaced by Co-citation – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Imagine this: you're checking your rankings, and you see a page ranking number 6! Awesome! But wait…you never optimized for that keyword. How did you end up there? Hmmm…
The answer, dear Moz friends, is likely co-citation.
This week's Whiteboard Friday focuses on just that. Rand discusses co-citation and its impact on the future of SEO and brand association. 
What do you think? How do you approach co-citation and branding when the keywords are no longer the only game in town? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

Video Transcription

"Howdy, SEOmoz fans, and welcome to a second beardless edition of Whiteboard Friday. I apologize. The beard should be back by next Whiteboard Friday, but this time we're gong to go clean shaven, which it was for Halloween and Movember. I hope we'll get some good donations for that.

I want to talk today about a prediction that I've got around not the complete death of anchor text, but that anchor text is actually diminishing as a signal and being replaced by something else, something Google has gotten very clever about. I think Bing is using it as well. That is co-citation, so co-citation of terms and phrases along with a brand or a link, and I'll show you what I mean.

First off, some examples that you can check out for yourself. One of very favorite things to do is to go find relatively competitive keyword phrases and find sites and brands that are ranking without appearing to target the keyword, meaning that keyword isn't in the title tag. It's barely even on the page. It doesn't seem to be something that they're going after. They're not getting much anchor text for it.

How do they rank well against folks who are doing all of these classic SEO best practices? Well, here are a few examples.

For the query "cell phone ratings," coming in at number four is a web page on without the words "cell phone" or the word "ratings." Actually, I do think they have the word "rating," and they might have the word "phone." But it's in the text. It's not even in the title. Really remarkable that they're ranking so well for such a competitive query. I'll talk about why in a sec.

Number two, "manufacturing directory." Again, another very competitive phrase, and ThomasNet is ranking number three without mentioning any of these terms, without seeming to try and target that phrase at all.

Number three, "backlink analysis," where Open Site Explorer, SEOmoz's own tool ranks number two, and yet not in the title. It's not anywhere on the page. Neither of these words are anywhere on the page. In the snippet, Google is actually using some text from another article that they found that mentions backlink analysis.

So it's just fascinating to see these sorts of rankings, and you kind of have to question like, "Boy, there's a ton of people with a lot of good anchor text, with a ton of linking root domains who are all trying to go after that phrase. They put it in the title tag. How does Google know? How does Google know to associate these terms with these websites if the classic signals that we think about as SEOs aren't there?"

The answer, in my opinion, is co-citations. Let me show what I'm talking about.

You can see a lot of articles on the web that mention cell phone ratings and reviews and mention Consumer Reports. They don't necessarily link to this page. In fact, very few of them link to this page. But many of them will do exactly this. If you look at a text snippet on the page, it'll say, "Cell phones as rated by Consumer Reports." This doesn't even link. This is not a live link. It's not even pointing to their website or to that specific web page. But Google is noticing the association. They see the words "cell phone." They see the word "rated," and they see "Consumer Reports." They put two and two together and say, "You know what? It seems like lots of people on the Internet seems to think that Consumer Reports and cell phone ratings go together."

Same thing happening here. Directory of Manufacturers from ThomasNet, it's not even linking to the manufacturing directory page. It's linking just to the home page of the website. But it's mentioning ThomasNet, and it says, "Directory of Manufacturers." So the words are in there, and Google is kind of going, "Oh, yeah, I see this association happening a lot. It's not directly in the anchor text, but you know what? I'm getting smarter."

Google is getting a lot smarter about this. A ton of articles that mention backlink analysis, how to look at backlinks, talk about Open Site Explorer. Some of them link to it. Some of them don't. But because Open Site Explorer is very commonly cited in addition to the keyword phrase "backlink analysis," you're seeing OSE do really well for that query term.

This, in my opinion, is one of the kind of future looking elements of how we're going to do SEO, brand association, having people write about us and do PR about our brands, associating those terms together so that very frequently when you see an authoritative, high quality source mention a keyword phrase, talk about a keyword phrase, they're mentioning your brand. They're linking to your site. They don't even necessarily have to link to exactly your page. This type of SEO is something that's not very practiced today, but it certainly should be on a lot of people's minds for the future.

I would urge you, anytime you see something ranking that doesn't have the classic SEO targeting types of things, the anchor text and on-page text and the title tag, you take a deep look and try and figure out whether co-citation is what's causing it to rank higher.

All right everyone. Look forward to seeing you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care."

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