The Controversy of Mentions vs. Links and Other Controversial Ranking Issues
Many SEO types today believe the magic bullet to high rankings is links. Ranging from free for all link schemes, to blog links, to natural links to content, to anchor text controlled links.
While the authors believe that natural links from relevant pages with good anchor and surrounding text still remains a huge factor in search engine rankings, our research has shown that there are other ways in which to maximize the exposure in the SERPs for you target keyphrases. We call this “mentions”. A mention, quite simply, is a mention of your organization that does not include a link, as is further elaborated on below.
We understand this is highly controversial, and so we polled a number of prominent individuals in the field, which only underscores the controversial nature of this technique. However, we believe it works and recommend a PR campaign that focuses on mentions in addition to a traditional link building/content based campaign.
Here are the questions we asked of our experts, and their responses.
What is a mention? Let’s use Arteworks as an example. Would it be a mention of the url arteworks.biz? Or would it also include mentions such as “Arteworks”, “Arteworks SEO”, or even “Matt Foster”?
As Google collects and compares information, I think it tries to cross reference topics and phrases. If this is true, then having a business or personal name associated with some specific content could help that business’s site rank better for those terms. But I think the "name" would have to have a strong connection to the domain/site. For example, if arteworks.biz did not contain enough mentions of “matt foster” Google would have no way of knowing it should connect that name to the site if it is read on another site.
A mention ranges from an actual URL to a mention of the company name, but the highest value to a search engine is on an actual link to a company website with lower value assigned to a brand name in word only. From a marketing/branding perspective, the company name has a higher value as big money goes toward branding, so theoretically, McDonald's places a bigger value on the word "McDonald's" as it their brand over "http://mcdonalds.com" where capitalization and punctuation do not matter.
Authors’ Commentary: We believe that “mentions” are by definition not links. A mention is a mention of your name or organization on the Internet without a link. Any of the examples above would be a mention, as a mention can be anything. The question then becomes, do mentions help in the SERPs, and if so, what type of mentions are helpful?
Do you believe that “mentions” are a factor in search rankings, in addition to links?
If the mention is accompanied with a link that is followed then sure. If a mention for example "Gerald Weber is a great SEO" but if there is no link to my company site then it's not going to affect my company's rankings in the SERPs.
Yes, when searching for a company, Google would use all search terms and see where they rank considering at least in part the aggregated total number of the mentions on the web. Mentions found on sites with high page ranks will obviously help more than sites with a lower page rank.
Authors’ Commentary: We believe that “mentions” are factors in search rankings so long as the mention is contained in the title tag of the desired URL. It is our opinion that the mention can be without a link, and that the mention of the company or individual name is a positive factor in search rankings. A good PR campaign, therefore, would not be reliant upon the acquisition of links only, but rather mentions with attendant title tags. In other words, if your title tag or possibly even other content on your site contains the text of the mention on the third party site, then the mention should help you in the SERPs.
Do Twitter mentions “count”? If so, how is that determined? For example, Matt’s twitter is ArteWorks_SEO. Does having your twitter name the same as your company name matter? Or if his twitter name was just something like “SEOGuy”, but had a link to Arteworks on his profile, would that be sufficient? What is the effect (if any) of retweets and @ replies? Does the use of underscores in Twitter names have any effect on mentions?
I have argued both for and against company names (rather than using the name of the person tweeting) I think it comes down to how well known your brand is. Personally, I consider in-text mentions to be like a do-follow link, a true vote of confidence. I consider lists of names, like “follow Friday” tweets, to be more like nofollow, blogroll links. Most SEOs agree that Google still follows “nofollow” links, but assigns little or no weight to the link. So, even though Twitter has set its links to no-follow, they still have some value. I do think it's too soon for Google to have tweaked the live search algorithm enough to recognize different types of tweets - yet. But I think they will eventually weight tweets differently depending on how they are written, just like they do links from different locations on a web page.
Having the Twitter name the same as the company name is really a matter of personal choice. If you have ArteWorks_SEO for example you will be more likely to rank for the company name ArteWorks SEO. However I have a nickname @the_gman and my Twitter profile still ranks well for my name Gerald Weber. However the Twitter link in your profile is no followed so I doubt the link itself helps much when it comes to ranking factor for your site it's linking too, but it can still send some good traffic to your site so it still has value. I don't think the underscore "_" makes much difference. One thing I have noticed, generally speaking, is that Twitter profiles seem to rank pretty well in the SERPs. For example, if you Google Gerald Weber my twitter profile comes up on the first page. Also, I actually have some competition in the SERPs for Gerald Weber because there are a few other prominent Gerald Weber’s out there. So even though, as in this example, the actual Twitter link is nofollowed, it can still be used effectively as a reputation management tool.
Despite Twitter virtually closing itself off to some search engines, in the eyes of a search engine, mentions on Twitter are valuable just as they are on a blog because they turn up as a result. For brands, it is ideal to have users' names reflect the company such as “@NameAtCompany” as it humanizes the user as well as puts a human face to a brand.
Yes and no. Twitter mentions count but not all search engines crawl Twitter. It depends on what search engine you are talking about. In the case of Google @mentions and retweets are weighed higher when they come from different users. Google treats each user as a page so it is more effective if multiple users Tweet the same mention than is one user repetitively references the same content. Just like content on a blog, another user is counted as a separate page; retweets and @mentions hold greater weight as they are like a separate url. And just like a blog, a new page is considered new content.
There is an advantage to using a company's name as a handle as opposed to using the proprietor’s name. For instance, Bill Gates' retweets and @mentions wouldn't necessarily help Microsoft get a higher page rank. The only way that it would help is if the proprietor and the company name were strongly tied together. For instance if Microsoft's website was called "Microsoft: A Bill Gates Company" in the header portion of the site.
Yes, Twitter mentions count and are perhaps the most beneficial because of the frequency of mentions occurring due to @ mentions and retweets. We also believe that @ mentions and retweet mentions carry more weight than do self mentions, as they are demonstrative of community involvement and reputation. We have also noticed that having the same Twitter name as your company name really helps, and a lot of referrals to ArteWorks SEO come from Twitter. In Matt’s case he has benefitted because the name of the company is ArteWorks SEO and his Twitter username is ArteWorks_SEO. However we think that people who have not benefitted are people whose title tags do not match the mentions. To achieve the most benefit from Twitter mentions, have your Twitter username in the title tag, or at a minimum somewhere in the content, of your website. The key to maximizing the use of mentions of your site on the web is to include commonly mentioned terms in your title tag.
About URL shorteners: do you think the use of those can count as a “mention”? In other words, does Google understand that an URL shortener is redirecting to the target site and count that as a mention?
If the shorteners use 301's, the links are followable and identifiable. But, text surrounding the link is important.
I do believe that Google understand this yes. Google is very intelligent. However, again the links are no followed by Twitter, but it would count as a mention regardless.
Not all URL shorteners are created equal. It should not be expected that Google can resolve all URL shorteners as it does with 301 redirects. The only sure way for a URL shortener to be effective is if it has been created by the source and is ensured to have a proper ping back.
We may be giving Google more credit than is due, but we think Google is pretty smart. If the url shortener utilizes a 301 redirect, we believe that the link juice is passed through the shortened url to the target page. Therefore, when utilizing URL shorteners, it is important to use one that utilizes a 301 redirect if you intend to “vote” for or pass link juice to the target site.
On another note: There has been some talk about Google incorporating clicks on the SERPs as a factor in ranking, i.e. Sites that receive more clicks on the SERPs are deemed more relevant to the query and then could move up. Do you believe this is already happening? If not, do you believe it will or should happen? If so, how do you foresee this changing the game in the way of META description tag optimization, if at all?
I don't think the click counts, but bounce rate must. They know if you click to a page and then quickly come back to search results again. When you do this, it’s obvious the page you visited was not relevant to the query.
I personally don't think this is being incorporated into SERPs at this time. If it were you can bet there will be people gaming and exploiting this. However, Google does include CTR as part of its "Quality Score" for their paid advertising (Adwords). Regardless of whether or not Google uses CTR as part of its ranking score, it should not encourage SEO’s to write better META descriptions as any good SEO would already be writing good META descriptions to attract clicks regardless of any algorithm change.
Yes, sites that receive more clicks move up higher, but, that is a self fulfilling prophecy. Most people don't go below the fold in Google. The story changes dramatically depending on if the user is logged into Google or not. I do think Google measures raw clicks and high CTR sites with low bounce rates and uses that data to help move up more in personal searches when the user is logged into Google.
As far as the user not being logged in to Google, that's a harder question to answer. For users that are not logged in, you have to consider Google Analytics being installed on the site in question. But yes, sites that receive more clicks will move up in the search, this brings the importance of the meta tag description in line with that of a well written AdWord. If the case is that clicks matter in SERPs, then meta tagging optimization becomes important so as to encourage clicks.
It does not appear that traffic is a factor in search rankings. We have seen sites with very little traffic (clicks from the SERPs) perform quite well in the rankings. META description tag optimization should not be affected by any algorithmic change to include SERP CTRs, as descriptions should already be written to encourage clicks.
About the Authors
Matt Foster is the CEO of ArteWorks SEO, a full service Internet marketing firm, who has been active in the industry since 1995. Mr. Foster can be found on Twitter @ArteWorks_SEO. ArteWorks SEO can be found at www.arteworks.biz.
Krystle Green is a project manager for ArteWorks SEO. Krystle is in charge of strategy development for new clients and research. She is an expert in blogging and social media. She can be found on twitter @krystle_green.
Gerald Weber is the President and Founder of Search Engine Marketing Group, a leading search engine marketing and web development firm in Houston, TX. Gerald is also a contributing author for Search Engine Journal. He can be found on Twitter @the_gman.
Jack Leblond is the Director of Internet Strategy and Operations for a large Austin-based educational services company where he manages the web team, focuses on SEO, e-marketing and Social Media. Jack has been involved in Web development and SEO for over ten years as employee, business owner and now as a free-lance SEO consultant working with small/medium sized businesses that want their web sites to perform better in the search engine listings. He can be found on Twitter @JackLeblond.
Wesley Faulkner is a contributor for Conversations Matter. His experience spans multiple facets of the technology industry, from manufacturing to product development. Recently, Wesley has become a rising player in the social media scene. As a member of AMD’s social media council he assists in the development of their social media strategy and vision for the company. He can be found on Twitter @wesley83.
Lani Rosales is the New Media Director at AgentGenius.com and was recently named President of New Media Lab, both of which are headquartered in Austin, TX. She has an English degree from the University of Texas (and of course used that to become a blogger). She can be found on Twitter @LaniAR.
About The Authors:
Matt Foster is the CEO of ArteWorks SEO, a full service Internet marketing firm, who has been active in the industry since 1995. Mr. Foster can be found on Twitter @ArteWorks_SEO. ArteWorks SEO can be found at www.arteworks.biz. Krystle Green is the Director of Social Media for ArteWorks SEO. She is an expert in blogging and social media. She can be found on twitter @krystle_green.Read more!