Brand Mentions Are the New Links?


Over at Moz, Simon Penson just wrote an interesting post about a “Panda Patent” which may shed light on how Google will rank sites in the future, “using a ratio of links and mentions, or ‘implied links.’” With penalties flying and the value of the almighty link coming into question, could Google be looking for new signals of authority? We think so, but are brand mentions the answer?

The relevant part of the patent is this:

The system determines a count of independent links for the group (step 302). A link for a group of resources is an incoming link to a resource in the group, i.e., a link having a resource in the group as its target. Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. An express link, e.g., a hyperlink, is a link that is included in a source resource that a user can follow to navigate to a target resource. An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.

“Express links” versus “implied links”? Am I the only one who thinks this is a very strange kind of back-pedaling? I’ve got a couple of questions for Google:

Why didn’t they focus on mentions in the first place?

The fact that Google is calling brand mentions or citations “implied links” shows how wedded they are to the idea that links are everything. No, a mention isn’t an “implied link,” it’s a mention – people mention stuff and link to stuff for different (though sometimes overlapping) reasons.

Generally, you link because you believe the reader will get some benefit from visiting the page in question – because it contains further information or value that isn’t contained on your own site. You might mention a person/site/brand for any number of other reasons – possibly to give them credit for something, or just because you like them, or perhaps because you hate them.

mentions are the new links

Even if they’re talking shit, at least they’re talking about you.

I can see the ratio of links to brand mentions being a useful signal – for example if a site has tons of links but very few mentions, that might by a sign of a spammy site. The funny thing is, you don’t need fancy technology to measure brand mentions. This is pretty easy stuff*. So why has Google always emphasized the value of links over mentions? They just figured out that brand mentions are a sign of popularity? I know patents take a while to process, but this seems like it should have been built in from the get-go. What gives?

*Actually, it’s only easy if your brand name is unique. For example, I’m the only Elisa Gabbert in the world, as far as I know, but there’s more than one Larry Kim. This is the advantage that links have over mentions; domains are unique, while names and brands are not. I’m not sure if Google’s usual handling of synonyms in search is enough to overcome the synonym problem in brand monitoring.

Aren’t mentions at least as gameable as links?

It seems even easier to game a system based on mentions rather than links. Mention-building could be as scalable as link-building:

  • You can buy brand mentions
  • You can get brand mentions through guest posting (and you don’t have to worry about over- or under-optimized anchor text)
  • You can score a bunch of brand mentions through “linkbait” like infographics (mention-bait!)

So … what’s the difference here? Wouldn’t the “mention graph” eventually be as corrupt as the link graph? If Google has trouble distinguishing natural versus unnatural links, how will they distinguish between natural and unnatural brand mentions? (BRB, adding Brand Mention Optimization to my LinkedIn profile.)

Since big brands already have a lot of citations and smaller sites may have focused on links rather than a broader strategy of content quality and PR, they’ll have catching up to do, so this could buy Google some time. I don’t see it as a definitive spam-killer over the long run.

Google Still Needs a Better Satisfaction Index

A mention-to-link ratio might be a good patch for the holes in the link graph, but I think Google will eventually need to move to a very different system for judging site authority and popularity (not, as Matt Cutts notes, exactly the same thing). This system might be something more like the Quality Score system it uses for ad ranking, where user engagement trumps all.

Still, in the near term, this is an interesting development in the ongoing saga of the link. The question is, what took Google so long?

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Ryan Biddulph
May 01, 2014

I see positives in both mentions and links Elisa. If people are talking about or linkng to you - even if it's not uber positive news - you're on the radar. Google seems to be giving more brand weight out these days in the link and mention department but as noted they still have some work to do. As always, spread the word for other brands to get more mentions yourself. The Golden Rule ;) Thanks Elisa!. BTW, I found this post on kingged(dot)com and will vote it up, to boost your traffic.

May 01, 2014

Good article. Citations must be important in link building. Propably it can be more important then in the past.

Gene Eugenio
May 01, 2014

I've been reading more and more about this technology. First, from Moz and then from other sources. Google's Panda patent shows Google's possible future direction. Co-citation makes a lot of sense and, if filtered with a few other hard-to-game factors, might make for a better alternative to backlinks as a ranking signal. I'm not holding my breath though. As Matt Cutts himself said, Google has tried link-free ways to rank and the results were horrid. Still, given how fast Google's evolving, expect link-free ranking sooner rather than later.

Arun Kallarackal
May 03, 2014

The ratio of links and brand mentions is something that caught my attention. Creating a good ration of both the factors will prove beneficial in the long run. Because, as mentioned in the article, loads of links and few mentions will make Google take note of that site and will keep it under its watchful eyes!But again, as mentioned in the article, mention building can also be toyed around. Things like buying mentions and link baiting can be used to exploit the system.Interesting article. I found the link to this article on Kingged.Arun

May 05, 2014

Mentioning and linking your brand is both good and can lead to positive results. If people are talking about you, whether it would be a good shot or not, you’ll be surely in the eyes of Google. I think it would be better if you would keep these two things in equal ratio, this will be very beneficial for you. I have gained a lot of knowledge from reading this article. Thanks for the post!  Best,Ann07  By the way, I found this post shared on 

May 08, 2014

Hey Elisa,Looks like you might have a spam situation going on in your comments :PI think I understand Google's perspective on mentions versus links. The average (non-black-hat human) is going to write with a good mixture of links and mentions.If a site is heavily leaning toward all links & no mentions, or vice versa, it could be a good indicator there's something fishy going on.Another possibility - what is Google is finally coming around to the idea of fully incorporating social into their algorithm? Mentions would dominate links in teh social world. but it would definitely take some planning.Let me know what you think!Great post & loved the Big L image reference, btw, haha.- Ashley

Elisa Gabbert
May 08, 2014

Haha, thanks Ashley! :)Bill Slawski has pointed out that the guy who wrote the post on Moz was reading too much into the patent and maybe all this brand mention stuff is a bit overblown. So take it with a grain of salt.I think social data is inevitably coming to the algo, if it's not there already.

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