SEO professionals are about to lose another search signal in their optimization work, only to have it replaced by something that requires more work by content marketers, but will ultimately make Google better.
According to Rand Fishkin in a recent Whiteboard Friday, we’re about to lose anchor text.
Anchor text is a string of text that links a word or phrase to another page. In the previous paragraph, Whiteboard Friday is the anchor text.
It’s long been an SEO practice to backlink to a website by linking a keyword or phrase. For example, Pro Blog Service’s president, Paul Lorinczi, runs a Hungarian football (soccer) website. If he wants to promote the site with anchor text inside a backlink, the html code would look like this:
<a href=”http://www.hungarianfootball.com/”>Hungarian football</a>
This tells Google “this link, HungarianFootball.com, is about ‘Hungarian football.'”
Problem is, all that is dying. Stupid spammers.
Spammers Ruined It For The Rest Of Us
For all good things that SEO did and was, the spammers screwed it up for the rest of us. They’re the ones who created the link farms that had thousands of backlinks on hundreds of pages. Pages completely unrelated to whatever the links pointed to. A link to a site about jewelry from a page about construction equipment.
Fishkin says anchor text will nearly die — it won’t die completely — and instead be replaced by co-citation.
Co-citation is a new method where Google looks at important words on a page, not just official keywords, and draws a relationship between them. Then it determines what the page is talking about — e.g., does it refer to another page or brand? — and makes the association that “these words and these words go together. And they’re referring to the topic of this website over here. So we’re going to assume that the two go together, and we’ll give the website a little boost.”
In other words, instead of backlinking to a page about Hungarian football with Paul’s name, Google now has an entry in its giant massive database where the two have been linked just by being mentioned on the same page.
Another Co-Citation Example
I write a lot about Ernest Hemingway and blogging, including one post about whether he would be a good blogger or not. I’ve written about the two topics so much that when I do a Google search on “Ernest Hemingway blogging,” my tag page on Ernest Hemingway shows up (a compilation page of all posts I’ve tagged with Hemingway’s name).
(In fact, it’s ranked 6th on Google, which would be cool if anyone actually ever did a search for that term.)
Next, let’s say I had another website called ErnestHemingwayBloggingTips.com. Google would be able to make the association between my blog posts on “Hemingway and blogging” and this new website. Google would essentially say, “Here’s a blog post about Ernest Hemingway and blogging, and — ooh! — here’s a whole website devoted to that topic! SCORE!”
What would further cement the relationship is if my name appeared on both pages, like, say, in an author bio. Then, Google has another link in that chain, and whenever someone did a search for “Ernest Hemingway blogging,” my new website has a better chance of ranking very high because of the co-citation between Ernest and blogs.
This tells us some important things about co-citation:
- I don’t use Hemingway’s name in every headline, just the one post, but Google still picks up on the keyword “Ernest Hemingway” in all of the posts. It understands, because of the tag and the body copy itself, that Papa is integral to the text. That means while headlines may be useful, your posts aren’t going to be ranked only on headline keywords.
- The tag page is a dynamic page created by WordPress. If I add another post with “Ernest Hemingway” as the tag, like this one, the page will change. That means tags are important to Google, so use your tags properly. Don’t abuse them. Otherwise, Google’s going to take those away too.
- Google is indexing synonyms. It’s not only looking for the word “blogging,” it’s also keying in on the word “blogger.” How long will it be before exact keywords are no longer important, because Google will understand what we mean, and not just what we said.
- Freaking out about keywords and trying to find the exactly-perfect-bestest one is (almost) unnecessary. It used to be you had to limit your headline and topic to a single keyword, and you scoured Google AdWords and WebCEO to find just the right one. Now you’re going to get some Google juice for different keywords and their synonyms, not just the one in your headline.
Like all things Google is doing, co-citation is going to make life both harder and easier for content marketers. It’s going to drastically change our strategy, and make us have to work harder. Because, as you can see in Fishkin’s video below, co-citation doesn’t always help your page, unless it’s on someone else’s page. That’s what anchor text and backlinks did for us; we linked back to our sites using the right anchor text.
And since Google is focusing on quality content — because crappy content farms were decimated by Google Panda, and Penguin foreclosed on the link farms — that means we need people to talk about us and our keywords on their sites.
That leaves us with two strategies, both of which will take a lot of work, but will have a huge SEO payoff.
- Blogger outreach. This has been a public relations function. Now PR has to work with SEO in order to boost rankings. This means PR flaks who have already been doing blogger outreach will be at an advantage. They’ll be ahead of the game once co-citation becomes a real thing.
- Create extra content in offsite blogs. Can’t get other people to talk about you? Start another blog on another site. But you can’t put up crappy content that’s been run through an article spinner. You have to write real, effective, valuable content that real people are going to read. Google Panda killed the low-value schlock that some black hat SEOs were using, so your offsite blogging has to be just as good as your onsite blogging. And since a lot of people are already struggling with their actual blogging, this extra work is going to be a killer. Advantage: good bloggers and guest bloggers.
I can’t decide if I’m happy or annoyed by co-citation. We were already doing some of this at Pro Blog Service, which means we’re in a position to take advantage of it. But now that it’s going to become a real thing, it means we have to do more of it.