Co-Citations: Analysis by Association March 7, 2013

Since the early days of SEO, anchor text has been one of the most important external ranking factors. Get enough links coming to your site that use a specific keyword, and you could expect to rank high for that keyword. But, as you might expect, today’s search engine algorithms are more complex: Not only does anchor text now need to be varied (thanks, Penguin!) but it also has a challenger: the unlinked citation.

Citations: The Non-Linking Link?

Before we get into co-citations, let’s define what a citation actually is. For online marketing purposes, a citation is a reference to or mention of a business on a website that can occur with or without an actual link to that business’s website. Think back to your high school English days: for any serious paper, you had to include references to outside sources within the paper. You’d quote a book, paraphrase some information from another source, and so on, usually mentioning where you got the information. Citations online are just like this, except there’s no annoying bibliography to format at the end.

For example, let’s say an online article includes a line saying, “Company A is a great place to buy shoes.” Search engines will see that text and deduce that Company A has something to do with selling shoes. If they continue to find other web content saying similar things like, “I got my shoes at Company A” or “Company A has a good selection of shoes for sale,” then they will be even more likely to rank Company A’s website for shoe-related keywords, even if Company A is not actively optimizing for that term and even if those references don’t link to Company A’s website. This last part is particularly important because traditionally, only linked citations were seen to be of any consequence.

Co-Citations: Birds of a Feather?

Now, the co-citation: Not only do search engines look at mentions (i.e. citations) of a company in the context of a page, but they also look at co-citations, meaning who else is being referenced on the same page. In terms of SEO, the word “co-citation” refers to the analysis of a website based on the popularity and content of other websites that are cited on the same page.

So for example: An article is written about pepperoni pizza, and three companies are mentioned in that article: Company A, Company B, and Company C. Search engines look at the content of that article, see that it is about pepperoni pizza, and assume that the three companies cited in the article must have something to do with pepperoni pizza as well. Furthermore, because companies A, B, and C are cited in the same article, search engines may assume that these companies, and their respective websites, are similar to one another, even if they don’t actually reference or link to each other. This assumption can be further cemented if companies A, B, and C are frequently cited together in other articles.

Capitalizing on Co-Citations

Knowing the importance and potential impact of co-citations, the next question is naturally, “How can I use this to my advantage?” There are precisely a million and one ways to leverage this factor, but fortunately, many of them are similar to common link building techniques. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

• Find articles that cite big players in your industry, and offer the author something that can improve the quality of that article. In return, simply ask that they cite your company as the source. This could be as simple as offering a tidbit of information that’s relevant to the topic, or it could be creating an infographic based on the information in the article. If you can get a link out of it, great, but if not, feel confident that an unlinked citation will help as well. If they’re not keen to go back and change the article, ask if they’ll at least share your contribution on their social media accounts, including of course a link back to the original article and a mention of your company. This technique brings into play some of the social media/SEO stuff we talked about recently.

• If you’re guest blogging to build links, have the post link out to your website, but also mention other highly reputable sites in your industry. For example, if your company sells gardening supplies, you might link out to or at least reference the National Gardening Association, the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center, and Fine Gardening Magazine.

• Look at your current citation partners. It’s important not only to build new co-citations, but to take a look at your existing ones. Who are you associated with? Is your company cited on any low-quality sites? Are the other companies cited near you related to your business?

• Make sure you’re in the appropriate directories, and that your listing is correct (and formatted properly). This factor is particularly important for local businesses, which benefit from being cited on pages having to do with their target geography.

As of now, citations and co-citations are not believed to be as important as anchor text. However, as with any ranking factor, that could change very quickly, and if you’re looking to prepare yourself for what’s ahead, building quality citations and co-citations is a great way to get a leg up on the competition.

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Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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