Artificial Intelligence :: The Musings of Tony Gavin, Esq.

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An SEO Question: Do Mentions Without Links have any Value?

SEO professionals have known for a very long time about the value of mentions online, with links pointing to their websites. Getting quality backlinks to your website is still the number one driver of lifting both organic rankings and traffic. Particularly as voice-activated search becomes more widely adopted, SEO professionals are considering the impact of mentions without links. I’m going out on a bit of limb here and saying that linkless mentions were always going to become a thing – with or without voice-based search.

Let’s go waaaaaaay back to 2011

In the closing months of 2011, I locked myself away for several months in the Philippines, with my friend and fellow nerd/geek, Chris Bennetts. At the time we were researching (between beers) what became a way of creating highly authoritative social media footprints in order to assist in driving SEO results. Admittedly, our system was for “people” who didn’t actually exist (and it worked like a charm) – but that’s a whole other story! We concluded way back then that linkless mentions would eventually play a significant role in search rankings. Here’s why…

Social signals and organic rankings

One of the things that caused Chris and me to go down the rabbit hole that we did was that there appeared to be some correlation between heavily liked content and organic rankings. We could see that many pages with high numbers of social Likes and Shares ranked well in search. What we didn’t know was if there was causation attached to that, in that the Likes and Shares increased rankings, or if it was simple correlation. It wasn’t until 2014 that the former head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, cleared that up.

Causation – vs – Correlation

Here’s a link to an article that I originally wrote back in 2014, on the issue of social signals and authority on Google, which I recently republished. It includes that video of Matt Cutts outlining Google’s (then) viewpoint on social signals. In essence, Matt was saying that the content was good to begin with – and that’s what it was ranking. The Likes and Shares were incidental. I’ve never really been fully convinced by that argument. What I am convinced of is that the Google algorithm is becoming smart enough to differentiate the value of a social signal, in much the same way that it can differentiate the value of a particular backlink.

Tiger Woods and sub-aquatic golf shoes

I often use the example with clients of me stumbling across a web page about golf shoes, and Liking it. Google knows (or should know) from my social media pages that I don’t play golf. I like to scuba dive in my leisure time. Unless the page is about sub-aquatic golf shoes, I don’t think that my opinion about them is really that relevant. On the other hand, if Tiger Woods was to stumble across the same page, and he Liked it, that would be an entirely different matter. If Greg Norman saw that Like on Tiger’s Facebook feed (I’m assuming they are friends on Facebook here) then himself visited the page and Liked it, that would be cause for excitement! Two golfing greats Liking a page about a particular type of golf shoes is something that golfers would want to know about.

By the way, I stole this paragraph from the article I wrote back in 2014. I’ve used the example endless times to demonstrate my point. Back to linkless mentions…

The linkless mention

Time has already proven right much of what Chris and I figured out back in 2011. It’s crystal clear to me that non-linked mentions will impact rankings in the long-term, as Google’s incredibly complex algorithm becomes even better at working out and understanding context and figuring out attribution. I’d be very surprised if their algorithm doesn’t contain the seeds of that already, with a heavy dose of artificial intelligence constantly “learning” more about the individual authority behind any sort of mention or signal.

What’s better: search or social?

Ah, yes. The divide between search and social is crumbling and has been for years. I know FOR SURE that the kind of content that I could (and often did) rank ten or even five years ago would not make into Google’s top 100, let alone the top three search results, today. I’m now focused on the discovery of my websites rather than just chasing search rankings. Whilst my websites rank like demons in search, I can tell you that blogs and social media now drives primary discovery of most of my web properties – and inquiries.

Organic search traffic is generally better quality traffic, probably because it’s so damned specific and people are actually LOOKING for that content. The differences between organic traffic and social traffic are in fact quite stark. Just the same, social provides one hell of a lot more visitation than search does, for me. Here’s an example using some stats from this website:

ORGANIC SEARCH TRAFFIC
Percentage of visits to website: 10.9%
Average Bounce rate: 12.82%
Average time on website: 22:38 mins
Average page visits: 13.10

SOCIAL MEDIA TRAFFIC
Percentage of visits to website: 57.8%
Average Bounce rate: 26.21%
Average time on website: 8:04 mins
Average page visits: 5.52

Back to linkless mentions

Damn! – this post sure has drifted a bit! Anyway, the point is that I believe simple mentions on the internet, in the right places, will increasingly be enough to drive traffic and visitation – regardless of link status. Google has always claimed that “content is king” – although that wasn’t actually true until quite recent times. It’s already crystal clear that Google’s artificial intelligence is becoming smart enough to consider non-linked signals and could very well be doing that already. Exciting times!