Getting More Website Traffic Without Anchor Text
According to Rand Fishkin, anchor text isn't dying. It's getting a makeover. For years, the way to "get ranked" was to use backlinks to a particular page. The king of links was the anchor text. The site with the most backlinks won. Then, Google got a little smarter. It started looking more closely at websites that linked to each other, and where sites were being linked from. It was eventually able to reverse-engineer sophisticated link farms. Clearly, enough people had figured out how to game the system that Google had to do something.
What it eventually did back in 2011 seems to have gone somewhat unnoticed by a lot of folks. Namely, Google started shifting emphasis away from anchor text. Where, then, would new focus be placed. Google needs to use some kind of information to rank websites doesn't it? Of course. This is where Fishkin's prediction makes a lot of sense.
He believes that Google will start placing more and more emphasis on co-occurance. In other words, Google will rely on citations more than anchor text. He cites a couple of examples. One of the coolest is ThomasNet. This site ranks for the search phrase "manufacturing directory." But look at the site's placement and then what's on the site:
As of this writing, this is what the homepage looks like:
There's no mention of the term "manufacturing directory" anywhere on the site. Even the title tag reads "ThomasNet® - Product Sourcing and Supplier Discovery Platform".
Why is this site ranking so highly for this term? It's not using any of the classic SEO tactics and on-page optimization strategies that most companies use. It's not even trying to target that search term at all. Rand thinks it's because of co-citations.
What's a Co-Citation?
Basically, it's when a company (or individual) mentions a website without linking to it. Let's say someone is blogging about ThomasNet and starts talking about how awesome its directory is. This blogger can find everything he needs, and he's writing a blurb about it on his blog. A few visitors drop a comment and thank the blogger for his recommendation. Meanwhile, on this blogger's page, the words "directory" ThomasNet," "manufacturing directory," and a few other related terms all appear together on the page.
If you get enough bloggers doing this, talking about ThomasNet and how it's a manufacturing directing or is related to that industry, Google starts associating ThomasNet with "manufacturing directory." It doesn't matter whether there's a link pointing to the site or not. Google's making the association. It's making the association because the algorithm is using citations - mentions - of the target website as a ranking signal.
This is a pretty clever move on the part of Google. Matt Cutts has said, on various occasions, that SEOs should just focus on giving the user a good on-site experience and let Google handle the ranking. Cutts has also commented on exact-match-domains (EMDs), stating that webmasters should focus on building a brand rather than chasing keywords. Add it all up, and it starts to make sense - Google's steady elimination of keyword data from its keyword tool and analytics program, its de-emphasizing of anchor text, its focus on co-citations, its suggestion to focus on brand-building, and its somewhat-recent EMD algorithm fix.
We know Google trusts citations and uses them (at least in part) to rank websites accordingly. Are you going to change your inbound marketing strategy to take advantage of it? Have you noticed any ranking changes based on increased citations?