Historically, a significant part of Google’s search ranking algorithms relied on links as a way of determining the trust level of a website. However, after many years of dubious link schemes’ continued evolutions to try and outsmart Google and Bing, links are no longer necessarily trusted. This led to Google’s PageRank tool being retired from public use in early 2016. Even big online content producers like Wikipedia, Entrepreneur and Forbes are wary of being penalised by search engines through links. They now employ “nofollow outgoing links” to avoid potential loss of reputation.
The new link building strategy of today of linkless link building which is brand mentions. Anytime your brand is mentioned online without using links, these mentions could be used by search engines to determine your search engine results page presence.
In September 2017 Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes inferred in his keynote address at Brighton SEO that social mentions and brand mentions whether linked or not are used to determine site authority. This is backed up by Google’s Panda patent and Google’s Search Quality Guidelines; both of which state that implied links, citations and mentions of brands that are judged as reputable count toward rankings.
Duane Forrestor, former Senior Product Manager at Bing was quoted as saying: “Years ago, Bing figured out context and sentiment of tone and how to associate mentions without a link…As the volume of trustworthy mentions grows, you’ll get a bump in the rankings”.
So now that you know what linkless link building is, how do you make the most of this?
Track mentions of your brand
The first step is to find a monitoring tool that will scour the web on your behalf searching for mentions of your brand and products. You want to choose a monitoring tool that searches a variety of different types of online media including review platforms, question and answer forums, and social networks. Awario is a popular tool that offers a 14-day free trial and has its own web crawler. Google Alerts and Talkwalker Alerts are free versions of Awario. Mention is another popular alert service.
Once you’ve found a tool, create an alert for each of your products and brands. Some tools have added options to see the “reach” metric of the mentions they find, or track the sentiment of the mentions into positive, neutral and negative.
Don’t forget to also set up alerts for some of your closest competitors so that you can see how their brand sentiment is tracking and learn from their mistakes.
Encourage people to talk about your brand or products online
Similar to normal link building, you need to grow your mentions. You can do this by encouraging customers to leave reviews of your business. Trip Advisor is a popular review site for tourism businesses, as is Yelp for restaurants and GoodReads for books. If you have a Google+ page or Google My Business account (and I recommend that you set one up if you don’t) you can encourage people to leave reviews there. Businesses with Facebook pages have an inbuilt reviews option through their page. App developers can get reviews for their apps on Google Play Store; podcast producers through iTunes. Whatever your industry there will be a review platform for your niche. Find it and encourage your clients and customers to use it. While you may feature reviews on your own website these do not garner much trust with the search engine giants as they are not independent.
Other ways to continue to grow mentions is to sell a good volume of products through your social media sites or provide responsive and helpful customer service on social media. Viral posts on social media is another great way to get taken seriously. If you partner with authoritative people in your industry who have good search engine rankings themselves, this will also count in your favour, as will using influencer marketing. But avoid getting into business with just anyone as it is going to be far more advantageous to have fewer, high quality, powerful businesses and individuals mentioning your company than lots of dubious or mediocre thought leaders citing you or those whose skills and industries are unrelated.
Hire Public Relations or Research Consultants
Not every business will need to do this, though most businesses would find it valuable. This is especially important though for businesses who set up brand mention alerts and find that the public perception of their products and company is terrible. A research company can help find and interview your customers over the phone, online, or in focus groups in person and get them to share their opinions very candidly. Research services are quite pricey but the benefit is that consumers are more open with researchers because they are independent and therefore won’t censor their thoughts. This lets you know what the issues are, so you can then come up with a PR campaign with the help of a Public Relations professional to turn around public perception. But be aware that a lot of negative mentions come from providing bad customer service so you’ll need to fix your issues in-house before going on a PR offensive.
Optimise your off-page SEO
Finally, optimise your off-page SEO. Off-page SEO is all the elements of SEO that don’t occur on your own website e.g. social media activity, online reviews, influencer marketing etc. For guidelines on how to master the art of off-page SEO check out this comprehensive guide here. Because most of the elements of off-page SEO are the same critical factors that are necessary for brand mentions and reputation, it makes sense that cleaning up your off-page SEO be part of your overall linkless link building strategy.
Follow up on negative feedback ASAP
One of the benefits of subscribing to brand mentions and checking them religiously is that many customer complaints or negative brand mentions can be dealt with very simply if you catch them and offer an appropriate solution to the customer quickly after the occurrence.
There you have it, a few simple tips and tricks to boost your linkless link building and improve your search rankings and online reputation.