You may have noticed there are sites ranking well for competitive keywords, despite rarely mentioning those terms on page, or using dominant practices such as targeting keywords in the title tag. Additionally in many cases, such sites are ranking better than others who obviously and specifically optimize for those terms. So how is this occurring, and how does Google know those sites are relevant to that search?
As speculated in detail by Rand Fishkin (@randfish) in his Nov 2012 WBF post: ‘Prediction: Anchor Text is Weakening, And May Be Replaced by Co-Occurence,’ this may be happening due to a gradual Google preference for co-citation over anchor text – something to consider for the future of SEO. So what is co-citation?
- Co-Citation – This is the idea that search engines can see, associate and build relationships between key terms the more frequently they appear together. If particular terms repeatedly co-cite, or appear together across a variety of pages, ever-smarter search engines are predicted to ‘learn’ term relationships, even if an associated term was not searched for or mentioned in the first place.
- Co-Occurrence – Confusingly, but perhaps more correctly, this may also be referenced as co-occurrence (the frequent occurrence of relevant terms together).
Why is co-citation important for the future of SEO?
The start of search results by association. As Google tries to avoid manipulation of its algorithm, link-building anchor text may likely diminish in the future, with more priority placed on co-citation:
- Currently, having keyword targeted anchor text, (aka. text links) is seen as best practice SEO, but is becoming unreliable – anchor text is easily adjusted so may not always be as relevant as it should be to the page subject.
- If co-citation predictions are right (and they seem likely considering Google’s preference for promoting natural search relevancy and quality – seen with the panda and penguin updates), then link building anchor text signals may begin to be disregarded in future.
- So will co-citation benefit SEO?It’s hard to say. Google is constantly evolving, but if Rand Fishkin’s predictions are correct, this could change the entire approach to SEO towards more organic, true SERPS.
What this will mean for SEO professionals?
- Having relevant, widespread content which mentions the terms you want to optimize for will be of increasing importance, and the value of considered copy and content will increase. (Think wider reaching latent semantic indexing….)
- Building widespread semantic relationships will be difficult, but is worth considering now. Associating key terms (getting organization names mentioned in close proximity to terms in articles, say, or encouraging reviews) may require time to build detailed outreach relationships. Generating quality, targeted copy will also require a little time investment.
- Because of such difficulties, it is easy to see why Google might show a preference for co citation: It offers a more accurate reflection of an organization’s actual influence and web authority.
Remember this is still a largely speculative prediction, but may be worth addressing and considering strategically now. By no means does this predict the complete extinction of anchor text – it will still play its part, but it looks to be losing dominance to co-citation.
Co-Citation Image Credit: Wikipedia