One of the main SEO factors that Google and other search engines take into account when ranking your website are backlinks. If there are plenty of links pointing from other, reputable websites to yours, that signals the search engines that your website offers valuable content, and that it can be trusted. As a result, your website would show up higher inside the search engine results for a particular keyword. But, as is the case with just about any other SEO practice, link building has been used and abused all over the map. Links are often exchanged or bought, but Google has gotten smarter about identifying this sort of practice, thanks to its advanced algorithms.
Also, there have been plenty of other things which have complicated things for SEO and link building specialists. The emergence of social media, voice search, and AI has changed the game, which means that links are no longer as important. That doesn’t mean that they are on their way out. You should still aim to build quality links, but you should also focus on “linkless backlinks” or “linkless mentions”, which are exactly what they sound like. Every time someone mentions your business or brand online, be it on social media, forums, or even inside comments or reviews, Google and Bing will pick up on it, and if the mention is relevant, they will use it as a ranking factor.
Now, let’s take a closer look at how linkless backlinks are created, and what you need to do in order to make them work for you and your brand. We have gotten Matthew Robson, who works for MyMathDone as the head of SEO, to help us out, seeing as their company is already relying on the benefits of linkless links.
How Do Linkless Links Work?
In the past, at least when it comes to Google, an algorithm known as PageRank has been used to describe the authority of your page. We say authority, and not ranking, because there are plenty of other factors that determine your actual ranking. The first sign that something was about to change was the removal of PageRank from Google’s tool bar a couple of years ago.
So how does Google value linkless links when they don’t have any actual links or anchor text? It’s pretty simple in theory. Every time someone looks up your brand online or uses it inside one of the search engine queries in a relevant way, and then clicks on one of the results, Google builds a connection between your brand and the website which has mentioned your brand. Of course, it helps that Google has gotten smarter and is able to figure out the context of the mention.
How Do We Know that Linkless Links Are an Actual Thing?
As usual, Google has been very tight-lipped about it in the beginning. Not that they are willing to share everything right now, but they have let us know that linkless links are the future on more than one occasion. The first clue was planted back in 2014, when Google was filing a patent for its Panda algorithm. The patent mentions something called “implied links”, and says that they could be as important as traditional backlinks:
“The system determines a count of independent links for the group (step 302). […] Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. […] An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.”
Then there was the keynote speech of Google’s very own analyst Gary Illyes back in 2017 at Brighton SEO, where he discreetly mentioned the value of linkless backlinks. His exact words were:
“If you publish high-quality content that is highly cited on the internet — and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that. Then you are doing great.”
Also, linkless links have also been mentioned by Bing’s Duane Forrester, who spoke about them at SMX West 2016, and pointed out that they carry just as much weight as traditional links:
“Years ago, Bing figured out context and sentiment of tone, and how to associate mentions without a link. As the volume grows and trustworthiness of this mention is known, you’ll get a bump in rankings as a trial.”
Building a Reputation in Addition to Links
Now, while it may seem there isn’t much you can do when it comes to other people mentioning your brand, that is fortunately not the case. After all, you didn’t passively wait for someone to link back to your website, did you? Well, it is exactly the same with linkless mentions. You can do the following:
- Encourage Customers to Leave Online Reviews – by inviting your customers to leave a review, you are also implicitly getting them to mention your brand, which is great, if it is mentioned in a positive way. In case the review is negative, you should respond in a way which will not damage your reputation, by either offering a solution or taking the issue offline.
- Boost Your PR Activities – if your business can afford it, you should hire a PR specialist which is capable of getting the press to mention your brand inside a positive context and spread awareness about it.
- Write Guest Posts – the best thing about guest blogging is that it also works for linkless mentions. The problem with traditional backlinks is that you were only allowed to insert just one in most cases, but here, you get to have your cake and eat it to. You can link to whatever you want and mention your brand without a link inside the article, and it will work as if you have created two backlinks.
- Start a Conversation on Social Media – social media is great not just for building awareness about your brand, but also for getting a conversation going about your brand. In order to do that, you should engage your followers and respond to their comments and questions every so often. Once you get your followers talking, they will start mentioning your brand and mentions will spread like wildfire.
- Check Out What Your Competition Is Doing – in addition to keeping an eye on the mentions of your own brand, you should also look out for the mentions of competing brands. That way, you can learn from their mistakes, rather than your own, and improve upon what they are doing right in order to get ahead of them.
Watch Out for Mentions
During the process of link building, you were probably using tools and apps which have helped you to track your backlinks and analyze them. Well, you will need to do more of the same when it comes linkless links, but with slightly different tools:
- Awario – this powerful tool allows you to track all the brand mentions online, and enables you to use different metrics, including the “reach” metric, which lets you gauge the level of influence of a person who commented on your brand. If the commenter is influential, it is the equivalent of an authority website linking back to your website.
- Google Alerts – if you haven’t been using this one already, please do so. Google Alerts is totally free and allows you to keep track of all the brand mentions online, as well as keywords in your industry.
- Mention – with this tool, you can do all the basic stuff, such as tracking your brand mentions based on different criteria, such as language or even sentiment. In addition to that, you can also make use of the comparison tool, which allows you to view how you stack up against your competition.
While linkless links may seem less complex from a technical point of view, they still require you to do a great deal of reputation building and management. That means engaging in conversation with your followers and/or customers and providing a positive experience for them, as well as responding to positive and negative reviews, among other things. If you can do that, rest assured that you will improve your ranking in no time.