Does Google Use Brand Mentions For SEO?
In the world of SEO, there are many myths, half-truths and misinformation when it comes to ranking on Google – but that’s kind of expected when you’re working with (or against, depending on your perspective) 200+ different ranking signals and many different algorithms, all of which are closed source and continuously manipulated through undisclosed machine learning.
In this blog, we will be looking at one of the big myths of off-page SEO: can brand mentions across the web impact your rankings? Let’s dive right into it!
What Is A Brand Mention?
Firstly, it’s important to clear up exactly what we are describing as a “brand mention.” We are not including little things like a blog comment mentioning your company name, we are only discussing things where your brand is cited as a source or useful resource, but not hyperlinked. Here’s an example:
“According to Statista, mobile devices accounted for 54% of global website traffic in 2021.”
In that example, I have clearly taken useful information from another website and attributed the correct source – but I have not included any hyperlink. This is a brand mention.
What Does Google Say?
Google’s public answers have been pretty clear on the topic: un-hyperlinked mentions will not be treated as a backlink and will not do anything for your SEO. As recent as April 2022, John Mueller was pretty clear in saying that if it is not a hyperlink, it will not pass any ranking signals.
“I mean… First of all, if there’s no link to your pages then it’s not really a link there. So it’s not something that we would see, kind of like, oh it’s a half link worth of mention or something like that. Essentially, there is no link, so there is no signal passing like there would be with any normal link there. […] That doesn’t mean that these mentions are bad or that you need to avoid them or anything like that. It’s really just, we don’t treat these as links. And that’s about it.” – John Mueller
John Mueller also answered a similar question in December 2021, where he similarly states that brand mentions are not used as if they were backlinks.
“I don’t think we use [brand mentions] at all for things like PageRank or understanding the link graph of a website. And just plain mentions are sometimes kind of tricky to figure out anyway.” – John Mueller
He also explains the issues Google would face by trying to accurately incorporate brand mentions as a ranking signal.
However, we do know that unlinked URLs are actually used by Google. They will not impact your rankings, but they can be used to “influence” Google to discover the page, even if it is not an actual link. The difference here is that it still has to be written as if it were a hyperlink, but it’s not within an <a> tag. This was confirmed by John Mueller way back in 2013.
Additionally, during a conversation between Danny Sullivan and Gary Illyes back in 2016, Gary mentions that a team in Google were looking at a way to accurately measure a website/company’s brand awareness in a way which could be used for search engines. Although nothing more has been said about that ever since.
So, we can see that in the past Google has at least looked into a possible way of using brand awareness to impact search rankings. On top of that, we know Google does use un-hyperlinked URLs to discover new pages but not influence rankings.
What Do The Patents Say?
So we’ve looked at what the Googlers have publicly said about unlinked brand mentions for SEO, but what do the patents say?
Well, Google actually does have an approved patent on how to deal with this exact scenario. It comes under the Google Panda patent, which was filed in 2012 and approved in 2014 (Panda was actually launched in 2011). In that patent we can see this excerpt:
“The system determines a count of independent links for the group (step 302). A link for a group of resources is an incoming link to a resource in the group, i.e., a link having a resource in the group as its target. Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. An express link, e.g., a hyperlink, is a link that is included in a source resource that a user can follow to navigate to a target resource. 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.”
Here we can clearly see that Google calculates how to weight or pass signals through two types of links:
- Express Link: a clear link using <a> tags
- Implied Link: a reference to another page, but cannot actually be navigated to through a click (not using <a> tags.)
The patent couples both links together and explains how both links can be used in conjunction within any rank modification formulas – aka an implied link can be used for ranking as if it were an express link.
However, it is important to note that just because Google has a patent for something does not mean it is actively using it in their algorithms. Really, the best thing we can do is to take John Mueller’s recent advice that implied links are not used in rankings.
So to accurately conclude, there is no real evidence to suggest that implied links are being used for ranking signals in 2022.
- We see that Google has previously looked at the possibility of incorporating implied links for rankings in the past (including a patented method and openly discussing how engineers were looking to aggregate brand awareness into a metric for rankings)
- We can see that unlinked URLs can be used by Google to discover a new page, but they are not used for rankings.
- The most recent advice as of April 2022 is that implied links do not pass ranking signals at all, only actual backlinks will pass ranking signals.
Outside of implied links, there are other ways in which brand mentions can be used for SEO. In the same Panda patent, it is also outlined how searches for your brand can be used to modify your site-wide rankings:
“[…] For example, the modification factor can be a ratio of the number of independent links for the group to the number of reference queries for the group. That is, the modification factor (M) can be expressed as: M=IL/RQ, where IL is the number of independent links counted for the group of resources and RQ is the number of reference queries counted for the group of resources.”
Here, we can see how Google could determine the validity of your backlinks by the popularity of your brand – a popular brand is bound to have a lot of backlinks. But if your website has a lot of backlinks but very little brand searches, Google will understand the possibility that your backlinks are probably manipulated and will therefore impose an algorithm penalty to demote your website rankings.
There is also a video from 2014 where Matt Cutts explains how Google were trying to separate popularity from authority at the time, and how they were looking to tweak their algorithms to better rank popular websites even if they perhaps don’t have a lot of backlinks (authority.) It is important to note that Google absolutely does not use website traffic as a ranking signal, so they cannot judge popularity in that way. Instead, if we look at the previous example in the Panda patent, we can see that Google is most likely to judge a website’s popularity through branded search volumes and click distributions.