You probably know by now that getting other websites to link to your website ie. “Link Building” is a really important part of SEO. But I think this focus is misplaced and often leads to webmasters pursuing the wrong activities. I’d like to make the case that we should be focusing on getting ‘mentions,’ that is getting our businesses named and discussed (ie. ‘cited’) on other websites, rather than obsessing over the hyperlinks themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognise that the buck still stops with the hyperlink and these are what Google is actually counting, although there is some evidence that mentions alone (without links) are enough to positively effect rankings. Once you have a mention its fairly easy to get a link added but getting the mention in the first place is the hard part. Focusing on mentions also has other benefits such as increased brand awareness which doesn’t necessarily come with ‘link building.’
At the route of this idea is the fact that there are two different types of links;
- Linked mentions – instances where the entity (business, organisation, website, individual etc.) has been mentioned on a webpage e.g. in an article, and a link to the entity’s website is included
- Links without mentions – instances where a link to the entity’s website is included without the webpage actually mentioning or referring to the entity
While both link types are useful, the second type usually comes as a result of activities designed to attract the first type, so it makes sense to go after the first type as your primary objective.
Its also important to note the difference when doing backlink analysis because with the first type its usually fairly obvious why the link was given, while with the second type its more mysterious and requires some guesswork.
Once an entity is mentioned on a webpage, in an article for example, its fairly natural that a link to the entity’s website would also be included. Therefore, the question becomes ‘why was the mention given,’ rather than ‘why was the link given.’ To determine the mention reason you can look at the context of the link including the text around it and heading of the page.
Some common reasons for mentions include;
- The source URL website (mentioning website) has created a structured list or directory of resources and the target URL website (mentioned entity) fits the criteria for inclusion e.g. business directory, membership list, list of useful articles etc.
- The mentioned entity has done something newsworthy which is being covered in an article or blog post e.g. hosting an event, making an important announcement, running a competition, winning or being shortlisted in a competition etc.
- The author of the mention is/was a customer/user of the mentioned entity and they have written about their experience e.g. formal review, personal blog post, forum post, social media post, review posted on a review site
- The mentioned entity has given something of value to the mentioning website and been mentioned in return e.g. sponsorships, paid links, advertisements, advertorials, paid endorsements [note: these types of ‘value exchange’ links are black hat]
- The mentioned entity is affiliated with the mentioning website in some way and has been mentioned as a result e.g. a web designer’s portfolio, a list of stockists for a particular product
- A key person from the mentioned entity has been cited, interviewed, quoted or has made a contribution to an article or page and the entity has been mentioned as part of the key person’s bio e.g. interview, guest post, article including a quote
- The mentioned entity is interesting enough to be the primary subject of an article on the mentioning website e.g. a business profile article
- The mentioned entity has produced some content or resource which has been referenced by the mentioning website because it helps to further or support their argument, provide further information or act as an example which enriches the content piece e.g. a survey or study, a useful how to article, a comprehensive list of resources, a case study
Any of the reasons above can also be helped along by the addition of a value exchange (black hat) or affiliation/relationship between the mentioned and mentioning entities.
In cases where a link has been given without a mention, the reason for the link is usually not obvious but is likely one of the following;
- The page being linked to (Target URL) is a reference, resource or example that supports the point that the author is trying to communicate and the link is being given purely on those merits
- There is some kind of relationship or affiliation between the target and source URL websites and the link is being given purely due to that relationship
- The website doing the linking (Source URL website) has been paid in some way to include the link
- Some combination of the above reasons e.g. the target URL is an example that supports the point of the author but the link has also been encouraged by some kind of affiliation and/or payment
How to Get Mentions
Ok, that’s the theory, now here’s some tactics you can use to get mentions for your business.
- Build up a comprehensive website with detailed information about the products and services you offer and answering every possible question your potential customers might have. Audit competitor websites to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Include rich media including illustrations, diagrams, photos, animations, videos and audio. This sets an excellent base for when you want other websites to reference you because your website is so obviously comprehensive and useful
- Engage with your industry and local community by organising and participating in events, collaborating on projects, speaking at events, putting yourself forward to be interviewed, contribute to relevant discussion boards, linkedin groups, social media communities etc.
- Work on creating a great business that people want to talk about and recommend. Read the Referral Engine for ideas.
- Give away free or discounted ‘review copies’ of your product or service to social media influencers, bloggers and writers at local and industry specific websites
- Have an opinion about industry developments and news and put it out there to set you up as an authority and encourage others to quote and reference you
- Form partnerships and affiliations with other entities that share your target customer and target topic
- Engage a PR agency to create possible story angles and pitch them to large website and media outlets as well as keeping an eye out for PR opportunities as they come up (we suggest Rhetoric Communications)
- Promoting your business in general and business news to people within your network and communities including through your social profiles and email list
When your business is mentioned, a link will quite often be included naturally, but, if it hasn’t, you can always reach out to the mentioning website and ask if they could include a link. They will usually oblige unless there’s some specific reason why they didn’t link, such as an editorial policy at a news agency.
You should put email alerts in place to be notified about mentions when they occur so you can check if they are linked and also keep up with who is talking about you. A good policy is to always reach out to websites when they mention you and thank them.