The Value of Non-Linking Coverage
There is – now more than ever – a drive to evidence the value of all your PR efforts as part of a broader SEO strategy. And backlinks are so often at the forefront of what many digitally focused PR teams are now doing; they are frequently considered the primary metric of success.
As such, getting media coverage without a link may be perceived a failure. These results may even be deemed worthless by some.
But the reality is that great quality online coverage is far from worthless, and it has never been more important to evaluate and report on all your PR results – whether linking or not.
In this blog, we’re discussing the importance of non-linking coverage – sometimes called brand mentions, brand citations or implied links. We’re also going to be showing you the value these add to both brand building and SEO growth strategies, and how you can find and report on these results alongside backlinks.
In this blog, we discuss:
- The various names for non-linking coverage
- Why quality and relevancy really matter
- The brand benefits of non-linking coverage
- The search benefits of non-linking coverage
- What the search engines think of brand mentions
- How brand mentions can impact your organic rankings
- How to find non-linking coverage
- Reporting on the value of your non-linking coverage
The various names for non-linking coverage
There are several different names for coverage that doesn’t include a hyperlink, so it can be confusing. You may have heard this described as…
- Non-linking coverage
- Brand mentions
- Brand citations
- Implied links
All four are largely the same in that they all refer to an instance of your brand/product/service being talked about, but your website not being linked to.
When reviewing non-linking coverage, we advise that the brand name should be referenced in the context of the copy. Not having that brand name included makes it tricky for anyone – your audience and Google/Bing – to link this back to you and reward you for being featured and therefore trusted as an expert or thought leader on a specific topic.
Why quality and relevancy count
For a lot of brands, their PR metrics focus specifically on a volume of results. While volume can be important in establishing brand recall with target audiences and share of voice versus competitors, it’s also key that the coverage and backlinks earned are of good quality and relevant to you.
Whether a small brand or a household name, quality, and relevancy matter, and this also carries across to both linking and non-linking coverage. We shouldn’t immediately assume that a backlink is better than a piece of non-linking coverage without really evaluating the quality and relevancy of the placement and the content itself.
We should always be striving to earn the best possible results we can.
That means that…
- The coverage is on a website that is relevant to the brand and will reach the target audience
- It discusses a relevant topic (even if it’s not directly talking about a product or service)
- It may also be very naturally keyword rich
- It evidences your expertise – perhaps because you have a named spokesperson quote included.
Ultimately, good PR results show that you’re an expert in your sector, that you can be trusted, and help to build your authority.
The brand benefits of non-linking coverage
On average it takes five to seven impressions for people to remember your brand. That means that creating more positive brand exposure is only ever going to be a good thing. You need your audience to see your brand name (in context) again and again – brand recall matters.
But this isn’t the only broad brand benefit of non-linking coverage. It also has the potential to…
- Increase brand awareness overall
- Increase brand authority
- Increase brand trust
People buy from brands they know, and brands they have faith will deliver the product or service they’re expecting.
Non-linking coverage contributes to all these things. That said, unless you have specific brand tracking tools in place, it can be tricky to directly correlate any impact back to PR. Luckily, there are other more tangible SEO metrics we can track too.
The search benefits of non-linking coverage
Looking at things such as changes to brand search volume or branded traffic over time can be helpful in illustrating the value of great quality, non-linking brand mentions.
If you have lots of different types of marketing activity happening, then you may not be able to pinpoint that one PR piece that ‘moves of the needle’, but constantly monitoring these can better enable us to spot fluctuations, which in turn makes it easier to link activities with impact.
In addition to this, there is also a strong argument that non-linking brand mentions pass some authority in the eyes of Google and Bing.
What the search engines think of brand mentions
We know that search engines look at backlinks and use these as part of their ranking algorithms. As such, earning links has become a key element of any SEO strategy. Non-linking coverage is often forgotten though because many people aren’t aware that search engines can find these too, and that they’re considering these when determining what content to serve to people.
So, what do we know? Well, Bing set the record straight some time ago. They clarified that they look at mentions without a link and that trustworthy mentions can help with rankings.
We again see evidence here of the importance of quality, relevant coverage.
Google is typically less transparent, but it has released various pieces of documentation that outline that they work in a very similar way to Bing.
- Their Patent mentions ‘implied links’ aka, non-linking coverage
A 2014 Google patent relating to ranking search results specifically references ‘implied links’. It says…
“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.”
2. Their ‘How it Works’ description of rankings references content separately to links to content
This documentation direct from Google states that it uses either links or references to content (or both) of these when determining what results to serve to a user.
3. Their Search Quality Guidelines say that reputable, external references to a brand play a role in rankings
The Search Quality Guidelines – a document used by Google’s quality evaluators who rate web pages in SERPs – says that…
“…for Page Quality rating, you must also look for outside, independent reputation information about the website. When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources.”
Essentially, it looks at how external websites talk about brands and listens, whether there is a link there or not.
How brand mentions can impact your organic rankings
What we can surmise from both the statement from Bing’s Vice President of Organic Search Operations and Google’s various policy documents is that:
- It is important to get mentions from reputable websites that are relevant to you
- They can find, and do look at, unlinked brand mentions and the content surrounding these
- They can create a connection between a search term and the site visited
- They store that information and use it in the context of unlinked mentions to help weight rankings
This is as close to the black-and-white evidence we need that search engines are looking at mentions as a measure of authority. It’s totally logical that Google and Bing reward brands that people talk about online over those that are simply good at manipulating the algorithm.
It should be noted that of course brand mentions can’t pass PageRank – but it is well known this has never been the sole factor that Google uses for rankings anyway – so this alone shouldn’t put you off tracking and reporting on those non linking citations.
How to find non-linking coverage
So, we’ve determined that non linking brand mentions are far from worthless.
We may not be able to put a specific ‘value’ on each one, but we can’t do this with a single link anyway. We must look at the bigger picture and that means tracking and reporting on everything we’ve earned. But where can you find mentions?
Well, there are a whole array of different tools out there such as Kantar and Signal, but these can be expensive.
Google Alerts is great as an ‘always on’ free tool, but it is unlikely to catch everything.
Doing simple searches can pull up a lot more, but you need to be thorough. We recommend searching not just on Google, but also on Bing too, and don’t just search by brand name, but look up spokesperson names, specific campaign statistics or do reverse image searches too.
Social media mentions can also reveal media mentions you may have otherwise missed as a journalist or publication may tweet you or reference you in a tweet about a story you’re included in.
Reporting on the value of your non-linking coverage
Once you’ve found your mentions, you then need to report on them.
If you report on non-linking results independently to linking results, then they’ll always be perceived as being different or less valuable. You can then end up playing a pure numbers game, and only ever looking at the volume of results and not the relevancy and quality of them.
A ‘good’ campaign isn’t just about hitting a specific volume of results, it’s about making sure each result is authoritative, genuinely impactful to your audience and relevant.
A target website wishlist that is bespoke to you can help you really identify when a specific result is ‘good’ for you. Every brand and website are unique, therefore their wishlist will be unique too.
A bespoke scoring or tiering system is worthwhile exploring too – you may assess each result for its relevancy, spokesperson inclusion, key message penetration and so on. Ultimately, what is the quality of ALL the coverage you’ve earned? A link is the cherry on top, not the be all and end all.
Once you’ve set up your bespoke system it should then be applied to all your hard-earned results. Don’t treat linking coverage differently – assess the relevancy and quality of everything side by side. You may find that some non-linking results earn a higher ‘score’ in your system because they tick more boxes. For example, they’re on more relevant sites, the copy context is more thematically relevant to you and keyword rich, there is a referenced spokesperson and so on. We shouldn’t be sacrificing relevancy and quality just to get a link.
Finally, make sure all results are considered as part of your SEO reporting. If you only ever share the linking coverage, then you’re not monitoring the whole story and it can be even trickier to correlate an uplift in traffic with PR performance.
In summary, non-linking coverage counts, but all results should be relevant and of a good quality. Treating every result in the same way and evaluating everything using the same system will enable you to see the standout pieces you can really be proud of.