Harnessing Co-Citation to Improve Your Search Rankings

pointThe concept of SEO co-citation is not new. Not too long ago, inbound links and anchor text were driving indicators for KW term authority. Once Google wised up to the fact that many webmasters were creating or latching onto entire networks of “bogus” blogs, and genre-centric sites, for the explicit purpose of inflating their inbound link counts, it changed its algorithms to place far more emphasis on the quality of a given site’s inbound links.

In fact, link quantity is now important mainly as it pertains to link quality.

Taking it further – In the realm of true co-citation, (as engines like Google are getting smarter) the need for an actual link even becomes less important. In fact, Google has become so smart that co-citation may even help sites rank for terms they are not specifically optimizing for.

Quality Over Quantity

A website that features just a handful of inbound links (or text citations) from “authoritative” sources might enjoy higher rankings than a site that features dozens of inbound links from low-quality or “spammy” sources.

Authoritative sources tend to be highly-trafficked websites that boast well-written content and feature high-quality inbound links and citations from other “authoritative” sources. This concept is the crux of co-citation.

When a search engine discovers a connection between a site that it knows to be authoritative and your own site, it will tend to favor your page (or site) as a high-quality source as well (or at least more-so with that connection than without it) and rank it accordingly. In other words, your association with other high-quality sources (as well as the sources they are associated with [assuming they too are quality]) will make you look better by default.


Laying the Groundwork

This arrangement makes for a very complex, collaborative and interconnected Web ecosystem. In a sense, Google’s increasingly sophisticated algorithms have created order out of the freewheeling chaos of the Internet’s early years. They are creating the zoning regulations and communities that define any large population center. Within the mass of sites that we call the World Wide Web, well-regarded websites now belong to attractive “gated communities” that enjoy some insulation from the rough-and-tumble neighborhoods that surround them.

A Blast from Your Math-Class Past

This “inclusive gated-community” metaphor is driven home by the transitive nature of modern co-citation.
If you loved math in school, you’ll be happy to learn that the transitive property is alive and well here.

The concept is simple if not completely intuitive.

(Assuming a “neighbor” is anyone in your neighborhood)

If house A is a neighbor to house B
and house B is a neighbor to house C
House A is a neighbor to house C

Basically, your website doesn’t simply benefit from direct connections to other high-quality sites. It also benefits from the connections that its linked sites enjoy as well. If some of the quality sites that link to you also link to other high-quality sites, Google’s algorithms will assume that your site is a high-quality source of information.

In other words, your organization may benefit from its indirect association with other well-regarded organizations. You’ll be a member of a selective yet inclusive community that reinforces the reputations of its neighbors.

Put another way, it’s important that your organization establish itself as a credible source. If you’re inclined to think of your website as a college-level research report, you’ll obviously want to make sure that the “sources” that it cites are reputable. At the same time, you’ll also want to ensure that it’s associated with other top-notch “sources.”

This is the equivalent of an “A”-level report citing your own research report as a primary source. Imagine how impressed your professor would be with your work if it served as a primary source for your peers’ own research reports!

Co-Citation is a double-edged sword. If you harness its power effectively by associating with other well-ranked, well-regarded websites, co-citation can improve the visibility and reputation of your organization. On the other hand, it’s important to avoid buying into the antiquated notion that the quantity of your site’s inbound links is more important than their quality.

These days, leveraging the concept of co-citation requires a fair bit of sophistication and nuance but it’s definitely a valuable concept to embrace.


One thought on “Harnessing Co-Citation to Improve Your Search Rankings

  1. Great article Joe. Co-citations are still pretty confusing but you break it down well here. Appreciate the work you did on this. So you think that a citation will provide ranking power to a site even with out a link? Or does there still need to be a link to provide a SERP visibility benefit?

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