Gaining backlinks is often considered one of the hardest tasks within SEO, though it also remains one of the most impactful things that can help a website to rank.
Link building can take a lot of time, effort and resources – often high quality content needs to be created, and then this content needs to be promoted to the right people – and even then there’s no guarantee of success. So sometimes it’s good to take a look at other tactics which can be considered more of a ‘quick win’, such as gaining links from publications that have already mentioned your brand.
In this post we look into how you can identify unlinked brand mentions and convert them into quality backlinks to your site.
But first, let’s start by defining what a backlink and an “unlinked brand mention” actually are.
What is a backlink?
Backlinks, otherwise known as “incoming” or “inbound” links, are created when an external (third party) website adds a hyperlink pointing to your site.
Backlinks are an important ranking factor for search engines and play a key part in SEO strategies. Traditionally, a large part of Google’s algorithm (and a large reason why it has been successful as a search engine) has been based around ranking websites by taking into account the backlinks (or ‘votes’) received from elsewhere around the web.
A backlink study conducted by Moz discovered that 99.2% of all top 50 search results had at least one external link pointing to their site, whilst 77.8% of all top results had at least one external link pointing to the specific ranking page.
What is an unlinked brand mention?
An unlinked brand mention is exactly as the name suggests – it is a mention of your brand received elsewhere on the web (e.g. for us it would be “Blue Array”) that doesn’t link back to your site. Without a link, the mention alone holds little to no SEO value by Google.
What’s the benefit of unlinked brand mentions?
Finding relevant unlinked brand mentions provides a major opportunity in two key ways:
- If you get them to link to you then you could drive through users who are already interested in your content or brand. This can enable you to build a larger following with communities that are already likely to enjoy your content, with minimal effort!
- You gain a backlink! As already mentioned above, the SEO benefits from gaining links is potentially massive (depending on quality of the websites linking to you).
How can you identify unlinked brand mentions?
Here are some of the tools we’d suggest when conducting your unlinked brand mention research…
BuzzSumo is a great tool which enables users to track popular content which has been published to the web.
For example, users can search for a term e.g. “Blue Array” -bluearray.co.uk – this will show pieces of content that have been posted which mention the Blue Array brand, excluding any content actually published on the bluearray.co.uk domain.
If your brand name has more than one search intention (think Amazon, Apple etc.), you may need to exclude words related to other possible searches to ensure that the results are more accurate and target only your brand. You can also change the duration, country, content type and word count to find specific types of content to target.
Although we recommend starting by searching for your brand name, you can also do this for any key people (for example your company founder), products or services your brand exclusively offers to find missed opportunities for a backlink to your site.
These links can then be exported into a spreadsheet, and analysed further to identify whether it is worth attempting to gain a backlink from each opportunity.
Ahrefs Content Explorer is another alternative that allows you to check brand mentions across the web. It enables users to search for queries within content, and also allows exclusion of domains – again using the example “blue array” -site:bluearray.co.uk” to find mentions of Blue Array not published on the Blue Array domain across the web.
Google Alerts is a great, free tool which can be used to track content being posted daily that mentions certain words (e.g. your brand name). You can customise the frequency of the alerts you receive, amongst other features. BuzzSumo has a similar monitoring tool but it’ll also tell you if the the mention is unlinked.
SEMRush is a great tool that can be used to analyse a range of areas to aid your SEO growth. One such feature is “Brand Monitoring”, which enables you to track mentions of your brand across the web, similar to Buzzsumo.
You can customise the time frame that these mentions were acquired from to focus on the last day, to as long as all time, and can specify for SEMRush to show only the brand mentions without a link.
There is also the option to export the results as a CSV, which can enable you to sort and filter through the opportunities listed.
Not all unlinked mentions are good opportunities
Not every unlinked brand mention is worthwhile chasing or is going to be useful for your brand however. Some brand mentions may actually be harmful to your site; e.g. if a site which is referring your brand in a negative way then you wouldn’t necessarily want to follow up to ask for a link – it’s not going to do your reputation any favours!
It is also possible to be negatively affected by links on websites which could be considered as spam. The Penguin algorithm, introduced by Google in 2012 was implemented to help catch sites that were “spamming” search results through buying or obtaining backlinks through link networks to gain an advantage.
What kind of sites do you want to acquire backlinks from?
These are a few pointers to help decipher whether a backlink will be useful or not…
The relevance of a backlink is important. If a backlink is coming from an unrelated source and does not naturally flow with the content that the rest of the website offers, Google may see the link as unnatural and choose to disregard it.
In rarer, worst-case scenarios, they may choose to penalise your site as a result (often dependant on the quality of the website, along with how the link was acquired).
Backlinks from unrelated sites could also negatively impact bounce rates – although this isn’t a factor for SEO, it isn’t great for users who might visit your website through a link, before finding it’s not relevant to them.
Websites with high domain authority such as The Telegraph, BBC and The New York Times will be seen as trusted sources by search engines, and will carry more weight than backlinks from low authority sites. This is only logical; if a reputable source thinks your content is worth reading, it more often than not is! Google takes note of this, and links on these types of websites can have a big positive impact on your ability to rank.
Unfortunately, this works both ways. Sites with lower authority do not carry much influence on the SERP, and may not be worth chasing up. We always recommend checking the authority of a website before contacting them for a backlink. The best way to do this is to use Majestic’s Site Explorer to identify the Trust Flow and Citation Flow – which are good metrics for identifying the relative quality of a website’s power.
At Blue Array we work towards a ‘Spam Score’ metric using these two scores, simply by dividing Trust Flow and Citation Flow (i.e. Trust/Citation) to find the Trust Ratio. A score as close to 1 is good and shows a strong correlation between backlink profile numbers and quality.
As an example, the BBC have a trust score of 0.98 (shown below) with extremely high Trust and Citation flow, and would be an excellent backlink to secure.
It’s important to not just look at metrics however – whilst for immediate benefit securing a link on a powerful website is great, the main consideration is that the website is ‘real’, rather than purely in existence for SEO purposes. If a relatively new website that is written by a real person with a decent potential following then there’s no reason not to try and partner with that person early to reap the benefits further down the line.
Whilst the backlink passing on authority from an external site to your page is excellent, it also helps if users are able to follow the link to your website. This ties in with the relevancy factor – if a backlink provides useful information the user, they are more likely to follow the link – bringing in additional qualified traffic to your website.
Ultimately, PageRank (although now not a visible metric) is Google’s indicator of site authority. By linking to you, an external website will share some of its PageRank with your own.
Many websites will place a “NoFollow” directive on its outbound links. If you do manage to secure a link from another website and they have used a NoFollow, you’ll often find yourself having to jump through fire hoops to get it removed!
There’s a number of reasons why a website may choose to NoFollow its outbound links. It might be that they’re worried about looking like they are linking out to aid other websites’ SEO efforts, or in the worst cases, it may be that the website has sold links in the past and received a slap on the wrist by Google, and may now feel like they need to take these measures to prevent the same thing from happening again..
For websites that have participated in link schemes before, Gary Ilyes of Google confirmed that a lot of the links from websites known to partake in such practices are often ignored, stating that Google are “pretty good at ignoring links, regardless of the site”.
How can I convert brand mentions into backlinks?
So once you have done the work to identify your unlinked brand mentions across the web, and found where there are opportunities to convert high quality unlinked mentions to backlinks, next comes the tricky part – reaching out to those websites and attempting to gain a link!
Making contact with the editor or author of the piece of content that mentions your brand is a good starting point. We’d suggest a short, friendly email thanking them for mentioning your brand/referring to your content. Rather than straight out asking for a link, it’s best to try and highlight the benefits to their users of including a link to your site; i.e. it’s going to help their own readers find your content or brand more easily by simply having to click on a link, rather than searching for your brand, or typing your website’s address into the browser. Overall, this is going to provide a greater user experience for their own users.
Once the message is sent we’d recommend not being too pushy – the best thing to do is to wait and hear back from them in their own time – it’s likely they’ll be busy people too after all!
Why am I not getting any responses?!
In some situations, the editor will get back to you and apologise for not already linking to you – great!
Unfortunately, not all instances will be this smooth. There’s no guarantee of success when it comes to outreach of this kind – in fact we’d suggest you’d be looking to achieve around a 25% success rate in the best case scenario.
Of course there are things you can try and do to maximise your chances of being linked to once making contact, including…
- You are not reaching the correct contact. More often than not you should contact the writer/editor of the article – but in some occasions, they may have left the organisation or may not be the main point-of-contact for the query.
- Your content is not adding enough to warrant a backlink. This is very subjective and can be hard to gauge. Perhaps the mention was acquired a while ago and has since become out of date, the website may state that they don’t want to link to an older source of information. You could of course always recommend updating your content if it will persuade them to link to you!
- You aren’t reaching out correctly. You need to ensure that the tone of the email is suitable and makes clear what you are hoping to gain. As shown earlier, it should be angled to convince them that adding the backlink benefits their own users’ experience due to making it easier to find the source of what they are referring to quickly and easily.
- It’s a policy of the website. Large, national publications in particular will often have it in their policies to not link out to external sources without using a NoFollow attribute. There’s usually not way to persuade them otherwise unfortunately!
- They just don’t want to link to you! Usually it will just be too late and the website won’t go back and make edits to a piece of content. With this in mind, as a general rule it’s often easier to get a link prior to a piece of content going live than making the effort to backtrack.
Unlinked brand mentions can be a great way to gain backlinks from opportunities that already exist. These are ready-made opportunities: as they are already mentioning your content or brand, all that is missing is the physical link to your site.
Although this can be an easy win, as we mentioned, a certain success rate isn’t guaranteed. For this reason, you’ll need to keep plugging away at this tactic to make it worthwhile.
When it does pay off though the effort you go to can reap its rewards, and can be a brilliant way to gain those vital backlinks to your website. With backlinks still holding such an influence on rankings, this is an avenue that should be explored to help your site reach its full potential.