The age of link building is dead. Or at least, that’s what the majority of SEO experts today would have you believe. Link building was once one of the dominant strategies for getting your site to rank in Google, as having lots of links pointing to your site from multiple different external authorities caused your domain authority to rise in turn. Today, it’s frowned upon by Google engineers and is thought to be more risky than valuable, since unnatural link building can earn you a sizable penalty.
But it isn’t exactly true that link building is dead—instead, it’s evolving into newer, more sophisticated forms. Google still bases the majority of your domain authority on which other authoritative sites are linking to you and how they’re doing it, but the measurable correlation between one new link and an increase in authority is no longer relevant.
Instead, “links” are taking a variety of new forms—I put links in quotation marks because many of these reference points don’t have links at all. In fact, the mere mention of your brand name is enough to register as an authoritative boost with Google, and with none of the drawbacks of a potential penalty. There are a few different ways to use this “new” way of calculating online authority, and one of the best are a new strategy known as brand associations.
Google’s search algorithm has grown to become a sophisticated piece of artificial intelligence, rather than just a mathematical process. Rather than scouring the Internet for numerical bits of information it can pour into a calculation, it seeks to learn things about the world and use those insights to give better search results. With semantic searching in mind, Google is able to understand what a user is requesting in a given query and then provide them with what it believes to be the most relevant answer.
As a result, brands today have a better chance of getting ranked if they simply describe themselves accurately—rather than trying to trick the search engine into ranking them higher. In a way, since Google wants to learn what your brand is, you have to teach it what your brand is.
Brand associations are a way to do this. In pieces of offsite content, you’ll be mentioning your own brand in context with topics that you want your brand to be associated with. For example, if your brand is “Taco Palace” and you want to be associated with “high-end taco restaurants,” you could work a sentence into your content like “Among high-end taco restaurants, Taco Palace stands apart.” With a diversity of these brand mentions across the web, Google will have an easier time associating your name with these subjects, and you’ll become a greater authority in that space.
Brand associations are like a flavored form of brand mentions. You’ll get all the benefits of traditional brand mentions, but the additional industry-specific authority is the real draw for brand associations.
If you’re new to the concept of brand mentions, they work much like link building did in previous eras. However, they’re far less risky and tend to focus on long-term returns rather than short-term boosts. When used in the body of great standalone content, you can expect the following benefits:
Of course, you’ll only be able to see these benefits if you use brand associations correctly. To see the best results, be sure to follow these best practices:
Brand associations are one of the most powerful new strategies for SEO. Replacing the nearly-obsolete practice of straightforward link building, brand associations bring you all the authoritative power with virtually none of the risk. If you’re interested in more industry-specific authority, or just higher ranks in general, be sure to add this tactic to your overall campaign.