Co-Citation – Changing the SEO Game

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Published February 17, 2013 by Brad Knutson

SEO is always a moving target, but the biggest game changer yet might show its face in the near future. Google is always modifying its algorithm to show worthwhile content in its search results. Followed links and anchor text have been the kings of the SEO world for a while, but what if search engines decided that anchor text wasn’t the best factor in determining web popularity? What if Google decided to eliminate anchor text from its algorithm altogether?

Enter co-citation. Before SEO consultants go searching for new jobs, let’s go over a few things.

What is Co-Citation?

I found a great definition of Co-Citation from courtesy of Search Engine Journal:

“Bibliographic Co-Citation is a popular similarity measure used to establish a subject similarity between two items. If A and B are both cited by C, they may be said to be related to one another, even though they don’t directly reference each other. If A and B are both cited by many other items, they have a stronger relationship. The more items they are cited by, the stronger their relationship is.”

This could potentially take anchor text out of the equation. The idea is that content is correlated to the linked domains. A web page discussing the merits of non-profit organizations that links to a few external pages would be passing value for the keyword “non-profit” regardless of the anchor text. The reason that Google and other search engines would be interested in co-citation is that it eliminates any control that SEO consultants and webmasters have over their inbound links, and will bring truly organic and popular content to the forefront.

I see this really effecting web designers and developers. For example, a WordPress development firm that builds themes for their clients and throws a link in the footer along the lines of “Web Development by …” will lose the link juice from sites outside of their niche. Let’s say that a design firm builds sites for churches and non-profits. The content on their web pages are most likely not focused on web development and web design. If anchor text is eliminated and search engines rely on co-citation, then these design firms will essentially be losing any credit for the sites they have links on.

It’s possible that Google already implements some form of co-citation in their algorithm. You may have even already seen this in action. Let’s look at a case study.

Keyword Case Study – Window Manufacturers

I did a quick Google search for the keyword “Window Manufacturers.” Take a look at the results.

Keyword Windows Manufacturers

Sitting in the 8th overall position for this keyword is a page that doesn’t even contain a single reference to the word “manufacturer” or any derivatives of it. Many of the pages that rank lower have exact match URLs, and keyword saturation throughout the title and content of the pages.

So what gives? It is completely possible that the authority of Milgard is enough to outrank the lower ranked pages, but frankly, I’m not buying it. Perhaps Milgard has a large amount of inbound links with the anchor text “window manufacturer.” I headed over to Open Site Explorer to see if I could get a better picture of what’s going on.

Open Site Explorer - Milgard

Look at that…there are not a ton of exact match anchor texts, and there are only a few dozen that include either “window” or “manufacturer.” The reason behind its high rank for this keyword is not because of anchor text, so what is?

I did a little research into many of the highly ranked pages that link to Milgard. It seems as though every other page had some reference to both “window” and “manufacturer,” some even in the URL, title and h1 tags. In fact, the 3 highest ranking domain authority pages all had reference to “windows” and “manufacturer” somewhere on the page that linked to Milgard. These 3 pages had an Open Site Explorer domain authority of 98. There were many many more pages with high domain authority that had content related to and referring to those keywords.

Google is getting smarter every day, and it seems as though it’s found a way to correlate content on page and outbound links. Its massive database is being leveraged to measure the depth of co-citation and incorporating that into its ranking algorithm.

Flaws in Co-Citation

Google’s current SERP algorithm doesn’t account for nofollow links. This is mostly for blog comments, forums, social media and others. How will co-citation handle nofollow links? It’s easy to understand why some valuable correlations can be made through highly ranking social media sites like Twitter and YouTube, but those are currently nofollow links. How will the search engines determine what is a worthwhile correlation and what is spam?

If co-citation is not implemented properly, our favorite social media platforms will become more riddled with spam than they currently are. They will become the primary focus of marketing and SEO consultants.

Like I said, SEO is always a moving target. There is no perfect formula, and there never will be. Still, Google will continue to improve their algorithm (putting a lot of money into it, also). It’s hard to say how Google and other search engines will implement co-citation into its algorithm, but it seems inevitable.

Google is constantly striving to show users worthwhile, appropriate and popular content, and co-citation seems to be an ever-growing important piece to that puzzle.


  • Search Engine Journal – Good Bye Anchor Text, Welcome Co-Citations
  • SEOmoz – Anchor Text is Dying and Will Be Replace by Co-Citation
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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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One thought on “Co-Citation – Changing the SEO Game


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