01 May 2014

Google validates that PR is SEO in patent filing

There are fewer exciting things to read than an official patent filing with the USPTO, except perhaps other government paperwork and possibly a phone book (if you’re old enough to remember what a phone book is). However, sometimes you’ll find incredible news in the guts of patents filed, and nowhere is this more clear than in US Patent 8,682,892. What’s in US Patent 8,682,892?

Patent_Images

How Google works. (at least part of it)

In this patent, Google shares a little bit of its secret sauce about how it identifies high-quality websites (and filters out low quality spammy websites) using an algorithm named Panda that we’ve talked about on the SHIFT blog before. In this patent are exciting passages such as:

“…the resource-specific modification factor (f.sub.2) for the third search result resource is equal to: f.sub.2=f.sub.3/log.sub.T.sub.2(IS)g(f.sub.3)…”

If that made your head hurt, that’s okay. The problem with patents (and the reason we don’t read them for pleasure) is that they’re usually filled with pages of technical information. The downside is that we can miss critical secrets hidden in plain sight. This passage in the patent is one such secret and is absolutely critical to every PR professional’s career:

“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.

This section of the patent is talking about how Google determines what are high-quality, independent links to a website. The last two sentences about implied links are the most important. Implied links describe media placements of your products, services, and brands in media, even if the publication doesn’t provide a link to your company’s website.

We can’t emphasize strongly enough just how important this passage is. Google is publicly acknowledging that every time your brand gets a mention in a story, that counts as an implied link that affects your SEO, that affects how many links there are to your website, which in turn affects how well your site shows up when someone is searching for your brand. In short, PR is SEO (or part of it). It singlehandedly validates all of the PR that you’ve generated for your brand, all of the mentions and citations that you’ve accrued through hard work, great products and reputation, and effective public relations, even if you didn’t necessarily get an explicit link in the coverage.

If these media placements are implied links, then how do you know whether or not all of the mentions you’re getting from PR are having any impact? There are a variety of measurement tools and platforms that can give you insightful answers, but one of the simplest and most easily accessible is probably at your fingertips: Google Analytics. Simply put, look at how much organic search traffic you’re getting from Google over the months and years.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics

Your media placements – confirmed to be part of how Google decides what is a link to you and what is not – should result in more people coming into your website from organic search. Obviously, there’s a lot more that goes into Google’s search algorithm (over 200 different factors), but we now have public confirmation that earned media mentions are very much part of it.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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18 comments
JHTScherck
JHTScherck

This article is a) misleading and b) self serving. There is so much being assumed and so many liberties being taken in your interpretation of this patent....

AgentBlackhat
AgentBlackhat

Assuming there is some heavy weight behind this part of the algo, at what point does Google understand that for instance my brand "Agent Blackhat" should add ranking power to my site. When does it make the connection and does it even use brand text? It could simply be an unlinked URL. As with everything, we need specifics.


It also brings up the EMD domain issue. You could theoretically hijack this mechanism by for instance running a website about Paper Towels and naming your brand and domain "Paper Towels".


It is interesting but while we have the patent we are completely missing the proper implementation. Nevertheless a great article :)

badams
badams

I think you're seeing too much in the 'implied link' as described here. The way I read it, the 'implied link' is a URL that simply hasn't been hyperlinked (which happens more often than we'd think). A brand mention is something else entirely, imho.


Not saying that brand mentions don't count - they sure do - but this patent in particular has little to say about that, in my view.

KristinaRoy
KristinaRoy

"PR is SEO" and next "Backlinks is SERP"

Gene Eugenio
Gene Eugenio

I am more excited about what this says about the FUTURE of SEO. Primarily, the battleground will be co-citation. 

Katie
Katie

Interesting article! Working in nonproft public relations, we rely a lot on organic promotion, through SEO, social media and digital word-of-mouth. I have recently been studying SEO optimization to learn how to best place my site above others in organic searches, and this method has proved to be most successful for me. Whenever we post a blog or new webpage, I always share the link through our social media. I can almost always see a correlation between our placement in google organic search and how many shares our link had. This patent definitely will affect the way I write for our blog in hopes of obtaining more shares. Thanks for sharing!

ScottMonty
ScottMonty

Thank you for doing the work to discover and interpret this, Mr. Penn. It reminds me of a certain detective in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men":


"By George!" cried the inspector. "How ever did you see that?"


"Because I looked for it."


ccarfi
ccarfi

Starting with the caveat that none of us are Matt Cutts and that all of us are guessing and that we're all doing Google Kremlinology here, the path between "PR is SEO" and how the Googlemachine works still feels a couple degrees removed at best to me. It's interesting how that paragraph has been cherry picked on a bunch of sites, all jumping to the conclusion that "brand mention" == "implied link." Is that really the case?


I really liked the deeper dive over at MOZ ( http://moz.com/blog/panda-patent-brand-mentions ), which I translated to mean the following:


1) If people are searching for a term on Google itself, the text of each of those searches can be thought of as a keyword


2) If people then click on a Google search result after doing the search in (1), there is then an "implied link" between that keyword (search term) and the page that was selected from the SERP


3) Later mentions in pages across the web in plaintext of the phrase from (1) can be thought of as an implied link to (2)


My interpretation, then, is that the "implied link" bit seems to come into play most strongly if/when terms are being searched. So, if people aren't searching for terms or the brand name, then the whole implied link concept is moot.


It's obviously all related, and that it seems abundantly clear that interest in a brand (as evidenced by Google searches) can then improve SEO results via the implied link idea where those same terms appear in online copy. You caveat that well with the nod to the "200 factors," but making the blanket statement "PR is SEO" seems to really trivialize the complexity that we all know must be behind it. 

cspenn
cspenn moderator

@badams  In this particular patent, Google just references the citation. However, in Patent 8290956 (linked here: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=8290956.PN.&OS=PN/8290956&RS=PN/8290956 ) they specifically call out URIs and URLs as identifiers, not citations. Citations and words (linked or unlinked) are kept separate and Google specifically discusses them as co-citations (word clusters).


Now, as I've said, I'm not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. Co-citation of associated words and implied links are both techniques Google uses for relevance. Maybe it is the unlinked URL/URI, but we can't be sure either way.


If someone else is a patent/trademark lawyer, please do help!

RenGoddess
RenGoddess

@badams  @cspenn - I'm wondering the same thing, Chris. Is a mention of "Shift Communications" on the page what is being defined as an implied link or is it instead referring to a mention of "shiftcomm.com" without an actual href applied to it? Would love your insight on that!

cspenn
cspenn moderator

@ScottMonty  I only hope that if ever again I have an important case I shall have the good fortune to have you by my side.

cspenn
cspenn moderator

@ccarfi  Hi Chris - I so appreciate the thoughtful comment. In regards to it, I realized I forgot to link to the actual patent itself. My interpretation of the PR is SEO section comes from the linking engine portion in Figure 3, where they make the determination about what links actually are. The part you point out above in 1 and 2 refer to reference queries and you've got the language exactly right. Reference queries can be explicit or implicit. 


That said, the implied link is a determination for what resources are independent (this is Panda, so they're looking for obvious duplications from people looking to rig the game). That's how I got to the conclusion in the original post. The engine that processes link independence doesn't directly look at the reference query (from what I can tell, anyway), but is part of the score modification in Figure 5. If a set of links are judged as not independent, Google applies score modifications to reduce the prominence of subsequent, non-independent results.


The reason for my conclusion is that the independence test for links, to me, paints a larger picture of what Google looks at not only for a test of independence but also for what's relevant.


Thanks again for contributing.

JHTScherck
JHTScherck

@cspenn - 


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.


That's talking about an unlinked URL written in plain text  - brands are never mentioned in this patent. This article implies that having a brand or branded product mentioned in an article improves search results, that's not even close to what the patent is stating. 

bill_slawski
bill_slawski

@cspenn @ccarfiThe "implied link" language in the patent is similar to the way citations are used by Google in local search to derive a quality value for a resource that is linked to or cited.


The patent doesn't mention the word "brand" every, and a much better interpretation is of a link or citation to an entity instead. Considering a brand is an entity, that isn't much of a stretch, but it doesn't limit the patent the way that just saying that this applies to brands might.


This is not the first patent from Google to reference implied links, and the importance of them was overblown in the Moz article, and here.

cspenn
cspenn moderator

@bill_slawski @cspenn @ccarfi  Hi Bill,


Thanks for the feedback, here and on Twitter. Their previous patent on co-citation of text clusters is what drew me to conclude that co-citation and implied links were both relevant and related for determining a brand's mentions. As you pointed out on Twitter, I'm not a lawyer, I don't play one on TV, and I don't regularly read thousands of patents (though I probably should), so my interpretation is based only on what I've been able to glean from 8290956 and 8682892. I'm happy for you or anyone else to shed more light - one of the other commenters said that citation was more likely to be an unlinked URI, but Google seems to separate URIs in general from words and clusters of words.


Thanks for commenting.