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Brand Mentions, according to Google’s John Mueller

John Mueller from Google explains Google's stance on using brand mentions for ranking purposes.

When asked if “brand mentions” helped with SEO and rankings, Google’s John Mueller said yes. John Mueller went into great detail about how Google does not use brand mentions.

What Exactly Is A Brand Mention?

A brand mention occurs when one website mentions another. According to the SEO community, when a website mentions another website’s domain name or URL, Google will see it and count it as a link.

Brand mentions are also referred to as implied links. Much was written about this ten years ago, following the publication of a Google patent mentioning “implied links.”

There has never been a comprehensive examination of why the concept of “brand mentions” has nothing to do with this patent, but I’ll provide a condensed version later in this article.

Do Brand Mentions Affect Rankings?

The person who asked the question was interested in brand mentions for the purpose of ranking. The person asking the question has good reason to do so because the concept of “brand mentions” has never been thoroughly examined.

The person asked the question:

“Do brand mentions without a link help with SEO rankings?”

Google does not make use of brand mentions.

According to Google’s John Mueller, “brand mentions” are not used for any link-related purposes.

Mueller explained:

“From my point of view, I don’t think we use those at all for things like PageRank or understanding the link graph of a website.

And just a plain mention is sometimes kind of tricky to figure out anyway.”

That part about it being difficult is intriguing.

He didn’t go into detail about why it’s difficult until later in the video when he says it’s difficult to understand the subjective context of one website mentioning another.

Brand Mentions Can Help Increase Awareness

Mueller goes on to say that brand mentions can help spread the word about a site, which is important when it comes to building popularity.

Mueller continued:

“But it can be something that makes people aware of your brand, and from that point of view, could be something where indirectly you might have some kind of an effect from that in that they search for your brand and then …obviously, if they’re searching for your brand then hopefully they find you right away and then they can go to your website.

And if they like what they see there, then again, they can go off and recommend that to other people as well.”

“Brand Mentions” Can Be Harmful

Later, at the 58-minute mark, another person brings up the subject again, asking how Google would handle spam sites that mention a brand negatively.

The individual stated that while one can disavow links, one cannot disavow a “brand mention.”

Mueller agreed, stating that this is one of the reasons why brand mentions are difficult to use for ranking purposes.

John Mueller explained:

“Kind of understanding the almost the subjective context of the mention is really hard.

Is it like a positive mention or a negative mention?

Is it a sarcastic positive mention or a sarcastic negative mention? How can you even tell?

And all of that, together with the fact that there are lots of spammy sites out there and sometimes they just spin content, sometimes they’re malicious with regards to the content that they create…

All of that, I think, makes it really hard to say we can just use that as the same as a link.

…It’s just, I think, too confusing to use as a clear signal.”

What Causes “Brand Mentions”

For more than a decade, the concept of “brand mentions” has been tossed around.

There were no supporting research papers or patents. “Brand mentions” is a concept that was created out of thin air.

However, the “brand mention” concept took off in 2012, when a patent was discovered that appeared to confirm the concept of brand mentions.

There’s a long story behind this, so I’ll just summarize it.

A patent from 2012 was misinterpreted in a number of ways because most people at the time, including myself, did not read the entire patent from beginning to end.

The patent itself is concerned with the ranking of web pages.

Most Google patents are structured with introductory paragraphs that discuss what the patent is about, followed by pages of an in-depth description of the details.

The introductory paragraphs that explain what it’s about states:

“Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs… for ranking search results.”

Almost no one read the first part of the patent.

Everyone’s attention was drawn to a single paragraph in the middle of the patent (page 9 out of 16 pages).

A concept is known as “implied links” is mentioned in that paragraph.

The word “implied” appears only four times in the entire patent, and all four occur within that single paragraph.

When this patent was discovered, the SEO industry concentrated on that single paragraph as proof that Google uses brand mentions.

To understand what an “implied link” is, go all the way back to the first paragraphs of the Google patent, where the authors describe something called a “reference query,” which is not a link but is used for ranking purposes just like a link.

What Exactly Is A Reference Request?

A reference query is a search query that includes a URL or domain name.

The patent states:

“A reference query for a particular group of resources can be a previously submitted search query that has been categorized as referring to a resource in the particular group of resources.”

Elsewhere the patent provides a more specific explanation:

“A query can be classified as referring to a particular resource if the query includes a term that is recognized by the system as referring to the particular resource.

…search queries including the term “example.com” can be classified as referring to that home page.”

The patent summary, which appears at the beginning of the document, states that it is about determining which links to a website are independent, as well as counting reference queries, and using that information to create a “modification factor” that is used to rank web pages.

“…determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective count of reference queries; determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective group-specific modification factor, wherein the group-specific modification factor for each group is based on the count of independent links and the count of reference queries for the group;”

The entire patent is based on two very important factors: the number of independent inbound links and the number of reference queries. In the patent, the phrases reference query and reference queries appear 39 times.

As previously stated, the reference query is used for ranking purposes in the same way that a link is, but it is not a link.

The patent states:

“An implied link is a reference to a target resource…”

It’s clear that when this patent mentions the implied link, it’s referring to reference queries, which, as explained above, simply means when people search for a website using keywords and the domain name.

The Concept of Brand Mentions Is False

Because of how that patent was misinterpreted, the concept of “brand mentions” became ingrained in SEO belief systems.

But now you have the facts and understand why “brand mentions” are a myth.

In addition, John Mueller confirmed it.

“Brand mentions” is a completely arbitrary term coined by someone in the SEO community out of thin air.

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John Harper

#1 File Information bestselling author John Harper loves to dispel the myth that smart men & women don’t read (or write) romance, and if you watch reruns of the game show The Weakest Link you might just catch him winning the $77,000 jackpot. In 2021, Netflix will premiere Bridgerton, based on his popular series of novels about the Why Files.

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