Entity Mentions are Good: Brand Mentions are not the New Link Building

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about a new patent from Google that was the first Google patent granted to Navneet Panda as an inventor. The patent described a complicated way for Google to judge the quality of websites, and my post was titled Is this Really the Panda Patent?. Simon Penson wrote a followup post at Moz titled The Panda Patent: Brand Mentions Are the Future of Link Building which looked at some other aspects of the patent.

On August 1st, Jayson Demers published a post to Forbes titled Implied Links, Brand Mentions And The Future Of SEO Link Building which covers a lot of the same ground as Simon’s post. I contacted an editor at Forbes and stated that the post plagiarized Simon’s post. Jayson didn’t give me any credit for my post about the patent either, but Simon did.

The patent office in Washington DC, prior to 1940

The editor informed me that Jayson added a link to Simon’s post, but insisted that Jayson had a difference of opinion regarding the patent than I did. Honestly, the difference of opinion I see is that Jayson is wrong about what the patent says.

Jayson says brand mentions are the new link building, but Jayson doesn’t mention his brand or company in his post ever. He does link to four different pages on his company site in the post, and to 2 other articles he authored. That doesn’t sound like he believes that brand mentions are the new link building; his actions don’t match up with his words.

He offers some advice based upon the fact that he believes that brand mentions are important, and they are, but not for the reasons he mentions. And if someone offers you a choice between a relevant link to your site, or a mention of your brand, you’re probably better off with the link. :)

Independent Links

The patent co-authored by Navneet Panda attempts to understand the quality of sections of pages, and there are a handful of steps involved in the process.

The first of those is to get an idea of how many sites with different owners either link to the site, or mention the site in a way that could easily be a link to the site, or which could be a link but actually isn’t one. Jayson refers to those mentions without links as “brand mentions” even though the word “brand” doesn’t appear in the patent at all. I prefer the word “entity’ because it could apply to any type of entity, such as a persons name or place as easily as a product line or a brand.

A high count of independent links from sites owned by different people shows that the sites pointed at are higher quality than sites with a lower count of independent links, express and/or implied.

The patent tries to avoid counting links that are from sites that either the same people also own, or have control over. So a link from Amazon to Zappos wouldn’t be included in a count of independent links to Zappos since both companies are owned by Amazon.

The focus of this is on how many sites provide links to another site, so if a site links to another site from more than one page, or even on every page, that would just count as one link, too. The count of links from linking sites is what is important here rather than the total count of links.

This idea of using mentions instead of links as a quality signal can also be seen at Google in local search, where mentions of a site that also include geographic location information, but don’t include links can help a site rank higher in search results. This is Google treating a business or entity such as a park or stadium or field as a place people can go to. Entities such as people aren’t usually referred to as a brand, but mentions of those entities that could be said to be pointing to their official page might be included in a count of independent links as well.

The patent is Ranking search results

The Forbes article instead tells us that what is important are the mentions of brands, and the more of those there are compared to links, the better.

Except it doesn’t say that. The patent describes a different “ratio” completely:

The system generates a modification factor for the group of resources from the count of independent links and the count of reference queries (step 306). For example, the modification factor can be a ratio of the number of independent links for the group to the number of reference queries for the group.

A reference query is one or more queries that a page on a site might be identified as being optimized for.

For example, on a content farm site, it might include pages that are optimized for variations of keywords. So the site might have a page about:

“Why is water wet?”,

“What makes water wet?”,

“How water makes things wet? and other similar topics.

The higher the count of referring queries a section of a site might be found for, the lower the quality of that section of pages.

The less independent links pointing to a section of a site, the lower the quality of that section of a site as well.

Again, the patent says nothing about brand mentions. If someone mentions your site and your brand, in a positive way, that’s a good thing most of the time. If someone links to your pages, that’s usually a good thing as well.

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28 thoughts on “Entity Mentions are Good: Brand Mentions are not the New Link Building”

  1. “The patent tries to avoid counting links that are from sites that either the same people also own, or have control over. So a link from Amazon to Zappos wouldn’t be included in a count of independent links to Zappos since both companies are owned by Amazon.”

    I believe Google has really loosened the rules around cross linking domains you own. I remember tanking a whole site because we linked to a wholesale site we owned. I have had the feeling for quite some time this is now not nearly as risky as it was back in the day…. Would that be because they can now kind of handle that by Google ignoring dampening the cross linking of domains?

  2. Well, from Forbes, I can say I’m surprised at the response you got, Bill.

    xxxooo,
    Doc Sheldon
    (see what I did there? Nice “brand mention”) :P

  3. Bill,
    Just waited for this one. I know you will write something about it.

  4. And I would like to believe that the words around the brand mention act like the anchor text of a link.

    If we take Apple as an example, Google wouldn’t know whether we’re talking about fruit or company so Google most certainly looking at the surroundings to get an idea.

  5. Hey Bill,

    Is it that Jayson view of implied links is what you mean here as an entity mentions? I am bit confused between you two. So you mean to say that entity is more important than brand mention!! Bur Rand Fishkin once said that Brand is everything and being a brand is enough in his WBF. What do you say on that?

  6. Hi Amit,

    Brand mentions are good, but entity mentions are even better. Let me explain why I say that.

    A brand is one type of entity among many. When you think about brands and/or entities, it may be more useful for you to think about them as entities. A brand is a name and a mindset that’s created in someone’s mind when they hear or see it.

    And an entity is a specifically named person, place, or thing, including a brand.

    (1) Entities are things that might be listed and represented in knowledge bases.

    (2) Entities might be associated with specific websites in search results, so that when you search for the entity, that search result may be at the very top of results as if it were a navigational result for that query.

    (3) Search engines will look for entities in queries to see if they should show multiple results for that associated site, as if it were an implied site search by the searcher (for example, if you search for [spaceneedle hours] Google might show 4 or more results from spaceneedle.com about their hours of operation.)

    (4) A search engine might recognize an entity in a query and show off related entities in the search results as well. Search for a well known author, and a book that he or she wrote might be featured in the search results for the query about the author. Search for the title of a well known book, and another book or two from the same author might appear in the results as well.

    (5) Search on a long search query for an entity where you describe some of the attributes associated with that entity, and Google might search through its knowledge base for those attributes to find the entity, and it might then return search results to you about that particular entity. For example, search for “that movie with the all girls baseball team and tom hanks” and Google returns results for “A league of their own”.

    Brands are good in that when people see brand mentions on a page, they think of the brand. But entity mentions (the same thing as a brand mention when the entity is a brand) is treated in a lot of ways that are potentially very positive by a search engine. So, a brand mention is good, but an entity mention is even better. :)

  7. Hi Terry

    It’s quite possible that Google might make tweaks to how much value they pass along from two companies that might be co-owned by the same person or company.

    Within this patent, it goes so far as calling the links it counts “independent links” as in links that are unaffiliated with the site that the algorithm within it it is aimed at. It’s trying to avoid counting other links within the same content farm.

    This algorithm doesn’t pass along PageRank or hypertext relevance from one page to another – it’s just gauging a quality score for the page being reviewed.

  8. Hi Sundeep,

    If we think about that mention as an entity mention, there are a number of white papers from search engineers that discuss ways that a search engine or knowledge base might recognize the entity being referred to, and looking at the text around it might be part of that. It might, for instance, look for those surrounding words in a knowledge base source such as Freebase, or even with something such as a Wikipedia entry.

    It will likely do that with “apple” the brand as well, but it might refer to “apple” as an entity when it does that analysis. :)

  9. It is becoming more and more complicated by the day. thanks to you folks like me too can get a view on this. great article thanks a lot for this.

  10. Hi Bill,

    Just a little confused by what you said in the comments above.

    “Brands are good in that when people see brand mentions on a page, they think of the brand. But entity mentions (the same thing as a brand mention when the entity is a brand) is treated in a lot of ways that are potentially very positive by a search engine. So, a brand mention is good, but an entity mention is even better.”

    I am not sure if I get the difference here. It seems that if a brand mention is an entity mention, then its almost like saying an entitiy mention is always better than an entitiy mention?

    Sorry if I am missing something obvious here but just having trouble wrapping my head around that statement.

  11. Thank you, Dan. Some stuff stays simple, but some things are getting more complicated.

    Fortunately we’re getting better tools to talk to each other about them, like Google Hangouts on air. :)

  12. Hi Dan,

    A brand is a type of entity, but not all entities are brands. Entities include specific people, places and things.

    There are a lot of people who write about Google having a “brand bias” when Google couldn’t care less if something is a brand, or a person’s name, or a place name. It’s not just a brand bias, but it’s a bias for all different kinds of entities. If people say it’s a brand bias, then other people might only think of it applying to just brands. What I’m saying is that you limit yourself by only thinking of brands, and you are missing opportunities. It’s not just a brand mention, or a brand bias, it’s an entity mention and an entity bias.

  13. Firstly; great post!

    There is so much I would like to comment on; alas my knowledge is far less than yours and so will add something.

    In the UK there is one travel website that links all their websites together with full follow links. They have 7 sites and so have split travel into these 7 niches of travel.

    They also have another website for “extras” which is linked too from the same 6 pages on each of the above websites. This site is a one page wonder and links to websites owned by others using their affiliate number and back to the 7 niche websites.

    They rank at the top for most related travel terms in the UK. They have a massive network of links; though it appears not from farms pointing to them.

    I wonder if this patent may change this companies positions; it will be very interesting to see.

  14. I’d like you to consider backing places out of your definition of “entities”, if for no other reason than it conflicts with Google’s own Knowledge Graph definition, e.g.:
    en·ti·ty
    ˈentitē/
    noun
    noun: entity; plural noun: entities
    a thing with distinct and independent existence.
    “church and empire were fused in a single entity”
    synonyms: being, creature, individual, organism, life form; More
    existence; being.
    “entity and nonentity”
    synonyms: existence, being; More

  15. Hi Michael

    Never. Me reconsidering places being entities would be purely ridiculous. I’m not making this up – it’s a reality. Places are entities. This is one of the most important things to know right now in SEO – what entities are and how search engines treat them.

    The Google knowledge panel definition for “Entity” is very abstract, and is taken solely from the Wikipedia. It says, an entity is “a thing with distinct and independent existence.” Under that definition, a City or a Restaurant or a store or a park could be an entity.

    Maybe to satisfy you we need an actual example of how Google treats places as entities.

    Google was granted a patent last month titled, “Aspect-based sentiment summarization” which is completely about reviews of places, or products, and calls both “entities” multiple times. The patent is at:

    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&d=PALL&S1=08799773&OS=PN/08799773&RS=PN/08799773

    Here’s a snippet from the patent, which looks at entities such as products and places, such as a specific restaurant:

    The sentiment summarizer 110 provides summaries of sentiment about aspects of entities. An entity is a reviewable object or service. An aspect is a property of the entity that can be evaluated by a user. For example, if the entity is a restaurant the sentiment summarizer 110 can provide summaries of sentiment regarding aspects including the restaurant’s food and service. The summary for an aspect can include a rating, e.g. three out of five stars or a letter grade, that concisely summarizes the sentiment. In one embodiment, the summaries are based on source reviews gathered from web sites on the Internet and other locations.

    The patent very clearly treats places as entities, as do most other computer science documents on the Web that involve entities or named entities. I didn’t make that up. The patent is written by a search engineer from Google.

    See also: Robust Disambiguation of Named Entities in Text at http://www.aclweb.org/anthology/D11-1072, which tells us:

    Web pages, news articles, blog postings, and other Internet data contain mentions of named entities such as people, places, organizations, etc. Names are often ambiguous: the same name can have many different meanings. For example, given a text like “They performed Kashmir, written by Page and Plant. Page played unusual chords on his Gibson.”, how can we tell that “Kashmir” denotes a song by Led Zeppelin and not the Himalaya region (and that Page refers to guitarist Jimmy Page and not to Google founder Larry Page, and that Gibson is a guitar model rather than the actor Mel Gibson)?

    I recommend ignoring really poorly chosen definitions that might show up in Google knowledge panels in the future, and not demanding that someone who wrote something using the proper meaning for a term in the proper way to retract what they said based upon a very ambiguous definition.

    Since Google has been building its own knowledge graph filled with entities (objects) of many types, reading Google’s page on the knowledge graph is informative, too:

    The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.

    Freebase is a knowledge base owned by Google, after they purchased it from Metaweb. Here’s what it says about Entities on a page on “Basic Concepts”:

    https://developers.google.com/freebase/guide/basic_concepts

    Freebase has over 39 million topics about real-world entities like people, places and things.

    So, one of the largest knowledge bases in the world, owned by Google, tells us in a page on “basic concepts” that an entity includes people, places, and things.

    I could march out millions of other examples as well, but that should be sufficient, and I’m not going to. I shouldn’t have to. :)

  16. Good stuff Bill.

    Brand mentions aren’t the new link building but *are* part of entity associations, citations and / or connections that help in defining and refining topic authority and authority itself.

    I’ve been quoted in Forbes – so I give little credibility to their platform :-) – but I’d say Jayson wasn’t trying to be *completely* unoriginal, he did put a spin on the original articles, it just was a semantic difference and misunderstanding issue that he chose to use the phrase ‘brand mentions’ instead of ‘implied entity authority / not real link signal’ – his bad :-)

  17. Hi Grant,

    The titles of the two articles are so close to each other, that I thought when I clicked on the link to Jayson’s article on Forbes that I was visiting Simon’s article republished on Forbes. I was surprised seeing a different author’s name when the page filled my screen.

    I was even more surprised when the very same interpretation of the patent was made again, with an insistence that the mentioning of brands in “implied links” was more important than actual links, in the count of independent links.

    Jayson could have made that distinction between brands and entities, but he didn’t and that’s not the real problem, anyway. I added the entities aspect to this post, because it shows that those implied links still have some value – but Jayson doesn’t seem to have any understanding the importance of those. Regardless, it wasn’t a question of semantics or a poor choice of terms by Jayson – Jayson’s interpretation of the patent was completely wrong.

    The problem is that he misunderstood that the patent looks at the ratio between independent links/referring queries (the part that I quoted in Red above) and not the ratio between implied links/actual links. That’s what is wrong with Jayson’s analysis, as is his conclusion that the implied links are more important than the actual links, and are replacing the actual links, making links dead. Implied links are NOT the new link building.

    After I contacted the editor and complained, Jayson added a link to Simon’s post – not before.

  18. Nice post. it cleared up a lot of things that I wasn’t sure about re: implied links, citations, etc.

    And I like that you called out Demers. I’ve never been a fan of his shallow, rehashed content that seem to rank absurdly well.

  19. Brand mentions only hold value if the brand is one of power, trust and authority. This is a concept which would only work for certain brands, not for all.

    Interesting concept and article though.

    Brian

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