Dump The Anchor Text & Start Focusing On Co-Citations

The Google Penguin update has forever changed the way that SEOs acquire links for their own web properties as well as their clients web properties. On that fateful day in April of 2012, Google made it far more difficult for low quality websites to achieve top search engine rankings by building tons of links using exact and partial match anchor text. This turned the SEO world upside down and has caused many to evolve and change the way they approach search engine optimization forever.

I’ve seen three major shifts over the last year, one of which I’m going to address in this post (co-citations), one of which I’m going to address in my next post (page vs whole site SEO), and the last being a shift in brute force link building to a natural link attraction play via content marketing (we’ve covered this a lot on our blog and will continue to cover it in depth in other posts).

In today’s post, I’d like to cover co-citations, what they are, and how to leverage this strategy to associate keyword themes with your web page content. To start out, let’s talk about what co-citations are.

What Are Co-Citations?

According to a definition that I found on SourceForge.net, co-citations are:

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.

My interpretation of the definition, in terms of how this affects SEO, is this: If you have a piece of killer content about wedding rings (A), and a link that says “click here” to a website that sells wedding rings (B), then the website that it is linking to must be about wedding rings (C).

It’s pretty straightforward and we are seeing a lot of evidence that Google starting to shift their ranking signals away from anchor text (it’s not dead yet) and more toward the idea of co-citation.

Where To Start With Co-Citations?

First of all, a lot of co-citations are earned by producing amazing content that people like to link to. These can be blog posts, they can be how-to guides, they can be tools, or any other linkable asset. Here’s an example from our very own blog:

example of co citation

Trackur has an amazing brand monitoring tool and I naturally included it in a section of content that was about brand monitoring. This is co-citation at its best!

Outside of earning links and citations naturally, you need to start building this into your strategy and processes. Any time you are producing and publishing content online, that content should be focused around a very specific theme and include non-keyword related anchor text links near the keywords you are targeting. Here’s an example of a guest post author bio we put together recently:


Again, the whole point of co-citation is to associate words or themes with internal or external links on a page.

As with all off page SEO strategy, you are aiming to not only look natural, but be natural. If every single co-citation has your target keyword right in front of a “click here” link, Google and the other engines will be able to sniff you out, so vary things up and BE natural!

So what are your thoughts about co-citation? Please share in the comments section below.


  1. Rich Harding says:

    Good article, I’m looking forward to the next 2. I’ve seen a lot of success through this as well. Like you, I still see small value in exact and partial match anchor text. I’m curious as to your opinion on the ratio of your strategy above vs. exact match? I seem to see the most success in about a 5-1 ratio.

    • Thanks for the comment Rich. I think it all depends on the situation (keywords, competitors, etc). I’ve found that the ratio needs to change based on the search query and what the competitive landscape (their backlinks) look like.

  2. How do you know this works? have you done testing on this theory of yours??

    • Yes, we’ve seen positive movement in the SERPs across many verticals. You can also see Rand’s findings here: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/prediction-anchor-text-is-dying-and-will-be-replaced-by-cocitation-whiteboard-friday

      • Hell of a article title for a piece that doesn’t have any hard data. Rand’s whiteboard Friday only contained a couple of anecdotes as well.

        I’m not saying co-citations isn’t a thing – this theory has actually been doing the rounds at least for the 4 years I’ve been an SEO, and this is a pretty good writeup of it – but every actual data-driven study still puts target anchor text as the main factor.

        As ever with Google, its shades of grey. There’s never going to be a magic bullet, you’ll never be able to say ‘Anchor text is THE factor’ or ‘Co-citations are THE factor’ – its both, and they are weighted differently, and Google will continue to test and refine those weightings. Forever. A couple of anecdotes should never ever be enough justification to ‘dump’ a tried and tested strategy, though. I would love to see a proper correlation study at some point.

        My guess is, most currently working blackhat techniques involve simulating content creation, which does suggest tell me that this is a factor. Thing is, it’s a bit of a moot point – links appearing in related content is a natural feature of good quality, white hat link building anyway.

  3. Good article Greg, i have been doing this (sort of) for a while, i never knew to refer to it by this. I have found your article so useful, thanks very much.

  4. Great stuff, and thanks for including Trackur!

  5. Georgina says:

    It seems like what you’re saying here is when you’re talking about a topic, include relevant links. You call it co-citation, I call it common sense. Sure, you can get all “strategic” about it and go nuts managing your co-citations so that they add up to search brownie points, or you can just do it naturally and automatically accrue said brownie points.

    The easiest way to make your SEO “look natural” is to do it naturally. You’ll link to Trackur by its brand name, but not your own business? That seems unnatural to me.

    Incidentally, including the word “services” as the only link to your site in your bio is useless for anyone using assistive technology who’s skipping through links, and for people like me who skim for links as a way to understand a page’s content before we commit to reading it, or in an effort to find ways to access more information on a topic.

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