What’s the value of an unlinked mention for SEO?

Apparently yesterday on SEO Twitter there was a back and forth between a Times journalist and a bunch of self-styled SEOs. I thankfully missed it somehow (I guess because I don’t follow the journalist and missed all the replies, and no one was subtweeting her), but upon looking back at it the flow went:

  1. Journalist laments SEOs continuing to email her asking for a link when she’s quoted and mentioned them;
  2. SEOs pile in and say that she should be linking to them;
  3. SEOs get blocked by journalist.

I’m not going to get into any he said/she said here. I am more on the side of the journalist than the SEOs who replied to her, but I also think the attitudes from both sides needed a bit of tempering.

I see it from the journo’s side because a) it’s super annoying to get bad/persistent “outreach” emails asking for something I don’t want to/can’t give, and b) she has every right to approach her writing the way she wants to.

I also see it from the SEO perspective, because I too would like a link from the Times, as an SEO and an entrepreneur building a business that gets a lot of business from organic rankings.

The bigger question to me, and the thing that quite honestly annoys me (and always has about the links-SEO world), is that the SEO side seemed/seems unwilling to recognize that an unlinked mention from the NYT or any other big publication can be a HUGE win for you.

Here’s how I’d put it to work (and, let me also tell you how it can directly benefit SEO).

Mentions = social proof

The journalist’s take on being asked for a link was that she has already helped you out by quoting/mentioning you in her article. I actually completely agree with this because mentions in a national/international publication are a big deal and can instantly lend credence to you/your business as an authority. Why else would there be a big industry around buying links from these sites that are mostly nofollowed?

A mention can be put to use in many ways as social proof. Check out Michael Hyatt’s site, which has all of these at the bottom:

I dug into that site’s backlinks (Ahrefs link here) and found that the site does have links back from many of them, but they do not from:

  • BusinessWeek
  • NY Times

That’s right, the first logo mentioned in that site’s homepage logo ribbon does not link to the site. So why is it there?

Because it is social proof, and Michael knows that by showing that he has been covered on BusinessWeek that he will build trust and likely earn business because he has that credence.

It’s the same reason why you ask for testimonials. I have a testimonial from Rand Fishkin on the Credo homepage:

I honestly cannot tell you how many times I have been on the phone with someone where I am building trust with them to let Credo help them hire the right marketing firm, and as they scroll down they go “Oh nice, Rand Fishkin endorses you”.

Social proof matters and you can put that mention (linked or not) to work for you with social proof on your site, in emails, and other places (your guest post bio, maybe? Your guest post pitches that you’ve been quoted there?)

Other content opportunities come about

After that, think beyond the direct link itself and start thinking (as an SEO!) about the other content you can build around the strategies you employ to help you get great mentions and links.

For example, I wrote this post about a year and a half ago about how I’ve successfully used HARO to get a lot of press. I’ve had links from Readers Digest, CIO.com, and many more come about because of HARO. In fact, all of these have come from HARO responses:

Those links are awesome and I am super happy that they chose to link to me.

I’ve also been mentioned on US News and World Report, CNBC, Wired, and featured in a cannabis industry magazine alongside my dog because of HARO. I didn’t get links from any of those (in fact, the cannabis one was a print magazine that was on newsstands here in Colorado!)

But can I put those mentions to work for me and will they long term benefit my business and my organic traffic (and thus business from that organic traffic)?


I’ve done it through:

  1. Putting them on my personal site’s homepage;
  2. Putting some spread around the Credo site as social proof;
  3. Putting it on other content, like the HARO piece and conference presentations, which all earn me links.

We’ve also used them to get me writing access to places like Entrepreneur, in pitches to various podcasts to get me on as a guest, and more.

Knock-on effects are real

Last year I had a LinkedIn post go viral, with over 10 million views and almost 97,000 likes:

From this, I had a big spike in organic traffic:

I met a VP from TrustPilot, which led to a guest post (and a link!) and more importantly an introduction to someone here in Denver who has become a good friend and colleague.

I was also mentioned on Inc thanks to my friend Brian Dean:

Having mentions and viral effects can lead to this sort of thing. That LinkedIn post will probably add six figures in revenue to my business over the couple of years following it, and the opportunities it led to have been insane.

You have a relationship

Here’s the thing I think a lot of the SEOs replying to the journalist’s chain yesterday missed:

The relationship.

Relationships make the business world go round. I have a lot of people that I send work to through Credo, who are not listed publicly for various reasons, because I know them and their work and trust them. I’ve sent them some incredible clients, clients that my company was able to generate because of our relationships in the digital marketing and entrepreneur industry/community.

Look at Entrepreneur Instagram (not Entrepreneur.com, just entrepreneurs). I follow people like Bedros Keuilian, Ramit Sethi, Tim Ferriss, Nomadic Matt, Craig Ballantyne, Joel Marion, Lewis Howes, Jen Esquer, and many more. Think what you will of their message and their personal views on business/life, but you can’t deny one thing:

They are all promoting each other because they have a relationship.

They’re not looking for a link or a quick hit! They’re not looking to “scale”! They’ve built long standing friendships and relationships that over the long term have massive impact on everyone’s business!

I’ll go out on a limb and say that almost every SEO that responded to the journalist’s tweet yesterday will never get a mention from her on the Times. That relationship has ended before it even started.

If you want to grow your business, grow your network, meet incredible people, and maybe get a few links that actually matter then you need to invest in relationships first. Full stop. No negotiation there.

Google knows entities

Finally, let’s talk SEO for a minute. Sigh. I purposefully don’t write much about SEO on this site these days because I have greatly expanded what I think and write about in the last few years, but I think this part is necessary to this post.

SEOs love to talk about “entities”. I didn’t understand entities for a loong time (and am still by no means an expert), but we’ve seen Google (and maybe others) invest in this idea of a “being” or a “company” quite a bit over the last few years (Google+ anyone??).

I am the John Doherty in Google because of this:


Rand is an entity:

Moz is an entity, and Google knows to associate “SEOmoz” with “Moz”. This is probably partially driven off anchor text, but that’s by no means the whole story:

I also heard directly from a Googler that because Google knows entities, they can and will associate your brand/name (unlinked even, which I specifically asked about) with the topic that the piece of content where you are mentioned is covering if your brand is associated with that topic enough.

Mind = blown.

It’s not a link-equity passing link, sure. But it’s a topic-related play that, if you are paying attention to where the web is going, may be even more powerful. If you’re not paying attention to topic relevance as an SEO and just keep talking about “backlinks”, then you are going to have a very bad time in a few years.

So that’s my take. This is why an unlinked brand mention can be a great thing for your business and you personally even if you do not get a link.

* Correction from earlier. I thought the journo was at the NYT. She was at the Times in the UK. This has been corrected.

7 thoughts on “What’s the value of an unlinked mention for SEO?

  1. I missed the thread, but I think that it’s a bad user experience and shoddy journalism for them NOT to link to the relevant entity/site when they mention you. It’s called citations and it’s standard in academia to link to your base sources. So why do journalists omit relevant links?

    It is SUPER frustrating to read an entire article, entirely about a specific person or event and yet have no ability to be referred to the correct resource. I have to pop-up a separate tab, do a search and HOPE that Google has the RIGHT person/entity or event and more often than not, I can’t find it.

    That’s just dinosaur journalism right there, unwilling to actually help their readers because of what? She’s annoyed she gets requests to cite her sources? Maybe if she linked to them in the first place she wouldn’t get requests to add them in retro-actively.

    1. I guess it’s a question of what “cite” means. In paper academia, they cite it meaning they footnote it. It’s not a link (aka that passes something like link equity which has monetary value).
      I also don’t think a link is always a help to the reader, or necessarily called for always.

  2. I did not see the twitter discussion either, but going off of your post here, part of the issue on wanting a link is that brand mentions are hard to measure. We want as much data as possible as it makes our decision making process more robust.

    As well, even if a linked mention, and a non-linked mention boosted our site equally, it would still be great to be able to check in our analytics and see those direct clicks coming in. It’s also good for reporting to a client..’we landed a you an article and it brought you this many visitors, which converted at x% ‘ etc.

    And yes, I agree it probably is a bit annoying for the journalist, especially since they may not have control over the final published product and outbound links.

      1. Not at all. Their site, their control. Thing is, maybe the journalist doesn’t understand SEO and the extra value a link brings, (not the specific journo in the twitter feed, but in general) so it doesn’t hurt to ask. An SEO can always check the rest of the site to see if there are any outbound links at all to help them gauge what that answer might be.

  3. I see both sides. I imagine journalists get a lot of very crappy requests – either for coverage & link, or link from existing coverage. Maybe 6 or 7 years ago I think those guys are linking out – hell the BBC used to link out like crazy, any company mentioned in the piece would get in their ‘Related Internet Links’ sidebar. Thats all changed though, partly thanks to the whole advertorial debacle and then with alog updates link Penguin (probably also with publications and newspapers hiring SEOs who maybe wanted to reduce the number of outbound links?)

    But most publications fully understand the value of links – they’re hot on internal links, something either done via a tool designed to tactically link certain words and phrases to certain pages, or they drum it into writers to add them (freelance or staff).

    I can see times when there’s really no need or benefit to adding a link – generic stories about a company seeing a profit dip for example. Probably nothing relevant to link to on the site, so is a homepage link from their brand term massively useful to readers? As an SEO is still like it – but I get why they wouldn’t add it. Where I think a link should be added is if the journalist has been able to write a great piece using data, imagery, a tool etc that’s been provided by the brand in question. There’s bound to be benefit for the reader in being able to explore that further so a link feels more natural. This year I had a piece picked up by the DailyMail in which they linked out to a tool we built 7 times in one piece. All nofollow (it’s their policy or a default setting I would inagine). I got in touch with the journalist who’d actually found the story via another site (so I’d never spoken to her before) and thanked her for the coverage. I also asked if it was possible to make one of the links a followed link…she didn’t know why they were nofollow and hadn’t done it. But 20 mins later I had a followed link…and a journalist who then asked me to send anything else over that I thought she’d find interesting. So there are folk out there who’ll say yes – and others who’ll say no. Same as in most areas of business (pitching, salary increase requests, change of role etc) – I think it’s always worth making the effort to engage in the right way and be polite about it…oh and give them a reason to link too 😉

  4. That was a compelling read, John. As mentioned above – I also agree with the fact that what can be measured, can be managed, hence it seems crucial to acquire those links/mentions… I also haven’t seen the thread but on the other hand – I really enjoyed your explanations on why it is still valuable to be mentioned even without the link 🙂

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