Backlinks have been at the core of Search Engine's ranking algorithms right from the early days of search engines. Google, as well as the other big search engines, had a problem with this for years, Google tried to fix everything with the Panda update and began to penalize domains that used unlawful techniques to gain backlinks and overall link authority.
In fact, to this day, backlinks remain one of the most important ranking factors in any search engine, including Google.
Shady tactics of gaining backlinks as well as plenty of abuse are still happening in the SEO community. This is why prominent publications started to implement the nofollow tag to their overall outgoing website's links, transferring zero link authority by doing so and ensuring spam and low-quality content is filtered out.
There is a massive industry behind backlink building, and a lot of people are willing to pay big bucks to gain those precious backlinks from trusted sources.
What is Google's answer to this problem?
Both Google and Bing are currently taking into consideration brand mentions when it comes to rankings. Brand name mentions on websites as well as social media is noticed by Google and may result in a short-period rank spike to test your site on a certain number of queries.
This, combined with artificial intelligence learning machines like RankBrain will ensure the future of search engines results, especially Google.
How does SEO fit into this story?
Well, SEO specialists around the world will have an additional task: tracking brand mentions over the web. Why? Because it gives you the perfect opportunity to contact those mentions and ask for backlinks, that's why!
"Again with the backlinks?" - YES!
Backlinks aren't dead and buried just yet. Brand mentions may equal in a positive buzz that your domain may benefit from in the future, but for now, backlinks are still highly valuable and will generate a buzz on steroids.
I don't know precisely when backlinks will stop being a ranking factor, maybe in a couple of years, perhaps never. But what I'm sure about is that Google will eventually crack down on Black Had SEO and everything related to non-natural authority building.
Brand mentions vs. Backlinks - Which one is the most important?
I would say backlinks. Even more, I suggest you do your best and apply your best outreach techniques into transforming as many organic mentions as possible into dofollow backlinks.
How can you increase the number of brand mentions?
- Encourage reviews as much as you can, especially on the third-party website and social media. Make sure you remain active and respond to negative reviews whenever they appear, but it may also be good to answer with thanks as well as information to the positive reviews.
- Social media content and ads. Brand exposure is good, use every tool at your disposal to improve your social media exposure. Respond to people mentioning your brand and try clearing out stuff when you have the chance.
- Influencers. A growing trend nowadays, influencers marketing is perfectly designed to increase your band mentions. Contact influencers in your niche and start those mentions flowing.
- Learn from your competitors. Track their movements and campaigns. Copy everything they are doing right and keep away from stuff that had negatively influenced them.