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What is Co-Citation?

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Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz recently wrote that he predicts anchor text is going to be eclipsed as a signal and “replaced by something else, something Google has gotten very clever about….That is co-citation.” What exactly is co-citation? Should you abandon anchor text efforts?  What do you need to know about this topic, especially as we get ready to close 2012 and head into 2013?

Co-citation is not a new concept. It is, as one source defines, “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.”

Instead of focusing on the anchor text, or rather, in addition to looking at anchor text, Google and Bing look at the association a site has with certain topics or keywords. For instance, Fishkin sites are examples in which Consumer Reports ranks very highly for “cell phone ratings.” This is a very competitive term, and yet, Consumer Reports has not optimised for it. They don’t have anchor text with those words, and, in fact, you might have to use a magnifying glass to find those words in the text at all.

But, he writes, “Google is noticing the association. They see the words ‘cell phone.’ They see the word ‘rated,’ and they see ‘Consumer Reports.’ They put two and two together and say, ‘You know what? It seems like lots of people on the Internet seems to think that Consumer Reports and cell phone ratings go together.’”

This is interesting because you can get that boost in credibility and association without even having other sites directly link to yours. It can also work in the opposite direction, though. Say you own a site that sells blue dishes, and you purchase a link that points to sites related to gambling or pharmaceuticals or something similarly random. Google looks at this association, which is not doing you any favors.

The idea is to surround yourself with a good “neighbourhood” and write interesting, relevant content that will work to create those associations for search engines. Here’s an interesting video tutorial to check out to learn more about SEO co-citation. You can be sure it’s going to be a big topic in the coming year.

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