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Negative brand mentions won't kill you. Stop the pandamonium!

Things that brands and agencies should know about mentions and sentiment.

Google’s new patent

By now you may have heard that Google has filed for a patent that could have some significant changes to its search algorithm. In fact, with Panda 4.0 having gone live this month, those changes may already secretly be in place. Do you know how could these changes affect your brand or your client’s brands?

Most of the patent will be confusing if you try to read it. The important part is the concept of implied links that it introduces. It says that “… An implied link is a reference to a target resource e.g., a citation to the target resource”. What this means is that things that aren’t links can now be considered as links.

In other words brand mentions can now be considered citations of an opinion of a brand. Brand mentions can now be construed as links. If that mention is merely in the source resource (the page mentioning the brand), it can contribute to Google’s SEO calculations. Just to be clear, brand mentions can now contribute to SEO and search results.

The patent affects everyone

Consider the owner of a small online retailer that sells men’s clothing. When somebody searches for a term, say winter jackets, a whole range of relevant results will get displayed. With the patent in action, if the person clicks a link then that term then becomes linked to the destination website. The phrase winter jackets will be stored as what is known by Google as a reference query.

That reference query will then become associated with a group of resources. A group of resources can mean many things, in this case possibly a collection of websites that sell men’s clothing. Assume that the first page of search results had a link to a blog reviewing one of the store owner’s amazing jackets.

So what?

The phrase winter jackets will now be saved as a reference query for the men’s clothing resource group in Google’s vast archive. When the same person searches for something in the future, this reference query can be used as a data point to determine what results to show in the new search.

It’s possible that the query may be a data point for other people that have searched for similar things in the past. It’ll also be likely that this logic flow will be consistent for all searches. This includes phrases relevant to your brand.

Google isn’t that smart yet

Computers aren’t as intelligent as people. They don’t really know how to predict exactly what we want yet. There are many smart people that hold this opinion. Recommendations and predictions are still so difficult because determining what makes a good recommendation is non-trivial.

Search engines like Google that recommend websites to you have a tough time. That’s because Google has to decide whether the content on each of the billions of pages it indexes is any good. It then has to calculate the authority of the information on the page and figure out the quality of the information. Then it must determine if it will be relevant to the context of your query.

This complexity means that imperfect recommendations are going to be around for a long time. Google can only tend toward better recommendations over time.

A note about sentiment analysis

The search bots care about the text inside of your h1 tags, your h2 tags, your title and so on. These days they may even care about the main text on your pages enough to semantically parse them. Google is probably doing a lot of sentiment classification behind the scenes.

Those classifications may be a factor in determining the popularity of something like a brand. If your brand of winter jackets is being written about on a popular blog, those brand mentions may carry some weight in Google’s calculations.

Currently, there are tons and tons of tools that can determine where brands are mentioned. They can also figure out the sentiment around them (but nowhere near perfectly). That kind of sentiment analysis and classification can be part of the SEO technology Google may use in the future.

What do you do?

There are going to be a lot of theories about how Google uses these implied links. Just remember that all of these theories are just going to be speculations. Nobody outside of Google will know for sure what changes have been or will be made.

Some PR companies are going to be happy that their paid media was worth the investment. Many SEO consultants will suggest guest blogging and other ways to get brand mentions plastered around the web. The key thing to do here is to do nothing different.

That is to say carry on using a data-driven approach to your marketing and keep building your brand steadily and genuinely. There is no need to rush out with money in your hand in order to react to this or any other Google search engine change. Do not be tricked into black-hat marketing.

Keep calm and carry on making customers happy

If your brand is getting positive brand mentions online then that’s great. Positive mentions and healthy social media marketing really help the perception of a business. If Google is using positive mentions as implied links and factoring in your location to present relevant local listings, then fantastic. But there is no way to tell.

I could be sneaky and say that more positive reviews about your brand on amazing review websites are the way forward. But it probably isn’t true and would be impossible to confirm. Sure, more positive reviews and less negative reviews will probably help your reputation. But they cannot undoubtedly be proved to help your search engine ranking.

Will your brand’s mentions factor in? Perhaps. Will negative brand mentions hurt your brand’s SEO rankings? Perhaps not. Sentiment analysis is probably not used that much yet. Will speculating about these sorts of things be productive? Absolutely not. What will be productive is having a great brand, offering great service, and letting your customer base help you build up your reputation and rankings organically.

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