Is Anchor Text Being Replaced by Co-Citation & Co-Occurrence?

As Google continues to change its algorithm and ranking system in an effort to provide users with the most relevant and valuable information, SEO professionals keep on looking for ways to successfully do their job.

For years keywords, backlinks and anchor text have been dominant in the SEO world.  One classic technique has been to manipulate anchor text to improve a website’s search engine rankings, but Google has since started penalizing those sites (Penguin update, anyone?). In recent months many SEO professionals and analysts including Rand Fishkin have been suggesting that anchor text is weakening and is being replaced by co-citation and co-occurrence.

What is exactly is co-citation? defines co-citation as this:

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.

In the SEO world, co-citation refers to the process of link building without actual links.  Co-citation does not require actual outgoing links to your site, unlike anchor text which has actual links embedded in words or phrases.

Instead, it is referring to a link that might exist on another website or even within a social network.  Google has, after all, put a lot of emphasis on social media sharing lately. The idea is that a website or social media post will still link to your site, but it’s the context in which the link occurs that matters, rather than any specific keywords embedded into the link.

If a website or article refers to your business or an article that you wrote, that’s a citation.  It’s considered to be more natural and valid, and therefore more valuable overall by Google.  The way Google sees it is this: people have the power to talk about anyone or anything they choose on the internet.  The fact that they chose to mention you, your site, and/or your business is big to them.  While Facebook “likes” or Google “+1’s” are most likely not going to affect anything search-related, it will not surprise me if Google increasingly looks at instances where a brand is mentioned within social media posts.

What is “co-occurrence?”

Neither of the terms “co-citation” or “co-occurrence” have been officially confirmed yet, and I find co-occurrence a bit harder to define.  After looking at definitions on several different sites, I noticed that some define it as being basically the same thing as co-citation.  However, some SEO analysts and professionals claim that there is a difference between the two.

The second thought process is that co-occurrence does not associate two sites altogether.  Instead, co-occurrence refers to when a brand or website name is associated with particular keywords or phrases within close proximity to each other. Google notices when a decent amount of websites mention a brand in conjunction with a particular keyword. For example, co-occurrence terms for the University of Miami could be “hurricanes,” “the U,” or even “Florida.” Google takes note of the relationship that is being established through each of the mentioning websites and integrates that information into its ranking factors. As a result, a website that may not appear to be using any SEO tactics for the co-cited keyword starts to rank for that keyword in search results.

Rand Fishkin’s Theory

Rand Fishkin, a well-known SEO analyst and owner of SEOmoz, predicted back in November 2012 that anchor text may be losing its power and co-citation and co-occurrence could be the next big things.

In his presentation of Whiteboard Friday he gave three examples of odd search engine results that led to his prediction and support his theory.  They are quoted below:

“For the query “cell phone ratings,” coming in at number four is a web page on without the words “cell phone” or the word “ratings.” Actually, I do think they have the word “rating,” and they might have the word “phone.” But it’s in the text. It’s not even in the title. Really remarkable that they’re ranking so well for such a competitive query.

Number two, “manufacturing directory.” Again, another very competitive phrase, and ThomasNet is ranking number three without mentioning any of these terms, without seeming to try and target that phrase at all.

Number three, “backlink analysis,” where Open Site Explorer, SEOmoz’s own tool ranks number two, and yet not in the title. It’s not anywhere on the page. Neither of these words are anywhere on the page. In the snippet, Google is actually using some text from another article that they found that mentions backlink analysis.”

Rand uses these examples to point out that even though these websites are ranked for highly competitive keywords, the website copy doesn’t reference these keywords anywhere in the title tags or in the page’s content.  According to Rand, co-citation and co-occurrence are why these websites rank so high for their main keywords.

Watch Rand Fishkin’s full video.

Is Anchor Text Being Replaced by Co-Citation & Co-Occurrence? by


  1. says

    I think this is Google just being smart. I think they start to “bucket” what websites are about (seomoz about links, consumerreports about ratings) and give weights to those buckets in queries. As websites continue to link out less and less Google must build more signals of relevance as that historically very accurate signal begins to fade. It will certainly be interesting to watch the next few years.

  2. says

    This would be awesome if it comes to fruition. It would be so much easier to just promote great content and market your website or business and reap SEO benefits without having to try and fit anchor text into your copy.

    Do great on-site seo and then go out on the web and tell everyone you can reach about your awesome website/product/business and let Google figure out the rest. Sounds like a dream!

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