Is co-citation a Google ranking factor?

What is co-citation, and is it a ranking factor in Google search?

You may have heard the term co-citation in your SEO peregrinations, often during link building discussions and usually in conjunction with another term: co-occurrence.

Co-citation has long been used by search engines to help determine how two seemingly unrelated documents can be connected.

If my cottage building website (a girl may dream) gets a link from a top construction publisher this week, and your solar power equipment website gets one next week, than does this say to google?

While this doesn’t indicate a relationship between you and me, it does suggest to search engines that we have something in common.

But is co-citation actually used by Google as a factor in its search ranking algorithm? Let’s see.

The claim: co-citation as a ranking factor

We’ve been talking about co-citation for a very long time. Jim Boykin shared a good overview of the SEO industry’s understanding of the concept back then in 2006.


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He cited a definition from SourceForge which states, in part:

“Bibliographic co-citation is a popular similarity measure used to establish subject similarity between two items. If A and B are both cited by C, it can be said that they are related to each other, even though they do not directly refer to each other. If A and B are both cited by many other items, they have a stronger relationship. The more they are mentioned, the stronger their relationship. “

You can see how such an understanding could be of use to Google in its quest to find the most reputable, authoritative, and trusted sources to answer searcher queries.

But is co-citation really a ranking factor?

Proof of co-citation as a ranking factor

Before you dig in, if you’re wondering what’s the difference between co-citation and co-occurrence, this brief conversation between Rand Fishkin and Bill Slawski sums it up. in a few tweets:

Screenshot from, September 2021

For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about co-citation – how links versus keywords determine Google’s understanding of a piece of content.


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Citation analysis comes from the field of bibliometrics, where academics and researchers use citations between documents to determine which books, articles, or other content are most popular.

It is a practice that has existed at least since the beginning of the 19th century. However, citation analysis has become much more useful with the automation and indexing of citations. This allowed researchers not only to document the citations on a large scale, but also to visualize how they were connected and to analyze the entire collection for patterns.

Seems familiar? It should, because these are the principles on which Google’s Knowledge Graph was built.

And if there’s even a hint of method in Google’s indexing and information search madness, SEO pros are going to try to figure out how it affects rankings.

Digital marketers have long believed in the power of co-citation.

In 2010, Jennifer Van Iderstyne wrote,

“One of the things that can affect the value of a link is the links around it. Simply put, having your bond surrounded by shit is going to make you look bad. But having your site linked to competitors or trusted resources can have a positive effect on your rankings.

In 2013 Tayyab Nasir wrote:

“Co-quotes are more appreciated by search engines than anchor text because co-quotes are deserved, while anchor text is created by you.”

And in 2020, Adam Heitzman wrote,

“If you think about it, co-citation and co-occurrence really makes sense when it comes to what Google has always tried to appreciate – authority and the real, genuine intertwining of great things. of content. “

Links are still widely seen as one of the most – if not the the most – heavily weighted ranking factors in Google algorithms.

But we all know that there are huge issues with link integrity and their value as a ranking factor in a world where links can be bought and sold.

The presentations from Hummingbird, RankBrain and BERT each demonstrate the great strides Google is making in developing a deeper and more meaningful understanding of every piece of content.

There has been talk for years of co-citation and co-occurrence replacing links and anchor text as ranking signals.


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Quotes are only one type of link, however. And the co-citation helps give context of the link.

This helps Google understand who is who, the “why” behind a link, and whether the link makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

That way, the co-citation could actually help Google identify link spam, helping links stay relevant as a ranking signal for many years to come.

Evidence Against Co-Citation as a Ranking Factor

There are potential issues with the idea of ​​co-citation as a Google ranking factor, including the potential for manipulation.

Wherever links are seen to be of value, some will try to play with the system.

If you’re thinking of buying links to build relevance to your industry in some sort of co-citation scheme, you really need to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

John Mueller recalled the different ways Google handles link manipulation, in a July 11, 2021 edition of Office Hours:

“Artificially creating links, removing links from other sites, buying links – all of this is against webmaster guidelines. We act on this algorithmically, and we act on it manually.

And the actions we take include demoting the site that buys the links, demoting the site that sells the links, and sometimes we just take more subtle action by simply ignoring all of those links.

For example, if we recognize that a site regularly sells links… we go there often and say, “Okay, we’ll ignore all the links. “


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None of this is new, but here we are still talking about it.

Co-citation as a ranking factor: our verdict

Is co-citation a Google ranking factor?

Of course, co-quotes can be played.

A long time ago, academics recognized the need to go beyond just counting citations in order to understand their true value. Volume alone is not a good metric measure.

Pointing to a large number of unwanted links on a site will not be of any use to you (more and more for a long time in any case).


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Links / citations are such a fundamental aspect of document analysis and so incredibly useful that I think the benefits far outweigh the potential for manipulation – and I think Google thinks so too.

The complexity of Google’s indexing and ranking algorithms means that co-citation probably carries much less weight than in grading academic papers.

What two links pointing to a page tell Google about that page is just a small clue. This is a point on a very large graph.

Attempts to manipulate it as a ranking signal would have much less impact in research than in academic collections.

Has Google confirmed that co-citation is a ranking factor? Not that I could find.

However, we think it could very well be.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita / SearchEngineJournal

Kevin A. Perras

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