It isn’t often you get to write an accidental case study, but the joy of working in a field like SEO is that a sound organic strategy to grow visibility of a specific area of a website can often have knock-on effects which help other sections.

Such was the case while working on the visibility of Lindt UK’s dark chocolate, with a focus on generating content in partnership with a variety of highly influential food and lifestyle bloggers. Being the sorts who love to experiment in the kitchen mostly what resulted was a plethora of mouth-watering recipes made using Lindt’s dark chocolate Excellence bars in their various flavour incarnations.

Lindt Coverage Examples

Unsurprisingly, with such great content going up, the average visibility for dark chocolate (taken via clean browser ranking position for a stable of appropriate keywords using our trusty SERP sampling tool, Stat) has seen some significant improvements. Campaign success, great stuff!

Lindt Coverage SERP Sampling

The story doesn’t end there though.

While having a glance through SearchMetrics for the month, our blogger outreach extraordinaire Sally Gurteen noticed some recipe terms showing up in the winners segment of the keyword sampling report.

Lindt UK also has a small onsite recipes section, although it is not a major commercial focus, so we were curious to see why this had taken off when the offsite focus was so specifically on dark chocolate. Any links from these bloggers, for example, were going on branded terms to the relevant dark chocolate page and nobody had really mentioned Lindt’s recipes specifically in their content.

Taking a look at the visibility tracking for the recipe terms on Lindt UK reveals a very interesting phenomenon indeed – look at the early bounces up and down until sample ranking settles into a steadier improvement.

Lindt Recipes SERP Sampling

Despite the fact that none of the bloggers were talking about Lindt’s own recipes section, let alone linking to it, this part of the site saw a noticeable organic visibility boost during the dark chocolate campaign. But why?

The answer, we believe, lies in a rising phenomenon within organic search on Google that has been termed “co-occurrence” (or “co-citation” depending on which articles you read). The idea is that the topics needed are simply mentioned alongside the brand name, with or without a branded link to the homepage (i.e. the topic co-occurs or is co-cited alongside the brand association, thereby associating the brand and its website with the topic and boosting visibility).

There’s a lot of buzz around the search industry about “linkless link building” and all that sort of thing at the moment, and how the idea that someone can simply get mentioned online to build their website equity. This leads to a lot of arguments about site performance, spam, Penguins and ROI, but the short version really is that linkless organic equity building is not really a viable option for brands to shift to full-time.

Yet.

What the Lindt dark chocolate campaign shows, however, is strong evidence of the association between content and brand links – essentially instead of linking to a specific page, essentially “theming” a branded link using the content around it.  We’ve actually seen this before in the Pandora campaign we ran for Argento Jewellery, where simply discussing the theme of Pandora brand charm bracelets in conjunction with the Argento brand prompted an enormous visibility boost for the Argento website and skyrocketed organic traffic revenue.

In this case, although the focus of the campaign was visibility for dark chocolate, the Lindt brand was being mentioned in proximity with a variety of delicious recipes including some which they had versions for on their own website – things like mousse, brownies, crème brûlée or chocolate layer cake. Google, interpreting the growing mentions of recipes alongside the Lindt UK brand as a signal that Lindt was increasing in relevance for queries associated with these recipes, accordingly awarded a boost in visibility based on the topic association, not the links themselves.

So what does this mean?

At the moment, very little. It doesn’t change the need to grow the number of inbound links to a website in order to build authority, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone abandons the idea of links still being an important trust signal when it comes to Google’s algorithm.

What you can take away, though, is that when you’re contacting influencers and putting your brand out in front of them to grow your audience (which of course is what you’re doing, isn’t it, rather than any nasty paid link schemes?) any links you get become a nice to have bonus rather than an absolute necessity.

Nor do you need to worry if some paranoid bloggers won’t use followed links either, because you’re still getting some equity from the mention. The amount of equity for topic and brand mentions without links vs mentions with brand links (or any inbound links at all) is still skewed in favour of links, and that’s unlikely to drastically change any time soon. But no longer is offsite search equity as simple as “get good links,” either – and the good news is that by adding this kind of “mentioned alongside topic…” sensitivity into the organic algorithm, Google is actually making life easier for good brands and the PRs that work with them.

Long live the penguin, say I.

4Ps isn’t just another London SEO agency. To discuss how PR and content are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in offsite SEO methodology and search algorithms, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.