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Why Co-citation and Co-occurrence Are Such A Big Deal?

By vivian on July 8, 2015


The terms “co-citation” and “co-occurrence”, which are largely interchangeable, have been circulating through the SEO community for awhile now, and for good reason.

They’ve been termed the next “it” thing in SEO, and some expect them to be identifying markers of the next Google reform wave.

Since these changes are so important, it’s crucial for SEO professionals to understand what they are and how they change the SEO playing field.

What is Co-occurrence?

Photo courtesy: OnBlastBlog

Photo courtesy: OnBlastBlog

Co-occurrence looks at three basic characteristics of similar keywords across all websites in order to index those keywords. It’s basically an extension of latent semantic indexing, a concept that isn’t new to SEO, but to which co-occurrence is tied.

The three main keyword characteristics that this type of indexing looks for are presence, frequency, and proximity.

  • Presence – Similar keywords must have a presence in order to be indexed. This is fundamental and explicit. The keywords don’t have to be identical, but in order to track patterns, any number of keywords out of a group (i.e. restaurants and eateries) must appear, or be present.
  • Frequency – Next, this type of indexing looks at how frequently these similar keywords appeared and used across all website on which they appear.
  • Proximity – Finally, it’s important to index the proximity these words have not just to each other but to other words. This helps to index phrases (and phrases that people actually search for instead of individual words.

Again, nothing new in SEO, but still important to understand in order to grasp the concept of co-occurrence.

Google Caffeine burst onto the search scene when it was rolled out in August of 2009, and it sent shock waves through the search community because it symbolized a significant shift in both indexation ranking and index expansion.


Matt Cutts explained it by saying that Caffeine “allows easier annotation of the information stored with documents” and went on to say that it can then “unlock the potential of better ranking in the future” by using the additional signals.

This, at its core, is co-occurrence, and it’s an algorithm that beats the “content is king” drum louder and more emphatically than ever before.

So What’s Co-citation?


Now that you understand the basic concepts underlying co-occurrence, you can expand upon that to understand co-citation. While these two terms can technically be used interchangeably, they are also different in many ways.

In its simplest form, co-citation happens when a website or brand is mentioned by two independent sources.

Let’s say you post an article about buying homeowners insurance on your blog. In the next day or so you find out that a real estate agent’s blog and an online magazine have both mentioned your article. That’s co-citation.

Notice that co-citation exists whenever two sources mention the same piece of content, the same website, or the same brand – not when they link to it. Co-citation is strictly about mentions, not about links.

Two rules exist in order for a site to be related in a co-citation context.

  • Both sites must mention the same site, but a link is not required.
  • Both sites must discuss a similar topic. However, shared keywords are not a requirement.

Basically, co-citation tells search engines “hey this website is important because several websites about similar topics are discussing it”.

Links Still Matter


While co-citation is powerful enough as its own SEO feature, building backlinks is still important and shouldn’t be discounted just because it’s not a part of co-citation. In theory, a pure co-citation relationship could exist without linking.

However, in practice it would be very hard to find an example of such a relationship because the importance and effectiveness of linking is so crucial to and necessary for the SEO process to work effectively.

How to Avoid a Negative Impact To Your SEO Ranking

As beneficial as co-citation and co-occurrence can be to your SEO ranking, it can also hurt. Be sure to fully research the websites you’re mentioning, not just the ones you link to.

If you’re mentioning sites and brands that don’t have a good reputation, you can easily bring down the ranking of your site, as well. It’s guilt by association on a digital level, and it can be hard to come back from.

Also, you want to make sure that the sites you’re mentioning are sites that are similar to yours.

For instance, if you’re selling construction services, make sure all the brands, sites, and sources you mention in your content have to do with that subject.

Relevance is still a huge factor in SEO, and if you want to show up in the SERPs it’s important to make sure all the websites and brands you’re affiliated with are relevant to each other and to what you have to offer.

The other side of the co-occurrence and co-citation coined is to make sure you’re producing valuable, high-quality content that your audience finds interesting and with which they want to engage.

However, think about others in your industry, as well. Which sites and brands would you want to be mentioned by?

Write content that not only reaches out to your clients, but that will draw the attention of business affiliates, as well.

Tips on Implementation

You might be thinking “This is great information, but how do I use it?” Here are some things to keep in mind as you go to apply these concepts to your own website and content.

  • Don’t worry so much about anchor text. Optimizing anchors isn’t going to help you very much in the near future because co-occurrence and co-citation essentially replace the need for anchor text.
  • While keywords have their place, the emphasis should be on relevancy more than on finding the right keywords. The importance of keywords has dwindled in recent years and will likely continue to because search engine algorithms are becoming more sensitive to the way people actually talk and search.

If you’re creating relevant content about your topic and speaking in plain language that is frequently used, you shouldn’t have to worry about finding keywords to insert artificially into your content.


Focus on creating the highest quality content and value you can, because this will help you get mentions, increase your brand presence, and provide you with more exposure. Building your brand presence helps you rank for high-converting branded keywords, and helps you where organic search is concerned, as well.

Use content marketing in order to obtain the high-quality links you desire. However, as you do, keep in mind that backlinks are on their way out where importance is concerned. Instead, focus on authorship and using “human language”, as these are the two characteristics that are likely to replace backlinks in importance.

The Main Point

If you’re holding your head wondering how you’ll ever implement these shifts into your marketing efforts, don’t. While it might sound technical – and while the back end algorithmic side of it is – the only thing you need to remember is that gimmicks are on their way out and legitimate quality is on its way in.

Focus on building your brand by using legitimate methods to increase its visibility and to position it in the best light possible.

This involves creating outstanding content that put less emphasis on gimmicks like anchor text, keywords, and optimizing for phrases, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should craft content designed to solicit links or mentions.


Instead, you should create content that is so valuable and of such high quality the mentions and co-citations naturally come to you. In short, put in the hard work to create quality content and an outstanding experience for your customers, and you’ll earn your way onto the pages of other sites and into the hearts of customers.

Don’t Forget: It Goes Both Ways


If you’re hoping to be mentioned by high-ranking brands and sites in your industry, don’t forget that the conversation and co-occurrence relationship goes both ways.

Part of your efforts should include mentioning other brands and sites that are related to what you do and would also provide your customers with value.

This doesn’t mean you have to mention competitors or start mentioning every company you can find. Instead, it means you should do searches for highly respected and relevant brands and sites that you truly feel would help your clients.

By giving these brands and sites a nod, you’re giving credit to quality sources, associating yourself with them, and initiating a relationship that could serve both of you in the long run.

However, focus on your own site first and make sure it’s the kind of site that the sources you’re mentioning will want to be associated with.

It all comes back to quality, and while the SEO game can seem out of your control at times, producing high-quality content and administering quality service is something you do have control over. And ultimately, that’s what will earn you a great reputation.

The future of SEO is looking up. Where web marketers once had to focus on finding the right combination of keywords, putting the right links on their sites, and creating the right anchor text, the focus has shifted to legitimate quality.

Earning positive reputations, backlinks, mentions, and brand presence have become things that you need to you earn, and not things you purchase with money or keywords.

This is a positive step forward, because it means all you have to do in order to succeed is to work hard and focus on quality, which is what you do best.

While it’s important to understand how co-occurrence and co-citation principles can impact your business, the underlying message is a shift toward quality over keywords, which is a relief to many.

[This blog post was originally written and published by Ben on July 7, 2015. It is most recently updated by Vivian on Dec 30, 2020]

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Updated: 4 December 2022


About Vivian

Vivian is an anthropologist lost in the world of digital marketing. She has an interest in learning about the science of marketing and the creativity that businesses use to transform themselves into purple cows.

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