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Ways of Word-Making: Semantic Correlation in Google Means Brands with the Right Strategies Build Better Content

The Content Marketing Institute discovered that nearly 1 in 4 B2C marketers would not claim to do content marketing if it means implementing a strategy. That stat means a surprising number of companies remain impatient or stymied by the importance of strategy for their content marketing.

Such reservations are usually connected to an apparent lack of measures for success in content marketing, and shouldn’t deter brands from outlining a strategy to effectively create, distribute, and measure the impact of their content.

Content Marketing: The Stuff That Leads Are Made Of

Many brands don’t recognize the need for content strategy because they do not understand how competition works for organic traffic, and so don’t know what winning looks like. Knowing your competition makes for better strategy in business, and this fact holds for a site’s content strategy as well--but digital competition has its own basis.

Keywords are essential to it, but not the whole story. With the advent of semantic correlation to Google, backlink metrics also define relative strengths and weaknesses among rivalries of digital competitors.

Semantic correlation means that Google now recognizes the terms used when your site gets discussed or linked to, and you are most visible when these terms appear in discussions of similar topical relevance on your site.  In other words, you signal authority when you are in fact discussing subject matter in the context of which other sites mention and link to your own.

The strengths and weakness in visibility that result should shape any content marketing strategy that moves ecommerce forward, and you should know not just who is talking about you, but the words they use in getting your site in front of the right traffic.

Most organizations know who their business rivals are, and develop strategies assuming their competition translate exactly into the digital landscape. The RKG Blog once suggested an eye opening exercise that identifies a brand’s true SEO competition that remains relevant.

You can go a step further and analyze the non-branded terms for which your site ranks from the perspective of share of voice. You’ll likely find that brick and mortar competitors are not the sites that demand the largest share of voice among the terms for which you rank or for which you want to rank.

Influence and Confidence: Metrics by Any Other Name

So what is a backlink metric? Backlink metrics track the signals of popularity and authority that sites accrue according to the quality and volume of both internal and external linking, which remain the leading signals for search engine rankings according to the recent Search Engine Ranking Factors report from Moz.

Search engines want to serve maximally relevant results, so it is no surprise that popularity and authority are major predictors of their behavior. Not all SERPs are created equal, and the challenge sites face in a search world after the Panda updates is ranking for the SERPs most relevant to their brand and vertical.

Backlink metrics fall into two broad categories that we at Merkle|RKG call influence and confidence.  In a normal engagement for building content strategy, Merkle | RKG leverages results from multiple backlink data providers by aggregating and equalizing available metrics in a proprietary manner that stabilizes the inherent volatility of their indices to judge the influence and confidence of potential backlinks.

In essence, this method distills a reliable snapshot from the data of an ever shifting landscape.


Confidence gauges the quality of the link profile of a specific webpage or domain. Receiving links from sources with intrinsic high confidence (.edu, .gov, .org, etc.) can be regarded as a vote of confidence for the targeted site.

The fewer degrees of separation between a site and a link from a trusted website, the stronger the vote of confidence your site gets. In other words, confidence looks like this:

degrees of separation from the seed site impacts the flow of confidence

The diminishing arrows illustrate how degrees of separation from the seed site impacts the flow of confidence.  There are two factors in the metrics of confidence: Majestic’s Trust Flow and Moz’s MozTrust. In both cases, a set of trusted seed sites deliver link equity to other sites by degree of separation.

These sites tend to be tied to authoritative organizations across a range of fields—educational, governmental, and well-regarded media sites for instance. In this way, earning a link from NASA or the Washington Post more positively affects SERP position than links from less vetted sites.



Influence compares both the quantity and quality of the internal and external links to a specific page or domain against the pages and domains of all other sites in the search engine’s indices. It reflects the general popularity of any given web page on the Internet.

Influence increases with more and better signals from social indicators, total number of linking root domains, total number of links, and the like. So the flow of equity in influence resembles the diagram below where the varied sizes of the arrows represent the differing equity each site passes along:

Majestic’s Citation Flow, Moz’s Moz Rank and ahrefs URL Rating are the leading metrics for influence. When measuring influence, all sites pass equity, but again not equally.  Equity is distributed across the total number of links on the site and higher quality, vetted sites have more equity to pass along.  Lower quality sites still count, but their affect is more in aggregate.

Furthermore, the equity of influence passes directly and is not transitive: each site can only pass or gain influence for itself.  In short: influence measures site visibility according to how often and which other sites link to it.

Content Strategy: All It Does Is Win

Your strategy for online content needs to be built in light of your digital competitors because the signals that you want to outshine, and the share of voice among relevant terms that you will acquire are theirs.

These sites jostle against yours for visibility in the landscape of SERPs, and content that does not consider these sites strategically can neither leverage strengths nor address weaknesses.  Such content is executed blindly, and can hardly be expected to generate consistent results for your site or brand.

A solid content strategy on the other hand will be based on an understanding of the relationship between backlinks and keywords that semantic correlation uses in determining relevance.

Brands should be happy to get rid of the trial and error of gut-level content development arising from bull sessions and brainstorms. Data-driven, SEO-informed content strategy makes developing and executing content an accountable practice that aims for SERP visibility and discoverability by:

  • Setting priorities for developing content topics by leveraging search behavior and traffic flows
  • Establishing KPIs for ascertaining content performance by targeting terms and SERPs that can be tied directly to traffic patterns
  • Targeting the features of the right UX by guiding page level optimizations and targeting

Higher click-through rates from more, and better qualified, organic traffic is something any organization doing business online wants. Meanwhile, compelling and relevant content marketing lifts qualified traffic, and targeting the right audiences with the right terms when developing content can improve your rank on all the right SERPs.

So the insight is simple: content is king, but the right content marketing strategy can be a kingmaker.