Ever since its creation, Google has used something akin to citation analysis to rank the position of websites in natural search results. It's not just content that determines a site's position, but also the number and quality of other sites linking back to it.
Social media specialists are now starting to use citation analysis to boost the position of their clients' websites in search engine results. Tom Nixon, director of social media agency NixonMcInnes, says: "Any hyperlink can be seen as a citation, so by analysing how sites link to each other, we can find out which web pages are the most relevant for different subjects. Clients want to be high up in search results; one way to achieve this is to be cited in the right kind of places."
Nixon adds that the best way to boost citations is to make a brand relevant to its audience in order to generate links from other websites. For example, to boost the search ranking of More Than, NixonMcInnes created a content portal at living.morethan.com. "Insurance is not particularly interesting so we created content around environmental issues, which we knew More Than customers were interested in," Nixon explains.
During the summer floods last year, NixonMcInnes added an advice page. Within 24 hours, the page was being ranked on Google for flood advice above those of the BBC and specialist sites.
Elsewhere, Market Sentinel uses technology based on citation analysis to identify people who have referred to clients' brands online and rank them according to influence.
"We perform a big algorithm to calculate who has authority in the field in question, and we find it is fantastically accurate," says Market Sentinel CEO Mark Rogers. "Of the 10 people we find to be authoritative, the client will know six of them, but then there are the unknown bloggers and start-ups, so this is a great way of figuring out who deserves attention."
In a user-generated world, this is a method more brands are going to have to get to grips with.