Most internet marketing professionals know the value of a good back link. But the real good marketers know the value of non-link related ranking signals as well. I know the first thought you may have regarding non-link related ranking signals are that they are all on-site, but the fact of the matter is there are some great ranking signals Google relies on that are off-site and have no html formatting once so ever.
You may have heard of citations which marketers focusing on local business listings use to influence Google Places. Well citations are a strong signal and they can be achieved from just having your phone number, or address on another website. Phone numbers and addresses are unique, just as unique as a URL. Google can make the correlation and often does. Have you ever had two separate businesses that shared the same phone number. Well I have and Google business listings merged the two into one listing, this was done way before it became Google Places, well before Google started policing their business listings. The two businesses were legit, just run from a cell phone from two different addresses for two different industries. I know having them share a number instead of having separate number was a mistake, but it did give me insight to factors Google looks for. I believe this is one reason brands do well in the searches as well. Brands are typically unique words or phrases and Google can distinguish how many times they are mentioned even if there isn’t a link. Don’t believe me? Set up a Google alert for your brand and see how many alerts you get. The key is to make sure your brand goes hand and hand with your domain so Google can give you correlation credit.
These ranking signals are treated differently. First, they are not spider-able. Meaning when your phone number or brand is mentioned on a website it won’t count as a back link per say and won’t influence page rank, but can influence ranking in my opinion, especially on the local level. If I were Google I would put more trust into social mentions of brands and non-link signals in conversations like in Gmail or Google+. Cause at least for right now not too many marketers are willing to spend time creating content without an embedded back link in it.
So why are phone numbers as important as URLs? The short answer is mobile. Right now Google knows the domain name for almost every business, and their phone number too. But imagine for a minute that Google knows every phone number for every person, and instead of only ranking businesses for keywords, they rank people based on their phone numbers for keywords like keywords of their interests. They could complete users profiles to include all their friends in their contacts even if that don’t have Google accounts. They could complete profiles for people who never even use computers and deliver specific ads to their mobile devices just based on the phone number.
The thing to think about is while links are the driving factor today, will they be tomorrow?