I have been reading in some places that google may consider linkless mentions of a brand as a ranking signal. For example, a popular brand may be mentioned all over without actual links. Is there any truth in this? If so, on same lines do no-follow links impact ranking as well?
I once heard that nofollow links have negative connotations since a link with this attribute will be identified as a reference in which the referrer does not endorse. They simply do not pass value, but not just for what most people believe, it is also because there is a lost opportunity to link or semantically associate both documents (pages).
Mentions on the other hand, reinforce your brand if the citation is within a positive context. Assuming all your website citations are good, you might notice a positive correlation between the number of citations and your website direct traffic, which also has a positive impact in recognising your brand.
Future impact? Nofollow links will definitely generate more traffic and hopefully qualified traffic. Mentions, as long as they are positive, will also have a positive impact in your website traffic. In terms of rankings, only mentions might have a positive impact.
I have heard that linkless brand mentions are a ranking signal as well. When Google discovers your brandname on a webpage, it will use its language processing to determine what that brandname is in relation to.
Google has also had to learn how to differentiate between when a brand name is used and when a normal word is used. For instance, are we talking about the company Apple or the fruit apple?
When google comes across a page and sees it mention your brandname, it will naturally wonder what that brandname is. Is that a new word, a typo? Is it your brand? When it searches Google for that keyword does your domain pop up? If so you are the most relevant page on the web for that keyword it just discovered. Therefore, it must be about you!
The more it sees your brandname mentioned across the web, the more it discovers how relevant you are and how much people are talking about you. Naturally, this has a major impact on the ranking of your brand on Google search.
Google has officially stated that it now focuses on brands, and believes brands are the answer to organizing the internet. The more relevant your brand, the more Google will trust your website.
It makes sense that Google has to understand brands, names, things and celebrities. It's one of the core functionalities of its search capabilities. When someone searches for hamburgers, Google understands that McDonalds is a strong brand in this space and will rank it higher because of it. And so having your brand mentioned across the internet is invaluable for ranking.