3 Key Types of Link Building Metrics and How to Use Them Successfully
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the problem is, I don’t know which half. – Department store mogul John Wanamaker
It goes without saying that Wanamaker did not have a Google Analytics account to check the performance of its ads.
The internet has brought us into an era where many believe that anything can (and should) be measured and implemented.
As a more modern saying goes: If you don’t measure it, you don’t care.
The point is, while we clearly have more data than Wanamaker over 100 years ago, we don’t always know which data matters most.
Worse, having the data doesn’t mean we are using it to make the right decisions.
This can apply to all digital marketing channels, especially SEO. Specifically, it’s all too easy to misunderstand and abuse data associated with link building.
When we measure the wrong data points and metrics, a bunch of terrible things can happen:
- We think we are doing a good job, but we are not.
- Bad behavior can be triggered, leading to substandard work.
- We measure the impact of our work in a way that is unrelated to actual business results.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the link building metrics available and assess how we should – and shouldn’t – use them.
1. Domain and page quality metrics
The most obvious place to start is the abundance of metrics that various tool vendors have created to help gauge link value and quality.
Here are just a few:
- Majestic TrustFlow and CitationFlow.
- Moz domain authority and page authority.
- Domain evaluation by Ahrefs.
- Semrush domain score.
Most of them are available for free. We all have our favorites, and many use multiple or even our own proprietary versions.
No matter which one (s) you use, there are a few things to consider if you plan to use them and a few pitfalls to avoid.
Use as an indicator of ranking potential
Many of these metrics are designed to mimic how Google PageRank (which we no longer have access to) works, but they will be far below what Google is able to calculate and use on the web.
They are also usually designed to give an idea of how one domain or page ranks against another.
These are not exact measurements that can give you an exact answer to a question and therefore should not be used in this way.
Instead, use them to figure out a possible reason why one domain or page might rank higher than another: the volume and quality of the links that point to it.
Of course, there are many reasons why one domain can rank higher than another, so checking a metric like Domain Rating or Domain Authority can give you an idea of how links can be a factor.
This becomes a starting point for digging deeper into those links or looking at other areas you could influence to improve organic search rankings.
Use to sort and filter link building prospects
Another good use of metrics like Domain Rating or Domain Authority is to sort large lists of domains so that you can focus your link building efforts.
While there are other factors like relevance to think about, using a raw metric like this and ranking domains from highest to lowest scores can help.
Say you have put together a list of 300 potential areas that seem relevant to your link building efforts, you will need to find a place to start.
Pulling a metric can do this job very well so that you begin your link building process with areas that are likely to be strongest in terms of link equity.
Again, this is not a hard rule of thumb, but it is a useful way to use these metrics.
Use for link profile audit
If you are trying to audit a link profile, you will likely need to collect and examine data on hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of link domains.
When faced with this kind of task, using metrics can help you find potential issues with your link profile or unusual patterns.
For example, if you pull data for your link profile and find that a high proportion of them have a domain authority or a domain rating of less than 10, that gives you a good place to start for potential links. low quality.
On the other hand, you may find an unusually high proportion of your links in the DA90 + range. This could mean that some digital PR activity has already taken place, leading to many links from top domains.
Either way, collecting these types of metrics can give you direction for the rest of your link audit and show patterns you might not otherwise spot.
2. Link attributes – Nofollow, Sponsored and UGC
Next, let’s take a look at a very common data point that SEO professionals use when building links – link attributes, including nofollow, sponsored, and UGC.
We will talk about nofollow because it is by far the most common, given that the sponsored and the UGC are relatively new.
Don’t ignore the value of nofollow links for ranking purposes
Historically, the common belief was that links using the nofollow attribute had no impact on organic search rankings.
While there has been debate and anecdotal evidence to the contrary, it has been generally accepted because Google has openly stated that these types of links will not pass PageRank.
Then, in 2019, Google announcement that they softened that position a bit and that in fact, links with the nofollow attribute can be counted as a “clue”.
In classic Google fashion, they didn’t guarantee that they would or wouldn’t do it – just that they reserved the right to do so.
In reality, that probably means they’re using a bunch of other signals to determine whether or not they should count a nofollow link in their link graph.
For example, if a domain has a good history, high quality content, and is spam free, they may very well decide that these factors outweigh the nofollow attribute and PageRank should pass through it.
On the other hand, they can see that the nofollow link in question is on a domain that allows user-generated links to be placed at any time, making it profit and now full of spammy links.
In this case, they can see that using nofollow is appropriate and will virtually ignore that link for ranking purposes.
Overall, due to the uncertainty surrounding Google’s use of nofollow (or not) links to understand whether a page should rank higher or not, it is not wise to use a general rule that they should all count the same as standard links.
At the same time, we can be reasonably sure that Google is at least counting them to some extent.
Assuming you generally build good links with lots of other positive attributes, then it’s fair to count nofollow links to some extent for ranking purposes.
Remember the value of traffic
One thing that is often overlooked when it comes to nofollow links is that they always have the ability to send traffic to your domain.
Users cannot tell the difference between a link that has the nofollow attribute included; they just see a clickable link.
If a lot of people click on a nofollow link and end up browsing your website, there is clearly a value here that should not be ignored.
I like to think about how we would approach link building if the links themselves didn’t make a difference in organic search rankings.
Just because links can influence organic search results doesn’t mean we can’t always have the same mindset and approach. Building links that send traffic can add another layer of value to your work beyond rankings.
In an age where it becomes more and more difficult to isolate the ranking impact of particular links, being able to show your value with traffic is going to become more and more important.
3. Links from new or existing domains
Many agencies and internal teams will monitor whether their link building efforts lead to links from new or existing domains.
While it’s not a bad thing to look at, there are ways to look at it that may not be immediately obvious or considered helpful initially.
Focus more on links from new relevant areas
Assuming the quality and relevance of your links is high enough, getting links from domains that you’ve never received links to before can be more valuable than an existing link – but not for the reason you might think.
If you get a link from an area you’ve never been introduced to before, you’re presenting yourself to a vastly new audience.
Increasing your reach like this to a relevant audience can come with benefits beyond organic search, such as increased brand awareness and new visitors.
While we don’t hope for any value from an organic search perspective, links like this will add value to your work and should be seen as part of your digital strategy as they add real value to the website. business.
Don’t reduce links from domains you already own
At the other end of the scale, I’ve seen in-house SEO pros (and even some agencies) completely cut back on domain links that were previously linked to them.
The rationale seems to be that once they are linked, futures will no longer be useful.
The point is, links from the same domains can add more value for several reasons:
- The trust shown by connecting with you is built up over and over again, showing Google that it wasn’t just a fluke.
- Pages are deleted from the web all the time. Just because you already have a bond doesn’t mean it will stay there forever. Getting more links from more pages will help combat this.
- The more links you have, the more visibility you have on that domain and the more likely you are to drive traffic to your website.
The last one is really important to me.
If you link from a domain, you will be able to see fairly quickly and reliably whether it is sending you traffic or not.
If you see traffic coming in and that traffic seems to be valuable, you should definitely look for ways to work more with the domain and get more links in the future.
To wrap up
In summary, don’t let any metrics or data points distract you from what you’re really trying to accomplish: add value to the business.
Metrics can help you in a number of ways, but can also hurt you if you’re not careful.
Make sure that when you use metrics and data points in link building, they:
- Adopt the right behaviors.
- Ultimately lead to business results.
- Allows you to understand if you are doing a good job.
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