Can linkbuilding be measured ? What linkbuilding metrics are you aware of and are they effective?
Like all activities within digital marketing, we should be able to measure and quantify the ROI of our efforts creating links.
What is not measured can not be improved. We need precise metrics to know if we are doing it right, given the time and money spent, or if we can do it better.
In this post I give you some guidelines to put your link building in numbers, and to be able to know if you have turned green or red from your last SEO Off Page campaign.
The first thing to decide what metric we are going to use is to know what we need it for.
Are we going to measure the effectiveness of a campaign already finished, or are we estimating the effectiveness of a possible link to our page?
They are two very different purposes and require different metrics.
To estimate the SEO effectiveness or “authority” of a link we could use metrics such as DA and PA (although with caution, I’ll tell you why later).
But to quantify after the success of a link building campaign, metrics like DA and PA are absolutely useless.
Simply put, you can’t measure the results of a link building effort in terms of third-party SEO metrics like PA, because they only serve to “estimate.”
These types of metrics are approaches that we make, from the outside, to the real authority that Google assigns to a link, and by themselves do not demonstrate anything.
We can hang a medal for getting a link to PA 50, but if that link doesn’t bring sales, conversions, or at least traffic, it won’t have helped.
With that said, let’s see what we can actually get out of each metric and when to use each type.
As I have already said, in this first bag all those metrics developed by software companies, such as MOZ, Ahrefs and Majestic, enter to approximate the force assigned to each url by the Google algorithm.
They can be more or less effective, but ALL of them have a couple of fundamental disadvantages:
1) They start from an index, or urls database, which is not identical to Google’s, and which is actually smaller.
2) Google does not consider all links equally and has algorithms. Like for example Penguin, designed to exclude links considered spam from its ranking formula.
This makes it even more difficult for third-party metrics to “hit” or approximate the value Google gives to a particular link. Since your sample is further away from reality, the sample used by Google
MOZ, Ahrefs and Majestic are the 3 most popular link data providers. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each metric set.
Moz has created a set of metrics that have become very popular and that in the market for buying and selling links. At least at a basic level, they have been practically industry standard for comparing links for years.
And all this, despite the fact that until the last update of their LInk Explorer tool, they were the least reliable metrics of this type (recognized by themselves, as you can see in this Moz post ).
Why were they less reliable than Ahrefs or Majestic’s?
Very simple, because the sample they started from (the Mozscape Index) was much smaller than that of their competitors. And to top it off, it was updated less frequently (sometimes months passed between one update and the next).
All of this seems to have changed with the latest version of Link Explorer, which now has a much larger database of 5 billion links. And it is also updated day by day.
In any case, to avoid playing with incomplete data, do not trust yourself when a blog or online media tells you that it has a PA or a DA of x. Always look at it in the MOZ tool itself, to make sure we are talking about the updated metric, and not the one from months ago.
Ahrefs is part of one of the most comprehensive link databases in the industry ( 12 billion links according to them). Not only is it bigger, but it is updated more frequently, since the Ahrefs bot is the most active crawler on the entire internet, after Google itself.
With this, I am already telling you that its proprietary metrics, DR and UR, are more reliable than those of Moz (before the new version) or Semrush, although they are not infallible for that reason.
Of course, if we are going to look at one of them, better do it at UR (URL Rating). THE UR is an estimate based on the links that go directly to that url. Because the DR is an aggregate of the estimates of all the urls of a domain.
Not to go into more detail, DR is an estimate of estimates, and in any case a metric that evaluates domains can never be entirely effective, because the link juice is transmitted from url to url, not from domain to domain.
Majestic has a very extensive link index ( 7 trillion links in its Historic Index ). In addition, it has an advantage, and that is that it is organized by thematic areas.
This is an additional way to approach the fact that Google gives more importance to the links considered more relevant to the page being linked. If you are trying to rank for a gardening keyword, links from other gardening pages will have more value than links from a music page.
Majestic has two metrics, Citation Flow (CF) and Trust Flow (TF).
Citation Flow takes into account the total number of links found to a page, while the second metric only takes into account the number of links from pages considered “reliable” or of quality. Of course, Majestic has its own way of calculating or estimating this degree of confidence, and it doesn’t have to coincide 100% with the way Google does.
The Trust Flow, and this is perhaps the best of Majestic, is then divided by theme. So you can see your score within the topic that interests you.
This score is higher, the more connected a page is with others that Majestic considers trustworthy within that theme.
Semrush is a great tool for other questions, such as analyzing organic and paid keywords for a domain, but I don’t recommend it for backlink analysis.
The reason is the same as it was for Moz before releasing its latest version of Link Explorer. The database of links that Semrush analyzes is really small compared to that of Ahrefs or Majestic.
You can easily see this if you do a quick analysis of your website with Semrush, and then with Ahrefs or Majestic.
You will see that either of the two tools detects more backlinks and referring domains than Semrush. Therefore, I do not recommend using it to assess the strength of a possible backlink.
Apart from the metrics that try to estimate the authority of a link, and we have other types of metrics that are based on an estimate of the organic traffic that a page has.
Logically, the higher up a page for searches with a certain volume on Google, the more traffic they will receive and the more traffic they can send to the pages they link to.
On the other hand, very indirectly, if a page ranks well for competitive searches, that can also be an indicator of authority. Combining authority metrics with organic traffic metrics increases your chances of finding authoritative pages based on Google criteria.
Although again, and I will repeat it as many times as necessary in this post, we are only estimating – we never have irrefutable evidence.
To estimate organic traffic, I recommend relying on three data sources:
Sistrix is the industry standard for estimating organic traffic for a domain.
It is usually used to estimate traffic for an entire domain, and in fact it tends to be more accurate giving aggregates per domain than accurate estimates for a single page. The lower the volume of organic traffic, the more difficult it is to accurately approximate.
The other small weakness of Sistrix is that its keyword index is not too big, (1 million in the basic database, which is tracked every week, and 5 million in the extended version, which is tracked once a month. ). This is considerably less than the Semrush or Ahrefs keyword database.
For this reason, it is possible that the Sistrix index is leaving out some of the keywords that may be important to your niche.
Ahrefs has the advantage that, again, its keyword database, at least for Spain, is larger than Sistrix’s. Based on my experience in multiple niches, Ahrefs always finds more keywords than Sistrix, so their estimates should be better.
As a disadvantage, I must say that the algorithm of Sistrix seems to me somewhat better “cooked” than that of Ahrefs.
This makes sense, because Sistrix has been refining its organic visibility metric for more than ten years, and is indeed the star of its SEO data arsenal. Whereas Ahrefs started out as a tool for analyzing backlinks and the topic of analyzing organic traffic has always come second. Although I must say that over time they are improving a lot in this regard.
My experience is that when Sistrix has keywords in its database, it estimates traffic better than Ahrefs.
In any case, if you have a good knowledge of the niche or you have enough real traffic data from your own project, before deciding whether or not to trust the data from Sistrix or Ahrefs, you can compare some of their estimates with real figures in your niche. .
Virtually everything said for Ahrefs in this section also applies to Semrush.
Their keyword database is certainly larger than Sistrix’s but my experience so far is that Sistrix estimates global organic traffic for a domain better than Semrus. And for a page with traffic coming from keywords that are found in the Sistrix database, it also seems to fit more than Semrush.
But nonetheless, in this section Semrush is not behind its competitors, in contrast to what happened in backlink analysis.
I apologize if with all this data on metrics I have ended up making you dizzy, rather than clarifying things for you.
Knowing all of this data at our disposal, and the pros and cons of each metric, how do we establish an easy and reliable process to guide our link building strategy?
I summarize it in 3 steps:
1. Never trust the metrics that are passed to you by the sites or platforms for buying or exchanging links. Go to the sources, get your own data and make it as up-to-date as possible
2. Whenever you can, combine a link’s “strength” or authority metric, type PA, UR or CF / TF, with another organic traffic, be it Sistrix, Ahrefs or Semrush
3. When in doubt, always opt for links from pages related to the topic that interests you. You can do this by analyzing “by hand” or with Majestic and its Topical Trust Flow.
Now we have the other part of the puzzle: measuring results to find out if a link building campaign, already completed, has been effective or not.
As I said in the introduction, there is no use measuring the success of a link building campaign with SEO metrics like DA, PA, etc.
A linkbuilding campaign is not done to improve your values in those metrics, but to improve your visibility on Google, receive more qualified traffic and therefore get more sales or customers.
Therefore, within link building metrics it is essential to measure the ROI of a link or an SEO Off Page campaign. For this we will need metrics that clearly show that we have made progress in those areas.
First of all, we are going to need a well-configured Google Analytics account. If our website is an online store, it is essential that the enhanced ecommerce or improved ecommerce is well configured, in order to have the most accurate record possible of the sales generated by our links.
A very common practice in any payment traffic campaign or in email marketing is to label the links with UTM parameters. Parameters that will then make it very easy to see the total traffic sent by the campaign in total, and by each of the individual links.
If we do this in SEM and email marketing, why not do it for our SEO campaigns?
Well there is a good reason, and that is that in many cases, if we want our link to appear “natural”, adding these parameters sings too much. And also it is possible that the webmaster himself who is going to give us the link, does not want to do it including these parameters.
Let’s say that parameterized tagging is anything but discreet, and in SEO, and even more so in link building, discretion is valued.
But this does not mean that we cannot tag our links. We can still do it, in a totally discreet way, that only we will see, creating a custom channel or custom Analytics channel.
In this new channel we must integrate all the inbound links that we have obtained in our campaign, and thus we will be able to analyze the traffic coming from the campaign independently from the rest of the site’s traffic.
If we have already isolated the traffic of our campaign, now it only remains to analyze it.
What are we going to look at? In this order: sales, goals achieved, user behavior metrics, traffic.
Sales : if our website is an online store, we must write down the number of transactions achieved directly by each link, and the total value of those sales.
In addition, we must put this value with the total number of sessions or users that have arrived through the link, with the metric Revenue per session or better yet, Revenue per user.
If you want to know more about this metric and why it is one of the most important for an ecommerce, I recommend reading this post .
Objectives : If we are not an ecommerce , we will also have a quantifiable objective within our site, such as requests for a quote or simply filling out a contact questionnaire.
If we are ecommerce, an objective that we can also measure is to add products to the cart or reach the checkout page (all these actions are already registered by default with enhanced ecommerce).
Behavioral metrics : Although it will not directly increase our income or be reflected in our objectives, it is important to measure the “quality” of the traffic achieved with the campaign.
For example, does it have a bounce rate lower or higher than the site average? Do they see more pages per session than the average? What is the duration of the sessions?
Traffic : finally, we will measure the total traffic achieved by each link. This is important, but by itself it says nothing.
That is, if we get a lot of traffic, but it is not of quality, it does not give objectives and it does not buy in our store, it is as if we had not achieved anything.
Finally, it remains to establish a relationship between the linkbuilding campaign and organic growth for the pages and keywords worked on.
We can do this with Google Analytics or, even better, with Google Search Console.
In Analytics we can make an annotation on the day the links of our campaign were published (or to be more precise, on the date that Google indexed them, although for an overview the publication date would suffice.
From there, it is a question of seeing if there is an ascending line in the number of organic visits achieved by the url that received the link. There is one caveat, and that is that Analytics sometimes records sessions that are not organic.
Let me explain: if a user met us through Google, but then for example accesses the landing page directly, Analytics will continue to mark that second visit as organic. Therefore, if your site usually generates recurring visits by users, as is usual in an ecommerce, I do not recommend that you use Analytics to visualize this relationship between link building and organic traffic.
In that case, it would be better to trust the Search Console, where in addition to an organic landing page, you can see the results by search. If you have worked on the keyword “premium dog food”, you can choose that keyword as a filter to see the evolution of your organic traffic.
To close all this we are going to see a real example, taken from the Analytics of one of my clients, an ecommerce of the parapharmacy sector.
The specific link that we are going to look at was created on a blog on the same relevant topic and with good traffic.
We analyzed a period of 3 years, between July 2014, when the first sales arrived from that link, and the same date 3 years later.
The results? The link has earned this ecommerce 1708 euros in direct sales , spread across 58 transactions.
Total traffic has been 1400 users, resulting in an average of 1.20 euros for each user referred by this link.
As for the performance metrics, although they are already secondary once the priority objective (sales) has been achieved. You can clearly see that they are better than the average of the referral traffic of the site (and better than the average of the whole site, although in this screenshot we cannot see it).
Now, to really calculate the ROI of this link, it remains to do two things:
– Add all the assisted sales registered by Analytics.
– Subtract the cost (in hours or money) of obtaining that link
The assisted sales / users that came through this link, but converted after having accessed the web through another campaign or traffic source) were 25, worth 955 euros.
As for the costs, I cannot reveal them, but I can say that they were much less than the results obtained in sales during these 3 years. So the ROI of obtaining this link was clearly positive for the client.
I hope I made you see that link building can be measured in terms of ROI. There are a multitude of link building metrics that you should know, apply and interpret.
Like any other online marketing action. And that we have quite convincing ways of estimating the effectiveness of a link before deciding whether we should add it to our link building campaign.
Now, if we already know what links we want to get, how do we do a link building campaign?
Read this post where I analyze with examples what is the best link building strategy , based on them being effective, replicable strategies that Google likes (or doesn’t dislike).