We’re developing a brand-new SEO guide for you — The Professional’s Guide to SEO, designed as your next-step resource once you’re comfortable with the baseline provided by the Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
When we think of link building, one of the first people we think of is our friend Paddy Moogan at Aira, the architect of the Beginner’s Guide to Link Building, MozCon alumni speaker, and industry thought leader. That’s why we’re jazzed to announce that the link building chapter of our upcoming Professional’s Guide to SEO is authored by none other than the fine folks at Aira. And today we’re sharing an excerpt of that very chapter.
Dive in for a glimpse at our newest guide, and as always, give us a shout on Twitter if you have any thoughts or recommendations — we love hearing from you!
Link Building & Link Earning Tactics
Measuring link building
In this section, we explore approaches to measuring links and understanding which ones may make the biggest difference to traffic and rankings, along with business outcomes such as revenue.
Once your link building strategy is set and you’re underway, you need to measure your work so that you can understand the effectiveness of what you’re doing and demonstrate its value. There are a few ways that you can measure link building, which we’ll cover below, along with the pros and cons of each one.
Volume of links
You can use various tools (such as Link Explorer) to measure the volume of links to a domain and then measure this number over time. You can also manually measure the links that you build via your own outreach and record these over time.
The advantage of this measure is that it’s very easy to do and is usually a direct consequence of the work that you are doing. For example, if you engage in a tactic such as broken link building, you can see exactly how many links you were able to build as a result of that work. This will allow you to understand which activities are most worthwhile and effective at generating volumes of links.
There is a downside to this form of measurement. Not all links are created equal, and the raw volume of links isn’t very useful without important context such as the authority and relevance of those links.
One high-quality, authoritative, relevant link could do more for your site than a hundred low-quality links. If you only measure link volume on its own, then the hundred low-quality links may be seen as successful and effective.
Volume of links can be a useful metric as long as you layer it with other context, which we’ll talk about below.
Quality of links
“Quality” is generally quite subjective, but when it comes to link building, there are some good ways to understand and measure the quality of a link. The two core ways are:
Relevance of a link
Authority of a link
Let’s talk about relevance first.
Relevance isn’t binary. You can’t just look at a link and say off the bat whether it’s relevant or not. For example, imagine you get a link to your website from another in the same industry and which contains content similar to yours. It sounds relevant at the surface, but what if the link is pointing at a piece of content you’ve created that’s on a completely different topic — is that still a relevant link?
What if you somehow get a link from NASA to your coffee beans website? Space exploration isn’t exactly relevant to the grinders and beans that you sell, is it?!
Situations like these make relevance pretty difficult to measure, especially at scale. But it’s possible to do by using your own experience, instincts, and by asking a few basic questions when looking at a link:
If the link is on another website, how likely is it that a potential customer for your products would see that link?
If the link is to a piece of content that you’ve created, would that content resonate with your ideal customer?
If someone at your company who has zero knowledge of SEO and link building saw the link, would they be happy with it?
Questions like these can help you judge whether a link is relevant to your business or not. Despite it not being the most objective measure and hard to scale, factoring relevance into your link building measurement at some point is vital. This is because the more relevant links are, the more likely they are to put you in front of potential customers and to generate real traffic.
When it comes to authority, there are many third-party scoring methods that aim to replicate Google PageRank. Domain Authority and Page Authority are proprietary metrics created by Moz. They can give you an approximate idea of how much value a particular link has. It’s not foolproof, and no third-party metric can truly replicate Google PageRank, but they can be good enough to give you a rough idea of how much authority a link has.
Using third-party metrics is a good thing, but you should always keep in mind that these metrics are not used by Google themselves. This means that they’re naturally limited in their usefulness and, similar to link volume, they shouldn’t be used without context.
Rankings and organic search traffic
Ideally, the link building that you carry out should have a positive effect on your organic search rankings and as a consequence, your traffic as well. As we learned earlier, there are many signals that Google uses to determine organic search rankings, but building the right kinds of links is a strong one and should help you rank better.
However, it can be hard to measure the direct effect of the links you build on organic search rankings and traffic. It’s not as simple as being able to say “we built 10 links and our traffic went up by 20%.” Despite understanding some of the signals, none of us knows exactly how the Google algorithm works and even if we did, every website and industry is different.
This makes our lives harder as SEOs, but not impossible. It’s also easier if you’re able to control or at least have some influence over other important areas of SEO, such as technical SEO or content.
The main thing that many of us can do, regardless of how much control we have, is to measure organic search rankings and traffic objectively over time and look for consistent improvement. Check your rankings with tools such as Moz Pro or Google Search Console and use Google Analytics to check traffic.
Another way to measure the effectiveness of link building is to look at how much traffic is sent via the links that you’ve built.
It’s easy to get caught up in measurement of rankings and organic traffic and forget that you can generate traffic directly from links, too. This happens when someone sees your link and then clicks on it, resulting in a visit to your website.
Now, not every link that you build will send traffic — and that’s okay. However, one aspect of your approach should include building links that do indeed lead to referral traffic. They may come as a result of launching a great piece of content or building a new, innovative product feature that gets picked up by industry experts.
Setting expectations is important here because, as mentioned, not every link will send lots of traffic. For example, if you get a link on a page because of a great resource that you’ve created, but your link is amongst hundreds of other links on the external website, the chances of someone clicking on yours is significantly reduced.
With that said, it’s a fantastic metric to use and pretty simple if you utilize analytics tools such as Google Analytics.
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