What is the goal in building links?
Obviously links are the goal in link building. Right? Well, not exactly.
Links are an important metric to track, because without links your campaign is obviously failing. But links alone aren’t the goal. We don’t build links for the sake of links (or at least we shouldn’t), but rather because of what the links accomplish and what they represent.
We build links to grow a website’s reach, network, and visibility. These are the true goals of link building.
Links remain fundamental to the web, to navigating the online world, and to ranking in competitive search.
SEOs—and marketers—should be building links to grow relationships, tap into new audiences, and of course grow search traffic.
Today I want to discuss potential metrics to track in your own link campaign, in order to ensure you’re accomplishing these broader goals, and maximizing your link campaigns.
The importance of customization
How do you determine which metrics to track?
Some metrics will be universal (all link campaigns should track links, for example), but some metrics will depend on your campaign goals, scope, and expectations.
Metrics help measure campaign efficiency and affect how you report. Therefore the metrics you track should be based upon client expectations and key performance indicators (KPIs). It is your job to set reasonable expectations, project scope, and KPIs to match.
This post will not be a universal guide for which metrics to track in a link building campaign, but instead serve as a list of reasonable metrics you might track within a link building campaign.
The metrics you actually track should depend upon the specifics of the campaign.
It’s worth noting that it’s very hard to consistently improve without knowing the hard data of your performance – which these metrics will reveal.
Breaking our metrics into meaningful segments
There are three portions to a link campaign:
- The work necessary to build links.
- The links successfully built.
- The performance of your site.
The first step—the work involved in building links—we have absolute control over.
As Rand Fishkin recently presented at SearchLove, we as marketers need to be better about tracking and measuring our output (the work), and its effect on results.
Dr. Pete’s post on Moz also espouses this perspective, showing the benefits of moving from the lag result (rankings, in our case), to lead metrics (the work).
The second step—successfully securing links—we have some control over, although at the end of the day we can’t make a site link to ours. We’re not magicians, just SEOs promoting our client’s digital assets strategically to others. Whether or not to link will always be to the discretion of the site manager/owner, within their editorial control.
The most we can do is persuasively market ourselves and influence their decision.
The third step—improving the performance of our website—we have the least amount of control over.
This is our lag goal; the end results for which we strive. This is the intended result of all our effort, and what we measure ourselves against.
Site performance is often the core of reportage, but requires well-set expectations and should be managed with the context of the other segments: the work necessary to build the links, and the links themselves.
Of course if a website isn’t ready for links our ability to move the needle will be significantly reduced.
Let’s get into the actual metrics you should consider for each segment.
The work of building links: metrics
Depending on the method you’re using to build links, the activity boils down to just a few aspects:
- Sites found.
- Sites pitched.
- Content involved/created.
Content may or may not be involved, depending upon which part of the process you’re involved in. If you’re helping guide a campaign, you should be involved in the ideation and creation process. If you’re hired to help market/improve performance, you may not be part of the creation process.
The link campaign process can vary in complexity. For the purpose of this post, let’s not delve too deeply into the potentials and stick to the metrics.
Metrics to track during the work of link building:
- Method of prospecting
- Competitive analysis
- BuzzStream Discovery
- Other tools
- Number of sites found
- Time spent prospecting
2.Quality assurance (QA) metrics:
- SEO considerations
- Nofollow policies
- Link neighborhood
- Anything else that can impact link quality.
- Site quality:
- Traffic (SEMrush)
- Engagement levels
- Number of sites removed during QA
- Time spent in QA
- Number of replies
- Percent negative
- Percent positive
- Total percent of pitches that received replies
- Time spent pitching
- Method of outreach:
- Social media
- Number of pitches sent
- Follow up
- Thread/conversation count (total # of contacts required to secure a link)
- Reasons for rejections
- Type of content
- Resources required
- Development time
- Project issues
- Number of issues
- Delay time
There’s a wide variety of work that can go into a link campaign. The above should give you an idea of typical metrics to track.
Bear in mind that any work necessary to build links will be worth tracking – both for internal efficiency monitoring and external reportage.
Links built: metrics
The core of a link building campaign is of course links.
So which metrics should you track to improve your understanding of the overall campaign? Which metrics might you report in terms of links?
Here are a few suggestions.
- Number of links built
- Date published/live
- Prospecting method
- Site type
- Time to close/negotiate
- Link quality
- Domain authority
- Page authority
- Link placement/location
- Anchor text
- Unique referring domain
- Other links on page
- Tools required/used
- Campaign cost
- Cost per link
- Intangibles (relationships, further marketing opportunity, branding, etc.)
The link portion of a report should be more than a list of links. Concise, clear information is important, but if you’re not explaining the metrics of the links then you’re robbing value from your reports.
Bear in mind as well the metrics you emphasize will naturally be the metrics you work toward within your link campaign.
Specialized campaigns require finding and emphasizing the right metrics.
The goal of building links: site performance metrics
The ultimate goal of building links is to increase the performance of your website. You really want more traffic, engagement, and conversions.
You want your site to generate more revenue.
Link building is far from a magic cure-all, and nothing happens overnight. Consistent link acquisition will improve your keyword rankings, assuming your pages answer searcher intent, have solid on-page SEO, and your site isn’t suffering technical SEO issues.
SEO doesn’t boil down to links, but links are a vital part of the SEO equation.
Here are the site performance metrics to track in link campaigns.
- Site-wide performance
- All traffic
- Organic traffic
- Keyword growth
- Page-specific performance
- All traffic
- Organic traffic
- Referral traffic
- Thematic keywords
- Goal completion
- Page value
All of these can be recorded in month-over-month, year-over-year, and a three-month rolling average.
Again, what you track depends not only on the work you’re doing and the links you’ve secured, but on the site itself. The performance metrics you would track for a smaller site should be much different than a larger, enterprise site.
And of course there will be a variety of other factors in play as well. Odds are if there’s a link building campaign in place then other work is happening on the website as well. Any other work should be taken into account.
Hopefully this gives you an understanding of the various metrics you can track within a link campaign, and inspires future SEO/link building work.
Metrics are the key to improving efficiency and reporting success.