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SEO Measurement Mistakes, Part 4: Links

Link Measurement

This is part 4 of a series examining mistakes with SEO metrics.

  • In part 1 of this series, we discussed 5 huge mistakes regarding top-level SEO KPIs.
  • In part 2, we looked at 10 common mistakes made when analyzing SEO metrics in Google Analytics.
  • In part 3, we looked at 10 critical errors in analyzing and monitoring crawling and indexation metrics.

Today, we’ll do 10 of the most common mistakes in link metrics.

1. Ignoring Traffic

SEO practitioners commonly forget that links matter outside of SEO. But links can do more than give your site link juice. They can give you instant traffic. After all, traffic is what you’re doing SEO for, ain’t it? But yet SEOs still frequently ignore referral traffic from links.

Here’s a few reasons you need to keep an eye on it:

  • It helps you better understand the benefits of your link-earning efforts.
  • It helps you beat SEO-tunnel-vision regarding links and earned media. SEO-tunnel vision may cause you to ignore links that potentially lucrative in traffic that might be no-follow, repeat links from the same site, or otherwise less beneficial from a link-juice perspective.
  • You’ll understand your audience and the places they hang out better.
  • You’ll get useful insights for display advertising.
  • It gives you insight on which links are most SEO-beneficial because links that generate traffic tend to help your rankings more. Think about it. Links that are powerful for SEO when they are on authoritative pages of authoritative sites that are relevant to your page and site. That highly correlates directly with traffic (high visibility pages on high traffic site being used by an audience more likely to be in your niche.)
  • Some of that traffic converts. Always pay attention to traffic that converts.

Here’s an article I wrote on examining link traffic.

2. Not Tracking Growth in Authority

Of course, link juice matters too. But many SEOs don’t even track improvements over time to link juice.

You need to know if you are actually improving link equity, if its improving at the rate you need to meet your goals, and if you are seeing a return on your link-winning efforts.

3. Obsessing over “PageRank”

google-pagerank

Toolbar PageRank bar is an overused metric on link equity, especially growth. Here’s some reasons why :

  • It’s not granular at all. PageRank only has 10 spots, and the difference between them can be huge. PageRank is based on a logarithmic formula, so while it’s not too hard to jump from a 0 to a 1, it’s really hard to jump from a 5 to a 6 – this would take most PR 5 sites well over a year.
  • It’s rarely updated. If your PR 5 site jumped to a 6, it could take months for the bar to get updated for you to find out. And the updates are highly irregular. Here’s an article on the last update, which took place 10 months after the one before.
  • We don’t know what factors go into it. Toolbar PageRank definitely does not fully guage authority or ranking power of a site. In fact, no one is certain it even takes into account all of the link equity and link trust metrics Google uses.

Be really careful using Toolbar PageRank metric as the sole indicator of your link equity.

Take a look at other data sources to monitor regular growth in link equity.  Estimates on number of links, root domains, and c-blocks can provide some insight. I like Majestic SEO for this data.

Metrics on estimated link equity that aggregate all that data into one metric can be super actionable. Hrefs and Moz (Open Site Explorer) do a solid job estimating link-equity of a page or site.

4. Not Benchmarking Your Data

Every link data tool and every niche I’ve ever encountered exhibits regular, quirky fluctuations in their reported link metrics. The only way to tell if you’ve truly moving one way or the other is to benchmark against several other sites in your niche and compare your relative movement to the aggregate.

2014-03-19_16162014-03-19_1617

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This goes to the keyword/page level too. You may think your page has a lot of links, but your competition for your target keywords may have more or better links.

Check link competition in the SERPs

Check link competition in the SERPs

5. Micromanaging Link Profile Metrics

#4 demonstrates the need to step back and look at the big picture when it comes to link metrics.

I believe that applies to granular link metrics as well, like:

  • anchor text distribution
  • nofollow distribution
  • proportion of link type X
  • proportion of link .edu tlds
  • proportion of Pagerank 5+ links
  • etc…

Now, I’ll check this stuff out at the beginning of a campaign to make sure the client’s profile is natural, nothing shady was going on, and there’s no penalty risk (and I’d recommend to do so regularly if you’re outsourcing your link building), but I simply don’t believe in having to regularly micromanage all the metrics that indicate a natural profile.

I certainly don’t spend my time monitoring minute metrics of current individual links.

pointless_link_details

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Why? Because  this is not actionable data if you’re winning links the way the search engines want you to. If you’re trying to win editorial links (article on editorial vs. acquired links here) like you should, you only have so much influence on the details and you’re risk-free anyways. That granular data might have helped indicate risk and reward for old-school link building tactics that were effective in the past, but it’s almost entirely irrelevant for running successful link-winning campaigns today.

The point of paying attention to link metrics is to manage your approach to winning links – not to manage your link portfolio.

If you find yourself needing to obsess over granular backlink details, you’re probably mismanaging your entire approach.

6. Not Examining Authority by Page

2014-03-20_0158

One detail most miss is how much link equity flows to the various pages. You can and should exercise a lot of control over what you do with the link equity that flows to your site via internal linking, architecture, and keyword targeting.

Thus metrics on link equity per page can help inform countless decisions like:

  • Where I should target easy keyword x and hard keyword z?
  • Do I need to link more from page x?
  • Should I internally link more to page y?
  • Should I tweak the main menu?
  • Should I change site architecture?

7. Not Examining Link Bait Effectiveness

Stop-Throwing-Spaghetti-at-The-Wall-to-Make-Your-Blog-Stick-620x250

bizactions.com

If you’re trying to win links in 2014, you’re probably creating content you hope people will share and link to. But many content  creators and marketers fail to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Pull out your data on backlinks and pay page and pay attention to links to your content and note things like:

  • the author
  • the topic
  • the style
  • the content format
  • promotional tactics
  • the time and cost involved in creating the content
  • etc…

Study these elements in the content that got good links and in the content that didn’t. What’s the pattern?

8. Not measuring outreach effectiveness

The same failure to measure is often found in outreach. You really want to know if you’re doing it right, and you always want to know how to do better. To that end, keep an eye on metrics like:

  • time spent on outreach
  • # of emails/contacts
  • response rate on emails/contacts
  • placement rate
  • placement impact

If you put your outreach metrics  together with some solid content metrics you can calculate weighted cost-per-link (I’d factor in traffic to the equation). Then you can get some deeper insight on what works best.

9. Not Looking into Other, Non-link Authority Metrics

Links are only one element of authority, and other signals continue to become more important to raw rankings power.

moz rank factors survery pie chart

How much of what can be called authority isn’t actually link-related? Experts agree we’ve got several other quality and popularity signals being factored in. So if you’re ignoring indicators of popularity and trust like engagement metrics, brand mentions, and social share metrics, you’re not truly measuring SEO authority.

10. Not Tying Links to Other Key Metrics

Looking at links alone is limiting. But even if you have a solid holistic grasp of your page and domain authority, your actionable insights are yet limited if you don’t tie that to other important metrics.

For example:

  • Tie a pages authority to keyword clicks and rankings to determine if a page needs more authority or a look at keyword optimization.
  • Check your keyword/architecture strategy by comparing your most authoritative pages to your pages with he most organic traffic value
  • Check your indexation metrics to ensure that index bloat isn’t diluting your link equity
  • See if a link campaign is helping brand equity by looking for correlations in referral traffic, earned media impressions, branded organic traffic, and direct traffic.
  • and much more

The bottom line: if you’ve done the work to get the links, put the data together to make sure you’re making the most out of your efforts.

Reid Bandremer

About Reid Bandremer

Reid Bandremer is an Senior Search Project Manager. His background before joining LunaMetrics in 2011 includes eCommerce marketing experience and a pair of business degrees. He is a rabid fan of music and holistic, ROI-driven search marketing strategy. Other strengths include organic search marketing segmentation, migrations, and metrics. Contrary to popular theory, Reid is not homeless – he just often stays at the office late because he is obsessed with increasing traffic value to clients’ sites.

http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2014/03/20/seo-measurement-mistakes-part-4-links/

4 Responses to “SEO Measurement Mistakes, Part 4: Links”

Great piece Reid,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have another idea to add to the list: life expectancy of links to one’s site is a factor that often is underestimated. Instead it should also be taken in consideration when evaluating one’s link profile. Links that are short-lived and fade out quickly actually are no asset at all. Of course this is tightly related to the quality of the content that they come with (if it is good – it will become popular and thus the link will stick), but also with the turnover of the given site’s daily posts.

“You can and should exercise a lot of control over what you do with the link equity that flows to your site via internal linking, architecture, and keyword targeting.”

I believe Google has argued against doing this (PageRank sculpting, or PageRank siloing) as not the best use of one’s time, because, I suspect, it has tiny, if any, effects. See:

googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/10/importance-of-link-architecture.html
youtube.com/watch?v=yYWlEItizjI

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:

Thanks Nevyana,

That is an important factor. In the print advertising world, the equivilant is called permanence and it’s a huge factor in media buying. It should be in link strategy too.

For example, I had an online retail client whose PR statetgy consisted heavily of outreach to authors writing product round-ups and gift lists – it would result in those low-permanance links because the round-ups and gift lists only had good authority (and audiences) for a few weeks at most. Client was losing authority as fast as they could get it.

What I find tough is practically quantifying and measuring average authority/life expectancy but it is indeed an important consideration.

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:

You bring up a good point, Christopher. Maybe I should have done a better job clarifying what I mean by that sentence.

I’m not advocating something like PageRank sculpting with nofollow, but I am advocating using the SEO perspective to 1) inform site architecture and 2)keyword targeting.

1)This means using analysis of what people are looking for combined with analysis of the competition’s authority vs your pages’ authority to inform how you structure the site and link from page to page. Of course, SEO does not outweight UX and CRO, but they all work together so that link juice, users, and prospects are funneled down logical paths from broad, high-interest topics to specific, long-tail needs based on deep understanding of how your target audience looks for things.

2)This means putting the right keywords on the right places on the right pages

Architecture and keyword targeting consulting are often the most impactful things we do for SEO clients at LunaMetrics.

One of the best red flags that a site needs these tweaks is to compare page authority to value from organic visits. When your high authority pages are not adding as much value as your other pages, you might have an opportunity.

Here’s a slide deck that does a decent job on the subject: http://www.slideshare.net/dohertyjf/id2013-optimizing-your-websites-architecture-for-seo

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