Here is how you get more customers online:
“Build quality links”
“Build great content”
“Build a loyal community”
If I were to say those things to you, I wouldn’t be lying. However they’re not quite as simple as they sound and in reality, are pretty bloody hard. They just don’t happen overnight and can actually take years to achieve. Part of the problem is also that they are also very subjective. For example what does quality actually mean when it comes to link building? This is the particular one that I want to focus on in this post. I’d like to talk about how to define the right metrics so that your link building naturally becomes high quality. Hopefully this is a useful addition to Hannah’s post on judging the quality of a link.
Link building is changing – but it’s not going away
Let’s get this clear, links as a ranking signal are not going away any time soon. Google have made huge changes to the way they value links over the last 18 months, but by no means are links dead. What I think Google have done is turn the dial up and down on various aspects of the link signal. Here are just a handful of related signals that Google can use:
- Anchor text
- Domain strength
- Redirected links
I definitely feel that they have turned the dials up and down on things such as this, but the overall signal is still alive and well. Caffeine back in 2010 allowed Panda and Penguin to happen and with the latter, Google were able to index links at a much, much faster rate than ever before which means they can become influential on search results a lot quicker too. We’ve seen the extreme negative side of this with very spammy search results popping up on a range of keywords. Google have caused themselves problems and have said that they are trying to take targeted action on highly competitive keywords such as “payday loans”.
All of these things mean that link building has become more risky for businesses because the bar to being hit with a penalty has been significantly lowered. A few years ago, volume based link building was pretty unlikely to get you hurt, at worst, it just wouldn’t work. Now, that isn’t the case. I’ve written before about my views on high-risk link building so I won’t labor the point here.
This has led me to the idea that the way we measure link building needs to change so that the quality naturally improves. My summary recently is something along the lines of:
“You want to build the types of links that you won’t be removing in twelve months time”
Regardless of your opinions on link building and darker hat tactics, it just does not make commercial sense to spend money undoing work you did (and paid for) not that long ago.
Link building targets are important
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely feel that having targets is important and after all, if you don’t measure it, you won’t care about it. Part of having targets is having the right metrics in place which is what I want to focus on.
I feel that over the years, SEOs have been measured (and measured themselves) on the wrong things. We started with measuring pure rankings which was useful, but not in isolation. You could be number 1 for a bunch of keywords but if you got no traffic or conversions, then they didn’t mean a thing. Many SEOs are actually moving away from tracking rankings on a specific keyword level now but that is more because of Google making it harder and harder for rank tracking to be accurate. I think rankings can be useful but mainly when used over a long period of time and used in aggregate rather than at specific keyword level. They can be used to spot trends, inform decisions and spot problems – but they are not a measure of success.
We also measured ourselves on number of links built – this still happens a lot and again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all you need links to compete. However, the days of saying we built you x number of directory links this month are gone – I’ll admit, I used to do this. No shame in admitting it, I did what worked. However, the problem with this is that it gives no consideration to quality and to hit your target of 500 links this month, you could just head over to Fiverr, job done 🙂
So what should we measure ourselves on in order to naturally increase link quality?
Traffic generated by the link
If we look at the types of links that Google have sought to devalue over the last few years, can we honestly say that they sent genuine traffic? Look at things like:
- Directory submissions
- Article syndication
- Social bookmarks
- Link exchanges
These would send very little, if any traffic to the target website. If they did send traffic, it was usually the SEO who built them testing that the links worked. Oh and other SEOs doing competitor link analysis 🙂
What if, instead your traffic sources in Google Analytics looked something like this:
Five out of the top ten traffic sources are guest posts. Without even looking at PageRank, Domain Authority, or any other numbers, I know that these are good quality links because they’ve sent real traffic to the website. Then I can look at other metrics such as bounce rate, time on site and pages per visit and see that these visitors are engaging and sticking around on the website – another good sign.
This is the type of guest posting that Google do NOT want to devalue, these are legitimately good pieces of content placed on relevant, high traffic domains with high editorial standards. They are not the mass-produced junk that Google have a problem with, otherwise, they wouldn’t be appearing in this list and sending this type of traffic!
There is an added benefit here too in that when your links are sending real traffic to a website, the value of those links goes way beyond PageRank flow and influencing rankings. It also becomes far easy to demonstrate the value of link building – something that has always been quite tricky for non-SEOs to understand. Instead of trying to explain how PageRank and algorithms work, you can actually show the traffic that links are sending as well as conversions. This is far easier to show to the C-suite of your client company.
Links that send conversions or micro-conversions
This is the bottom line and brings us back to what I was talking about earlier and adding real value to the bottom line of the business. I’m not going to lie, this is very hard to do. Building links is tough at the best of times so building them with one eye on conversions is even tougher. However, if you can get this right, it will mean that you’re building good quality links. You’re naturally going to set your sights a lot higher and as a result, you’ll have to give these websites a good reason to link to you – therefore making your website more linkworthy.
Let’s go back to this list:
- Directory submissions
- Article syndication
- Social bookmarks
- Link exchanges
Honestly, would any of these send you conversions? I very much doubt it!
Even micro-conversions can be hugely valuable to your business and keep the quality of your links high. You can try to get people to sign up for your email list or follow you on a social channel, both of which are valuable to your business and help you build up assets that Google can’t take away.
Social signals of the linking page
I’ll admit that this one isn’t as good as the previous two because social signals are easily gamed. However it doesn’t take much for an experienced SEO to see whether or not social signals (and the profiles tied to them) are legitimate or not. So this can be a good additional signal and show the reach of your link building campaign. If you guest blog on a large industry website with a big Twitter following, then that post gets lots of tweets, then the reach of your company and the author is amplified. This of course also increases raw traffic to the post and in turn, can increase click-throughs to your website which are closely tied to the points above.
A good way to use this is actually at the link prospecting stage too, you can get a good feel for a blog by looking at the number of social shares that each posts gets, along with social interactions such as comments / up-votes. This can help you determine which blogs get decent levels of traffic and are more likely to give you more bang for your buck when trying to get links.
Related to this point, I’d recommend that you take a look at this post on SEOgadget by Richard Baxter which goes into lots of detail on finding highly relevant link targets.
To wrap up
Hopefully these ideas give you some help on driving quality link building for your website. I’m not going to lie in that using these measures is hard and requires a lot more hard work. But if you follow these kind of measures, it is very unlikely that you’ll end up having to undo all your link building in a year or twos time! I also find it funny that the more I talk about link building these days, the more it sounds like just good marketing 🙂