If you’ve dabbled in the SEO game at all over the past decade, you’re probably well aware of the algorithmic benefits of inbound links (a.k.a. backlinks, a.k.a. other websites/pages linking to yours). But getting some “link love” from another site goes far beyond the SEO benefits. In this post, I’m going to dig deeper into how much impact these links can have on your business (in general) and show you a series of tools and reports that can help you squeeze more “juice” out of each link.
Let me start this deep dive by getting a few prerequisites out of the way. For starters, I’m going to assume that there are already other web pages out there that are linking to your website. If that’s not the case and you’re still in the “link building” phase, then here’s some advice.
- Focus on producing/offering a product or service that people really love.
- Consistently create content that people really love.
- Build a company of people that generate a reputation of authority in a certain niche or industry.
Ok… so we can all agree that these are big asks in and of themselves. But in the real world, these are the prerequisites to having a successful business that A) gets on Google’s radar and B) builds awareness and trust in the minds of not only your potential customers, but also the people who are actively crafting website/blog content and creating those links.
When we started DivvyHQ back in 2011, we benefited greatly by being one of the first, if not THE first, cloud-based editorial calendar applications on the market. We received lots of press, people started checking us out, blogging about us, etc. But first-mover advantage only took us so far. We also benefited (and still do benefit everyday) from designing an application that content managers and producers actually enjoy using every day. And hey! Guess what? When content producers find a tool that they really love, THEY WRITE ABOUT IT!
We’ve also always drunk our own content marketing Kool-aid and created lots of helpful content that industry practitioners love, share and link to on a regular basis. This content comes directly from our resident content marketing experts who, over the last decade, have built a solid, authoritative reputation in the industry.
Bottom line: These attributes create an organic, link-building engine that has allowed us to spend very little on outbound/paid advertising, marketing and sales to date. But enough about us…
Understanding the Machines
As marketers, we all know how much Google/search engines have changed the entire dynamic of the consumer world. The majority of the world’s knowledge, goods and services are just an internet connection and a keyword away. We, as consumers, are in control. But the smart guys at Google had to figure out a way of helping us find the “best” and “most relevant” information/product/service. Today, their algorithms are so sophisticated that they learn on their own and predict the types of information/products/services that we’re going to want based on the vast swaths of data that they have stored in our profiles.
PageRank & Domain Authority
Historically, Google has always factored in the number of backlinks (a.k.a. Link Popularity) as a large portion of their PageRank algorithm that determines which web pages are the best and most relevant for your search word/phrase. Simply put, Google’s search bots would find two web pages that look relatively the same (similar words and various other attributes), then they would look at which web page had more links pointing to it and list that page first. But this link-popularity attribute was only part of the equation. What if both pages have the same number of links?
I don’t want to get too deep into the technical SEO weeds here, but it is important to understand the basics of link quality in Google’s eyes. All links are not created equal because all websites that link to you are not created equal. As Google’s algorithm evolved, the need to rank or score each web page and website became an equally-as-important factor. In other words, a link to your website from Huffingtonpost.com carries much more weight in Google than a link from DivvyHQ.com (sadly).
Since Google’s PageRank algorithms are top secret, Moz, an SEO consulting and software company, introduced their own website scoring methodology called Domain Authority (DA), which attempts to give us a general idea (score of 1-100) of how much relevance and authority our website and pages have on a certain topic area or industry.
Let me get to my point here… When looking at an inbound links report (like the one below from Moz’s Link Explorer), one inbound link from a high-ranking site (DA of 80 to 100) is better than 5 links from lower-ranking sites (DA of 1 to 25). So when I ask the question, “Who’s giving you the best link love?”, it’s important to analyze the Domain Authority column to understand from which sites your best links are coming. The more links you can cultivate (organically) from high-ranking sites, the better.
If your website is relatively new or you’re trying to beef up your link profile for the “machines” (search engines), there are “white-hat” and paid ways to get links from high-ranking sites. On the white-hat side, building relationships with high-ranking industry sites and becoming a guest contributor is probably the easiest route. In the report above, four of those five links came from personal relationships that we’ve built by attending industry shows and engaging with industry practitioners via social over the years.
The fifth link in that report (Mashable) came by way of our PR firm, who provides us with regular opportunities for contributing native content on large media properties. Utilizing PR firms and such paid tactics as native advertising can go along way to quickly boosting your link profile.
Understanding People – The Trust Factor
Let’s now forget about the machines. A search engine is just a tool that helps people find answers. But do we trust the source? Most of us have probably learned the hard way that you can’t trust everything you read online. Intentional misinformation is everywhere and unfortunately, marketers are among the worst offenders.
Savvy consumers have learned this and will often bypass a brand website and opt for an unbiased review from a third-party web page, or the trusted advice of a social connection. A great example of this for us is a blog post by Helen Nesterenko, Co-Founder of Writtent, titled “Top 15 Life-Changing Editorial Calendar Tools“. This single post has sent us thousands of referral visits over the years. A well-packaged, unbiased article like this creates immediate trust in the reader (and probably helps Helen plant a seed of trust in a future blog subscriber or potential sales prospect).
Link Analysis Report
Viewing a list of sites that are referring traffic to your site is very simple. Google Analytics has an off-the-shelf report for that. But there is also a downloadable custom report that gives you even more data to narrow your focus and take action.
The Link Analysis Report for Google Analytics – Download Link
This report is different in that it’s looking at the various source websites that are passing on some link love and then providing engagement metrics, which are typically more telling vs. volume metrics. A quick review of this report tells me the following:
- Top Sources for Goal Completions – I can see that links from Curata and Writtent have generated the most goal completions.
- Top Traffic-Generating Sites – I can see that Writtent links are sending us a ton of traffic regularly. Perhaps we should reach out and see if we can partner with them to do more…?
- Best Traffic Quality – Although links from Britopian.com only resulted in 121 sessions, we had 5 conversions (4.13% conversion rate). That’s way above industry standards. That’s a high-quality, targeted audience for us. We should definitely reach out to Michael Brito and try to do more with him.
Getting More Link Love
I can’t stress enough that your focus should NOT be on trying to artificially fabricate links. Your focus should be building a great company, products/services and content that people will love and feel compelled to link to. But you do have some nice reports, tools and strategies at your disposal that can help you identify opportunities and accelerate your efforts. At the end of the day, we have to serve both machines and people. Try to do it the right way and others may just be inclined to spread some love for you.