Can you apply standard metrics to link development?
We measure what’s going on in our PPC campaigns very easily. Metrics we have available include cost per click, cost per conversion/acquisition, total spent, number of impressions, number of clicks, etc. These numbers give us a good idea of how well our ads are performing, and we can quickly look at data that’s updated within 24 hours to see that yes, this new keyphrase is already converting or that no, that landing page is not doing well right now.
We have a variety of ways to measure our SEO efforts, many of which depend upon who happens to be interested. There’s the traffic, of course, but there are also conversions, increase or decrease in keyword positions and referrals.
Ah yes, referrals. That’s where link development metrics can finally enter the picture.
While it’s safe to say that not every referral you notice in your analytics will be from a link that you happen to be somehow responsible for, it’s likely that, at some point, you will indeed see referrals from your links. Whether you gained those links by writing great content or paying for them, unless they are truly completely irrelevant and terribly placed, someone is going to click, come to your website and maybe even perform whatever act you deem as a conversion.
The clicks themselves are valuable, of course, as it’s always nice to get eyes on your site. Are you, then, tracking link conversions appropriately? Wouldn’t you like to know if your links are actually producing? Wouldn’t you like to learn how to mimic that positive behavior for other existing links as well as future ones? I can’t think of anyone who would say no to that.
It’s very difficult to tie an action further down the road to the initial link that brought the visitor to you, of course, unless you’re using cookies that never, ever actually expire (or you’re a technically brilliant human being). You may get conversions from links at a later date, of course, but accurately tracking those could easily take years off your life. However, if you have it in you to figure it out, you’ll gain a ton of valuable information that will help you make the best of ALL of your links.
As a link builder, I can tell you that not all clients are willing to offer access to their analytics, which can be problematic if there’s no other SEO type involved in some way. Currently about a third of my clients actually give me the keys to the castle, so to speak. The rest? They either don’t run any type of analytics, they use something but don’t give me access to the data, or they have someone else involved who sorts it all out and may or may not communicate with me. As much as I’d love to be involved in tracking conversions, I’m not always asked to do so.
Let’s focus on clients who do provide you with the data that you need to measure conversions from the links that you build. What should you be focusing on here? Obviously some of this will depend upon which analytics package you’re working with, but any of them will give you referrals, of course. With Google Analytics, for example, you can then set Goal Conversion Rates and Per Visit Goal Values. This will allow you to get an idea of whether your inbound links (referrals) are functioning as you’d like them to, for whatever goal you set up.
Careful, though: Sometimes you’ll get a latent conversion that did not come immediately from a link into your site. Someone can easily come to your website through an inbound link, then return to the site at a later date and begin/complete the conversion process. You also face issues when someone enters a site through a link, converts, and keeps converting. In this case, one conversion (according to your analytics) could actually be worth much, much more than you might think. This is where more advanced measurement needs to happen, looking at visitor behavior, loyalty, tracking return visitors, even working outside the analytics packages to place appropriate values on a link.
If you’re not allowed access to analytics, you should seriously be pursuing an open dialog in order to gauge the effectiveness of your linking efforts. Links are good for more than just improving rankings and traffic, and it’s time that we all started to pay a bit more attention to how to properly measure and maximize this fact.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.