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How to measure your link building

Author: Debbie Chew

an image of author Debbie Chew with various search-related iconography, including bar charts, a pie chart, and example click and impressions metrics

For many websites, building backlinks (also known as off-site SEO) may be the missing piece in your SEO strategy. But, link building isn’t something you should just jump into.


Assuming your content is link-worthy to begin with and that there aren’t any major technical SEO issues on your website, you’ll need to know which link building elements to monitor in order to understand how your efforts impact rankings, traffic, and revenue.


Here’s what you should do to ensure that the links you’re pursuing are the most valuable for your website.


Table of contents:


Why it’s important to measure and track your link building


Measuring your link building is essential to show how SEO (and your efforts) impacts your business’s bottom line. You need to be able to connect the dots together for your stakeholders to justify continued (or additional) investment. Without measuring, it’s also difficult to know what link building tactics and strategies actually work for your website. As Laura Slingo, outreach manager at Sage, puts it:


“Link building is a key lever in any holistic SEO strategy and so the ultimate KPI for links is to drive revenue via organic performance. The story of outreach is: building links improves page-level authority, which improves rankability, drives rankings, organic traffic, and finally, revenue. It can be really difficult to prove that links are driving organic performance, especially when other factors are at play (e.g., algorithm updates, on-page changes etc.), so tracking key metrics associated with the above workflow is key.” — Laura Slingo, Outreach Manager at Sage

This means that—in order to draw correlations between the impact of your link building efforts, organic growth, and revenue—properly tracking the right metrics is as important as the link building itself.


Let’s take a closer look at those metrics.


Key link building metrics to track


When it comes to link building, you need to know where you’re starting from to understand what’s feasible for you to achieve. This will help you create more realistic outreach campaigns and ensure that you’re building links effectively—as opposed to simply chasing down big-name, low-relevance domains.


Before building links

When building links, it’s important to prioritize relevance. The goal of link building is to increase your authority on a topic (among other things) and relevant links will have a greater impact on your SEO.


With that said, there isn’t an official “relevance score” or metric that you can reference. This is because relevance is subjective—it depends on your niche. When you prospect your link outreach targets, you need to determine how relevant they are to your niche or target audience. You can manually tag each prospect as “high,” “medium,” or “low” relevance, and then focus your link building efforts on websites with high relevance.


A table with different domains, their respective DR, and their relevance (high, medium, and low) to a website for solo female travel

For example, if you’re in the travel niche and your website’s target audience is solo female travelers, sites like Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet would be highly relevant and good targets for link building. A backlink from Home Depot or Nike, for instance, will have much less impact since their audience and topical authority (in this case, on home improvement and sports apparel) is completely unrelated to travel.


Pro tip: After you finish reading this article (and are familiar with what metrics to track and why), it's a good idea to perform an initial backlink audit. That way, you know what backlinks are already working for you and can compare your backlink profile against similar competitors, which could help you identify relevant domains to outreach to.


After building links

Once you’ve started building links to your website, there are three groups of metrics that you should track. The first two, link-specific metrics and page-level metrics, are must-haves. The third group is outreach-specific metrics, which are optional to track.


01. Link-specific metrics

These metrics are all about the “what” and “where” of your links. In the table below, I’ve highlighted the key metrics that link builders track (although this is not an exhaustive list of all potential metrics).

Essential metrics

(the bare minimum)

Good-to-have’s

(most link building campaigns will track these)

Additional metrics

(you might want to track these)

Link publish date: When did the link go live?




Referring page: What page is the link on?


Linked page: What page (on your site) does the link point to?

Anchor text: The hyperlinked text the referring page used for your link




DA/DR of the referring site: Third-party metrics (not created by a search engine) related to the size of a domain’s backlink profile

Follow/nofollow: A link attribute that tells search engines whether or not to consider the link as a “vote” for the linked page


Referral traffic: How much traffic the link brings to your site


Conversions: How many signups (or revenue) can be attributed to the backlink

Since the essential metrics are quite straightforward, I’ll go into more detail about the metrics in the last two columns:

  • Anchor text — This is essentially how another site describes your page. It’s also how readers and search engines contextualize the linked page. Let’s say a website wants to link to your page about the “10 best cities for solo female travelers.” Instead of using generic or non-descriptive anchor text, like “here,” the anchor text would ideally be “cities for solo female traveling” or something relevant to your linked page. With that said, don’t coerce anyone to use a specific anchor text as this is considered a manipulative way to build links.

  • DA/DR of the site — Although these are not Google’s metrics, many link builders use domain authority (DA) and/or domain rating (DR) as proxies for authority. The idea here is that search engines place a higher value on backlinks from authoritative sites (compared to less authoritative ones), so DA/DR can help you identify domains to outreach to. But, not only are they unofficial metrics, they can also be flawed since they can be artificially inflated and relevance isn’t accounted for, despite its importance.

  • Follow/Nofollow: By default, all links on the web are “followed,” which means search engines consider them similar to “votes of confidence” for their respective target pages. A nofollow link, on the other hand, tells search engines that the link shouldn’t be counted as a vote or pass SEO value. If you or the agency you hire is running a digital PR campaign that targets news publications, you may find that links from certain high authority sites may be nofollow. For this type of campaign, it may be helpful to track which links are follow vs. nofollow. Even when they’re nofollow links, you might still benefit from them as a source of invaluable referral traffic.

  • Referral traffic and conversions: You can use your analytics platform to gauge whether your referral traffic is improving as a result of your link building. If a link you built drives relevant traffic to your website, that link could essentially “pay for itself” if it results in conversions. If that’s the case, you need to be able to track and show this correlation to your stakeholders to highlight the impact of your link building (especially if you’re working in-house). When your primary goal for link building is to drive referral traffic and conversions, you can focus on building those links on very niche websites with a small but engaged audience—even if they have relatively low authority.


Pro tip: These metrics can also be important if, for example, you’re an eCommerce brand with an affiliate program, since keeping track of the referral traffic and conversions you receive from affiliate links will help you determine whether it makes sense to continue running that affiliate program.


02. Page-level metrics

A table of different pages on a website and the number of links built, head term ranking, and traffic for each page in January and February

Another way to illustrate the value of your link building is to keep track of page-level metrics. These metrics help you measure the actual impact of your efforts on your organic search performance. For the pages that you’re building links to, you want to track:


  • Head term keyword rankings — Since you're typically building links to help improve your organic rankings, keeping track of how those pages rank for their head term (or the primary target keywords) helps you measure your progress towards that goal. You can keep a monthly record of the number of links built compared to the average position of the head term.

  • Organic traffic — Your head term rankings may not accurately convey the entire impact that your links have, so track organic traffic as well to add more context in case other keywords are also providing an uplift. For example, after a few months of link building, your head term ranking for a certain keyword may be 6th, but you rank 1st for a number of secondary or long-tail keywords. Tracking the influx in organic traffic to the page shows the benefit of these links.


03. Outreach-specific metrics

Aside from link-specific and page-level metrics, another set of metrics that you might also want to keep track of are those related to your email outreach.


A table with the average open rate, average reply rate, and average success rate for outreach done from January to April

This means tracking your open rate, reply rate, and success rate (the percentage of replies that resulted in a new link) over time. If you want to A/B test your emails, tracking these metrics can help you understand what to tweak to improve your success rate, for example.


Reporting on links as an in-house SEO


It’s important to be able to present the metrics you’re tracking to stakeholders—here’s how you can go about it:

  • For link-specific and page-level metrics, use Google Sheets to track these figures.

  • Use Google Search Console or an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush to export your keyword position and organic traffic data.

  • Use Looker Studio to pull data from your Google Sheets to create helpful visualizations. This is particularly useful when you share your link building results with colleagues that aren’t on the SEO team. For inspiration on ways to visualize your link building success, you can refer to AgencyAnalytics’ link building report template.


Consider creating charts that show traffic before and after link building for a specific group of pages—this is an easy way to showcase your results to your managers or C-suite. Using the travel site example from earlier, if you’re building links to several guides on “What females should know when traveling to [country],” you can create a chart that looks something like this:


A line graph that shows a website's traffic with a dotted vertical line near the center of the chart that indicates when link building had started, and shows the website traffic went up after link building.

Pro tip: In-house SEOs and link builders often have greater freedom to experiment with different link building tactics than their colleagues on the agency side. In that case, you should also keep track of the particular link building tactic you used to get the link. This will help you identify what works, especially when you are just starting to build links to your site.


Reviewing link reports from agency partners


If you decide to hire a link building agency, you might wonder, “How do I keep track of performance when link building isn’t my area of expertise?”


First off, make sure you understand the “Key metrics to track” section of the guide. Next, remember that the metrics your agency will track depends on the deliverables you agreed on. On a monthly basis, that could be “10 DR 70+ links” or “10 links to X page,” and the reporting for this will usually be straightforward.


The most important thing to remember is to go beyond the link-specific metrics that I covered earlier. In addition to verifying that the agency makes good on their deliverables, pay close attention to the websites and pages that your links come from.


DA/DR scores do not guarantee content/website quality. You also can’t use it to determine whether the referring domain or page is relevant to your website.

This means you should always spot-check the links built and visit the referring pages. Only then will you be able to identify potential red flags, such as:


A graphic labeled "potential red flags about your link building agency," followed by the following points: Links from domains that are irrelevant to your niche, Links from spammy or sketchy websites, Links from UGC (user-generated content) sites or pages, Forum or comment spam, Suspicious directories that link to everything PBNs (private blog networks) and link farms (websites created to manipulate search engines and weren’t meant for humans)

These types of links tend to have temporary, little, or no impact. And, in severe cases, they may earn you a penalty from Google or other search engines. Check for these red flags regularly.


Don’t just focus on the link building metrics: Go full-on SEO


As important as it is to build links, a common mistake is to continually build links to one page without verifying if that page even has a link deficit (i.e.,your page has fewer relevant links and/or lower quality links compared to other pages in the SERPs). No matter if you’re building links in-house or outsourcing it, this can easily happen. This is when tracking your head term’s average position can be especially important. For example, if you consistently build links to your “10 best cities for solo female travelers” page but start seeing the average position or traffic decline, it’s crucial to take a closer look at the SERPs.


Ask yourself:


  • Do you already have more referring domains than your competitors?

  • Has the search intent changed?

  • Is there now a featured snippet that wasn’t there before?


If so, there may be other areas of your page to improve that can better increase its ranking without building more links. That can mean adjusting the angle of your content, enhancing the user experience or your E-E-A-T, improving your Core Web Vitals, or adding internal links.


You might find that your page even has more links than the competing search results from domains with higher authority and relevance, but if searchers have a poor page experience, your rankings will suffer. Backlinks are just one part of the equation.

Measure, optimize, repeat


Keep in mind that the impact of your link building will vary depending on your site’s authority and the niche that you’re in. With that said, digital marketing agency Aira found that 1–3 months is the most likely time frame to start seeing results. You can also keep an eye on your competitors’ link velocity (how quickly links are being built, usually on a monthly basis), but also scrutinize relevance and authority.


When you choose the right link building tactics for your niche, execute them well (or get an agency to help execute) and track your progress, then you can start to optimize how you build links. Once you get to that point, you can A/B test at different stages of the link building process (such as prospecting, outreach, or tactics). Over time, you’ll be able to build links more effectively—and much better than your competitors.


 

Debbie Chew

Debbie Chew is an SEO Manager at Dialpad with over 8 years of experience in digital marketing. She specializes in content and link building, and is passionate about sharing her learnings with other marketers. Twitter | Linkedin

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