Link Building Part 2: Link Analysis
This is the second part of my multi-part series on link building as part of a larger online marketing effort. In part one, I talked about the various facets of the overall value of links. If you’re unsure of what to do with the myriad of signals people talk about regarding links, just concentrate one thing: what links provide the best traffic? All the linking signals can be rolled up into that one metric.
I find that the best way to start any online marketing effort, link building included, is assessing where things currently are.
What links do you really have?
You can use Yahoo! Site Explorer and Google Webmaster Tools to get a general idea of the number of links to your site and where they’re coming from. I like that Site Explorer (supposedly) ranks the links in order of importance, and I like that Google lets you download the links so you can open them in Excel. Yahoo! shows more of a full count, but only lists 1,000. Google may not have the complete list of links, but lets you see (and download) the full list they do show.
Note that Excel 2007 lets you load up to a million rows, but earlier versions only let you see up to 65,000 (ish), so if you have more than 65,000 external links and want to view them in Excel, you might want to spring for the upgrade.
In Site Explorer, make sure you change the Inlinks options to “Except from this domain” and “to Entire site” to get an accurate picture of your external links.
From the list, filter out the links that search engines could potentially be devaluing or discounting entirely. This includes links that are paid or the result of link networks or exchanges, links that generate no traffic to your site, other sites that you own, and spammy directories. Then consolidate multiple links from a single site. What’s left? For some sites, things can initially look pretty good, but once you filter and consolidate, you find that you’re left with much fewer links than you had thought.
(I find this exercise is sometimes useful when people ask me why a competitor site ranks above them when the competitor site has fewer links. There are lots of reasons this could be, of course, but one of them might be that once you subtract the number of potentially discounted links from the total, you end up with fewer than the competition.)
Your Most Compelling Content And Your Target Audience
From the remaining list, what types of sites are linking to you and what types of content are they linking to most often? Easy ways to get links are to:
- create more content like that which is already being linked to (people are clearly interested in that kind of content).
- target other sites in the same categories that link to you already (those types of sites have audiences who are interested in your content).
Your Biggest Fans
Make a list of who is linking to you that would link again if you had something new to talk about (like bloggers and reporters). Without doing link analysis, you may have no idea who’s out there talking about you! Make sure to ping them about new features and content.
What links bring the most traffic?
You can get this information from your web analytics. Determining what links bring more visitors can help you with audience analysis. What sites have audiences that are most interested in your content? Don’t just look at page views, look at bounce rates, time on site, and number of pages viewed. What audiences are most actively engaged?
What social media sites bring the best traffic? Again, those sites are more likely to cater to your target audience.
Looking at my referrals, for instance, the StumbleUpon audience seems to be a good one for this site. They have a super low bounce rate of 37%, stay on the site for over a minute, and look at nearly two pages while they’re here. Compare that to the Reddit audience, who have a bounce rate of 92% and spend only 13 seconds on the site.
Who’s linking to your competition and why?
Use Yahoo! Site Explorer to check out your competitors’ links. What kinds of content of theirs is linked to most often? Maybe your site doesn’t fill a need that theirs does. What kinds of sites are linking to them and not to you? Those are audiences interested in your topic who may not yet know you exist.
Anchor text: What are your external links saying about you?
What does your anchor text look like? (You can get an anchor text report from Google Webmaster Tools, as well as from third-party tools.) Search engines use a combination of on page and off page factors to determine what your site is about.
In the next segment of this series, I’ll talk about ways to influence external anchor text to your site, but during the assessment phase, just make note of what the anchor text looks like. If you don’t have any anchor text for keywords that you care about, that may partially explain why you’re not ranking the way you’d like to, and even why those external links aren’t bringing the traffic you’d like. Ideally, the anchor text compels people to click the link and visit your site.
As the result of this assessment, you should have the following lists for the next phase in the link building process:
- Types of sites that tend to link to you
- Types of content on your site that is linked to most often
- Reporters, bloggers, and others who seem interested in your content, your competition, or your industry/topic
- Types of sites that tend to link to your competition
- Types of content that the competition provides that is linked to most often
- Anchor text and where it’s coming from
Yep, link building is a long and arduous process. But if you’re building links for long-term value, it’s well worth it. The next post in this series will be about preparing your site. Stay tuned!