Link building is the backbone of any good SEO campaign. But not all links were created equal and not all links will make a positive impact on your campaign. Here are some tips for new link builders to keep track of the quality of their work. This outlines my current manual method, without automating any of the processes.
There are several well-known tools for checking the quality of links, however, each tool only shows you part of the picture. This makes life a little frustrating, as different tools can give slightly indications of a website’s quality and whether or not your efforts are working.
- Moz Toolbar (free)
- SEMRush (paid)
- Majestic (free or paid)
- Ahrefs (paid)
- Google Sheets (free)
The first tool I look at when analysing a new link prospect or even an existing backlink is the Moz toolbar. This toolbar is free, but Moz also offers a full suite of SEO tools, but I’m not currently subscribed. SEO tool costs really add up fast. When I’m browsing sites that I might want my team to reach out to, I keep the Moz toolbar open. The first metric I check for is the Domain Authority, I consider this to be the most basic metric that any SEO will be looking at. As we all know, the higher the DA the better, but as we offer link building services in Australia, I have lower expectations for the DA of AU domains. I’m usually looking for a DA of 20 or higher, but if it looks like a site that will grow over time, I will happily build this relationship early.
Whilst I’ve got the Moz Toolbar open I also check the Spam Score. I’m quite fussy when it comes to Spam Scores, possibly too fussy. The Spam Score is not a guarantee of a spammy website, but if it is getting high, it may continue to rise over time. I’d rather not have to try and get links removed or disavowed in the future. I try to only select websites with a Spam Score of less than 10 and never over 30. If the site is highly relevant to the niche I am working on, then I’ll be a little more lenient, but most sites I work with have a spam score of just 1-2.
The Trust Flow and Citation Flow of a site is quite important to me. This metric comes from Majestic and it’s worth getting a license here. On the free version, you can only do 3-4 checks per day, which is not sufficient for handling multiple clients but might be OK if you are in-house.
I get a dozen or more emails every day from “link builders” who keep sending me sample sites that they can guest post on for me. Typically they will just show me the DA and maybe the Alexa Rank of each sample site. Sure, the DA might be high but if you don’t look at the stats through the other tools, you might get some placements on some sites that are not as great as they seem. Living in Australia, I’m not so interested in Alexa Rank, as we don’t really use that toolbar here the way the US might.
Above is an example of these websites. As most of these websites are sketchy, I have replaced their URLs as I don’t really want to give them any further exposure or to be associated with them.
I will check the DA of these sites with my Moz Toolbar, then also add in the Trust Flow and Citation Flow. I will also add a calculation to check the ratio between these numbers. An average ratio is 0.5 and anything above 1 is great, if the ratio is below 0.5 I probably won’t use it unless the niche is highly relevant.
As you can see above, the DA is quite similar to what the link builder said. The link builder would have just copied this out of a spreadsheet they’ve been using for months or years as DA doesn’t move very quickly, especially once you get into the 20s and higher.
Website 3 has an incredibly suspicious change in DA between what they showed and what I saw today. They had the DA at 31, now it’s 61. This was either an error in their spreadsheet or this site got a huge amount of links very quickly. The Majestic data for Trust Flow and Citation flow give an incredibly weak ratio and the graphs for keywords and traffic were also terrible. It was clear this site has been penalised. I would not want this site linking to any of my clients.
Traffic And Rankings
It is possible for a website to have a very high Domain Authority, but still have poor metrics from those other tools. For example, SEMRush shows that Website 3 hasn’t been getting much traffic for years after a massive spike in 2017.
The site does have a lot of rankings, but you can see they have dropped off massively for a solid year or so and the current positions are mostly around position 51-100, thus why they are getting no traffic.
How Do I Track This Long Term?
For each of my clients, I have a Google Sheet that tracks the following metrics compared to 3-4 of their competitors. I have it set up in a way that I can pull this data into reports using Moz, Ahrefs, Google Page Speed Insights and Majestic.
DA, PA of the home page, Spam Score with Moz, similarly to when checking link prospects. From Ahrefs I check Ahrefs Rank, DR, Total Referring Pages, Total Referring Domains and Total Organic Keywords (filtered by main target country). By comparing the link metrics from these tools against competitors, you can get an idea of which are also link building. If they are improving their metrics at a faster rate, then perhaps they are investing more heavily in SEO. This information is invaluable to demonstrating this kind of information to our clients in order to set their expectations and to give recommendations on their budgets.
I also track the TF, CF and a ratio of these using Majestic across each client and those same competitors. This helps me keep an eye on the quality of the links being built. Sometimes I can see a trend that says yes, the competitors are doing link building but over the last few months, it has tanked their TF and Trust Ratio. This shows that our work is better long term.
By recording this data and being able to see it all in one place in a spreadsheet, or a Google Data Studio dashboard it makes it very easy for account managers to troubleshoot link building issues. By recording all these metrics, as well as the usual keyword rankings and traffic and conversion data it will become easier than ever to share your wins with your clients.