There’s no doubting that links are a staple of any SEO diet. In fact, it’s widely known that it’s one of the most influential ranking factors search engines take into consideration when ranking URLs (domain and page level). However, I want to pose a question many people may not be asking themselves – do you need links? The key part of this question is you.
Before I begin here I want to say that every domain should always have a thorough technical audit conducted before any link building happens. There’s absolutely no point building high quality links if your domain is leaking value like a sieve. Once your domain is optimised for crawl accessibility and efficiency, you give links the maximum chance of impacting your domain and giving you the best return for your efforts.
With that said, we all know that every domain need links to a degree, but in this post I want to outline a process that enables you to benchmark your link profile against your competitors in each SERP, so you can work out if link building will lead to the best returns for your money. Before investing heavily in creative campaigns or contentless link building tactics, you’ll want to know if an increase in organic revenue is likely or if the changes needed are closer to home (i.e. technical issues or content improvement).
So, we begin with a piece of keyword research. The same that most of you will have done dozens of times. I won’t go into detail on how to do keyword research, but by exporting from a collection of resources like Search Analytics, Answerthepublic, Keywordtool.io, Keyword Planner, SEMrush, etc. you’ll need to end up with a keyword list that closely fits in with your target audience. I typically spend half a day reviewing the keywords at this point to make sure I remove any branded competitors and queries that aren’t relevant for me. Using whichever search volume tool you like (Keyword Planner or SEMrush typically) you’ll want the volumes associated to each keyword, to end up with the below:
From here, our goal is to find out if your domain ranks for each keyword and how your ranking URL benchmarks against the best ranking pages. My favourite tool to do this is AWR Cloud, with the setup to run manually. The reason being that this tool tells you the ranking position and ranking URL, along with all of the top 50 ranking URLs for each keyword (make sure you get a Top Sites report). So now, not only do I know if and where I rank for each keyword, I know who ranks in all the other positions so I can benchmark my URLs against theirs.
However, before we start benchmarking, we want to know where we rank and what the size of the opportunity is with each keyword. In this case, we’re going to kindly borrow the latest unbranded CTR’s from AWR’s monthly study. This will tell us what the expected CTR is in each position between 1 and 20, so we can estimate how much traffic each keyword is giving us currently and how much more that would be if we reach the top of the SERPs. Like so:
Note: We can’t use Search Analytics data for this. Although it does a decent job of telling us our ‘clicks’ in the current position, we then couldn’t benchmark it against the change, so we use a constant value, like AWR’s, instead.
If you’ve got GA setup and configured for goals and goal values, you can also take the above one step further. By overlaying your ranking URLs conversion rate and goal value, you can also multiply that by your expected traffic now vs expected traffic if you hit P1, to work out how valuable each keyword will be for you based on the revenue increase. Unfortunately, I’ve seen numerous GA setups where goal values don’t exist or the client isn’t comfortable using them, but when they do exist, they should absolutely be used for this.
So now we know which keywords are potentially the most profitable for you, either through pure traffic increase or based on your actual goal values (much preferred). Now, we want to know what’s the most realistic keywords to go after and what you have to do to get there.
To do this part, I would recommend using Majestic data because it’s isolated by link quality (TrustFlow) and link quantity (CitationFlow), in simple terms. You can use whichever metric you feel works best for you, but as we want to isolate links, I feel Majestic’s data is the only one capable of doing so because of how the metric is calculated. DA is probably the most popular people use, and a lot of clients do speak in ‘DA’, but as the metric is worked out using a combination of on page and off page signals, we can’t isolate with it, leaving us with more questions at the other end. It is a useful metric, but not here. If you want to read more about how these metrics are calculated, you can check out this comparison on the BuzzStream blog.
We want Majestic data on a page level, and to do that easily, I use URL Profiler.
By putting all my ranking URLs in, as well as the top ranking URLs from my SERP data (positions 1 – 3), I can then benchmark how much TrustFlow my ranking URL has, and how that then measures up against the average of the top 3.
This bit requires a lot of Excel legwork, and unfortunately the width of the screenshot I want to show you would enrage even the most laidback mobile user reading this. However, what we’re trying to do is keep the keyword as the constant, that’s our A column. Then, we want each ranking URL (our URL (if any), P1, P2 and P3) on the same row, along with each ranking URLs Majestic metrics from our URL Profiler export.
Then, on each row, we average the TF and CF of the URLs in the top 3 positions using an AVERAGE formula (even if we rank there), and use that average to take away our ranking URLs TF or CF – this is our variance.
If the variance is positive, primarily TrustFlow is the one we’ll want to focus on, we know we have more than enough link equity to be competitive at the top of the SERPs with that URL. Therefore, you don’t need links.
However, if the value is negative, it indicates that a strong potential reason (but not the only) why you don’t rank is that you don’t have the right quality of links, so therefore, you do need to do link building.
With all of the URLs ran through this approach, you can start to see which keywords present the biggest financial opportunities for you, and whether or not your URL (if any) already has the links to be competitive.
If your TrustFlow variance is greater than -10 (e.g. your ranking URL has a TF of 10 and the top 3 on average have a TF of 21 or above), this isn’t a keyword to consider in the short term because the amount of link building or internal funnelling required would need a considerable investment. But anything with an achievable variance (below -10) is one you should focus on.
I really hope that’s useful for anyone who is doing link building and not really seeing the right return, or looking to start investing without really questioning if it’s right for you.
Any questions or feedback at all, please do let me know!