In the world of online marketing, there are two schools of thought: those who think that link building is the bread and butter of marketing campaigns and those who don’t.
While updates like the dreaded Penguin and above have shattered the dream of link farms and black hat link building, Google was never against quality linking. In fact, if done right, this is a fantastic SEO technique to have in your quiver!
But there’s a problem with link building.
It’s difficult to measure the impact on your business (or the Return of Investment). ROI is a business indicator that shows if your efforts are being translated into profit or not. After all, your link building campaigns should be focused on increased conversions.
Still, we now have access to specialized tools, such as Google Analytics that provide a wide array of data and reports. Based on these, we came up with three different ways to measure link building ROI.
We’ll discuss each method separately and provide examples and advice on how to use the metrics to understand the efficiency of your marketing campaigns.
Measure ROI using Rankings
Your site’s ranking is easy to understand as it indicates the position in SERP based on your optimized keywords. Still, it can be misleading, but more on this aspect a bit later.
First, let’s talk about how you can measure ROI based on rankings.
Well, one thing every SEO expert and meekly blogger knows is that, if you want conversions and visibility, you must rank for page one. According to HubSpot, 75% of all people won’t even get past the first page of search results.
Furthermore, the first organic result gets 32.5% of the traffic, while the second result gets 17.6%. As you go down, the 7th result only 3.5% of the traffic, so it’s easy to understand why site owners go crazy about ranking on the first page.
How Is Ranking Misleading?
There are sites that, even though they rank on some of the best positions in SERPs, the level of conversion is low or medium at best. So, put plainly, the best spots in Google don’t guarantee an increase in sales; and here’s why:
- Relevance of content – If the users who land on your site don’t find a solution to their problems (relevant information, service, or products), they will leave and try the sites beneath. So, being first doesn’t guarantee the right type of people will visit the site.
- Low-quality meta description – On the other hand, you may have the right product or service for the people looking for your keywords, but the meta description isn’t convincing enough. If a user doesn’t think they’ll find useful information on the site based on your snippet, they won’t click on it regardless of the fact that’s in top position.
So, even though a link building campaign translates into higher rankings, this may not mean more sales, increased traffic, or increased profitability. On the contrary, you have more chances to get organic backlinks and rank higher with high-quality traffic!
Track Ranking Performance using Analytics
Basically, to measure the ROI of a link building campaign using rankings, you should compare site’s ranking for certain keywords before and after the campaign. To do this, you can either use Google Analytics (when you are working with lots of keywords) or you can keep track of your campaign’s results using a spreadsheet (if you’re measuring results only for a few keywords).
Keep track of Ranks for Small Campaigns
Let’s first have a look at the second situation (fewer keywords). For this, create a column for each keyword you’re tracking and note your page’s initial position in SERPs. This is the position before you start any link building campaign for these keywords.
Once the campaign is complete, check your page’s position for the same keywords and write down in a different column. Set an interval (daily, weekly, or other) for checking the rankings and repeat the process for as long as you consider necessary.
As the more data is added to the sheet, you’ll have an idea of how link building affected your ranking (that is if you didn’t run any other campaigns during the same time). Put plainly, if the ranking remains the same, the campaign may not have been as effective as expected, but if it’s higher, it’s clear something went well.
Keep track of Ranks for Larger Campaigns
While Google Analytics doesn’t keep track of your site’s rank, you do have the option to customize it as needed.
So, to make your Analytics show rankings for specific keywords, go to Admin → Filters → Add Filter and give your filter a name.
Under Filter Type select Custom and then Advanced. Under Field A → Extract A, in Select Field, choose Campaign Term and insert “(.*)” in the text area.
Under Field B → Extract B, in Select Field, choose Referral and insert “(\?|&)cd=([^&]*)” in the text area. Finally, under Output To → Constructor, in Select Field, choose User Defined and insert “$A1 (rank: $B2)”in the text area. Click Save.
As a result, you should see the ranking of the keyword in your Analytics view.
As you can see, now you have a complete list of keywords, the pages they relate to and the rank of the page. This list is automatically generated by Analytics and can be exported, which is what you should do at regular intervals of time to measure progress.
Measure ROI using Social Media Relevance
Just like with tracking link building ROI through ranking, using social media can be tricky. Still, it is a slice of the marketing pie you shouldn’t ignore these days!
The difficulty, in this case, is represented by the lack of control over how or where people share your content. You may have avid supports on Twitter, but younger users may just as well share some of your links using Facebook. Or your company/campaign may be mentioned in a hashtag on Instagram.
In a recent survey done by Altimeter, 66% of companies don’t see a connection between social strategy and business outcomes. However, these are also the companies that risk missing out on important data. With so many channels that allow people to share links and post opinions, it can be rather interesting to try and keep track of everything.
But Google Analytics can be of help in this situation as well. In fact, there are two main ways to use the analytics platform to keep track of the traffic and conversions provided by social media channels.
Method #1: Keep track of Social Conversions
While social media usually sits on top of the sales funnel, promoting awareness and engagement, there is a way to measure the ROI based on the type of traffic that comes from the links you shared. Thus, the traffic that comes from social media can be categorized in owned and earned.
Owned traffic is represented by people who land on your page by clicking the link you shared and earned traffic is the one that comes from links shared by your readers.
Now, to keep track of the type of traffic that comes and from where we recommend using UTM parameters to tag each URL shared in a specific social campaign.
Once you have a social media campaign tagged and running, you should set up goals in Google Analytics to track the level of conversions it brings. For this, log in to your account, go to Acquisition → Social → Conversions and click on “Set up goals”.
Next, click on “New Goal”, choose Custom under Goal Setup, and fill in the information in the Goal Description section. Under Type, choose Destination.
In the Goal Details section, add the link to the page you want to track and click save.
Method #2: Follow Attribution Reports
Through Attribution Reports, Google Analytics offers a useful tool you can use to keep track of social media’s effect on your site.
These reports gather data from all social media channels and have the tools to let you filter the results in a form that’s easier to track and understand.
To access them, In Google Analytics, go to Conversions → Attribution and select Model Comparison Tool. If this is the first time you’re accessing it, the site will guide you through the initial settings. If not, you should have access to the dashboard and the main filters (under Default Models).
Now, if you select Last Non-Direct Click from the list, you should get an idea of the links coming from social media (since these are not direct links).
Another useful filter is “First Interaction” because this is the one that shows you where a visitor first learned about your page. This way, you know for sure if the social media campaign is working when it comes to spreading awareness.
To get the ROI of your social media link building efforts, all you have to o is compare the costs and resources spent in social media with the resulted leads and conversions (data collected from the reports mentioned above).
Measure ROI using Traffic
The third, and maybe most accurate method to measure ROI from backlinks is traffic. After all, without high-quality traffic there would be no reason to bother measuring rankings and social media impact, right?
Following General Metrics
The main reasons we do link building campaigns is to attract more traffic to our pages and increase conversions in the process. However, given that not everyone who visits your page is automatically converted into a paying customer, to determine the ROI, you should measure the growth and engagement.
The good news is that Google Analytics is the perfect tool to follow the metrics you need to determine if the backlinks are truly working. Here are the metrics to consider:
- Number of visitors – the platform allows you to view this metric on different periods, which provides an easy way to follow progress immediately after a link building campaign;
- Unique visitors – it shows the number of people who just found your site and if it increases in the monitoring period, it means your campaign is successful;
- Page views and Pages per Visit – the first metric shows how many times your pages have been visited and the second calculates an average of pages opened by a viewer. Both are an indicator of engagement because it shows viewers look at your site and browse for more information.
- Bounce rate – another indicator that shows engagement, if it’s low, it means people are actually staying on your page.
All these metrics are easy to follow using the dashboard in Audience → Overview.
Following Referrals Reports
If you want a more accurate depiction of your backlinks’ impact on conversions, you can use Referrals Reports.
Referrals are those who refer your site to their audiences, so in the online world, these are the backlinks you worked so hard to create. Given that backlinks are crucial for a high-quality SEO campaign, Google Analytics allows you to measure the ROI that comes from referrals by showing you the type and volume of visitors that come from them.
So, to access these reports, go to Customization → Custom Report → New custom report. Once there, give the report a title and specify a name in the Report Tab. Next, click on “Add Metrics”, select Users, and add the metrics you want to see in the report.
Once this step is complete, from “Dimension Drilldowns”, choose Acquisitions → Source.
The final step is to click Save and view your report.
This report can be edited at any time you want, but you also have the possibility to create as many custom reports as you need. Overall, it offers information on how each site that sends links back to your pages is doing and if there are any improvements in a given time period.
While there are other tools on the market that may offer more specialized and neat-looking data, the platform provided by Google for free is still a fantastic source to help you determine backlinking ROI. With a bit of creativity and out of the box thinking, this may need the only data source you’ll ever need!
Danielle Canstello is party of the content marketing team at Pyramid Analytics. They provide bi analytics and business intelligence software. In her spare time, she writes around the web to spread her knowledge of the marketing, business intelligence and analytics industries.