Much to the dismay of perfectionists everywhere, link building is a marketing tactic that doesn’t come with an easily calculable ROI (return on investment). Link building is a crucial element of any search engine optimization (SEO) strategy; without links pointing back to your domain, it’s almost impossible to increase your authority, and thus, your search rankings. However, with the wide array of variables affecting the contributions of a link, it’s hard to say exactly how much “value” a given link has.
This introduces a special kind of headache when you consider that building a link takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the nature of the publisher, the tactic you’re using, and other (sometimes uncontrollable) factors. Most optimizers spend many hours per week on link building, but how can you tell if those hours are a profitable investment?
It won’t surprise you to know that I can’t offer a concrete, black-and-white answer, but I can help you estimate your link values to point you in the right direction.
Three Dimensions of Link Value
First, understand that links are more valuable than just their contributions to your domain authority (and search rankings). In fact, there are three “dimensions” of link value I’ll be exploring in this piece:
- Domain authority. This is the amount of authority a link “passes” to your domain; the more authority you earn, the higher you’ll rank in search engines for various queries, and the more organic search traffic you’ll receive.
- Referral traffic. Anyone reading your piece has the chance of clicking the link you’ve built, which cuts out the search engine “middle man” and rewards you with instant traffic. There’s a value to this as well.
- Merely including the mention of your brand in the context of an article can have long-term benefits for your reputation. This is especially true as your prominence as an author increases over time.
First, let’s determine how much value a link can pass in terms of domain authority. There are many factors that can affect this:
- Source authority. The authority of your source is probably the biggest indicator for how much authority your link will pass. There are many tools that can help you determine this, though most operate on a basis that scores domains between 0 and 100. Any site with an authority of 40 or higher is considered good, but the power players rest between 80 and 100. One link from a high-authority site from this can instantly boost your domain authority if it’s low, and make a measurable impact on it even if it’s already high. The authority curve is exponential, so you’ll see declining returns as your authority rises (but bigger jumps in search rankings).
- Link placement. The placement and nature of your link will also come into play. For example, is your link pointing to a specific internal page of your site, or the homepage? If you funnel multiple links to a single internal page, you’ll increase its page authority, which can help it rank faster than your other pages. If your link is on a “core” page of a source, rather than the blog page, you may earn extra authority as well.
- Repetition and diversity. Posting multiple links on the same source will yield significantly declining returns. It’s much better to post links from multiple different sources; the more you have, the better. Therefore, the first link on a new 85 authority source will probably be more valuable than a second link on an old 90 authority source.
- Anchor text. The anchor text of your link can help you earn relevance for specific keyword terms, though this effect isn’t as powerful as it used to be. In most cases, you’re better off using anchor text that flows naturally in the body of your article.
Overall, any link on a source with an authority higher than yours will likely make a positive impact on your domain authority. That impact has the potential to influence upward movement in your search rankings; depending on your keyword targets and previous positions, this could result in moving to the number one position, or earning hundreds to thousands of new visitors. Unfortunately, there are too many variables to tell for sure.
Thankfully, referral traffic is much more straightforward and easy to calculate.
- Traffic volume. If you log into Google Analytics and check out the Acquisition tab, you’ll see site traffic broken down into different sources, one of which is “referral traffic.” Here, you can analyze where all your referral traffic is coming from, down to the individual page and link. Obviously, the more visitors a link generates, the more value it holds for your brand.
- Traffic relevance. You’ll also want to consider the relevance of that traffic. For example, writing a “buyer’s guide” to a product you offer will likely send more traffic to your site than a topic outside your area of expertise.
Finally, consider the reputation value that your link and/or brand mention is earning you:
- Brand exposure. First, mere exposure to your brand can lead to increased awareness. Depending on the size and visibility of the publisher, this could result in hundreds of people learning your name for the first time.
- If your brand is connected to the authorship of the article—and it’s an informative article—those people will learn to trust you more, and become more loyal to you. This is a somewhat incalculable effect, but it’s worth considering.
- Posting links to your site multiple times on the same source may not grant you much additional domain authority, but it will make those readers even more aware of your brand.
- Bigger opportunities. Getting work features on a mid- to high-level publisher could open the door to even bigger opportunities. On top of all the other valuable benefits your link provides to you, it may also earn you the chance to post an even better link somewhere else. This is especially important to consider for early-stage campaigns.
The Value of a Visitor
The lynchpin variable in all these calculations is the value of a visitor. When looking at domain authority and referral traffic, the end goal is getting more people to your site, and you’ll often use “visitors” as a metric to demonstrate effectiveness. But how valuable is a visitor? Look at the average value of a conversion, and your average conversion rate to calculate this. Then, in combination with the estimations you’ve made above, you should be able to calculate an estimated value each link has.
There’s no clear-cut way to isolate a rigid value for a given link, but you can use secondary metrics and your understanding of a link’s general value to determine whether your strategy is effective. Use these tools to audit your campaign and, if necessary, make adjustments to your approach for higher ROI.