The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Link Evaluation
Inbound marketing usually involves the posting of content on other websites in order to promote a target business. The content will almost certainly contain a link back to the target business.
When doing this type of marketing, we not only need to consider the value of the link. We must also consider the value of the content itself. We must ask ourselves:
“How much value does a piece of content posted on another website bring to my business?”
These words are chosen carefully. When I say “content”, I mean it in a broad sense. The content could be a guest blog post, a business listing, a quote in a magazine article, etc. I’ll also not that I’m thinking about value for your business, not just your website.
Evaluating the benefit of any given off-site content post can be tricky, and requires knowledge from several different disciplines. An SEO may look at content relevancy and metrics indicating domain authority, among other things. A branding expert may consider the impact the post has on brand recognition or brand loyalty. An affiliate marketer will attempt measure the conversions earned from the referral traffic. A social media marketer… Well, you get the point. I could list marketers of ten different persuasions and they’d all have a different method for evaluating off-site content.
My method for evaluating individual off-site content posts involves evaluating 4 types of value, listed in order of the most easily quantifiable to the least:
- Referral visit value
- SEO value
- Social media value
- Branding value
For each of these 4 dimensions, I’ll list a few of the most important questions you should ask yourself. Some of these questions can be estimated ahead of time, others will need to be answered after the content has been posted.
Referral Visit Value
This should be the easiest metric to evaluate, but sadly often ignored by those focused on SEO alone. Referral visits to your website are simply visits from people that clicked the link in the off-site content and arrived on your website.
So, let’s start with 3 easier questions.
1) How many visitors arrived on your website by clicking the link in the content you posted?
To evaluate this, first check the referral traffic report in Google Analytics or other analytics platform.
After you know how many visitors arrived on your site, you can take it a step further by analyzing the quality of visitors.
2) Did the visitors convert?
If they bought from you, that’s obviously a great sign!
3) Are the visitors potential future buyers?
Whether or not they bought from you now, do they have the potential to buy in the future? A good way to answer this question is to consider:
- How relevant the site you posted on is to your business.
- How relevant the content you posted is to your business.
- Whether the visitors performed other valuable actions on your website such as signing up for a newsletter, subscribing to your blog, following you on Twitter, posting comments, etc.
That’s it for the easy part!
While the value of referral visits can be measured in the near-term after placing the content. The remaining types of value may take some time to be shown and may be very difficult to evaluate.
But first of all, let’s take a look at 2 questions about readers that will affect the SEO, social & branding value of the content you post.
Comprehensive Value Questions
1) How many people will see the content?
I advise guestimating this for two time periods: the immediate future and the long-term.
To estimate for the near-term, try to figure out how many people will be notified about the content. They may be notified via an RSS feed, an email newsletter, Twitter or other social media platforms. Data for social networks is usually publicly listed on the social profile by default. RSS subscribers can be estimated by checking the number of Google Reader subscribers, but note that that only shows the number of subscribers via Google Reader and iGoogle, not all RSS subscribers. If you’re lucky, the website you plan to post on will show all this data publicly.
Next, you can also consider how many people will see the content over its lifetime. This is much trickier to estimate. You may want to consider how well other posts on the site rank on search engines and whether there continue to be comments on content long after it has been posted. You should also consider how fast the content will depreciate in value over time. For example, a news article won’t likely be getting any new visitors a half-year in the future, but a ‘how to’ article should stay relevant for years.
2) How valuable is the content to them?
In this kind of marketing, the key to increasing the value of your business is to provide valuable content. Providing value is at the heart of inbound marketing, so this should come as no surprise. Value can come in many forms: information, entertainment, inspiration.
If people find your content valuable, they’re more likely to share it via social media or link to it. Plus, it will enhance their perception of your brand.
This is one side of off-site content evaluation that I feel has been covered extremely well already, so I won’t cover it in detail here.
To learn about how to predict the SEO value of a link, I recommend starting with this introduction to external links and this link evaluation survey of 501 SEOs. You should also familiarize yourself with some of the great SEO link evaluation tools like Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and Ahrefs. Note that I really don’t feel these tools are great for the Chinese market.
After you’ve placed your content, you can observe the SEO effects. Check changes in rankings for the relevant keywords as well as a change in overall search traffic to your site. Of course, you always have to keep in mind that there are 1,001 other factors that may cause changes in search rankings & traffic so it may be pretty tough to evaluate the effect of one link in one piece of content.
It’s also important to note that social media metrics, branding signals and even visitor behavior on your website do affect SEO for Google as well. Or, at least they are positively correlated with higher search rankings on Google.
Social Media Value
1) How many shares, likes or other social equivalents did you receive for your post?
To guess this ahead of time, consider what similar posts on their site have achieved, and the sharability of your post to the target readers. Of course, after you’ve made the post, this question can be answered with certainty.
Fun Fact: In ‘Avinashian’, these metrics are called Applause and Amplification.
2) How much discussion did your post receive?
Interaction is key to social media success. How much discussion you see about your post is going to be a function of 1) how much the content inspires debate or additional questions, 2) how talkative the readers are and 3) the time of day/week, 4) the position of the stars in relation to where you parked your car.
Interaction with your brand is of high value to the branding guys too.
3) Have you created any valuable relationships over social media because of the post?
In other words, did the post you placed end up putting you in contact with somebody that you formed a great relationship with? This could be a client, somebody that can get you additional coverage for your business… Could even be a new boyfriend/girlfriend! … Well, you’re advertising your pretty face on all those profile pictures on your social media profiles, right?
“My dating life really improved after I made that guest blog post. Weird, hey?” - Unknown pretty girl with laptop
Branding is the most likely factor to be overlooked by web marketers focused on more easily quantifiable metrics.
How authoritative is the website you’ll post on in the eyes of readers?
Being cited by a major International publisher like BBC would be a dream for many small businesses. In most cases, you’re more likely to be earning content opportunities on blogs or websites in your specific industry or niche. Some such sites have extremely loyal followings… others… not so much. This isn’t likely easily quantifiable. But, as you’re the expert in your niche, you’ll probably have a good sense of which sites are the authorities and which aren’t.
Does your link look like it was earned or bought?
Now, this can be a tricky question to consider. For inbound marketing purposes, a link that looks earned is definitely preferred. As an example, would you be more likely to go to a restaurant if it were advertised on your favorite local food blog or if it were recommended by your favorite restaurant critic?
For branding purposes, I believe there are exceptions to this guideline. Many companies believe there is prestige to be had from a two-page magazine ad or even a top position on a search engine like Baidu.
Was your brand visually presented to readers?
People are much more likely to remember your brand if they’ve seen your logo or other visual information.
Of course, this isn’t always possible with a lot of common off-site content marketing tactics like guest blog posts. In those cases though, you should always try to add your profile picture. This is your personal brand.
What methods do you use for evaluating the success of content posted on other websites?