Demonstrating the ROI of link building is a tricky, tricky thing. There are cases where you can tell that a link gave you a conversion, or multiple conversions, but many times, links strengthen the whole site or play a starring role in helping out a great SEO campaign.
Tying conversions to any effort that may bear fruit way down the road though? That's tough. Selling such a service, especially to an ROI-focused business owner, is also tough. What can you do?
Let's look at three of the most common ways of measuring ROI in terms of why they matter, how you can use them, and what tools you can use to help.
Most companies can measure their ROI on a ranking and can tell you how much they make if they're at spot 2 vs if they're at spot 5. I don't like to use rankings to justify my work but I do understand that many clients and SEOs depend on them.
I think it's obvious that any site would get more potential conversions if they were in the top 5 versus being on page 5. Depending on the relevance of the results returned by a query, however, your site at number 8 may still get more conversions than a crappy site that's ranking at number 3. This is where the site itself, in terms of usability, is so powerful.
This is also where something like your snippet is very powerful. If I see a snippet that suggests the result may not be what I am looking for, I don't care if it's in the top 3. I still won't waste time on it.
How to Track Rankings: The subject of many recent heated discussions, rankings tracking isn’t nearly as simple as it seems. There are a few good platforms for this purpose and I've listed two below that have been used by people I know and trust:
You don't need a tool to track rankings though. If you're trying to monitor thousands of keywords then yes, of course you do, but if you're a small business owner interested in a few top terms, a simple spreadsheet and some daily manual glances at the SERPs is all you need.
SERPs do fluctuate a lot though, and depending upon other factors like whether you're logged into Google, results can vary. I've sat 10 feet from my husband, both of us logged out of all Google services, and seen a 6 placement for a term whereas he's seeing it on page 2.
I know that many people do love rankings though. If you've built 100 great links and the rankings for the site move from page 4 to page 1, that could be from the result of those links, but it could be from other things like a site redesign, better content, amazing social signals, etc. However, if you're building links and not much else is changing, I'd say that a move like that would be creditable to those links.
OK, there is traffic, and then there's converting traffic.
Having 100,000 hits on your website is awesome if it brings you something positive other than higher hosting fees. Tracking the traffic from a link is very beneficial, even if you aren't tracking conversions on it (but you should do that if you can.)
Traffic that doesn't immediately convert can still be valuable, and it can lead to a conversion later, whether it's through a return visit to your website or a purchase in a store, for example.
How to Track Traffic: Tracking traffic is easy…my preference is Google Analytics but there are loads of software packages out there for this purpose. Different people have their own opinion about which metric to look at and I'd say that as long as you stay with the same one when you're evaluating trends, you're welcome to pick.
The above shows you a snippet from Google Analytics. Some people track visits, some track page views, some track unique visitors, etc. I usually do just look at visits as the main source for tracking traffic, but as I said, if you use something else, just be consistent when you're comparing time periods.
To track converting traffic from your links, you have a few options. Since this isn't my specialty (and this is a link building basics piece), I've turned to Anna Lewis from Koozai, a Google Analytics goddess, who will share a few tips and will expand on this theme in a later post on this same site.
Analyzing the Value of Link Building in Google Analytics
There are a number of ways to see how successful your link building has been using Google Analytics.
The best place to start is the referrals report under traffic sources. Here you can review all the sites sending traffic to your site and identify the ones that were part of your link building campaign.
If you have set up goals and ecommerce tracking (I highly recommend using one or both of these) you will be able to click these tabs above the graph to see how may conversions these links have generated for you through users coming to the site via the link.
Straight away you can start to attribute value to your link building efforts. To get all the data you want in one place, here's a link building custom report that I've created to show interaction and conversion summaries for referral traffic. Just click the link and choose which profile to view it in.
To find out even more about the traffic from your link building you can create a custom advanced segment to show only data from websites on which you have built links: just choose Source and pop the URLs in, either one website per ‘OR’ section or use the regular expression option and put a pipe | between each URL. This custom segment will allow you to review how traffic from your links interacted with your site, where the users are located, which goals were completed, detailed ecommerce data, which pages of the site they landed on, other pages they visited and more!
If you aren’t sure which referral sites were part of your link building campaign you might want to consider using campaign tags on URLs that you use in link building. You can use Google’s URL Builder Tool to put in the traffic source information that you want to use and build the campaign tag for the link URL.
The main thing to remember is that measuring the value of link building requires you to pull together a huge amount of incomparable statistics – no one platform will be able to give you a true value, but using Google Analytics can help you identify whether traffic from these links is the sort of traffic you’re looking for on your website.
As I've mentioned before about social media and links, the ROI of social media in terms of building links is very tricky to measure, especially because of the way it all works together.
Great social signals can help your site rank better.
You can tweet a link to your content and engage someone who may link to you in 2 months. You may get your link retweeted all over the place and not get a single conversion from it.
You may gain 20 followers after you tweet something but none of them will ever interact with you, link to you, use your service, or promote you in any way. You may gain 2 followers who are incredibly powerful in social media and one little retweet by one of these people brings you 50 new sales.
Someone may see you tweet something local (not your content, but just something like "wow it's snowing in Greensboro!") and a fellow Greensborian sees the tweet, checks you out, and realizes that what you offer may suit his needs. You may gain a giant contract for the year due to this. Stranger things have happened.
How to Track Social Media: There seem to be apps for this popping up every now and then, but you can also use Google Analytics to do this. Under Traffic Sources/Social there are a few options so you can see what social platforms are sending visitors to your site.
For some of you, knowing how many of these hits come to your site is critical. You may get a ton of retweets of a link but only a few actual visitors, as it's not uncommon for people to RT others in their circles without personally vetting the links. With analytics, you can dig into how long people from Facebook tend to stay on your site vs. people from Twitter, for example, so even if you add in some purely social-type tracking tools, I'd still look here too.
Crowdbooster is my favorite tool for social media analytics, and while it used to be free, they're moving to a paid model. You can use it to track Twitter and Facebook metrics – follower growth, tweet or post impressions, potential impressions, retweets, replies, etc. There are others out there, but this is my top pick.
Depending upon which social platforms you want to track, there are some platform-specific tools that you might want to use as well.
Now here's my biggest issue with measuring the ROI of links: Links down the road that may lead to more traffic or to offline conversions. For example, I write monthly link columns on a few sites and I get a few types of emails afterward:
- Question from someone who read my article.
- Request for a quote for services.
- Proposal for someone else's services.
I do keep up with these in a tedious little spreadsheet so I can tell that one article here sent me 10 potential conversions, or one there sent me only 3. I can also link a few current clients to these as well, but one of them took months to sign on.
I've had one client come on board after his friend read one of my articles. That's impossible to definitively track online in any system as far as I can tell, but for me, getting a client out of an article is the ultimate conversion. I just can't go grab a time period from analytics and prove it. Keep that in mind, always.
Demonstrating ROI of links is just not a simple thing, unfortunately. There isn't a convenient bit of code to place that will connect to a nice dashboard and tell you that your overall conversion rate for the month was 57 percent, that you spent $1,000 and made $5,000, and that links should get the credit.
However, with a bit of thought and effort, it's easily possible to connect the dots and generate a fuller picture that can show a true return on investment for all those labor hours spent building links.