All Links Are Not Created Equal

When we think about getting links, typically the concept is quantity over quality. Granted, we often look at things like PageRank to see if the potential link has value in the eyes of Google. But we often don't look at the inherent value that a potential link might have.

Something I've been looking at closely recently is how many page views a referring link has given me. I've found some surprising results doing this.

For example, while Google is still my number one generator of traffic, it definitely isn't the top generator of traffic that spends a considerable amount of time on my site. Discussion forums and blogs actually are best at generating traffic that sticks around. Let's look at some examples.

Source Visits
google.com 40
clickbanksuccessforum.com 37
webmarketingwatch.com 29
marketingpilgrim.com 16
googleads.g.doubleclick.net 7
Youtube.com 7
facebook.com 7
wiki.answers.com 6
mail.google.com 5
click.ideo.net 5

The above grid shows some traffic that I received for a site. The numbers are organized by most visits to least visits.

Clearly, the winner from this perspective is Google, which gave me more traffic than any other site over this time period. But let's look at that same data from a different perspective.

Source Pages/Visit
marketingpilgrim.com 9.69
clickbanksuccessforum.com 8.89
mail.google.com 2.80
click.ideo.net 2.00
googleads.g.doubleclick.net 1.57
google.com 1.33
youtube.com 1.29
webmarketingwatch.com 1.21
facebook.com 1.00
wiki.answers.com 1.00

When organizing the data by pages per visit, Google is way down in the middle of the pack. By far, the top two sites that win this challenge are a blog and a discussion forum. Those same two sites also give me significantly greater average time on site numbers.

Let's look at another site. Here's the referring site data in standard form.

Source Visits
help.twitter.com 86
images.google.com 53
google.com 38
facebook.com 31
searchengineguide.com 30
searchenginewatch.com 28
twitter.zendesk.com 15
searchenginestrategies.com 14
stumbleupon.com 12

This one is interesting because Twitter is the number one traffic generator, rather than Google. Now lets spin the data around and look at it from a pages per visit ratio.

Source Pages/Visit
searchengineguide.com 4.80
stumbleupon.com 4.75
google.com 4.29
searchenginestrategies.com 4.00
searchenginewatch.com 3.75
twitter.zendesk.com 3.67
facebook.com 3.29
help.twitter.com 2.77
images.google.com 2.28

This data isn't as extremely different as in the previous example. But we can see that the top site that generates the highest pages to visit ratio is a blog.

But let's look at this one more way, from a bounce rate perspective.

Source Bounce Rate
twitter.zendesk.com 0.00%
help.twitter.com 0.00%
stumbleupon.com 8.33%
images.google.com 9.43%
facebook.com 16.13%
google.com 21.05%
searchenginestrategies.com 21.43%
searchengineguide.com 46.67%
searchenginewatch.com 50.00%

Bounce rate is a guideline that gives you a feeling for people who don't stay on your site. The top three sites that have the lowest bounce rate are all social media sites.

These two sites are small samplings. I have access to sites that generate significant amounts of traffic. I'm not able to show the data here, but I'm seeing similar results with them.

You should look at your statistics this way. You might find some surprising results.

This is exciting because I feel like I'm able to have a direct impact on how much traffic I get from blogs, forums, and social media sites. As far as search engines are concerned, you simply have to try to optimize your site for particular phrases and then basically hope for the best.

But if you want more traffic from discussion forums, for example, then you need to spend more time participating in the discussions.

My clients often say that they don't need a ton of traffic, they just need the right traffic. By looking at the sites that give you visitors with high page view ratios and low bounce rates, you may be able to better focus on the sites that give you more of that "right traffic."

About the author

Sage Lewis started his online marketing company, SageRock.com, in 1999 during a time when most Internet companies were failing. SageRock, however, has thrived under Lewis’ direction -- growing an average of 30% every year, while also being recognized as one of the top ten search engine optimization firms in the U.S. by a third-party resource in the industry, Marketing Sherpa.

Regarded as a web marketing expert, Lewis speaks regularly to business organizations like NEOSA and COSE, serves as a resource for press about industry trends, and teaches a recurring class on search engine optimization at Cleveland State University.

Lewis has created a unique company culture that values the individual employee and client, and he has built SageRock around one principle, “The concern, respect and empathy for the individual people we come in contact with at SageRock is our single core value.”

Lewis lives in Akron with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.

Read more of Sage Lewis's columns at ClickZ.