Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) for link building is a critical step that enables you to improve each aspect of your link building efforts. Once you start measuring, you also build the information necessary to make basic forecasts and build realistic plans.
The following six metrics are the fundamental KPI's that successful link building organizations track.
1. Number of New Link Opportunities
Tracking the number of link opportunities your team finds each week is critical because acquiring new prospects sets the ball in motion. Link opportunities are like leads, and any salesperson can tell you lead source has a big impact on their success.
You should track opportunities by type. Some basic link opportunity types might include:
- Directory listings
- Guest posts
- Link exchanges
- Membership organizations
- Related content sites
If you run multiple campaigns to promote different linkable assets, you should also tag and count opportunities based on which content you plan to promote.
2. Number of Initial Outreach Attempts
There's an old story about a successful insurance salesman who was asked the secret of his success by a new salesman. The veteran said, "I make 50 calls a day."
"What do you mean?" asked the newbie.
"If I feel great, I make 50 calls, if I feel lousy, I make 50 calls. Day in, day out. I always make 50 calls."
Link building can be this way. You have to communicate. If you don't consistently build and nurture relationships with relevant websites and influencers, they aren't likely to link to your site. Tracking outreach attempts will help keep you focused on consistency.
3. Number of Follow-up Attempts
Many first attempts to reach a site fail. Yet follow-ups, often via a different communication channel, get results.
For example, I recently contacted a webmaster and received no response. Several weeks later, I reached out to her via LinkedIn and was able to set a time to talk with her on the phone.
When we spoke, she revealed she had received my initial e-mail, but thought the site was national, and wouldn't be appropriate for her local directory. Thanks to my follow up, she agreed to link. And, just as important, we had a nice conversation that provided some context the next time I contact her.
4. Percent of Positive and Negative Responses
The bottom line for link building, at least in eyes of Google, is whether you receive links. After 45 to 60 days from your first attempted outreach, you should be able to analyze your conversion rate and use this as a forecasting tool for your likely success in attracting similar kinds of links.
5. Average Link Quality
When you get a link, it's important to score it using a 5 point scale, weighted as follows:
- Authority of the site (domain PageRank, SEOMoz Domain Authority, site age) -- 2 points
- Relevance of the site and linking page -- 2 points
- Placement (i.e., prominence on the page and number of other links) -- 0.75 point
- Future potential/longevity (i.e., your ability to attract future links from the site) -- 0.25 point
6. Cost per Link
You can calculate your cost per link by adding all of the direct costs of link building -- the salaries of your link builders, the cost of design, and outside consultants -- and dividing by 5. Then divide that number by the number of links you achieved in each quality bucket to get an estimate of the cost per link for each tier of quality.
Analyzing cost per link in terms of quality helps sharpen the tradeoffs between cost and quality, which is especially important if someone asks, "Why can't we cut our cost per link?"
Know Your Process, Know SEO
The holy grail of metrics-driven search engine optimization (SEO) is to know the ROI of relevant keywords and prioritize your optimization efforts accordingly. Estimating the effort and cost to achieve rankings is critical for calculating ROI. Measuring your link building activity metrics will help you relate links to cost and quality, and that in turn will help you create a realistic budget, schedule, and plan to achieve SEO results.
Remember, "hope" in link building (and most else) isn't a strategy.
Have some favorite link building metrics of your own? Let me know in the comments.