Measuring Success in Link Building Campaigns

Link building campaigns are one asset in the greater toolbox of SEO. While often done in tandem with other SEO strategies, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether a link building campaign is successful.

The question becomes: How do you measure the success of a link building campaign on its own, and in conjunction with other SEO tools, particularly in the wake of the latest Helpful Content Update from Google?

In this guide to measuring the success of link building campaigns, we’ll dive into the precursor for setting the parameters of “success,” as well as five key metrics to track for all your link building campaigns.

We’ll also cover why reporting multiple metrics is important, as well as how the Helpful Content Update has changed our thinking about ROI and campaign success in the world of digital PR and link building. 

Google’s Helpful Content Update and Link Building Campaigns

Google’s Helpful Content Update shook up the SEO world in the fall of 2023, particularly in the realm of link building. Pages ruled as “unhelpful” or irrelevant to a site’s core function– like, say, an extremely tangential digital PR campaign – could potentially generate a sitewide signal that damages results in search rankings for keywords. 

Ultimately the core goal of content creation for search is still the same: to create helpful content to the user that embodies the principles of Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, or EEAT. Where things shift, however, is determining the overall value a tangential content page might have towards a site’s user, and how tangential content affects a site’s ability to rank in search. 

Tricia Miller

“One of the most fun things about digital marketing and search is how fast everything changes. At the same time, it’s also one of the scariest aspects. Strategies that once worked, and worked well, can suddenly become less effective. That’s what we saw in the digital PR link building world in Q3 of 2023. Links still matter. Brand mentions still matter. Building authority and expertise still matters. However, we have to pay careful attention to not just earning quality links for authoritative content that demonstrates EEAT, we have to better build that content to explicitly illustrate EEAT and the relevance of any earned coverage.”

Tricia (Harte) Miller, Director of Digital PR at DTC

As such, link building content can no longer be the viral, extremely tangential pages they might have been — while we’ll all miss those silly campaigns that netted 500 links, they could potentially pose a threat to SERP performance. Now, we must instead exclusively choose content that is relevant and helpful to the user– while still catching the eye of news. 

Similarly, link totals in and of themselves are considerably less important than overall link quality, brand mentions, and relevance to a site. High authority links are great, but brand awareness is increasing in importance as well is relevancy of a backlink.  If you have a campaign with two built links and 100 non-passing-value syndications or a campaign of 15 built links, which is more valuable? Let’s find out together.

Here’s our comprehensive guide to measuring link building success in the wake of the Helpful Content Update and five key metrics we should all be tracking.

How do you Measure the Success of Your Link Building?

Gone are the days where quantity of links is the only determining factor of success in a link building campaign. 

We must carefully assess link quality and relevance along with quantity– but then this poses the question of “How do we define link quality?” How do we develop a clear set of outreach metrics?

Set clear goals and priorities

As with any measure of ROI, the first step in measuring campaign success is to determine what your/your client’s goals are. 

Are you looking to increase conversions, organic traffic, or even simple ranking in search? 

Is the goal of this link building campaign to boost a site’s DA or simply get the brand’s name in the news? 

Consider the following variables you can choose to prioritize:

  • Domain Authority
  • Search Ranking
  • Conversions
  • Leads/Lead Generation
  • Page Traffic
  • Brand awareness (nationally)
  • Brand awareness (locally)
  • High authority links
  • High relevancy links
  • High quality links
  • High quantity links

As you can see there are many potential directions a link building campaign can go, and many goals it can set out to achieve. It’s up to you to decide which variables are your biggest priority. 

Setting goals will determine both your content types and benchmarks for success. For example, if you’re a company selling a seasonal item to consumers in a given geographic area, securing local news coverage and prioritizing local brand awareness and brand mentions, relevant links, and conversions will make more sense than attempting to garner national attention. As such, setting a goal prioritizing local coverage with ample brand mentions makes sense. Consequently, choosing a style of campaign that prioritizes local interest will also follow from this decision. 

Good content campaigns should align with the overall business goals of your brand anyway– they shouldn’t feel like an island unto their own with no connection to the rest of the broader business and SEO strategy. 

Collect data before and after

Once you choose your priorities and goals, the next step is to ensure you’re capable of measuring success in the first place. 

Before launching a link building campaign, assess your numbers. What’s your website’s average page traffic? How are you doing in the SERPs? What’s your latest domain authority or DR score? 

One of our core tenets at DTC is to make a measurable difference for every client we work with– and the way we do that is through effective measurement. Ensure you have Google Analytics fully set up so you can track conversions, sessions, and page traffic. Be sure to capture your site’s DA and DR as well as your existing backlink profile. Determine if there are any other SEO factors that might negatively affect your site, from technical things like load time or redirects to more broad strokes UX concerns.

Without having your baselines, it’s impossible to see what differences a campaign might make.  

Consider overall brand awareness and sentiment

How well known is your brand right now? Are there specific areas of the country or media verticals you’d like to see more brand awareness in? Consider your business goals: a B2C company might especially benefit from media mentions in a specific locale, while a B2B company might benefit more from mentions and links from industry-specific publications.

Does your company have PR problems? This is another thing to consider when setting goals for a link building campaign. 

Understanding your brand’s current footprint and how you’d like to expand it (geographically, by subject, by caliber of domain authority) will help inform your goals as well as the types of content that best fit your needs. 

The 5 Key Metrics for Link Building Success and How to Track Them

Now that we’ve established the broad parameters needed in place before even launching a link building campaign, we want to stress the top 5 metrics to track for any link building campaign in 2024.

Google’s Helpful Content Update as well as our own internal key performance indicators (KPIs) are informing this list as it’s what we have found best shows the real impact of a link building campaign.

We’ve also provided a list of tools that help us out, but there’s a whole world of possible tools for any outreach campaign. 

Linking Root Domains (LRD)

Most digital PR link builders will track the quantity of placements and links earned to a website’s backlink profile. Link totals are a key metric to measure, but let’s add a layer of nuance.

When tracking and reporting on outreach success, you may want to differentiate between the number of referring domains and the total number of links earned. We’ve seen spammier link builders secure multiple links on the same forum-type site, which aren’t going to help your overall search goals. That’s why we recommend looking tracking inbound links and linking root domains.

Domain Authority (DA)/Domain Rating (DR)

While certainly not the only metric to track for reporting, domain authority (DA) is and will continue to be a great signal for how esteemed a media outlet is in the eyes of Google. Domain Authority, developed by Moz, is a score on a scale of 1-100 to determine the overall authority Google applies to a given site. The higher the DA, the more respected and authoritative it is considered. For example, Yahoo! Has a DA of 95, while a personal blog might have a DA of 20 (or lower!). 

Tools we use to measure DA/DR: We use both Moz and AHRefs to monitor DA and Domain Rating (DR- AHRefs’ answer to DA).

Relevancy

In the wake of the Helpful Content Update, relevancy is all the more important. Do your backlinks come from sites relevant to the content you created (and therefore your brand)? Or do they come from spammy sites that seem to have no apparent vertical. 

A quality backlink might come from a highly relevant industry publication with a lower DA– but it’s still valuable in the eyes of Google. Particularly if you’re trying to secure placements in your link building campaign that are industry relevant, this is an excellent KPI that will impact your brand’s place in search. 

Tools we use to measure relevance: There’s a variety of tools in our toolbelt for capturing various link building success metrics. We use the BuzzSumo Content Analyzer to get a sense of relevancy, but this should also be an easy gut check.

Ranking in SERPs

Ranking in SERPs refers to your pages’ placement on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). While this metric might take a moment to become apparent, tracking the page for your link building campaign and its placement in search for targeted keywords is a great way to track overall success. 

The core goal of SEO is to see your brand rise to the top of search results; there’s no reason why this can’t also be the case for specific content pages on your site, and link building campaigns can certainly do that.

For example, we optimized one study on package theft for a client that, though the most recent study (there were three annual studies) was in 2022, still comes up as #12 in the SERPs for “package theft statistics,” a testament to the power of intentional optimization paired with targeted outreach. The 2019 study, the first of its kind, ranks at #2 in SERPs for “package theft statistics 2019,” beating out higher authority sites. This organic visibility can bring your brand more business and more overall awareness as users search. 

Tools we use to track search rankings for link building campaigns: We use AHRefs and SEMRush to monitor keyword rankings for each content page and to figure out which keywords are best to target for any given content. 

Brand Mentions

Brand mentions in backlinks spread brand awareness and showcase your brand’s authority and trustworthiness to Google.

Let’s take a moment to discuss how brand mentions will become more important in the era of AI and specifically Google’s new “Search Generative Experience,” an AI-enabled synthetic approach to search that will stitch together multiple results to create a cumulative answer. 

This signals that Google will begin driving users towards the AI answer, which will then de-prioritize SERP position to a small degree in favor of making it into the SGE answer. With this comes the need for brand mentions in your links; this provides another signal to Google as it indexes pages that your brand and your brand’s content are authoritative— don’t forget that the Helpful Content Update generates sitewide signals. 

A brand mention is what it sounds like: when an article references a brand by name, thus imbuing authority and trustworthiness into the brand’s public image and identity. While this doesn’t pass on link equity if there’s no link, with the algorithmic changes taking place at Google, brand mentions are becoming increasingly valuable. 

For example, this is a  segment from an article in Mental Health Weekly that highlights Thriving Center of Psychology’s recent report on Gen Z and Millennial mental health.

The best case scenario is a brand mention with a link, and it’s well worth the effort to reach out to reporters and see if they’ll add a link to your campaign to their story, thus passing on both link equity and authority to your brand’s image. 

As such, brand mentions are crucial both for the authority they imbue your brand, but also for the likelihood a user will see your brand in the SGE results. 

Tools we use to track brand mentions: We use BuzzSumo and Talkwalker as well as Google Alerts to track brand mentions and do social listening for all of our clients.

Traffic and engagement

Remember the link building campaign on package theft we mentioned earlier? The content page for that study remains the second most visited page on that client’s website. This is the power of a successful link building campaign.

Tracking website traffic both on the content page of your link building campaign and sitewide can show the measurable difference a link building campaign can make in terms of site traffic. The more traffic and engagement on a page, the more likely it is that users will return to your site or even become customers. 

Tools we use to measure web and page traffic: We use GA4 (Google Analytics), a free tool that tracks website traffic and user journeys. 

The Importance of Reporting Multiple Metrics to Stakeholders

Now more than ever, transparency and clarity are important factors in reporting link building success in campaigns to clients. Because the SEO world is in a state of transition with every Helpful Content Update Google announces, and because AI and SGE are disrupting the flow of the page and how we approach SERPs, it’s important to capture a full picture of the progress of a link building campaign.

As such, backlink campaign reporting must capture the full spectrum of KPIs you/your client want to prioritize. 

“While we have certain metrics we report for all clients, how we report those results and the context we offer clients necessarily reflects each client’s unique goals. Internally and client-facing we’re looking at a broad array of standard metrics, from number of links, number of brand mentions, relevance of publication to the client, type of link (syndicated, built, and organic), to DA and DR. But we also pay attention to those EEAT-building factors — did we get our client quoted in a really targeted publication, did we earn them television, podcast or radio coverage? Did we achieve a level of virality on social media? Did we see corresponding lifts in traffic or DA? Numbers are great, but they’re meaningless if they don’t drive results that are important to our clients.”

Tricia (Harte) Miller, Director of Digital PR

By showcasing multiple metrics, you can showcase the different types of quality links, and also demonstrate that quality can mean different things in different contexts contingent goals and business objectives.

Not only that, but you can show all the different ways a link building campaign is successful, from increasing site traffic to bumping up DA a few points. If you limit the scope of reporting metrics, you also limit the scope of your success.

Tracking your backlink profile

Showcasing multiple metrics can also expose weaknesses (or strengths) in a backlink profile. Does your site only have low DA links, or only links from extremely niche websites? This might be something to address in future link building campaigns.

 Seeing a holistic picture of a site’s backlink profile and, specifically, how link building campaigns contribute to it, can showcase progress overall. 

Ready to Measure Success?

Link building campaigns are powerful tools in the SEO tool belt and can be true difference makers in an overall SEO strategy. But gone are the days of one-dimensional reporting- now to understand the role link building can have in your site’s performance, it’s imperative to capture the full spectrum of possible deliverables. 

Want to see some of our link building success stories? See all the dimensions of business improvement possible by checking out our case study page. 

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