As long as I’ve been in the SEO services industry we’ve always used metrics to determine the value (ranking & cost) of a link from one site to another, but should we still be using metrics in this way? In this article, I’m going to explain my thoughts and let you know how we use metrics here at Arken Marketing, from PageRank to traffic, I’m even going to talk about relevance (not a metric I know!) but it is important and a lot of people are building relevance in the wrong way.
I’m going to cover how we use a mix of them all (well not PageRank) and how at the same time, we use none of them to decide whether a website is going to be useful for us or our clients.
What are these metrics trying to tell us?
Essentially they’re trying to tell us how ‘strong’ any website is based on their backlink profile, this used to work great, and still does to some extent. But times have changed, and ranking for any given keyword isn’t just about getting high DA links pointed at your target page, people often talk about the ‘good old days’ of SEO. Yeah… The good old days where anybody could create a crappy site, build crappy links, and rank for pretty much anything they wanted to.
Times were simpler though, there weren’t any real tools to tell you how much traffic a site was getting (at least accurately), and your site was given a score out of 10. This was then a general guide as to how ‘strong’ a site was in the eyes of Google.
Like all of these metrics I’m going to talk about, it was flawed. You could do something called PageRank sculpting where you could game the system if you want to find out more about it read here.
Here are the metrics I’m going to talk about:
- PageRank – Yes it still exists, just not how you remember it.
- DA – Domain Authority – Moz
- DR – Domain Rating – Ahrefs
- TF / CF – Trust Flow & Citation Flow – Majestic
- AS – Authority Score – SEMRush
- Relevance – Not a metric, but I’m going to talk about it.
What do they mean?
So here I’m going to give you a quick breakdown of what they actually are from the companies themselves, if you want to find out more I’ve included links below if you’d like to learn more:
PageRank was (and still is) an algorithm used by Google to measure the strength of any page/site and that would influence the ability to rank that page. Google hasn’t updated the toolbar since 2013, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still use it internally:
DYK that after 18 years we’re still using PageRank (and 100s of other signals) in ranking?
— Gary 鯨理／경리 Illyes (@methode) February 9, 2017
You can learn more about it here: ahrefs.com/blog/google-pagerank/
So probably the most used metric when it comes to links and selling them, pretty much every day my inbox gets an email selling ‘high DA’ sites guaranteed to improve my ranking. Spoiler alert: they won’t, at least not in any meaningful way.
Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.
This is what we use a lot here at Arken, but we only use it as an indication, I’ll get into why we don’t rely on any of these metrics below.
Domain Rating is a proprietary Ahrefs’ metric that shows the strength of a target website’s total backlink profile (in terms of its size and quality).
DR is measured on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the strongest.
Side note: UR or URL Rating, is Ahrefs way of telling you how powerful a certain page on a domain is.
Citation Flow & Trust Flow:
So here is Majestics version of the 0-100 score, however, Majestic also offers insight into the overall trust of the incoming links. Trust flow is a great way to quickly check the potential toxicity of a link.
Citation Flow is a trademark of Majestic. Citation Flow is a score between 0-100 which helps to measure the link equity or “power” the website or link carries. Citation flow is used in conjunction with “Trust Flow”. Together the Citation Flow and Trust Flow form the Majestic Flow Metric algorithm.
Trust Flow, a trademark of Majestic, is a score based on quality, on a scale between 0-100. Majestic collated many trusted seed sites based on a manual review of the web. This process forms the foundation of Majestic Trust Flow. Sites closely linked to a trusted seed site can see higher scores, whereas sites that may have some questionable links would see a much lower score.
Semrush’s turn, this is what they use to determine the strength of any certain domain/page. They use data from the backlinks, referring domains, monthly visitors and keywords:
It is probably the metric that pulls from the most data on this list.
Backlink Analytics on SEMrush uses Authority Score to measure the impact of a webpage or domain’s links. Authority Score is our compound domain score that grades the overall quality of a website. The higher the score, the more assumed weight a domain’s or webpage’s backlinks could have.
This is the hardest to really understand truly what you’re looking at, many tools try to guesstimate the amount of traffic a certain website gets. It’s really impossible to know unless you have access to the sites tracking software, and even then you’re likely not seeing the full picture.
It is a very good indication that Google (and other search engines) like a site if they send it a lot of traffic, so it is a very good way to tell almost instantly (I’ll show you why you shouldn’t always trust it below) if a site is worth pursuing a link or not.
The problem with this, is it assumes that everybody knows SEO and optimises their website. Some legitimate sites exist that really don’t have a search presence, so it’s not the only way we should judge a site. For example, if a site is on page 3 for a keyword that we want to rank for, it won’t be getting much if any visitors, but it would still probably be a good link for us.
It has become commonplace in a lot of SEO circles to only approach sites that are getting 1000 visitors a month from SEO, and whilst it’s not actually a bad starting place, it is flawed. There are so many sites that look like they get traffic, and they really don’t. I’m going to show an example below this if you’re interested in finding out how some sites fake it.
At the same time, there are many really great sites that just don’t get a lot of search traffic, does this mean we don’t want a link from them? Absolutely not.
Sites with traffic are a good starting point, but if the site has 2000 visitors this month, but was getting 20k 6 months ago, it’s worth investigating further is this is worth the effort.
Ok, so this isn’t actually a metric but it’s important as its something you should consider when doing any link building for your business. It’s something that often I think gets people a bit confused, for example, if you own an eCommerce store that sells metal detectors, should you target all the metal detecting blogs out there? Absolutely, but what about when you run out, there is only a certain amount of them, and they won’t all link to you.
So what should you do in this situation?
There are a couple of logical options, naturally, we’d look at other outdoor hobby blogs as a way to generate more links. But in all honesty, typically these would specialise in a certain hobby like fishing for example, are you likely to be able to convince a fishing blog to link to your metal detecting store? Unlikely I would say.
Having relevant links doesn’t just mean getting links from sites within the same industry as you, but you can make websites relevant. If the BBC is writing a piece on how to get the older generation working out and fit with everything going on in the world at the moment, would it make sense for you to pitch the health benefits of metal detecting as a way to get moving? Although you’d never turn down a link from the BBC, you can see how you can make a piece relevant in the context of the page.
To use our metal detecting website as an example, we can expand to so many topics, fitness, health & wellbeing, making money, location-specific (was there a big find in a certain location?). You can and should build relevance through the page’s content.
Should You Trust Any Of These?
No, you shouldn’t, at least not completely.
These metrics can all be manipulated:
These services only really do 2 things, change an arbitrary number on a tool that has no impact on your site’s rankings whatsoever, and it will associate your site with these bad ‘link neighbourhoods’.
There are plenty more services like these out there, even traffic isn’t safe:
This is a snapshot from a popular site for links, this site pops up quite often. If you think this site is going to give you any value, then you’re mistaken.
So, Do We Use Metrics?
Yes, we actually do, and I’m going to explain how here at Arken Marketing we use metrics to help us with our job, and how you can use them too.
With every website we work with and approach, research has gone in beforehand to make sure that it has a value to us. None of these are set in stone but a good early indication as to the overall strength that domain has from a linking point of view.
Whilst looking at initial sites that might be interested in linking to our content using something you can gauge with a quick glance is going to speed things up 100 fold, if we did deep research at the initial stage we would never actually reach out and build links, we’d spend all our time wasted on sites that in reality, won’t help us.
What makes any link worthwhile or not depends on our clients, where they are at, where they want to go.
A fresh site will have different needs than an established site, a site in the financial sector will have different needs than something selling metal detectors (our above example).
A good way to check what you need is to look at the overall LRD’s to the domains currently in the top 10 and work out averages. You can do the same for DR, DA, or any other metric.
The key thing to do with all the metrics you’re told is to take them with a pinch of salt, the reality is these tools are just trying to replicate how Google views a certain website, some are better than others, but as you can see from above they are far from perfect. The same thing happened with PageRank, the same thing will happen to whatever metric we use in 10 years.
Here at Arken we mostly use Ahrefs, and if you want to have a glance to see if a website is pursuing or not it’s great for a glance and to see if it’s worth more investigation. At this point, if it passes our 5-second rule (Does this website look legit right away), then it requires some more investigation. At this point, we’d dive into the link profile, traffic source, outbound links and everything that matters to make sure a link is worth it or not.