How relevant is that link? [study]

Author avatar

Stephen Kenwright

“Take PR [PageRank] for example, getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable, today it’s more the relevance of the site’s theme to yours, relevance is the new PR.” – ex-search quality team member Andre Weyher interviewed by James Norquay in 2012.

Relevance of linking pages placed pretty highly in our 2018 SEO ranking factors report. It’s also pretty easy to get links within relevant content (easier than influencing anchor text or recipient page, for instance). Almost everyone in the SEO industry agrees that finding relevant link targets is huge task for link builders (maybe the most important task) but this is rarely measured in a ranking factors study simply because it’s really hard to process that kind of semantic information at scale unless you’re Google.

Acquiring links from relevant pages is more important than acquiring links from relevant domains. We said as far back as 2014 that link building on big sites beats link building on relevant sites almost every time. For example we work with a lot of brands in the travel sector but we’ll very rarely work with travel blogs for 3 reasons:

  1. More people like to travel than read travel blogs – the greatest number of lookalike customers will be reading national press or, as we’ve found in this study, finance-related websites
  2. The percentage of travel bloggers selling links – compared to bloggers in other verticals – is pretty high. If we’re asked to pay for a link we’ll first steer the site owner to some information about why that’s a bad idea…and second, pull out of the opportunity and blacklist the blog. This makes the travel blog pool pretty shallow for us (but if you want to fish in that pool go for your life)
  3. We think domain authority is a bad metric to use in link acquisition but not all of our clients agree…so sometimes we have to work with it. The median press site tends to have a higher DA than even a highly authoritative blog. We know that the journalists working at many publications are desperate for good stories, whereas the highest authority bloggers have hundreds of emails per day from people working in PR, SEO, influencer marketing…and they maybe publish one thing (and charge a premium for it). We genuinely find it easier to build links from national press than from blogs – this study is us putting our money where our mouth is.

So we’d rather not use DA (and toolbar PR has been gone for years now), but we do need to justify the link targets we’ve chosen. For this reason we typically set referral traffic as a secondary success measure when we’re scoping a linkbuilding campaign – not because we expect that traffic to convert (even though it frequently does) but because we want to prove that the sites we’re acquiring backlinks from have the right readership. If a reader clicks through from the publication to a client’s site there’s a good chance that our content is on the money.

…and we don’t like to just guess which publications have the right readership for our clients – we keep a database of the links we’ve built; who we built them for; and what they achieved. Branded3’s digital PR team use custom built tools that pull contact information and past performance statistics from our database when they’re compiling a seeding list of target sites for the campaign they’re working on.

What you’re looking at

Which sites refer traffic to your industry study…is one of the statistics we look at when we’re justifying our choice of link targets to our clients: referral traffic from previous links we’ve placed (several thousand of them, for more than 150 client websites). We used REGEX and our database to identify traffic driven through links we’ve built.

Both client sites and referring sites have been (manually) categorised by industry (note we’ve categorised sections of national press websites e.g. the Telegraph’s travel section is under Travel, not news). The sites broadly fall into the following categories:

  • Betting and iGaming (e.g. bingo, casino, poker)
  • Finance (financial services clients that don’t fall under Insurance or Loans, which we’ve split out separately – so banks and financial comparison websites in particular)
  • Healthcare
  • Home retail (e.g. baths, kitchens, wallpaper, sofas)
  • Insurance
  • Loans
  • Marketing (that includes us, so if you’re trying to market your digital marketing agency this is the category for you)
  • Motors
  • Sports (including sports betting)
  • Travel

The aggregated data is displayed in the infographic, so you can see at a glance what the topic traffic driving niches will be for your business. We’ve also included a Google Sheet containing the top 100 traffic driving sites and which industries they tend to send traffic to (with some additional sectors like fashion, food and drink and outdoor, where we work with a few businesses – you can see our client list here). Feel free to download the doc and slice/dice as appropriate for the sector you’re in.

How we use this study

  • When we have an opportunity to work with a site (via a journo request or keep in touch activity) and a client asks us if the site is worth pursuing we can tell them how many referral visits it’s driven to similar clients
  • When we’re compiling a seeding list for a campaign and we want to set up an exclusive to launch it we can show our client whether the journalist has the right audience for them e.g. if we want to launch a campaign for a healthcare client we’ll probably try to launch it on dailymail.co.uk (depending on the brand) because that’s driven the most traffic in the past
  • We know which journalists send traffic to our clients so we make sure we maintain those relationships and are as helpful as possible
  • If a publication has referred only a small amount of traffic to a similar client’s website we’ll dissect the specific campaign and use the learnings to inform our new campaign e.g. independent.co.uk has only driven 1 referral click to clients in the video gaming sector previously…if a similar client wants to work with the Independent we’ll tailor the campaign messaging to be more relevant to that audience
  • Prioritising display or native advertising opportunities (links we placed on ibtimes.co.uk drove nearly 24,000 clicks to travel clients so we might want to work with ibtimes.co.uk in other capacities)

Referral traffic is a secondary KPI/one piece of the puzzle…if you don’t want to build a link to your finance site on bbc.co.uk because it only drove 2 clicks to a bank we work with then you’re doing it wrong. Likewise, we’re saying that you might want to build links to healthcare sites on the dailymail.co.uk – but we’d still rather have a link from NHS.uk if we can get it (in fact we’ve built several links on NHS.uk and they haven’t referred much traffic). In this case, the piece of the puzzle might be visibility, because the NHS competes with our healthcare clients on many keywords. We wouldn’t look at DA because dailymail.co.uk has 94 and NHS.uk has 56…

We’re working with new sites all the time, which have obviously never referred traffic through our links before. Remember, data is great but it’s no substitute for building trust in your team through consistent, brilliant delivery.

If you need any more convincing why relevance is important in linkbuilding we’d recommend Cory Collins’ post on the PageOne Power blog.

Did you find this study useful/did you hate it? Give me and Branded3 kudos/abuse on Twitter.

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