When doing outreach for some of our clients we often run into Webmasters who offer us “proof” that they have good Websites in the form of SEO metrics. Metrics like Toolbar PageRank, Domain Authority, Number of Pages Indexed, and Age of Domain are frequently and openly discussed on the Web of marketing forums and blogs. These metrics are all useless in terms of identifying a Website that may be a good linking resource. Sure, you can point to big Websites like Mashable and Huffington Post and say, “But they have high [insert metric here].”
Yes, the big guys earn naturally high metrics from just about every source out there. But the problem is that you don’t need an SEO metric to tell you that a link from Yahoo’s homepage is a good link to have. Seriously, if you believe you need SEO metrics to tell you which linking pages are good, you’re doing it wrong. Here are the top reasons why these metrics are not helpful. I will follow up with some ways you can vet Websites instead of using metrics.
Assuming You Can NOT Get Analytics Data
While it would be great to know how much traffic a Website has in advance of earning a link from the site, it’s a rare Website owner who is willing to share that information. You should never use an SEO tool to estimate traffic. Traffic estimates are unreal (and therefore unreliable) numbers. There are some “Enterprise-level” services that aggregate analytics data from their clients and make extrapolations based on similar content and keyword targets. Still, even these sources of traffic estimates should be taken with a grain of salt.
Any metric that purports to assign a value to a Web page is untrustworthy by itself. If you can graph a history of these fluctuating values over time then there may be some use for them, depending on what your expectations are. If you do not capture history or your favorite SEO tools do not show you the changing history of these values, you have no way of seeing whose value has spiked (possibly signaling artificial inflation) or whose value was degraded (possibly signaling a penalty or loss of value to backlink penalties).
When I ask people if they would accept a link from a PR 5 Website they automatically say, “Yes!” But what if that site used to have a PR 6 or 7 and was penalized? Are you still interested?
When I ask people if they would accept a link from a site with no PR or Domain Authority, they always hesitate and usually say, “No.” But what if that site can send you 100 interested visitors a month? And what if its metrics change over time? Why should you deserve a link from a site you don’t believe in from the start?
Citation Flow This metric is produced by a third-party service. It does not use any data from either Bing or Google. Therefore it provides ZERO insight into what Bing and Google know or what they do with their data. Web spammers openly boast in some forums about having inflated this metric for their Websites.
Domain Authority This metric is produced by a third-party service. It does not use any data from either Bing or Google. Therefore it provides ZERO insight into what Bing and Google know or what they do with their data. Web spammers openly boast in some forums about having inflated this metric for their Websites.
Number of Indexed Pages I am still trying to figure out what this is supposed to mean. Indexed where? Where does the index estimate come from? If you run a query and look at the estimates “hits” number that Google shows you at the top, that number is bogus; it’s not reliable, according to a conversation I had with Matt Cutts. He could not or would not explain why Google bothers to display these hit counts.
PageRank The Toolbar Page was indeed once an interesting metric because it was updated about once a month (and you could track a historical trend for any page that was assigned a real TBPR value). But that has not happened in years. The last update was accidentally released in December 2013 and Google says it intends to never update it again. So even if it were still a useful metric in December 2013 (which it was not because trend analysis was no longer possible) the most recent data is now over a year old.
SEO Ranking Factors Checklists Several popular Websites publish lists of “ranking factors” and I have seen people referring to these ranking factors lists when trying to convince me they had “quality Websites”. The fact you say “quality website” is the first sign that you are not serious about producing a really good Website.
If I contact you for a link, you should not immediately try to “sell” me on the link by telling me how many SEO ranking factors you hit on. All Seo ranking factors lists are guesswork (search engineers do not contribute to these lists) with no real science behind them. “SEO ranking factors list” = snake oil, pseudoscience, and unreliable SEO information.
Trust Flow This metric is produced by a third-party service. It does not use any data from either Bing or Google. Therefore it provides ZERO insight into what Bing and Google know or what they do with their data.
Assuming You CAN Get Analytics Data
Analytics data is useful to a Website owner who wants to experiment with “if I do more of THIS, will more of THAT happen”. It’s not so useful to someone who just wants a link, except in that they may arbitrarily decide they would prefer a link from a Website with 5,000 visitors a day versus 5 visitors a year.
Bounce Rate This is a completely useless metric for any search engine optimization function. Search engines don’t care about your bounce rate. Googlers have said over and over again that they don’t look at Analytics data in their ranking algorithms. And while the search engineers do occasionally talk about pogosticking (where the visitor clicks on listing after listing in the search results), that means something very different to them from what all the SEO bloggers imply it means. Pogosticking is a common searcher behavior for several reasons that have nothing to do with how well-optimized your Website is.
Raw Traffic Numbers While it’s good to know that a Website is getting traffic, how clean is the traffic data? Analytics data cannot tell you what the traffic is. In the past Google Analytics has been shown to track Yahoo!’s SLURP crawler (which is still active today) as a mobile user from Ohio. SLURP hits Websites thousands of times per month.
Share Counts Social “shares” such as Tweets, Pins, Facebook LIKEs, etc. have no special significance. Yes, you have probably read case studies that show there are strong correlations between the number of shares a site earns and how well it does in search. But you can easily inflate all social share counts. If you want a link from a Website because it has a lot of shares, you’re doing it wrong.
Your average Website owner just cannot give you reliable traffic data.
Truly Useful Metrics That Help Qualify Websites
The best SEO metrics are more like analog signals. They rely on your gut instinct. In a hypothetical context you might be able to devise a learning algorithm that finds correlations between things that can be digitally measured and what is a good site; but in reality you cannot do that and the SEO tool vendors are still looking for ways to do it cost-effectively. They have a long way to go in that direction.
So we all need to start with the simple stuff. Visit any Website that you are considering for a link request and ask yourself, “Would I want to follow this site every day for the next two years?”
If the site itself does not appeal to you, if your answer to the above question is “NO”, that’s all the metric you need. But if the answer to the above question is “YES” then you’re not really done yet. Here is how you take it to the next level.
Do the Links Look Spammy? If you are not sure what a spammy link looks like you probably should not be doing this. The easiest spam links to pick out are the ones that use keyword-rich anchors, such as “buy viagra now”, “online casino websites”, “airport parking”, “seo services”, “fitness program”. If the outbound links on the page are using anchors like these then it’s a good guess that the links are being sold or are being used to promote a “sister” site. That doesn’t mean the site has been penalized but it could mean they are not good companion links for whatever you want to put on these pages.
Affiliate marketers often go for highly visible links, especially home-page backlinks. If you think a site is selling these kinds of links you should probably move on.
How Well Written is the Content? You don’t have to grade these articles like a teacher grading essay tests. But ask yourself if you are impressed with the writing style on the site. A good writer’s work jumps out at you in spite of grammatical errors and typos (which can be fixed). There will be a higher percentage of errors on recent content than on older content, if the site publisher cares about technical details like that.
You want to ask yourself how well-informed the content is, too. If it’s just saying random generic stuff about the topic at hand the content may have been farmed out. The more passionate the site owner is about whatever they are doing, the more care they put into their content. Short content may work better than long content; if that is the case, are the articles too long and boring?
How Well Designed is the Website? This is an area where many affiliate marketers and link sellers fall down. They put together sloppy Websites. They may use a lot of graphics and popular themes, but if you can compare a site to one you’re familiar with and see how the new site has taken shortcuts and left out little design details, that is an indication of Site Quality.
For example, popular media Websites use a lot of images in their articles and topic index pages. A site you have never heard of before may be trying to emulate that style but it just doesn’t include much text on the page. The lack of captions, descriptive anchors, and text snippets from articles indicates that someone may have rushed the site into production rather than taking the time to put together a really good experience for visitors.
Does the Site Use a Flat Architecture? Flat site architecture is one of the worst SEO failings of the blogosphere. Championed by the same people who brought you PageRank Sculpting, flat site architecture attempts to crowd all content into the root folder or keep it “only 1 click away” from the home page. On small sites (less than 10-20 pages) this is okay. On large sites it’s asking for trouble.
Anyone who is using flat site architecture has been following bad SEO advice and is living in the past. Flat site architecture was always a bad idea for the majority of Websites. You want to emphasize the most important content on your site through your navigation. Don’t worry about nonsense like “folder depth” and long URLs. When you have a large site most visitors expect to find a site search tool.
How Honest is the Site? Honesty can be measured in ways like detecting hidden blocks of text, hidden links (or links that are made less visible). Simple checks include scrolling to the bottom of the page and checking for a lot of content that the visitor is not likely to care about. If there is stuff on the page that was clearly done for search engines and not people the site is not being very honest.
Search engine optimization is not about being dishonest or deceptive. Search engine optimization is about putting out your best content.
Do not use third-party tools to assess the honesty of Websites where you would like to earn a link. Such “trust” tools are notoriously bad. They may mark sites as untrustworthy for the most trivial of reasons. Handing this decision over to software is a poor choice.
How Useful are the Links? The usefulness of a link is determined by the information it conveys to the visitor and where the link is located. If a lot of links are populating author bio boxes that is a pretty bad sign. If the links are mostly keyword-rich self-referential links scattered throughout the body of article text then the site is practicing bad SEO.
Links should be useful to visitors. They should indicate what the visitor can expect to find after clicking on the link. If you want a link from a Website and cannot get your link to look useful to people then you’re probably asking for trouble.
Depending on SEO Metrics is Not Useful
Yes, there are people who write case studies about how they used metrics and tools to get links and push content up into the stratosphere. For every one of those guru articles there are dozens of self-published blogger case studies who just talk about how they have grown their traffic without all the SEO tricks and measurements.
It’s not about how many tools and metrics you can bring to the competition. It’s about how well you understand what you are doing and how much you want to do it. In other words, building traffic and earning links is ALL ABOUT YOU AND YOUR WEBSITE.
People who complain that they “built quality content” and “no one came” just do not get it. It’s not about building Websites by the numbers. It’s about building Websites that people care about. They link to those kinds of sites and those kinds of sites earn a lot of traffic both from within and outside of search.
If you are convinced that you have to have all these SEO tools and metrics to build any success, you’re doing it wrong.
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