16 Ways to Measure a Link's Marketing Value (Beyond Search Rank Influence)
Should link builders pursue nofollow links? We say yes, absolutely, but with two qualifications: the nofollowed links must have contextual relevance to your URL and measurable marketing value.
This article identifies 16 measurements that determine a link's marketing value outside of search rank influence. We work with 200k+ URLs at a time, so we focus on automatable, repeatable and/or scrapeable measurements. SEO for Firefox provides a great deal of the measurement data we recommend evaluating - in exportable format.
If you are unfamiliar with the rel="nofollow" tag and its various usages, read this reasonably thorough Wikipedia entry: nofollow. Note that the Wikipedia entry skirts the SEM-led controversy surrounding nofollow. So do we! If a nofollow link from a relevant page has a measurable marketing value then we say start a relationship and land that link.
As a side note, we suggest that you apply some or all of these measurements to dofollow links - they can help you decide which opportunities to pursue first.
Our Link Building Guide leads motivated readers through the methods and processes of large-scale, research intensive link building.
1) The Link Prospect Page Ranks Top 20 in the SERPs
Always pursue links from qualified pages that appear in the SERPs for keywords and phrases relevant to your URL. Why? These pages already have traffic, and targeted, relevant traffic at that. Knowing what keywords and phrases a page ranks for - and at what level they rank (1-10 on first page? 11-20 on second?) - can help you make quick, simple decisions regarding which links to pursue.
2) Multiple Pages from the Same Domain Link to Top Ranking Sites
Once you've conducted large-scale link building research you may determine that certain domains have multiple rank-influencing pages. This indicates that the domain may have a larger impact on your targeted traffic than others. Find opportunities to establish content sharing or other relationships with such a site, with an emphasis on those ranking URLs!
3) PageRank of Domain/Target Pages
PageRank indicates how much trust/PageRank flows to these pages from the web at large. While not an absolute rule, you can generally assume that the higher the PageRank of a page or domain, the higher the likelihood of traffic. And though PageRank may not flow FROM these pages, shoppers or prospects certainly might if the pages are relevant.
4) Social Media Distribution
Do any of your qualified link prospect URLs have links from social media sites? Check for both domains AND individual pages in sites like Delicious, Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace and any other social media site that's relevant and targeted to the URLs you're building links to. Individual pages with links from multiple social media sites may have a steady flow of traffic. These pages, if relevant, produce a steady flow of targeted traffic to your site. Domains with links from multiple social media sites may well be worth building an ongoing linking relationship with through content or other contributions.
5) Domain Traffic Estimates: SEMRush, Compete, Alexa etc...
Domain traffic estimates provide you with a rough guide for the popularity of a domain and how much traffic may spill over from links to your URLs. Only the site owner has relatively precise traffic numbers, however a number of traffic estimators can provide you with ballpark figures useful for ranking your link prospects. Remember, a targeted, relevant low-traffic site often - though not always - trumps a high-traffic less relevant site. Pursue relevance over traffic first and foremost, but circle back around for those traffic links later ;) Some traffic estimate sites enable you to see geographic data. If you seek referral traffic from specific geographic areas then this information could prove highly useful.
6) How Quickly Site Pages Enter SERPs
The rapidity with which a site's pages enter the search results (especially Google's) can be an indicator of how much trust that site has earned. If you know what time their feeds updated you can simply check that against the time that Google cached the page. If you seek to launch news quickly, for example, you may want to more heavily favor those sites that enter the SERPs quickly.
7) Site "Publishes" to Google News
Google News - especially the front page - can provide enormous amounts of traffic. Build links quickly on relevant pages that appear in Google News and you'll see targeted traffic increase. Further, sites that publish to Google News make excellent prospects for longer-term content/collaborative relationships.
8) Blogroll Backlinks to Domain
The number of blogroll backlinks to a domain may indicate how widely read/respected that domain is. Knowing this can help you to prioritize and structure your outreach efforts. To ensure the greatest relevance, concentrate on the blogroll backlinks within your keyword-based link research data set.
9) Bloglines Citations/Google Blog Search Backlinks
The number of domain and individual page backlinks within Bloglines, Google Blog Search and any other blog search engine you favor can indicate the value a link may have. If any of the pages on your link prospect list have blog backlinks then those pages should have steady flows of traffic. Float these pages up your priority list as they can contribute - especially in aggregate - a steady flow of traffic to your site.
10) Longstanding Wikipedia Backlinks
Pages and domains with longstanding links from Wikipedia have a steady flow of traffic, so long as Wikipedia does well in Google's SERPs and maintains its editorial standards. If pages within your qualified link prospects have links from Wikipedia then these should have an increased priority, especially if the Wikipedia page inlinking has relevance to your URL.
11) Feed Reader Subscribers
Measuring the number of feed reader subscribers a blog has gives you an idea of reach - especially if you're considering approaching the blogger with a story pitch or even a guest post. Commenting on past posts can be a way to test the audience waters, and to prove your value to the blogger. Bloglines provides a subscriber count, as does Google Reader, FeedBurner and others.
12) Pod/Video Cast Subscribers
If a domain owner produces regular podcasts or videocasts - and has earned subscribers - this greatly increases their distribution and reach potential for your site. Podcasters and videocasters often link to offsite urls from their sites - further, by establishing a conversation you may position yourself for future publicity. A targeted site with podcast or videocast subscribers could provide you with value beyond targeted traffic.
13) Sig/Non-Sig Forum Backlinks
Forum backlinks can tell you a great deal about the nature of both a site and its owner. Numerous signature-level backlinks from multiple forums could indicate that a site owner has significant community presence. If your outreach strategy includes forums, this could prove highly desirable as you may be able to influence a power-user. If a given URL has numerous forum backlinks it's likely that the page will have a steady flow of traffic from the community. If the forum members fall within your target market then you should definitely pursue a link.
14) Email Newsletter Subscribers
Though list owners don't often openly publish list size, knowing this number can help you to determine whether or not to pursue a link. If you simply know that a given site publishes a newsletter you could potentially work at acquiring links before the newsletter goes out. If you have links on pages mentioned in the newsletter then you will see an increase in targeted traffic so long as the site is relevant to your business.
15) Page/Domain "Brand"
If the page or domain of your link prospect has brand value you'd like their visitors to associate with your site then you should pursue the link. Brand is highly subjective of course, and any links you choose to pursue because of brand will likely be chosen by hand.
16) Quality of Threaded Conversation
If the link prospect URL cultivates conversations, what quality of participant do they attract? Judge this based on the level of rhetoric displayed by participants, and how well they seem to support or defend ideas. Further, if purchase decision questions relating to your business occur then you may have a winner. Also, if you recognize well known participants from your industry or market then the thread may be a good place for links. If there seems to be a great deal of abstruse in-joking you may consider passing them by as they likely place history with the community over quality of new contributions. One closing thought - be cautious, courteous and highly relevant in any comments with links you may leave.
Bonus: Just Get the Link and Track It to See What Happens ;)
When in doubt, go for the link. If you employ sound analytics you'll know the precise impact the link has on your marketing efforts. So long as you only pursue link opportunities from pages relevant to your business you can often afford to acquire links even if you're not quite sure what ultimate marketing value they will bring.
We used a number of resources to further our brainstorming. The following articles provided us with insight, ideas and points of departure.
Putting a Value on NoFollow Links
Links with rel="nofollow" (wmw thread)
How Google, Yahoo & Ask.com Treat the No Follow Link Attribute
How Do You Measure; Measure a Link?
Measuring the value of conversations in social media engagement
How to Measure the Value of a Blog Link
How to Calculate a Blog's Reach & Influence -- More Complex Than You Think
Rules Of Linking Engagement As The Web Turns Twenty