Updated: Dec 12, 2022
How to Measure Your Link-Building Success
Backlinks are a critical aspect of SEO. Good backlinks indicate to search engines that your page features quality content other websites trust. They can also increase your domain authority and drive more organic traffic to your website.
You’ve likely spent some time building a solid link-building campaign or strategy, so it’s worth considering how you’ll track your results. We’ll share a few KPIs to keep an eye on, and tools that can help you track your link-building success.
Run a Backlink Profile Audit
The first step to measuring your link-building campaign is setting your benchmark. Understanding your current backlink profile can give you insight into growth that results directly from your campaign, and can help you build a strategy that plugs any gaps in your profile.
A backlink audit evaluates all backlinks pointing to your website, then identifies any toxic backlinks that could harm your website's rankings. You can also use a backlink audit to highlight any backlinks you’re earning from high authority websites (super important for relationship building.)
The Backlink Audit tool uses an easy-to-follow workflow to audit, analyze and disavow toxic or suspicious links. You can also use the tool to manually request backlink removals and track any won or lost backlinks over time.
To run the tool, you’ll:
Navigate to your website’s project from the Projects dashboard. (You’ll need to create a project to use the Backlink Audit tool.)
Select the Backlink Audit tool from the project’s dashboard.
Use the tool’s setting panels to adjust your audit’s scope, target countries, and domain categories. Select Start Backlink Audit.
Once your audit’s complete, the tool returns your site’s backlink profile, complete with your site’s domain authority, any referring domains, the total number of backlinks pointing to your site, and the overall toxicity score of your current profile.
To review your audit, select the Audit tab in the toolbar or the Go to review button in the Overall Toxicity Score widget:
This tab shows all backlinks currently pointing to your site and allows you to manually filter them to be whitelisted, removed, or disavowed. Select links individually or in groups:
Analyzing Your Backlink Profile
To understand how your backlinks impact your site rankings, pay attention to the link metrics that are most relevant to your business goals. Not every metric will help you track your campaign’s success accurately, but they are important to understanding your backlink profile.
In the Semrush tool suite, the Authority Score is our metric for measuring a domain's or web page's overall quality and SEO performance. The score is based on many industry metrics that represent trustworthiness and authority, like a site’s domain authority.
The score can be read as the overall quality of a domain or webpage. In the example below, we can see via our backlink audit that we’re earning quite a few backlinks from referring domains with low authority scores:
There isn’t a hard or fast rule to a good authority score, so try to earn backlinks from sites with scores that match other domains in your website’s niche. Highly competitive niches and websites see higher average Authority Scores, while more low-key niches or websites will have lower average Authority Scores.
Pay attention to whether you’re earning backlinks from other websites in your niche. These are websites with a similar focus, area of expertise, and audience to you.
First, you can use these sites to better benchmark your own profile’s scores. Not all scores are created equal; more competitive sites will likely earn more competitive scores. That’s why it’s important to focus on sites that are most relevant to yours.
Niche sites are also more likely to be open to trading backlinks or adding your website to a high-traffic page on their site. Remember, you want backlinks from as many quality websites as possible, so you can earn more traffic to your site and boost your domain authority.
Earning backlinks from websites that aren’t in your niche won’t boost your rankings, and might even earn a penalty from Google and other search engines.
Use the Backlink Analytics tool to review the backlink profiles of websites in your niche before reaching out to them. Enter the site’s domain in the tool input and select Analyze:
The tool returns the domain’s backlink profile, including its authority score, number of referring domains, and total backlinks:
To review each backlink manually, select the Backlinks tab in the toolbar:
Number of referring domains
You want a higher number of referring domains than referring links. 10 links from 1 toxic domain isn’t as impactful as 1 link each from 10 quality domains.
It’s common to earn multiple backlinks from one domain. If this happens with your site, just ensure the domain is of quality. If the domain has a high toxicity score or is otherwise flagged as toxic, focus on removing or disavowing each backlink.
Google considers a link to be toxic if it is being used to manipulate a site’s ranking with Google. If the link violates Google's Webmaster Guidelines, Google might penalize you.
Toxic backlinks include elements from:
“Link farms” (websites set up purely for backlinking purposes)
Links coming from sites that have zero relevance to your topic
Links obviously forced into blog comments
Links hidden in a website’s footer
Links that are clearly sponsored
In the Backlink Audit tool, you can use the Toxic Score to determine a link’s toxicity. Select the score’s drop-down to see the list of toxic markers impacting the score:
Toxic backlinks can impact your website’s ranking. If Google receives reports of spam from your domain, your website could be demoted or removed from Google. Toxic backlinks can also lead to a drop in organic traffic as your ranking drops in the SERPs.
To avoid this, address toxic links as you spot them in your audit. You can use the Backlink Audit tool to send a manual request to remove the backlink directly to the domain. From the Audit tab, check the backlinks you want to be removed and select the Remove button:
Select the Remove tab to begin the removal process. You’ll see the option to send an email to the domain owner. You’ll also be able to track each backlink’s removal process via the Status column to the left:
Select the Send button to open the request template in the tool:
Once you’ve modified the template, select “Sent and proceed to next” to generate a template for the next domain. You can also choose which links to disavow from the Disavow tab:
The tool will export a .txt file you can import into the Google Disavow tool.
Anchor text is the text you click to move from one internet destination to another. This text needs to provide context by describing what's at the other end of a link.
Anchor text benefits search engine bots and readers alike. Users are more likely to click through on a link if they know it’s relevant to their search.
Google gives more value to anchor text with more than a simple “click here.” If you have a strong anchor text link back to your site that includes keywords, Google might rate that link a bit higher.
Track Your Site’s Organic Growth
Organic growth of traffic to your website is possibly the best way to measure the success of your link-building campaign. You might see the correlation between the increase of quality backlinks and the increase of organic traffic to your website.
If you’ve connected your GA to Semrush, you can check your site’s traffic from your SEO dashboard:
Connecting your Google Analytics to Semrush helps look at the referral traffic coming in from backlinks and what users do when they arrive, plus where they go when they bounce away.
Run a Keyword Position Analysis
Keyword position analysis is another way to measure the success of your backlink outreach campaign.
If your Domain Authority improves over the course of your campaign, Google’s more likely to take notice of your website and its content. It'll consider the keywords you’re targeting on your site and determine whether to increase your rank on the SERPs of those keywords.
You can track your website’s keyword positions with the Position Tracking tool. Select your website’s project to open the tool landscape, then navigate to the Pages tab to see track positions for each keyword the page earns:
Track Your Links’ ROI
No SEO campaign should be done without a budget, including a link-building campaign. Backlinks can take time and resources to acquire, so it’s up to you to track how much each backlink costs you in time or money.
It’s common to earn backlinks through relationship building. Once a relationship has been established, you might have to wait longer to see results.
Not only can time be a factor, but the cost per link can be significant. Some link exchange services or domain owners may ask for a fee to link back to your site.
Keep track, as accurately as you can, of how much each link has cost you. How long did it take to write an email? How many emails did you have to write to get a response, and so on?
After a set amount of time, be it a month or three months, consider the effort put into getting the links and what you’re getting out of it. How many hours did it cost to earn the backlink? How much money has that link brought into the business?
Define your business and campaign goals before you start your link-building campaign. Use a backlink audit tool to set a benchmark for your current backlink profile.
Pay attention to key metrics like the authority score or the toxicity score to understand how a backlink impacts your site’s ranking.
Keep an eye on your site’s growth over the course of your domain to track how your organic and referral traffic changes.
Keyword position tracking can also help you determine if your backlinks are helping you rank for your target keywords.