When I first started out in linkbuilding it was a very different landscape. Generally, it was a bit easier to build links but a whole lot harder to find the data about what type of links you required.
We are now in almost a polar opposite position; we are drowning in data but struggling to turn that into strategies to generate links. The radar graph is the secret sauce in determining your link building strategy. Using Radar Graphs and MajesticSEO data you can understand how you compare to specific competitors and the market as a whole. I think this is really important as SEO is relative – it’s not about absolute values but how you compare to your competitors.
What follows is one of the methods my team and I have been using to try and turn the wealth of link data out there into actionable insight.
We start off by making a simplification. Google’s link based algorithms are complex, but they aren’t complicated. (I really recommend reading this article about the difference between complexity and whether something is complicated)
So, we understand the link algorithm is complex but acknowledge that any attempt to understand or model the system would have to be reductive, therefore simplification is inevitable, and actually desirable.
When it comes to links I think a portfolio of links should achieve four measurable aims: Volume; Authority; Velocity; and Anchor text. Or, as we like to shorten it at SiteVisibility: VAVA.
Now these four aims do miss some of the complexity of linking but understanding how you compare to the market and specific competitors on each of these areas gives you a much clearer idea of the mix of tactics required to overtake a competitor.
When we look at any website’s link portfolio, we look at four key areas: Link Volume, Link Authority, Link Velocity and Link Anchor Text. No matter what challenges a website faces we will look to improve the values of VAVA.
We can all easily get our heads around the idea that Google and the other search engines like websites with more links. Though the intricacies of link building require a nuanced approach, very often a website can’t go too far wrong with a strategy that results in more links.
Link equity is far more complicated than just volume, and although it is still important, it doesn’t matter if you have a pile of links as big as Ben Nevis Mountain if your competitor’s is as big as Everest.
In real life not all recommendations are created equally; we know which of our friends and acquaintances are experts, and who doesn’t know what they are talking about. If we want advice on a new car, we trust our mechanic friend more than our dentist. Google, when they look at link authority, are trying to achieve something very similar. They make judgments about how much sway any endorsement should have.
If you’ve looked at the volume and authority of your competitors you might find yourself scared stiff, but there is some good news! Google have realised there is a fault in their algorithm: there is a lag. This lag is between a page being important enough to include in the SERPs and the point when it has received enough links to rank. To rectify this, there is a phenomenon which is sometimes known as a Google Honeymoon Period or officially, “Query Deserves Freshness”. This means new pages don’t need as many links to rank when they are ‘fresh’.
It makes a lot of sense. Imagine two identical sites, one with 1,000 links but static growth vs. another with 500 gained rapidly over the last few months. Which do you think will be the best website to return for a topical search query?
This isn’t the only way link velocity influences rankings, but there is a general trend indicating that if you can engineer a healthy link velocity you will benefit more than your link volume and authority may initially suggest.
Link Anchor Text
A varied and inventive link building campaign will usually deal with authority, velocity and volume factors by default, but are you making sure you get the right anchor text? Anchor text is one of the most complex of the four pillars and one of the areas I’m perceiving recent change..
But what is anchor text? If someone links to you in a piece of text and a few words are underlined and in blue, that’s what is known as anchor text. It’s the words or phrases people use when they link to you.
Google use these words to understand what your website is about. If someone writes the word “fool proof widgets” and makes it a clickable link to your site, the search engine can be reasonably confident that your website is about “fool proof widgets”
How to make the comparison?
I’m a big fan of radar graphs. I think they are a great way of visualising several data points at once but a big part of my affection lies in their importance in Football Manager.
I’m going to take you through how to create a linkbuilding radar graph that simultaneously compares you to a specific competitor and you both to the market as a whole.
To start with you will need an account with MajesticSEO, if it isn’t already; it should be an essential part of your SEO armoury.
Create two rows for each element of VAVA, then one for the score and finally one for the normalised ‘z score’
Then add 11 columns with the first being for your website and then ten of your competitors. At this stage I suggest adding some false data for you and your ten competitors on each of the VAVA elements, take a mean average of the scores and use the spread sheet to work out the standard deviation.
Then you need to work out the z-score. Put simply the z-score works out how many standard deviations you are from the norm, and this has the effect of normalising all the scores whether they are out of a hundred or a hundred thousand.
Now selecting the z-score and one of your competitors, you can plot a radar graph. It will visualise how you compare on each of these four metrics. If your score is positive you are above the average and if it’s negative you are below average.
This understanding will help you choose which tactics you require, e.x. poor anchor text and authority will require a very different approach to a site behind on volume and velocity.
But the insight you have here means nothing so far as it’s based on fake data, so how do we populate it with real data?
We start by creating a sheet for each competitor, into this sheet we paste the Standard Report from Majestic, this contains all the info we need to create our VAVA data.
For volume we use the =count function to total the number of links.
For authority we take a mean average of all the links’ “AC rank” which is Majestic’s authority score.
Velocity is a little more complex, we need to use the COUNTIF function to count only the number of links found by Majestic in the last 12 months. We then take this score and work out what percentage it is of the overall number of links the site has.
And finally anchor text: we do this by using the COUNTIF function in Excel to work out the number of links which do not contain the brand name and then what proportion this number is of the total links.
One very big note of caution here unlike the other four metrics where exceeding the mean is preferable; with non-branded anchor text my goal is to be as close to the mean as possible. (I’m actually working on a revision of this document which shows close proximity to the mean as the ‘best-case scenario’)
Now you add these four formulas to each of the internal sheets, then you take the data from each of these sheets and include them in the summary. Voila! Now your radar diagram is based on real data.
Now the chances are you’ll have you own opinions on what link metrics matter but I wanted to show you that Radar Graphs are an excellent way of visualising link data and that Excel isn’t as daunting as you might think it is…