There is no doubt that domain authority (DA) has always been a huge topic when it comes to link building, however, just like all digital marketing efforts, the main focus should be on tangible metrics that contribute towards revenue.
With this in mind, this blog post will take you through:
- How do we know if our link-building strategy is any good?
– Qualitative vs. quantitative link metrics
– Why digital PR alone is probably not a good idea
– The big question: ‘What did those links do?’
– The metrics that really matter
- The future of digital PR
- Four top tips for success
Over the years, link building has changed a lot. It’s been more than 10 years since link spam was devalued by Google’s Penguin update, and today, we have a much better understanding of building good links naturally using digital PR.
For simplicity, I’m going to use digital PR and link building as interchangeable terms – I know digital PR can and should be a lot more complex, but ultimately if you only built a handful of brand mention links in six months, you’d probably be worried.
To gauge the impact of our link-building efforts on your business, we need to rely on various metrics. Although I used DA in the title to grab your attention, it’s essential to note that the digital PR industry is always changing. It’s common knowledge that relying solely on a scoring system not used by Google is an inadequate way to assess a site’s value.
How do we know if our link-building strategy is any good?
The aim of link building, as with most marketing efforts, is to make tangible changes to a business. When choosing which sites to build backlinks from, we talk a lot about the quality and topical relevancy of a site, which DA doesn’t necessarily tell us. That’s why we may also look at Domain Rating, Trust Flow, Topical Trust Flow, Citation Flow, Toxicity Score, and Page Authority, among many other third-party metrics to understand the wider context of the links we build.
These metrics are useful for interpreting what backlinks we should be building to improve a site. However, I don’t think they can fully answer my original question: how do we know if our link-building strategy is any good?
Qualitative vs. quantitative link metrics
Arguably, I’d describe most of the metrics typically used as ‘qualitative’. Yes, they have numbers attached but are still based on interpretation, they are a symbol of a quality site. Instead, we should consider more ‘quantitative’ metrics, namely relevant organic traffic and revenue. I’d put keyword rankings in that group too, because while they change often by person, device, etc. they’re still a measurable fact and play a big part in our success.
Examples of metrics that can show digital PR success
What happens when you build 50, 100, or even 1,000 brilliant links, scored highly by all the qualitative metrics, but, you don’t see quantitive organic traffic and revenue improving? All you’re left with is a link target that you may have hit – exceeded, even – but nothing tangible that matters to the business or C-suite executives.
Why digital PR alone is probably not a good idea
Many prospects approach us asking for Digital PR. I understand why – it’s very attractive! Viral campaigns like our Pumpkin Spice Latte Ring or stunning visuals like the Apple Car concept are guaranteed to grab attention. But a lot of the time, backlinks are not the only answer to good organic performance. If it’s the only thing you’re doing, it often results in being asked, ‘What did those links do?’
The big question: ‘What did those links do?’
When it comes to potential clients we are upfront if Digital PR isn’t required, even if it means losing that business. There’s enough out there about E-E-A-T and helpful content to tell you that digital PR alone is usually not enough.
However, if you are doing digital PR only and don’t have a full SEO team to rely on, you need to know which metrics truly count in order to:
- Get ahead of potential problems and pivot when needed
- Improve your reports and reviews with more meaningful data
- Build better relationships with clients and senior management so you can show the real value of your work
The metrics that really matter
Achieving high-quality, relevant backlinks is a great achievement, but, here’s what will help you understand what those links achieved.
How successful Digital PR activity can work
We build backlinks to improve keyword rankings and in turn our site’s visibility increases. Then comes clicks and impressions, leading to relevant organic traffic, and most importantly, revenue.
This will be obvious to a lot of people. yet from the multiple agencies and businesses I’ve worked with, plus industry experts I’ve spoken to, digital PR metrics generally stop at quality and relevancy. Case studies, award entries, and social media threads shout about link numbers, and while I love people sharing their success, it is about wanting to go further for the businesses we work with. This is about building long-standing relationships with clients because you are their partner in organic performance, not just a replaceable link builder. Our link-building efforts are about driving revenue and making tangible changes to a business.
This isn’t to critique digital PR metrics but to shift the focus to becoming a valued partner in organic performance—a role that goes beyond being a link builder who can be replaced.
If you’ve been building quality backlinks for a while, but keyword rankings aren’t moving and there’s no other SEO activity taking place, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We see this as an opportunity to improve other areas, like content or technical optimisation. Link building can lay the foundations of a highly successful SEO campaign as you can see here for our client Vanarama.
Digital PR lays the foundations for a great SEO campaign, which was accelerated with content and technical optimisation for our client Vanarama
The future of Digital PR
Most of the digital PR industry has realised that link quantity doesn’t cut it anymore, but I also don’t believe that link quality metrics are going to be enough for much longer either.
As an agency, we’re moving away from just reporting on these ‘qualitative’ metrics with our Digital PR clients. Of course, clients still understand key links we need to build, and what competitors are doing, but our goal is to understand more about what good links can really do for a site.
We want the best results for our clients, regardless of how we get there. Good SEOs know how to prioritise the right work at the right time. We know when keyword rankings aren’t improving from digital PR alone and understand when a pivot in strategy is required.
Does a business need 10 links or £10k in additional revenue per month? It’s important to recognise when you should pivot your strategy, whether this includes digital PR or not.
You need to make sure you’re not just left with high link numbers and understand how to secure direct success in digital PR to make a real difference to a business.
Four top tips for success
1. Build relevant traffic with the right ideas using the right keywords
If keyword rankings are improving because of your digital PR efforts, then you’re in a good place to start understanding how this can lead to an increase in organic traffic. Yet, I can’t stress enough the importance of this being relevant traffic from the right keywords.
Here’s an example of the importance of utilising the right keywords:
A car finance website does a digital PR campaign on the most expensive celebrity cars and gains a lot of good links. It starts to rank for celebrity-themed keywords and the site sees an uplift in visibility and organic traffic. But because those keywords are irrelevant, and so is the traffic, no additional revenue is generated.
Another car finance website creates a money-saving calculator which you gather user data from and use the results for a digital PR campaign. It ranks for car cost-themed keywords, which are much more relevant to the business, so the increase in visibility and organic traffic eventually results in additional revenue.
Achieving quality traffic starts from your first brainstorm: your ideas must relate to the business. Once your idea is finalised, include relevant keywords where it makes sense in the campaign creation, from the written content and the page’s URL to the anchor text in pitch emails.
2. Create content hubs with strong internal linking
So many great digital PR campaigns are created without landing pages to link to, or, they link to the site’s blog. We invest time in creating fantastic content hubs where a user can find all the helpful and linkable information they’d want in one place, usually in a subfolder of the main revenue-driving page. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Lots of digital PR work ends up linking to: brand/blog/campaign-name but this means all link equity is passed to that blog. Instead, we invest in content hubs that are relevant to the main revenue-driving pages on a site.
Using the car finance site example, our campaign URL would look more like this: brand/car-finance/guides/campaign-name to create a more useful place for customers to find content.
Don’t forget internal linking to those key revenue-driving pages, too, if it makes sense to do so. So many blog posts get good backlinks, but the equity isn’t passed onto any important pages around the site.
3. Start with basic keyword measurement if you’re not familiar with GA4
If recognising the value of digital PR sounds daunting (particularly if you’re not up to speed with GA4), simply start with keywords. Use any keyword tool to review the site and pages you’ve been building links to – have any keywords improved? Are they relevant keywords? If that’s not the case, then visibility, traffic, and revenue are not likely to be moving either. This is your opportunity to see what else is missing from a site and show your true value. Here’s an example:
Combining technical optimisation and a 400+ quality link Digital PR campaign, our US automotive client’s head terms moved an average of +13 positions
The above improvements for our US automotive client weren’t just down to digital PR, but it’s interesting to see keyword rankings accelerating after we achieved over 400 quality links from one campaign. These are our tracked head terms (main commercial terms), too, so they’re not just any keywords. These are the types of movement you need to look out for after you’ve been building links successfully (regardless of any other work going on).
4. Focus on E-E-A-T for expert commentary
With AI takeover, we’re seeing more and more AI-generated content with hundreds of new pages created in minutes. How can we combat this when AI can create linkable pages so much quicker than a human? The answer is the ‘Experience’ in E-E-A-T.
According to Search Engine Land, there has been over a third in the rise of personal brand SERPs in the form of Knowledge Panels recently, so we know Google focuses on individual people, not just the site. We also know from Google’s Search Rater Guidelines that ‘it’s important to research the reputation of the content creator as well [as the reputation of the website]’.
When applying this to digital PR tactics, think about the person you’re using for expert commentary. Are they truly an expert in their field? Can they demonstrate first-hand experience of this topic? Would a real customer, outside of the SEO world, trust this person and buy from them?
Your chosen person for expert commentary could be involved in genuine product review videos, added to research papers, write blogs, or, share updates on social media (providing these activities are relevant to the product or service the site provides). This would demonstrate the real-life ‘Experience’ your brand has.
The metrics you decide to measure in any of your digital PR efforts are highly important to make sure that they make an impact on your business and ultimately drive revenue. Whatever your link-building strategy, make sure you are considering keywords, your audience, and your experts to create genuine, relevant campaigns.
If your digital PR efforts aren’t paying off in the ways you’d like, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help.