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Link Building ROI: Measure With Caution

In tough times when every marketing dollar matters, client questions about link building ROI tend to come up earlier in the conversation. If you are spending money to hire a link builder, you have every right to ask what the ROI might be for any tactic or service your link builder is suggesting you use. For a primer, you should read the column Stephan Spencer wrote in August 2009, Link Economics 101: A Prerequisite For Advanced SEO.

Less discussed are the specific challenges unique to link building ROI, compared to other online marketing activities.

Why is measuring link building ROI so hard? One reason is there are many different ways to measure it, depending on the specific goals you have going into any link building project. Pick the wrong metric, and while you might be able to stick a number on it, tracing it back to a dollar value can be maddening.

Adding to this, let’s ask a hard question that’s often ignored. Where should the onus for the success or failure of any link building project lay?

Is it the content that earns the link, or the link builder? If the link builder is being measured on success in getting links purely on new links obtained, they are actually incentivized to pursue easy-to-obtain links just to meet the numbers they are being paid to meet. If they pursue higher value links, the link builder runs the risk of failing if the content itself is not able to attract those higher value links. The link builder should not be blamed for content failure. The unintended consequence / end result is a great gray sea of mediocre links and link builders.

There are a few obvious ROI metrics. Search rank improvement is one, but that’s fluid. You might be ranking high due to spammy tactic your link builder is using, but it could be one that’s going to blow up at any moment. Raw link count is another metric, but that’s so meaningless it’s silly people want to measure it. It makes them happy to have a number they can attach to a project cost.

Most people now think of links as primarily about search rank, and that’s a shame, but that’s the way it is. But what is the ROI of ranking 5th instead of 7th? An ecommerce site can probably tell you the exact ROI keyword by keyword and position by position. Ranking 5th is worth $12,000 a month in sales, ranking 3rd is worth $22,000 a month in sales. Fair enough. What about a content site that monetizes through ad clicks? They want more links so they can get more traffic so more of that traffic will leave via links that make them a nickel. It’s sort of funny really, working so hard to get people to your site, because you want them to leave your site, just via the right link.

In such cases, you don’t want your content to be too compelling, because people wont leave it. Not to joke, but given this revolving door link building scenario, is the key to revenue making sure you bore your reader at exactly the right time and place? Like where there’s an ad link handy?

As I work on more ways to measure link building ROI, I always try to convey just how challenging it can be. Since most people enter into link building mode due to wanting to rank higher, does this mean if you don’t end up ranking higher, your link building errfots were a failure?

Not always.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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