Reviewing and Reporting On Links

Published November 2, 2017
When a digital marketing campaign includes SEO, and it usually should, part of that effort will involve links. Anyone who’s worked on the ground in SEO will tell you that link building is one of the most difficult and important aspects of helping a site improve its organic visibility. That’s why link profile analysis and every link acquired should be recognized and positioned in a report.
If links are a part of your ongoing campaign reporting, they can be built into your SEO Template report. Remember to search engines, links are votes. The more external sites that are voting for you by linking to you, the better. However, there’s a caveat, of course. In SEO, not all “votes” are equal. Some are better than others, so when you get a link, it’s important to dig into the merits of each link.
But what are you looking for?
In this article we’ll take a look at this granular piece of the SEO puzzle and how to review and report on them. This will help clients better understand their importance and the value you bring by securing those links.
People who build links full time understand how difficult new links can be to get. There can be a lot of failure, rejection, and trial and error on the road to new links. So when you get one, it’s worth celebrating. Maybe hold off on the champagne for now, but it’s absolutely important to feature it in your next status report. Make sure you give a thorough review of the link by presenting it in full context.



Where is it coming from?

Obviously, you’ll want to share the URL of the place where the new backlink lives. But it’s easy for a client to say “That’s nice,” and move along. But wait, there’s more! Elaborate by providing more details about the merits of the page. Here are some factors worth pointing out:

The link is on a powerful site – Links from powerful sites are more valuable votes. A site’s “power” in this context can be defined by the number of backlinks it has and how well the site performs in search itself. If the linking site has quality backlinks, that’s an asset. If the linking site also ranks well for numerous terms, that’s an indication of authority and suggests that search engines also attribute value to the site’s content.

When discussing link value, there are other metrics that are supplied by third-party tools that are valuable, but not intrinsically connected to Google. Link related tools from places like Moz, Majestic, or SEMrush have varying formulas and proprietary algorithms to gauge quality and assign value to links. These metrics can be incorporated in the reporting process as well, but make sure that you are consistent in how you report these values.

The link is on a relevant page/site – The more relevant the content of the page or linking site is to your site’s purpose, the more valuable the link is in terms of adding to your subject matter expertise. Bonus points here are if the linking page has links directly to it.

The link is amidst content – Links surrounded by content, or contextual links, can be perceived as more editorial by search engines than links in a list. It’s also worth noting if the link is an image with alt-text.

The link is not nofollow – If the link has a nofollow attribute, it’s still got value. However, it certainly carries more weight with Google without a nofollow.

Where is it going?

A link to a site is an asset on its own, but there are certain factors that are worth calling out.

A link to the homepage – Often, the home page is the single most linked page of a website. So a link here is great, but it’s to a page that likely already has a lot of links. It’s helpful to make sure, though, that any links to a homepage go to the canonical version. If the canonical version home page is:

then a link to should redirect, but the link is a little more efficient if it goes directly to the correct version.

A link to a sub-page – One of the aspects of link distribution that search engines can take into account is the distribution of a site’s links between the home page and its subpages. Sub-pages with direct back links suggest that web users find value in the subpages on the site, which adds a signal of deeper content value to the site as a whole. Basically, links to a variety of subpages can indicate to search engines that there is meritorious content spread throughout the site, raising the perception of the site’s overall authority.

The type of content – If the link goes to a subpage, that creates the opportunity to assess the nature of the content and what we can learn from that. Is it a blog post? An article? A white paper? A tool? An image? The nature of the content being linked to can educate us on what kinds of content should be created for link acquisition, and the types of content others might respond to.

How was it Procured?

It may also be worth reporting on how the link was obtained. There are numerous ways to go about getting new links to a site, from paid or social media promotion to raise awareness and access to a piece of content to old-fashioned, pavement-pounding manual outreach. There are also public relations efforts that may include media or contributed content opportunities. Reporting on the method of link acquisition or tying the link back to other cross-channel initiatives helps to prove the value of other efforts and justify the allocation of resources. Whenever an effort ultimately results in a link, it is important to make that connection clear for clients or in-house teams to support similar activities in the future.

Link Related Referrals

Another metric worth reporting is referral data. Referrals from links can be valuable insight for the development of an overall strategy. Referral data can represent site visitors from a number of different types of links, which may have varying implications.

Previously built links – Links that have been acquired (and reported on) from previous efforts that are sending referral traffic are essentially the gift that keeps on giving. Depending on the mix of factors outlined above, the initial benefit may vary from marginal to tremendous SEO value. If the link sends traffic over time, it serves a value above and beyond influencing a search engine’s interpretation of the site’s status in the search ecosystem.

Directories – One link building method involves acquiring links from directories. While there are absolutely some directories that provide value from a traffic and local citation standpoint, not all directories are essential or beneficial. For example, if someone is paying monthly for a directory listing that is not producing any real traffic. While in some cases the link alone might be worth it, it helps to understand the referral value and the cost to make that decision.

Conversions – Any conversions that come as a result of a link related to referrals are incredibly important to note. If a user converts as a result of finding your site through a link, it’s critical to know that and to evaluate the manner of the link that lead to a conversion. Was it from a link from being quoted as an expert in an article? Being added to a list of local hotspots on a regional tourism site? By assessing the nature of that link it allows you to strive to replicate similar links.


Obtaining new links may or may not be the ultimate goal of a campaign. But regardless of whether a link is a main focus or an added benefit of an enterprise, they can become a significant part of regular reporting. Whether it’s covering the results of concentrated link acquisition efforts or providing crucial context about the added value of other initiatives, don’t just report the link. Consider all of the factors that help define the link’s merits and strive to report its true value and how it fits into a site’s overall marketing ambitions.



When the client first came to you, you talked up the value of Google Analytics. You emphasized the importance of seeing where your traffic was coming from. You went on and on about how Google Analytics can show traffic sources to pinpoint whether people came from search, social media or a specific site referral, and how valuable this data was. You sold them on it, so much so that your client looked forward to receiving that first report, the magical day when they would finally understand where visitors were coming from.
But then the report came, and it looked like this:



It showed that 10% of your client’s traffic came from “(direct)/(none)”. What does this label mean? How do you explain Direct traffic to your client? Better yet, how do you explain “none”?
Let’s take a closer look at understanding Direct traffic in Google Analytics and how we can address it with clients.
Remember how your mom told you not to stand too close to the television because it might hurt your eyes?

The same rules can apply to data. If you’re too close, you may miss the patterns and trends that are crucial to understanding your website’s performance. You can’t judge a site’s performance looking at data in the bubble of a single day, you must consider any day’s traffic compared to the days before and after.

Google Analytics makes it fairly easy to analyze trends over long periods of time. But it also allows you to stand right in front of that TV, to look at more granular levels of time, right down to the hour.
There’s a better way to get that close to the data, without burning your retinas. We’ll cover how to analyze traffic effectively in today’s post.
Digital marketers spend a lot of time focused on PPC and SEO campaigns in order to drive desirable traffic to a website. The phrases we’re ranking for and bidding on get meticulous attention, so much so that we often forget about some of the other ways that visitors find us.

We put a tremendous amount of the effort we put into reviewing organic search data and PPC campaign performance in analytics. But how closely do we monitor referral reports?

If that’s not a channel you review regularly, you may be missing out on seeing traffic that is coming directly from links you’ve obtained around the web, local business listings, news mentions, and more. Many times, links are only considered as a means to an end, a metric that Google uses in determining how to rank sites in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But the fact is, many of a site’s links may be directly contributing to its traffic.

In this article, we’ll review how to look at referral reports in Google Analytics, and some of the many ways to use that data to better inform your web marketing decisions.