Using Analytics Referral Traffic to Inform Link Building Strategy [Part 1]

Data Analytics

Google recently confirmed the three key factors to organic search rankings: RankBrain, content, and backlinks. Nothing startling, of course, but I’m sure it hurt the feelings of some people who thought they no longer had to seek new linking opportunities.

Link building is stressful, and one of the most important factors to increasing organic search authority. But link building is effective for more than just SEO. A solid backlink on a reputable site not only adds to your site’s domain authority, but can also add an incredible amount of high-value referral traffic.

So how do you figure out what your most important links are, and how do you identify future links that’ll bring in steady streams of high-value traffic? Google Analytics has a variety of tools to help you get the most return on your link building strategy, beyond simply increasing your domain authority.

Referral traffic is the most important for understanding how your current link building campaigns are working and can also be used to identify new link opportunities. Based on traffic and engagement metrics, you can better target the best type of sites to gain high-value backlinks that generate exceptional referral traffic.

Will all my link building tactics generate traffic? 

The fact is, not all editorial links — even links from big domains that gets tons of traffic — translate into referral traffic. That’s because people aren’t necessarily going to follow every link they see in an article.

If you got an awesome write-up in The New York Times, incredible! It’ll give your site a great overall boost in ranking authority, but may not generate regular traffic a week after publication.

Some will simply bump your traffic up for a while. These links include links from news aggregators like Reddit,, or other up-voting forums. For a while, they’ll drive considerable traffic until fresher content pushes it down.

Publishing guest blog posts is another great way to increase your personal brand, but not a great way to increase your referral traffic unless you place a contextual link within the body of the copy. Adding bio links to your post are a best practice, but they probably won’t send you much actual traffic.

Well, that’s a bummer. Which links will keep me earning traffic? 

It’s the $64,000 question of course, but the simplest answer is one you’ve probably heard a thousand times: Create content that answers your visitors’ questions and can act as a resource for others. You know what makes for the best linkbait? Knowledge.

How do you know which content is generating the most valuable referral traffic? It doesn’t necessarily have to be that linked piece of content that’s generating tons of clicks. Rather, it’s content that generates valuable traffic. i.e., long average session durations, small bounce rates, and plenty of conversions. If your linked content is only producing 20 sessions per week but earning multiple conversions, that’s a success. Run with that outbound content strategy.

Not all links are created equal. Sure, if you get a write-up in the local or regional newspaper, that’s going to be a big win for your backlink profile and drive a considerable amount of referral traffic for a while.

In a Google Hummingbird world, content that helps answer your visitors’ questions will have the best opportunity to rank prominently for pertinent questions and queries. The evergreen piece of content linked to an educational site that links back to you as an authoritative resource? That’s the link that keeps on giving year-round.

Thanks for telling me what I already know. Any quick wins? 

Yes, of course. Rather than continuing to grind out even more content for even more links, audit what you have first and see if you can find new opportunities through your current links. Look through your top referring sites and see if they have any partner or associated sites. You can potentially find some quick low-hanging fruit among these partner sites.

An easy way to identify potential link opportunities is to find out if referring sites have partner sites or associated sites. To identify whether the site is associated with any other sites, take a look at footer links and about sections. Basically, you’ll be creating a link tree.

Another quick win is a little known feature in Google search. If you’re seeking links from a specific type of site, Google has a cool little trick to search for related sites using an advanced search operator.

Here’s an example: Simply type “” into Google to pull up pages similar to your targeted link building site.

Use Google's advanced search operator for

Are my social media referrals important for link building? 

While social signals such as likes, shares, and retweets don’t directly contribute to SEO or add to domain authority the way backlinks do, social lets you see precisely which content resonates most with your audience. Look at the likes, comments, and shares on your Google Analytics social referral data to identify the type of content that drives the most referrals from social. Is it list posts? White papers? Posts on a specific topic?

Next week, we’ll dive into Google Analytics and take a look at the tools and metrics that’ll help you determine the best links to build to help drive referral traffic.

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