The Link Builder’s Guide to Conducting a Linkability Audit: It’s YOU, Not THEM!

27 Apr

This is the very first guest post on, and it’s definitely an awesome one. Garrett French, co-founder of Ontolo, Inc., was so kind to write an article about how to conduct a linkability audit.

A URL’s linkability primarily exists in comparison to its competing URLs – those URLs with a demonstrated ability to rank. You determine your URLs’ competing URLs based on the pages ranking 1-10 (or 1-20, 1-30, 1-100 etc…) for the terms you want your URL to rank for (in other words, analyze the SERPs Dominators). We contend that you can extract meaningful, actionable linkability measurements based on comparisons of these ranking pages, and by comparing the pages that link directly to them. Note that linkability’s key metrics will shift from keyword to keyword, industry to industry, even between geographic locations. This means that generalized or standardized “linkability guidelines” may not help you to home in on what truly impacts linkability for your keywords.

(Note: To thank early adopters during the launch of their new Link Building Toolset, Ontolo is offering a 25% discount that ends today (April 27) at 9pm PST. They’ve let me know that they will never be offering a discount like this again, and that the pricing is good for all future upgrades, price changes, etc.)

Subjective Linkability Metrics: By-Hand Analysis

Your most important tool for measuring a URL’s linkability comes from Yahoo – the per-page inbound link count. SEOBook’s SEO Toolbar and SEO for Firefox best present this data and make it easily exportable. SEOMoz’s OpenSiteExplorer is getting better for this too and we’ve heard great things about Majestic’s bulk link checker which checks the backlinks (links, domains, IPs, class-Cs) and filters out sitewides. Though we lean as much as possible towards automated methods of analysis, there always comes a time when you have to put your eyeballs to the pixels and analyze things yourself. Remember, in all of this you’re looking for patterns amongst ranking pages similar to yours that have earned inbound links.

1) Look and Feel
Do your competing URLs with inbound links have a consistent or distinct look and feel? Some markets favor dingy, dated layouts and design – this indicates that the site has a history and that the site owners are not overly-concerned with impressing their visitors. Other markets see design that’s a year old and instantly click away. People who choose to link into the pages you’re competing with are an important part of your marketplace. If inbound linkers clearly favor a particular look and feel then consider making some adjustments.

2) Content Structure and Organization
Is your content structured for easy consumption? Do you notice any structural trends on the pages that have earned the most inbound links? H1 tags, short paragraphs, pull quotes – these types of structural enhancements, so long as they serve the viewer – may impact linkability in your space.

3) Authority of Content
Do your competing URLs contain clear demonstrations of authority? This could be outlinks to related content, quotes from experts (including site owner), badges/awards that show industry participation, a client list and more… See if the highly-linked competing URLs, in aggregate, make it clear to visitors that the page’s creator has authoritative knowledge.

4) Depth and Thoroughness of Content
This is more than word count – how completely does the copy on the page discuss the topic? Are there multiple bullet points and an almost laborious thoroughness that ensures that no one leaves the page uneducated? If the ranking pages your URL competes against look more like Wikipedia pages than sales pages you should consider revising and possibly expanding your content.

5) Existence/Quality of Conversation
Do your competing URLs contain conversation threads, customer reviews or even a rating system? This amount or even the tone or quality of conversation on your target URL could affect your page’s linkability.

6) Emotional Response
What emotions – if any – do your competing URLs evoke in visitors? If you’re unsure, check out the words used to describe the URL on inlinking pages. Through this sort of questioning you may come to discover some emotional angles for your content that consistently attracts links in your target market. Take a moment to read (or reread) The Psychology Behind Link Giving. Emotion is often what drives people to share content, whether by email, Twitter, Facebook or… links!

Seeking Inbound Link Trends and Patterns

Are there trends within the patterns of inbound links? Here are a number of items to investigate that could shed some light into why certain pages have more linkability than others.

1) Links From Particular Site Types
Perhaps a particular competing URL has earned several links from forums… If your marketplace includes a large number of active forums then it’s time for you to understand why forum members choose to link to some URLs and not others. Maybe a competing URL has a number of links from FaceBook or Twitter… or even Wikipedia. Understanding what made this URL attractive to participants at these sites will help you to improve your URL’s linkability. Perhaps you’ll find that a particular shopping comparison site links directly to your competitors’ pages – it may help your rankings to provide this site with a feed.

2) Inbound Link Text Patterns
Are there patterns within the link text to your competing URLs? If so, does the link text match how you describe the products or services on your page? Perhaps there’s a segment of potential linkers who don’t feel “targeted” by your URL’s copy because you’re not speaking their language.

3) Most Valuable Link Pages Pointing to Small Cluster of URLs
Some link prospect pages provide more value than others. You can identify these Most Valuable Links because they come from pages with high PageRank, high inbound link count, high traffic values, and high organic rankings of their own. If the most valuable linking pages target a small cluster of your competing URLs, it’s up to you to understand what these competing pages did to earn those important links.

4) Context Framing Inbound Link to the Competing URL
How does the inlinking page describe the link? What is the surrounding link text? If there are any adjectives, these may provide clues regarding linkability. The title of the page may also provide some insight into why your competing URL received a link.

Objective, Large-Scale Linkability Metrics: Machine Analysis

Here are a number of objective – i.e. machine-readable – metrics to help determine possible factors that impact a URL’s linkability within a given set of inbound links. In all cases below we’re looking for trends amongst the competing URLs that have inbound links (not overall domain links, just page links).

1) Target Keyword Density of Competing URLs
Is there any relationship between keyword density and whether or not it earns links? While it’s long been established that keyword density has little if anything to do with relevance, by comparing the keyword density of your top 20 competing URLs that have links you may uncover some opportunities for improvement… especially in title tags and H1 tags, which aid visitors by making clear declarations of a page’s subject. Further, it could be that overly-dense pages receive fewer links because they are “over-optimized…” it may be that you should ratchet back your keyword usage and focus more on the visitor.

2) Number of Words on the Page
It may be that the URLs that you’re competing with have more words on the page than yours. And then again possibly they have less. If there’s a trend – one way or the other – for the competing pages with links then you might want to add or reduce the amount of valuable information on the page. If you look across the top 30 URLs for 5 closely-related target keywords, the number of words on competing pages could become a meaningful linkability metric.

3) Embedded Media on the Page
Is there a linkability trend that favors images, video, podcasts or other embedded media? For some keywords, linking sites could favor those with more extensive, non-textual content. If this is the case for the competing URLs that earned links you should consider making changes to your target URLs.

4) Type of Site/Type of Page
Is the competing URL part of a social media site? Is it a blog post from a competitor, or even a press release? If you find that inbound linkers favor certain types of sites or types of pages for a given keyword group then you might consider attacking these keywords with different content.

5) Use of Overly-Salesy Language
If you brainstorm out a list of sales-related terms you can cross check the text of ranking pages to see how tolerant linkers are towards being pitched. This can be a quick test to see if you should target a keyword group with product/service sales copy or informational, how-to copy.

6) Length of Sentences, Length of Words, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
Do inbound linkers seem to have a preference for brevity? If so, you may find that the copy on your target URL is too loquacious or even pedantic for your linking audience. Then again, maybe you’re too concise. Looking at averages could shed some light on what linkers in this particular keyword space tend to prefer.

Linkability is determined differently in different verticals because the linkers are different. Knowing where to look for your industry’s linkability signals will help you critically evaluate your marketspace and determine a more realistic idea of what your audience of potential linkers looks at when they’re deciding whether or not to link.

About the Author: Garrett French is the co-founder of Ontolo, Inc., creators of the Ontolo Link Building Toolset which uses your target keywords to find and grade link prospects. The Link Building Toolset reduces link prospecting and qualification time, letting you focus on the most valuable part of link building: relationships.

8 Responses to “The Link Builder’s Guide to Conducting a Linkability Audit: It’s YOU, Not THEM!”

  1. Microsoft Points Codes April 28, 2010 at 1:03 am #

    Wow, this is a very well wrote article. Also it is one of the first articles that explain SEO with out leaving out part of the equation. I just wanted to say great job to Garrett French, and to this site for letting him write this article!

  2. Cory April 28, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    Big fan of #4 within “Seeking Inbound Link Trends and Patterns.” It’s a great way to create an even larger link prospecting list; take the keywords of the page and slap them into the search engines with advanced search operators. Good post!

  3. Garrett French May 4, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    @microsoftpointscodes you are too kind ;)

    @Cory I like your idea of spreading the net wider by getting keyword inspiration from prospect pages… We also like to start with WAY TOO MANY prospects and then figure out ways to narrow them down :)

  4. Essex SEO June 19, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    Nice guest blogging post by Garrett French.
    Thanks for sharing this well written post. I’ve also read more information of yours at Great stuff!

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