How Long Does Link Building Take to Influence Rankings?

Source: Kristina Kledzik  |  Moz

Here’s what to plan for when kicking off a link building campaign:

  • 1–4 months: Find a link building agency and start them at the beginning of a month, OR
  • 1 month: Find an in-house link builder
  • 1 month: Come up with your top link building strategies
  • 1–3 months: Prospect for potential sites to target, and pull together the content that you need to entice those links
  • 2 weeks–1 month: Execute! It’ll take awhile to write all the emails you need to write, and respond to the feedback you get
  • 5–10 weeks: Wait for those links to take effect! Tell your team not to panic for at least 10 weeks (although effects will continue to grow beyond that)

All in all, that means that it may take you 6 months–1 year from beginning to end before you start seeing noticeable effects from your link building efforts.

If you’re an SEO, chances are, you’ve recommended link building as a tactic. And, unless you work for a very trusting firm, you’ve probably been met with the question, “When will we see a return on our investment, and how much will we see?”

This is a question I’ve been asked numerous times, but never had a good answer for. The truth is, a new link doesn’t affect rankings immediately. That makes it hard to tie an individual link to SERP rankings increases, since there will usually be several other links and on-page changes made to a target page between the time when you get that first link and when you finally see increases in rankings.

So, I set out to figure this out myself. I’m lucky enough to be working for a company with nearly 200,000 indexed pages, which gets hundreds of new links each month naturally, through PR and through my link building efforts. That means I’ve got a lot of pages that only got 1–2 links in the last 6 months, and didn’t go through many on-page changes.

I picked out 76 links pointing to pages which are all similar to each other in content, and we didn’t change that content (significantly) for 6 months. I focused on rankings for target keywords with a 25–35% Keyword Difficulty Rating . I looked at two versions of their target keywords, so I could have a bit more data. The results aren’t super surprising to SEOs, but they’re often questioned by the managers of SEOs.

It takes 10 weeks on average to see 1 rank jump

More links do have a more immediate effect. Jacob at Exstreamist promoted some material that got him around 20 links to one of his pages, which was being outranked by other pages with about 6 more inbound links. It took his page 5–10 weeks to move from #9 to #5.

It seems that each link has a small to medium effect initially, but that effect increases over time. If you add a lot of links at once, you’re not only going to see faster results, you’re going to see much bigger results over time.

The lower the rank, the more effect a link has

The pages that I observed that were already ranking on the first page of SERPs didn’t show much of a rankings increase with one link, barely moving over one spot in 22 weeks. In contrast, pages ranking on the second or deeper pages of SERPs took off after 8–9 weeks.

Keep in mind that I am working with a fairly small data set, so I don’t recommend that you promise a 10 spot jump after 22 weeks.

Higher Domain Authority (DA) will move the needle faster

Wondering where DA 50+ links are on this graph? I didn’t have enough to pages other than the homepage to get meaningful averages. Sorry, guys.

Unsurprisingly, a higher [Domain Authority] DA will have a bigger effect — in fact, you can see that the average rank change for a page that got a link from a site with a DA below 25 actually dropped after 13 weeks, then recovered to barely two ranks up.

I generally have a rule that I don’t want to spend any time or money on sites with DAs under 25. This chart shows that they’re not completely devoid of value, but be prepared for a very, very small change in rank with these guys.

Interestingly, both the DA 0–25 and DA 25–50 sets showed their first big jump after 10 weeks, but anecdotally, I’ve heard that higher DA links will have faster effects. This may be because higher DA sites get crawled more often (so the link will be discovered sooner), but I think this may be a purposeful delay in the algorithm. Google’s probably taking a bit more time to trust a link from a lower-quality site.

Cool! So, if I start link building now, I’ll see results in 10 weeks or sooner!   …Actually, no. It takes a while to get links from a (legitimate) link building campaign. Each step is going to take a varying amount of time, based on the company you work for and the resources you already have. Here’s a list of steps you should keep in mind.

1. Getting the resources

Finding an agency (1–3 months)

The easiest route when you’re starting out is to hire an agency, since they’ll come prepared with a whole team of experienced link builders and will recommend their own tried-and-true strategies. Based on my experience watching businesses scope out Distilled when I worked there, the decision-making process is going to take you 1–3 months. It can be more if you’re a large company with a lot of bureaucracy, or if you’re trying to get a really good deal. Once you’ve chosen your partner in crime, you’ll usually have to wait a couple of weeks to a month to formally start.

Hiring a link builder in-house (1–2 months)

If it’s easier for you to hire a person than an agency, or if you think this is the best long-term strategy, you may end up needing to hire someone. The best candidates here are going to be people with link building experience, a customer service background, and/or bloggers who have successfully built up their own communities. According to Fast Company, it takes about 23 days to hire someone, so include that in your timeline.

Work with PR (almost immediate)

You can work with your PR team to start optimizing their media hits to also include good links. The success of this strategy will vary based on whether you’re going for general Domain Authority link building — in which case, all of those homepage links they’re getting will help you a lot — or trying to build Page Authority to individual landing pages, in which case they’ll probably have a hard time helping you out.

It’s worth pointing out that I don’t know any SEO who relies solely on PR wins to drive their link building strategy, so branch out if at all possible. If you’re low on budget, though, try buying your PR team some drinks and getting them on your side.

2. Coming up with a link building strategy (2 weeks–1 month)

Once you’ve got link builders working for you, you’re going to need to come up with reasons why people will want to link to you. Here are some broad ideas, from fastest to longest ramp-up time:

Your company as a resource (1 week)

One way to get links is to find pages that are listing resources for something that your company provides. For example, if you’re Lyft, you can look for blogs and other sites that list ways you can make money with a flexible schedule.

Your potential here is going to vary based on what your company does and how well you understand the solutions your business offers and who appreciates them. Allow at least a week to prospect potential sites to reach out to.

Your expertise as a resource (2 weeks–1 month)

People are always looking for experts online, and your company probably has some valuable knowledge you can share. For example, if you’re Periscope Data, a company that lets you turn your database into graphs and tables for easier understanding, you might have a hard time finding many sites that are looking for your exact product. But you can put together advice on how to properly write SQL, and boom: thousands of more linking opportunities!

In this case, you’re going to need to both prospect to find the right sites to connect with, then you’re going to want to offer either quotes, guest posts, or resources on your site to entice them. That’ll take a few weeks to a month.

Infographics (1–3 months)

Infographics may be a little overused by SEOs, but high-quality visual assets can get a lot of attention. Just keep in mind that if you don’t work closely with your PR team, you may end up with a lot of posts sharing your infographic, but not linking back to your site.

To put together a good infographic, you’re going to need a compelling idea, clever/unique data, and a good visual designer. They’ll take you at least two months as you get started (but bank on three), though you may be able to get the time down to one month, if your company is a smoothly running machine.

In-depth research (1–3 months)

Write a really unique or really well-researched, well-written article, and you can probably get a lot of shares even without a visual component. This works best for companies that are leaders in their specific field and have a lot of data that their upper management is okay with them sharing.

Expect for this to take just as much time as an infographic — your writer needs just as much time, if not more, as a visual designer. OKCupid’s (previously) famous blog took 2–4 weeks of developer time and 4–8 weeks of a writer’s time for each post.

3. Executing (2 weeks–1 month)

Once you’ve got your strategies in place, you’re going to need to email each prospect, possibly going back and forth with them as they take their time to get back to you, post the wrong link, or need more persuading. You may get a few immediate wins, but remember that you’re not paying them, so you’re at the bottom of their priority list.

 

As an SEO, I feel the need to reiterate: SEO is an investment. Yes, it’s going to take you a lot of time to get those results. But do you see how those rankings keep moving up and to the right, even after you’ve secured those links? Set your manager’s expectations that this is going to be a long process, but the money you pay now is going to pay off continually as long as you keep on top of your competition.

Good luck, and happy link building!




How to Conduct a Backlink Analysis

As you become experience with attracting building backlinks, you will want to access your progress to help tune your backlink building strategy.

In the past, Google provided a simple operator (link:) to determine which pages linked to site. However, the Google link: operator is no longer supported. Even with this operator, precious little information could be gained beyond a list of the pages linking to a site.

The following article explains how to use sophisticated tools and methods to analyze backlinks. However, since you likely won’t have access to these paid tools, simply glance over the article to gain a basis understanding of the types of tools available for measuring link building, what metrics they can reveal, and how that information can be used to build quality backlinks.

Link Building 101: How to Conduct a Backlink Analysis

Source: Jon Ball  |  Search Engine Watch

Every day, individuals who are new to SEO need to learn the basics of link building and important concepts and strategies within a campaign. This link building 101 post will continue the education of new link builders, this time on the topic of how to perform a backlink analysis

Being able to perform a thorough backlink analysis is a fundamental element to any link building campaign. What’s more, running backlink analyses can help develop your fundamental knowledge of links, link building strategies, and link quality.

What are the elements of a thorough backlinks analysis:

  1. Total number of links
  2. Number of unique domains
  3. Linking domains vs total links
  4. Anchor text usage and variance – branded, keyword rich, etc.
  5. Fresh/incoming links
  6. Page performance
  7. Link quality*

*Learned only by experience, running multiple backlink analyses, and manually checking links.

The Importance of Link Portfolios

A link portfolio (or profile) is a fancy way of saying all the sites currently linking to your site. Links matter. Big time.

So, when you run a backlink analysis on a site – whether it’s your own or a competitor’s – you’re looking at the websites linking to that website, in what manner, and to what page.

And, since we understand Google’s algorithmic reliance on links, we know that a website’s ability to rank in Google is largely dependent on the websites linking to it (i.e., its backlink portfolio).

So, before you can even begin to consider a link building campaign you need to understand the site’s current link portfolio. There are a variety of tools to help you along this path:

All of these tools will do the job properly, and choosing one mainly comes down to a matter of preference. If possible I would recommend using two or more of these tools to ensure you’re getting as much information as possible.

Currently I use Open Site Explorer and MajesticSEO, so the walkthrough will be based largely on the use of these two tools, and the screenshots you see will be pulled from these as well.

Getting Started

To start, you simply go to your chosen tool’s website and plug in the target website’s URL. This will immediately take you to an overview page, in which the target website’s backlinks are summarized in full.

I highly recommend that if this is your first time ever using a backlink explorer, you take 30 minutes to an hour and simply click around and familiarize yourself with the various tabs, graphs, functions, filters, etc.

Being comfortable with the tool is extremely important in understanding the data it can reveal, as well as the implications therein.

Once you’ve acclimated to your new SEO tool, the first element you should analyze of the site’s backlink portfolio is the total number of links.

1. Total Number of Links

Open Site Explorer: This will be at the top of your screen once you’ve searched the URL.

Majestic Site Explorer: Majestic commonly reports more links than Open Site Explorer

Understanding total link count is a good start to understanding how competitive a website is currently (especially if you’re looking at competitors link counts, too). However, it’s easy to spam a high link count with tactics such as sitewide links, article directories, blog comments, etc. So, total links definitely doesn’t correlate to a strong link profile, or high rankings.

The next step, which helps understand link quality, is to check the number of linking domains as well.

2. Number of Unique Domains

Unique domains are typically a better metric than link count, since multiple links from the same domain are typically considered to have a drop off in value.

Of course other factors weigh in, such as site relevance, quality, anchor text, link placement, etc. Still, looking at top-level metrics you want to ensure you’re analyzing linking domains as well as total links.

3. Linking Domains vs. Total Links

Linking domains versus total links is done by simply comparing the two numbers we’ve taken a look at thus far. If you have thousands upon thousands of links per linking domain, that could definitely be a red flag for an unnatural link portfolio. And again, it’s accepted that link value drops off as you accumulate more and more links from a single domain.

The goal should be to have as even a ratio as possible when comparing unique domains versus total links, although obviously there will always be considerably more total links than linking domains. A single site-wide link can quickly inflate this ratio, and should be something to look out for and avoid when it makes sense.

4. Anchor Text Usage and Variance

For Open Site Explorer we click on anchor text tab: This tab displays a list of anchor text terms, the number of linking domains using that specific anchor text, and the number of total links using that anchor text.

For Majestic: Majestic will also provide you with a list of anchor text complete with linking domains, total links, along with trust metrics.

Alternatively, you can also flip to Majestic’s summary tab, which will actually have an anchor text graph available:

There are two things you should be looking for when you’re examining anchor text – usage and variance.

First, you can tell based upon links which keywords have been optimized (and potentially over optimized). Doing a quick search in Google based upon the link anchor text should tell you how a site is performing, and reveal potential insights.

Once again, diversity is key here. Although many link builders used keyword rich anchor text (i.e., “dog beds” or “diesel generators”) as the link in recent years, with the implementation of Penguin 2.0 it’s more important than ever before to ensure diversity and branding (i.e., your brand name instead of the money keyword you want to rank for).

Understanding the current anchor text portfolio for a website is extremely important before launching a campaign – you want to ensure that branding is by far the largest piece of the pie, and that any keyword rich anchor links are used intelligently.

Furthermore, you can make sure to avoid anchor text that’s already been overused, and implement other anchor text that’s been underutilized.

5. Fresh/Incoming Links

Once again there are tabs within both Open Site Explorer and Majestic that will show you fresh or recently discovered links: Just Discovered and New Links respectively.

Both of these tabs sort by newest found and display their native link data. Majestic also displays a handy graph for quick reference and monitoring incoming links by day or date range:

Fresh link data is important for several reasons – you can see recent links built which can let you decipher current/recent strategies, if suspicious link building activities are underway, and generally notice any unaccounted for large spikes in link velocity (amount of links built in a short time).

I would definitely say that seeing thousands – or even hundreds – of links built per day would raise a red flag, unless the website in question is sizable and well known.

Again, fresh links is a great metric to check if a change in ranking has happened recently. Although often Google’s algorithm and subsequent actions are outside of our control, we should always be aware what’s going on with our own sites as well as competitors.

6. Page Performance

Here is where we look into the breakdown of links per page, and see which pages currently have the most links.

This is extremely important in understanding current site performance, especially for various resource pages. This can help guide discussion about underperforming pages, pages that are currently doing well (and perhaps why), and where the focus of a link building campaign should or should not be.

Clicking over to these “Page” tabs will give you a list of the top link grossing pages per site, from largest to smallest.

Typically the home page will be number one. The top linked pages feature is absolutely great for quickly finding previous wins and shedding a little light on what might work well and prove linkable within a vertical.

I’ve also found it to be an absolutely great metric to break down competitor wins – you can see what resources they’ve created that have resulted in high link counts, and use that to brainstorm resource creations of your own.

7. Link Quality

This is the time I spend manually clicking around, exploring links, and simply checking everything out. Usually it’s only a thirty minute endeavor to make sure I’m working beyond the tools, and have truly dived into some of the data.

Sure, it’s nice to have various tools helping you understand a website’s link portfolio, but in all honesty if you’re not spending some time manually examining links yourself, you’re missing the point.

Here’s what I generally look at when checking out link quality:

  • Relevance – including the site, page, and link.
  • The domain author/Page Rank of the site and the page authority/Page Rank of the page (assuming the relevance checks out).
  • The placement of the link – natural versus shoe-horned, helpful for the user versus obvious link building, etc.
  • The anchor text.
  • The overall believability of the link – how editorial does it seem?

As you spend time working on link building campaigns and examining backlinks you’ll find there’s a natural instinct that lets you know when a link is good and when a link is bad. Obviously, spam itself is easily identifiable. Link sense can develop well beyond that, however, and help you find suspicious links that can fool tools. Often we refer to this as the smell test – because you know when a link stinks.

Taking this All to Excel

All of this data from each tab can be exported into excel as CSVs for further revelations and extrapolations. This gets a bit more advanced, but is a must if you’re going to be doing a comparison of multiple sites, or wish to do a competitive analysis with your site and a competitor.

Here’s a great guide on competitor backlink analysis in Excel. Here’s another advanced guide using Open Site Explorer and link intersect – definitely worth a read if you’re looking to learn competitive analysis. And finally, three phenomenal Excel spreadsheets for link analysis.

There are many guides that can walk you through how to export this data, combine each into an Excel spreadsheet, and even do a competitive analysis.

It’s definitely worth exploring, but a bit more than I can go into detail here. It’s also a bit more advanced, so make sure you’re comfortable with backlink audits and analysis before you being exporting it all to Excel and playing around.

Recap

Backlink analysis is one of the first skills you should learn as a budding SEO practitioner and link builder. Being able to confidently dive into your website’s (or a competitor’s) link profile will help you learn more about the SEO industry and gain much needed experience.

For basic analysis, you should be looking at:

  1. Total number of links
  2. Number of unique domains
  3. Linking domains vs total links
  4. Anchor text usage and variance
  5. Fresh/incoming links
  6. Page performance
  7. Link quality

There are so many possible opportunities for insight within a backlink analysis. You can learn:

  • Competitor’s link building strategies
  • Competitor’s top performing resources
  • Underutilized link opportunities with your own site
  • Viable link strategies within your industry
  • Over-optimized anchor text
  • Links that need to be removed
  • Etc.

So go get your hands dirty and dive into your first backlink analysis today!