Understanding link metrics and where they can (and can't) be trusted

You cannot take the numbers on face value.

How many times have you had a discussion internally or with clients where you end up debating links through the lens of what metrics the linking sites have?

“We need to up our DA!”
“We need higher DA links”
“I've been looking at our TF and we need to improve that”
“Our competition has more links than we do!”

As experienced SEO’s we know that this is only ever part of a much more complex debate on what actually needs to be done to achieve results.

Let's take an example and look at one of the major issues when relying on the raw numbers to make decisions.

Say you have a site and it has 1000 links pointed at it in total.
And say that our main competitor has just 500 links pointed at their domain but seems to be doing as well or better than you are.

When you look at your 1000 links and their 500, what you cant see is how many of those links are actually passing their value: -

You have disavowed some of your links so that's reducing your 1000
They will probably have disavowed some of their links too, you can't see that though. If they're a newer domain, it's likely that they probably haven't had to disavow as many links as you have.

They may have more links from more trusted domains. Some of our links might be being ignored by Google through Real Time Penguin.

You might have more nofollowed links than they do. Whilst Google suggests nofollow is a hint rather than a rule for them, we still advise that the vast majority of nofollowed links pass little or no value.

So the actual situation may be something like this: -

Your site
1000 links
Minus 350 in your disavow file
Minus 250 that are nofollowed
Minus 100 that are discounted by Google using Penguin
300 links still passing value

Their site
500 links
Minus 50 links in their disavow file
Minus 100 links that are nofollowed
Minus 25 that are discounted by Google Penguin
325 links still passing value

Raw link numbers are just the start of the analysis that needs to be done to understand the true value of a link profile.

What are the main metrics and what are their main benefits?


DA - Domain authority
This was long used as the main metric links were judged by and for a long time it was easy to manipulate to make your sites look better. In the last few years it's undergone a revamp and is now a much more solid metric but it's not our preferred metric at all.


CF - Citation Flow
Citation Flow is Majestic’s approximation of the way that Google Pagerank typically worked and tries to map the flow of link equity across the link graph in a very similar way.

TF - Trust Flow
Trust Flow is a modification of the Citation Flow metric that takes into account the proximity of the linking domain to other domains that can be trusted. This improves the basic CF metric by introducing a proxy of what should be trusted more and therefore what linking domains are more desirable.


DR - Domain rating
Ahrefs DR is more closely related to Majestic’s TF than any other metric and is their attempt at trying to convey the quality and value of a link. DR is now becoming the standard that many SEO’s use.


Link Score
Verve created Link Score as a way to try to capture what links are most likely to provide a positive ranking uplift to your site by focussing on factors like how trusted and high profile a linking domain is and how much traffic and value it can drive.


LinkRisk and LinkValue
At Kerboo we created two metrics to judge a link
LinkRisk tries to show you what the risk of any link is, in terms of how likely it is that Google could act against your site if you gathered too many high risk links.
LinkValue attempts to show how likely a link is to pass its full value and what links Google Penguin is likely to ignore by analysing its historical disavow activity and other factors.

Don't get fixated on any metric or raw link numbers when deciding what you need for your campaigns. It's far better to look at the wider picture and build a link profile that is growing in overall trust, safety and long term value.
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