It happened again today. After helping a client build an amazingly effective natural, content-based link building strategy, links started pouring in and the complaints began. “The Page Authority isn’t high enough. The Domain Authority isn’t high enough.” Every time I hear this, I am reminded of a great presentation I saw from Wil Reynolds at Seer Interactive early in my career. He paraphrased it in an interview on Vertical Measures.
Anyway, what I learned with this competitive space for this client was that the links they got from the New York Times, Shape magazine, Cosmo, Oprah magazine, Men’s Health, and every other major magazine about health in about a six month period did nothing to lift their rankings…today they rank between 5-7, back when they got all these links from these major magazines they did not improve, they stayed in the low 20’sWil Reynolds
What Wil poignantly described is this fascination we have with big wins, when the accumulation of small wins is what succeeds in the end. Unfortunately, even the best minds and communicators in our industry, of which I count Wil, seem to be incapable of ridding our industry of this pervasive myth that we just need a couple of “really good links” (whatever that may mean) instead of a diverse set of natural links.
Well, I might not have a way with words like Wil, but I have a way with data. So this morning, chip fully implanted on my shoulder, I decided to dig into the question of what natural links really look like.
Wikipedia as our Model
Many years ago I wrote a piece on Moz where we looked at different features of inbound links to determine whether or not a particular site had an unrealistic link graph. Essentially, we considered Wikipedia as having the ideal model of inbound links, and compared other link profiles to that of a random selection of Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia is a fairly strong model because nearly all of its links are completely natural and non-commercial in nature. So, what does the Wikipedia link profile look like in terms of Page Authority and Domain Authority? We analyzed 2500 randomly selected Wikipedia pages with backlinks (ignoring those with no backlinks at all).
Let’s start with the basic statistics…
The average (mean) link pointing to a Wikipedia page has a Page Authority of 16.79 and a Domain Authority of 30.42. Were you expecting something higher, lower? Well, we can’t just stop here. What is the standard deviation? The standard deviation on Page Authority is 8.39 and Domain Authority is 18.14. That is huge! Is there a skew in the data set which is making for a non-normal distribution? It turns out, the median is lower at 14.63 Page Authority and 24.29 Domain Authority. Ok, so now we are getting somewhere. The average numbers are higher because they are skewed by a few very high domains, but most links are much smaller. Let’s see if we can visualize this to get a better perspective.
Take a look closely. Nearly 75% of Wikipedia’s inbound links have a Page Authority of less than 20! In fact, if you get a backlink with a Page Authority of 25, your new link is better in terms of Page Authority than over 80% of the inbound links to Wikipedia. If it is above 30, you have bested 90% of Wikipedia’s backlinks. Given that Page Authority correlates far better with rankings than domain authority, you should be golden with that kind of link, right? You would think that Wikipedia must be suffering horribly given their terrible Page Authority of inbound links.
What about Domain Authority? Let’s try a different visualization.
Once again, take a close look. Nearly 70% of all inbound links to Wikipedia come from domains with less than 30 Domain Authority. 30% come from those with less than 20 (the vast majority of which are between 20 and 30). In fact, given the standard deviation we discussed earlier, anything above a Domain Authority of 12 is within 1 standard deviation of the mean, although much lower would be expected given the skewed tail of the curve.
So, What Does This Mean?
Stop obsessing over metrics and start obsessing over natural. Get natural links. Just get them. Produce great content, do great outreach, build relationships, and get more links. Every second you spend elephant hunting, trying to get that single awesome link, is almost certainly a complete waste of your time. Quality does matter, but less in the sense of influence, and more in the sense of legitimacy. When it comes to links, Google wants to be a democracy, not an oligarchy.
The next time someone tries to complain to you about getting high metric links, point them to this post. Ask them if Wikipedia is suffering because so many of their links have low metrics. Or better yet, if they are a competitor, don’t tell them a thing. Let them keep wasting their time and money. You just keep building links the Wikipedia way.
Good stuff. It is all too easy to get lost in the hunt for metrics. I guess, having just high metric links can be just as unnatural as tons of bottom of the barrell links. Useful perspective for these inevitable discussions though. Cheers
This is a great article…short and sweet. I do have a questions however. You used Wikepedia in your test, but I wonder if you would get the same results with a website with less credible or dominance. Meaning, is there something built into Google’s algorithm that gives a “pass” to larger websites like this. I would love to see something like this with multiple websites analyzed. Big and small.
Thanks again for the info!
Thanks for the question. This is certainly an interesting perspective. I’m not sure how we would test if a site were getting a “pass” or not, though. We could get an idea of what the balance of links looks like for the average site that ranks well and compare that to Wikipedia. However, assuming it came back that other sites had a handful of quality links and not the breadth that Wikipedia enjoys, it would be difficult to distinguish between (a) Wikipedia is getting a pass or (b) Wikipedia has earned rankings a different way.
Nevertheless, I think it is still smart to aspire to Wikipedia’s link profile. It is natural. And unless Google is going to start promoting unnatural link profiles, there is no reason to be worried about building a link profile that is in line with Wikipedia.
Agreed, and point very well made.
The only elephants worth hunting are high multiplier sites that can lead to a lot more eyeballs on your content, which can open the door to further natural links.
Great post Russ.
The data you’ve presented really puts things in perspective. Of course it’s great to have some high authority (DA/PA) links, but much more important to have a diverse set of natural, relevant links. As you expertly demonstrated, chasing metrics is often a waste of precious time, which is something you can’t afford to waste during a link building campaign. Thanks for the excellent post!
Agree a mixed DA profile is totally natural and low DA links are acceptable from link earning of good content. But I’m primarily a link builder and that’s all my clients want. Convincing them to move totally to link earning and investing in content is the hard part.
This is an excellent post. I think Nathan Sykes has a point and I tend to agree with the idea Wikipedia is in some way ‘off the hook’. When I’m checking out links I usually use the metrics as a filter and use my brain as the decider based on the link profile of that link.
Thanks again for your time and research,
I think the point made about ‘natural link building’ is very true but there is a method where you can target high-quality links, with high authority – whilst at the same time being very natural – in the eyes of Google. I just think it’s key to gain a deeper understanding of the targeted site, before you target it as a potential link.
This is a great article…short and sweet. I do have questions however. You used Wikepedia in your test, but I wonder if you would get the same results with a website with less credible or dominance. Meaning is there something built into Google’s algorithm that gives a “pass” to larger websites like this. I would love to see something like this with multiple websites analyzed. Big and small.
Thanks again for the info!
I think this article still holds as true an argument today as when it was written three years ago. I suppose the argument here is over control and relevance. Relying on a ‘diverse set of natural links’ means that you could lose relevance if they are too diversified – and how do you control the level of diversification if they are completely natural?
Keeping links relevant is what we are seeing as giving the biggest wins – but these can be from much small sites. In fact, it again only illustrates the point of this article more so in that we are finding an array of diverse (but relevant or hyper-relevant) links from smaller sites are having the biggest impact on rankings.