A head scratcher in my web analytics

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Here’s a head scratcher I’m throwing out to the crowd. I was curious, with the abolition of keyword rankings and keyword data in general, to see what other ways I could measure the effectiveness of SEO. One way I thought up that might be interesting was to match volume of inbound links with organic search traffic. After all, links = rankings = traffic, right?

So I exported a count of all my new inbound links to my website for 2013, and matched it against my daily non-paid search visits for 2013:

SOFA_Statistics_Report_2013-11-05_06_35_13Variable 3 is non-paid search traffic, Variable 4 is new inbound links

If you’re not fluent in reading Pearson regressions, we’re looking for a diagonal line that goes from the lower left to the upper right to indicate a strong correlation. Instead, we got a horizontal line that says no correlation at all.

This implies a few possibilities to me.

1. The formula of links = rankings = traffic could be broken. There’s much more to the rankings algorithm than just links, and it’s a sufficiently large enough scope that links by themselves don’t matter at all.

2. There’s an intermediary step between links and rankings that I can’t see. This is a riff off of #1, in that there’s more to search algorithms than just links. How much, I can’t tell.

3. Maybe I just have crappy links. Just because it’s in Webmaster Tools doesn’t mean it’s authoritative or high quality, which means that these links in aggregate may be doing nothing for my rankings and thus search traffic.

4. Maybe what I get links for and what people find me for have nothing in common. I could be earning media for articles that don’t get searches, while everyone else is searching and finding me for something else. This seems less likely to me because I write on a fairly narrow set of topics. There would be no reason for someone to link to me for something unrelated, but it’s a possibility.

What do you think is behind this strange lack of correlation? Leave your thoughts in the comments! If you’d like to process the data yourself, I invite you to download the CSV.

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4 responses to “A head scratcher in my web analytics”

  1. Marc Frechette Avatar
    Marc Frechette

    That’s kind of an exciting approach! I think it might be over simplifying a bit to say that only the new links collected on that day matter to traffic earned on that day. Rather, links accumulate.

    Of course, that didn’t pan out so cleanly either. :/ So much for my inner superhero.

    It might be interesting to look at something like MozTrust, which is itself a combination of a lot of factors designed to look a bit more like a search algorithm, and map that to your traffic overtime. MozTrust includes links, but also takes into account some other factors around the link such as the authority of the site.

    Alternatively, it could also be interesting to compare your search traffic volume not to links, but to the cumulative of unique linking domains.

    Thanks, Chris. I’m about to lose a solid day of productivity to SOFA now!

    1. Isn’t SOFA wonderful?

  2. We need more thinking like this. A provocative analysis.

  3. I think you’d only have a correlation if the inbound links actually matched the topics (“keywords”) of your organic search traffic.

    What if you start by isolating the traffic for one topic, e.g. “marketing metrics”, and plot two simple line graphs (time on x-axis, visits on y-axis)?

    The line for inbound links can move up and down over time, but the hypothesis would then be that the line for organic search traffic would trend upwards over time.

    If this is the case, that would be the basis for any further analysis.

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