Measuring Your Link Building ROI with Google Analytics

Google Analytics

How much has your link building campaign contributed to actual product sales?  It’s a tricky answer, since it’s just part of an entire marketing ecosystem – SEO can help people find you, but a bad customer experience or terrible content can drive them away. However, you can measure link building ROI around three metrics:

  • Are the links driving more people to my website?
  • Which links contributed most to my growth in traffic?
  • Are the links providing long-term growth (i.e, Google ranking, brand perception)?

Google Analytics can help give you that data. Let’s talk about what features you can use, and how to use that data to regroup and refine your link building strategy.

Measure Traffic Growth and Engagement

Measure Social Media Links

How many people are visiting your site, and what are they doing while they’re there? Google Analytics can give you data so you can see if you are getting more people, and getting better at driving them towards a purchase. Here some of the important metrics:

  • Number of total visits
  • Number of new, first-time visitors
  • Percentage of first-time visitors  
  • Average visit duration
  • Total page views
  • Pages viewed per visit
  • Bounce rate

With this data, you can already see if your link building campaign is headed in the right direction.

If you’re not seeing an increase in traffic, your links aren’t working.  However, if you’re getting new visitors who leave seconds after they land on your website, your links aren’t relevant. You’re either attracting the wrong market or pushing them on to the wrong content. “Today it’s not about ‘get the traffic’ — it’s about ‘get the targeted traffic,” said Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer of RKG.

Of course, massive link building campaigns do serve a purpose, since you can catch more fish with a larger net. But remember, sales don’t come from traffic but conversions. Page views, visit duration, and bounce rate can help flag how many of your visitors have the intent to buy. The percentage of first-time visitors vs. returning visitors can also tell if you’re getting loyal buyers versus casual browsers.  

Measure Quality of the Links

Google Analytics’ Referrals report lists the websites that sent visitors to your site by clicking a link. This covers links embedded in the content, paid ads, online directories or organic search. Since Google has a separate report for Social Media, you can also compare if your paid listing is generating less traffic than your Instagram account.

There are several ways to see your Referrals report.

View all Traffic Referrals

First, log into your Google Analytics account and select the website you want analyze from the drop-down menu in the upper left corner. On the left side you’ll see a list of Google Reports. Click Acquisition, and then All Traffic, and finally, Referrals.

You’ll see a list of websites that sent you traffic, sorted by session volume and metrics for number of session, duration of session, users, bounce rate and more. You can also choose the frame and view your referrals by the week, month or specific dates.

You can also get specific data based on the Goals you set up in the Admin panel (ex: viewed a specific page, signed up for an account, played an interactive media, etc.)  That can help you see which links were most successful at driving a particular consumer behavior.

Customized Referral Reports

Another way to get monitor your links is to create a Custom Report.  From your Google Analytics home page, click on Customization and select Custom Reports. Create and name your custom report. For example: Link Building Campaign.

Now tell Google what you want to know. Click on Metrics and add Users, then choose what metrics you want to follow. Then, click on Acquisition and select Source. Save the settings and you’ll be able to check on these links’ performance regularly.

Advanced Segmentation

Let’s say you launched a product and have several backlinks from different websites that all point to its page. If you’d like to know how much traffic each website contributes, use Advanced Segmentation. From your home page, click Audience and select Overview. From there, you just need to click Add Segment and then select the sites to monitor on the Traffic Sources tab.

Measure Social Media Links

Some of your most important links may be from social media influencers or  the content you shared on your Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.

To find out how much of your traffic came from those social media channels, go to Acquisition, select All Traffic, and then Channels. From there you can select Social or even Search for particular people. However, this does not give you a breakdown of how much came from each platform. If you want to get into the nitty gritty, go to Acquisition, then Social, and select Network Referrals.

You can also use Google Analytics’ new tool. Click Traffic Sources, pick Social, and then select the type of report you need. You’ll find three important metrics: visits via social referrals, last interaction social conversions (people who came from social media and completed a goal) and assisted social conversions (people who discovered your site from social media, but returned through another traffic source).

To see a list of all the links that sent you traffic, click on Social Sources. You can also monitor for any spikes in visits from social media on the graph at the top of the screen. It’s a good way to see if any viral content actually led to people going to your site.

Measure Customized Campaigns

Let’s say you launched a massive campaign that includes ads, influencer marketing, and other inbound marketing  efforts. You now want to isolate all the traffic and conversions and see if they worked.

That’s when you use Google Analytics’ Campaign URL Builder to create campaign tags that track the results of all social media and inbound marketing. You can tag campaigns by name (ex: Holiday Promo), source (ex: medium (social), and content (particular ad or digital asset). Enter the values into the URL Builder and then copy-paste the link that was provided in the ads.

Experts say it’s important to type in the domain name as the source, and “Social” as the medium.  Google Analytics won’t understand you if you type “FB” as a source and “Paid ad” as medium – it’s smart, but not that smart.

Measure Multi Channel Funnels


It’s very rare for customers to purchase after clicking on one ad or blog mention. Usually, it takes several interactions with your website – driven by organic search, paid ads, email marketing, product reviews, social media mentions, organic search. So how do you know what role a link or channel played in  conversion?

You have three tools at your disposal: the Assisted Conversions Report, Time Lag, and Path Length.

Assisted Conversions will show when that channel or link was part of a conversion path and when it was actually the one that led to the final, winning click. Time lag shows how many days it took to convert customers, and Path Length lists the number of interactions.

This can help you see how your link building campaigns are working with your other marketing and sales efforts, and the type of links that are more likely to drive actual purchase.

The Long-Term (and sometimes invisible) ROI of Link Building

Google Analytics is useful, but there are some benefits that won’t show up in its graphs. Google Analytics is useful, but there are some benefits that won’t show up in its graphs.

The biggest benefit is search engine ranking.  According to Google’s Search Quality Senior Strategist, Andrey Lippatsev, the two most important signals that Google uses to rank content is “content, links pointing to your site.”   

Over time link-building can contribute to your search engine ranking. You won’t get on Page 1 overnight, and you can’t get a link from credible authority sites if you haven’t already gained some Internet visibility and credibility. But with a consistent and well-targeted link building campaign, you will see your ranking improve.

High quality links can also give your brand and website credibility. When an influencer says she bought one of your products, or an online magazine quotes and links back to your content, your reputation improves. This can be a factor when people purchase, but you won’t know that — Google Analytics can’t tell the story behind the sale.

Smart link building involves more than links

So with all of that information from Google Analytics, you now know which links led to browsing, buying, and brand loyalty. But as we said in the beginning of the article, your actual ROI depends on a lot more than getting people to go on your site.

Any successful link building strategy has to involve keyword research, customer-centered content, and on-page optimization. People who go to your site have a particular question or need, and the best companies give them what they want or quickly lead them to it. Any moment they’re frustrated, they leave – and you’ve just waited your link.

If your Google Analytics report shows that your link building is under-performing, then ask yourself:

  • Am I linking with the sites that attract the readers who need my product or service?
  • Do the links lead them to the content or product that they are looking for?
  • Does the content deliver the promise made in the link?
  • Is that content clear? Does it connect to the readers’ needs?
  • Are there clear call to action buttons?
  • Do technical factors – load times, mobile-friendliness – push them off the site?

If you take out that customer experience factor from your link building efforts, you have missed the point. As digital marketing expert Rand Fishkin said, “Don’t build links. Build relationships.” Don’t get caught too much in analytics that you forget that you’re dealing with a real person, and the links are meant to guide him or her through the customer journey to information that solves a problem, gives information, and presents your brand as helpful and trustworthy.