As part of Branded3’s Data Team, something I do rather a lot of is competitor research analysis. What this involves is more than just finding out who a client’s main SEO competitors are, but also where they’re getting their links and whether they’re spammy or not.
Oh yes, I went there.
What this is about, is links profiles. Now, Tim Grice has already written an excellent post on the factors of a natural link profile so if you’re interested in all the ins and outs, I suggest you check it out.
To sum up, this is what you should look at when you’re looking at a website’s link profile:
Anchor text mix – is it all brand anchor text, is it a nice mix of brand and keyword, or is it overflowing with exact keyword anchor text?
Location of links – If you’re running a UK site, why do you have hundreds of links from .de and .in domains?
Site wide links or in context links – Is your links to domains ratio a little skewed? Does your website have tons of blogroll and sidebar links but almost no in context links?
Domain Authority spread – This is what this post is about; the spread of the domain authority of those domains that link to you.
First of all: What is Domain Authority? Domain Authority is a metric created by SEOMoz that ranks a website in terms of how ‘strong’ or ‘trustworthy’ a website is on a 0-100 scale. For example Google has a Domain Authority of 100, SEOMoz has a Domain Authority of 96 and for a little competition in the office: Blogstorm has a Domain Authority of 69 and SEOWizz has a Domain Authority of 51*.
(*Domain Authority figures recorded on 08/02/2012)
Domain Authority is measured on a logarithmic scale, much like Google Page Rank. This means that it will probably be easier for Tim’s 51 to catch up to Patrick’s 69 than it will be for Moz to move up to Google’s 100.
For simplicity, I would rank Domain Authority as follows:
0-20: Either a brand new website or a website that isn’t trusted.
20-40: Congratulations, your website is now trusted and no longer classed as new or spam.
40-60: Hooray, your site is gaining trust!
60-80: Your site is now very trusted within its niche, you’re on your way to become a leader here.
80-100: The crème de la crème of trusted authority websites will have Domain Authority up here.
So, now we have the descriptions out of the way, I want to talk about how you can ‘judge a website by its Domain Authority backlink profile’ so to speak. If you want to make pretty graphs like the ones included in this post, please follow Tim’s advice on how to do this.
First of all, you have to learn how to read these graphs. The axis along the bottom shows the Domain Authority of the backlinks to your website. The vertical axis shows how many times that particular Domain Authority has appeared.
In Figure 1, before looking at the shape of the curve, look at the height of the vertical axis. From this you can tell that there are not an incredible amount of links pointing towards the website. However, there are enough to see that this website is getting its links from a variety of authority sources.
There is a peak at around 20 Domain Authority. I’ve read before that the ideal shape of this curve is a flat line – however, I’m going to have to disagree. If you’re getting as many links from spam sources as you are from authority websites, then you are doing something wrong! As well as that, there are far more websites with Domain Authority 20 –40 than there are of authority 80+, so it’s much less likely that you’ll have a peak at the high end of the Domain Authority spectrum.
Bear in mind that this changes from industry to industry, and from country to country.
If you look at Figure 2 you may see either one of two things:
1) A downhill slope
2) Links from only authority sites
Wow! Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but if you are exporting your data from Open Site Explorer to do this, you most likely have a cap of exporting 10,000 links (see below). Open Site Explorer will (as far as I’m aware) export data for the links with the highest Domain Authority, hence this happens.
Just another reason to be careful when reading your axis. Having done a mathematics degree, I know the woes that can follow if you do this incorrectly.
In Figure 3 shows a higher number of links than the first. The curve is similar, but the gradient is a lot less. This shows a significant amount of buzz from both authority websites and what could potentially be blogs, fan websites or magazines of a lesser authority. There are comparatively few links from websites with less than 15 Domain Authority, so it seems unlikely that they are spammers.
Up next we have… what do we have? Another reason to look at your axes before jumping to any conclusions. You will see in Figure 4 that most of the bars on the Domain Authority axis only occur once. There is far too little data here to jump to any conclusions about their link building strategy or backlink profile.
Figure 5 a website with loads of buzz around it. There is a good spread of Domain Authority, from 0-100, and plenty of data to use. The peak here is in the late 20s/early 30s. This gives the impression that a lot of people are talking about this website, without them resorting to spam tactics. There are still a generous amount of links coming in from authority websites with Domain Authority of 60+. This website seems like it’s something newsworthy and exciting.
Woah! The alarm bells should be ringing here about the distinct lack of high authority links in Figure 6. There are loads of links in the 30-50 range, and quite a handful from the lower end of the spectrum as well. But the fact that this isn’t nicely balanced at the right hand side of the graph makes me think that they thought they’d try some low-authority spam links, but then balance it out by getting loads and loads of (possibly) paid links from blogs with the 30-50 criteria, when their website doesn’t metric any real authoritative attention.
I think Figure 7 has got to be the worst offender so far. A nice, downward curve. It seems like they’ve avoided the spammiest of the spam (see the horizontal axis starts at 17) but the overwhelming peak at the left hand side compared to the very few backlinks of Domain Authority more 40, something is a little dodgy here.
Finally, one more thing to look out for is – as with any graph set – anomalies. Although Figure 8 looks like a nice enough curve, but why the heck are there over 30 links from sites with Domain Authority of exactly 52? That, my friends, is a mystery to me. With cases like this, it is best to go back to the raw data and do some investigating. It may be that they have links from all the subdomains of one single domain.