In an April 2016 article on Moz by Kristina Kledzik, “How Long Does it Take for Link Building to Impact Rankings,” the author posits that new links take about 10 weeks to have an impact. Our findings show the exact opposite: High-end link building has an immediate and persistent positive impact. I’ll explain further and share our data here.
Kledzik’s study was on a moderately large site with roughly 200K pages and focused on moderately difficult keyword rankings. She correctly points out that with a multiplicity of variables, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the impact of any given ranking factor (such as a link).
Our study was conducted entirely differently and, I think, gives a better picture of why, in our experience, the impact of links is immediate and persistent.
Background on the study
First, it is important to know that we work exclusively with the legal industry — which means we’re bringing high-end link building to small business websites — so the impact should be more extreme. Second, to try to isolate the impact of links, I’ve cherry-picked (just) four case studies for link-building projects over the past four years that fit all of the following criteria:
- extremely successful in generating high-quality links;
- for non-retainer clients (i.e., with no other SEO work being done); and
- concentrated in a very short time frame, with the actual link-building component constrained to just a few days.
Fundamental differences in the studies:
- Lower authority. In general, these small business sites have lower authority — therefore, we’d expect the impact of any changes to be more dramatic.
- A massive influx of links. For these clients, we didn’t create just one or two new links, but rather made a concerted campaign to drive a large volume of high-quality, relevant links in a short period of time, sometimes increasing the volume of quality links by 50 percent to 300 percent in less than two weeks.
- Focus on traffic instead of rankings. We use traffic as our metric of success, not rankings, because traffic captures long-tail queries and site-wide benefits to individual links and is more relevant as it translates into actual business. This is more pronounced with local businesses like law firms, as local results are heavily influenced by links; therefore, overall site traffic should grow faster with overall domain authority improvements. This is especially the case in hyper-competitive localized markets like legal, where all best-practice fundamentals are in place and a site’s authority profile is a tie-breaker when it comes to visibility.
- Fewer variables. Because we are dealing with small business websites, there are fewer additional variables that could explain traffic fluctuations. For these sites, nothing else is happening beyond these link-building campaigns.
Methodology note: Some of these link-building campaigns were undertaken in response to current events. In the graphs below, I’ve filtered out SEO traffic going to that specific content because I wanted to note the difference in traffic to the rest of the content on the site.
Case I: social justice
In this situation, we ran a link-building program for a law firm involving a specific women’s rights issue. All links were generated within a three-day time period. Inbound traffic jumped immediately by roughly 20 percent upon launch of the campaign.
Case II: class action
We represented a law firm filing a class action suit against a restaurant chain and utilized social media to reach out to prospective litigants and concurrently generated links regarding the suit. In the graph below, you can see a 17-percent increase in inbound search traffic (bottom graph) immediately after the massive influx of traffic from the paid social media campaign (top graph).
Case III: famous injury lawsuit
This was a one-off link-building engagement, in which our client filed an injury suit against a very well-known technology company. The resulting coverage in large nationwide news sites spilled over into secondary news sites, with 114 domains linking overall.
You can see the bump in search traffic (driven by brand name search), followed by an immediate and persistent 46-percent increase in search traffic across the domain. Given the extent of the new links, I frankly expected a more marked improvement.
Upon further investigation, we found the site’s technical platform had numerous issues. We were essentially dropping a huge volume of links on a broken site, and the resulting increase in traffic was underwhelming, given the heft of the new links.
Case IV: Turkey Day blowout
I saved this one for last because a) it was most successful; and b) there is a delay between the link-building efforts and the traffic increase (countering my claims about the immediacy of link-building impact).
This was an extremely clever content marketing project that was deliberately set to launch at Thanksgiving. And if you are intimate with traffic patterns for legal, you’ll know that website traffic for law firms craters during the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year period. However, once those holidays passed, the firm saw a persistent 65-percent increase in inbound search traffic.
So, while it’s only four data points, in each case where we’ve dramatically improved a site’s authority profile through high-quality links, we’ve seen an immediate and persistent improvement in search traffic performance.
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