Have you ever really looked at a Referrals Report in Google Analytics?
And did a bunch of big, bright lightbulbs go off in your brain?
Man, that is some tempting data.
You’ve probably thought about capitalizing on a method to get more websites to send referral traffic your way.
For example, you’ve just learned the cold, hard truth about reciprocal links and SEO. And a Monitor Backlinks article appeared that finally answered the question of how many backlinks per day is safe.
Go ahead, click on those posts. Just come back to us when you’re done, or bookmark those posts and stay on the referring domains course. This is too important to stay away from.
While new link building methods get the most attention within SEO circles—hello, Skyscraper Technique!—it’s easy to forget about the tried and true methods that are still working today.
Link building with referring domains as a guide is nothing new, but there are a few new tools and methods on the scene to help you uncover your goldmine of backlink opportunities.
What is a referring domain?
Referring domains are domains (i.e., websites) that are directing visitors to your website.
They’re visible in the Google Analytics dashboard in the Acquisitions Report:
Or in your Monitor Backlinks dashboard:
You can also quickly view your total number of referring domains at the top of the Monitor Backlinks dashboard:
How is a referring domain different from a backlink?
Backlinks are URLs that direct people to your website.
Referring domains are domains that contain backlinks to your website (where the backlinks are coming from).
Backlinks are most often embedded in text, but occasionally a backlink will be embedded in an image, video, infographic, button or other page element.
An extremely high number of backlinks per referring domain can signal a warning of negative SEO or black hat link building methods.
For example, when a site like www.ArticleDirectory123xyz.com shows up with 1,000 backlinks to your website, www.ArticleDirectory123xyz.com is the referring domain. The backlinks are external links located on that site with anchor text that leads back to your website. In this example, Google is probably going to give your website a smackdown, (a penalty) for violating Google’s Backlink Guidelines.
It seems suspicious that one domain alone has 1,000 backlinks to your website when, in the course of natural link building, one single domain will not contain so many backlinks to a single website. When there are too many backlinks coming from one domain, it looks like you might have paid to have so many backlinks placed—especially if the referring domain is poor quality or if the anchor text is exactly the same for all backlinks.
Can referring domains help you with link building?
Yes, paying attention to referring domains can certainly help you with your link building.
Link building with a referring domain strategy will deliver valuable SEO results and expand your link building efforts beyond backlink competitor research—if it’s done correctly.
Websites at the top of the search results have backlinks from a variety of unique, high-value, relevant domains, and the referring domain method can help you get there.
In contrast to other methods, the referring domain method gives you the opportunity to build links that are likely to send referral traffic your way by utilizing content that already exists on your website. And there’s no need to look further than your own backlink profile!
The Referring Domains Method: How to Uncover a Backlinks Goldmine
1. Export a referring domains report and evaluate
Log into Google Analytics and pull up the Referral Traffic report. Select a one-year date range.
Next, scrub the list. You’ll notice quite a few domains from different mobile versions of your own URL, some reporting errors and a few low-value directory sites.
Remember, you’re only looking for gold. Sort and filter all of the websites that are relevant to your industry or niche. Focus on trusted domains from news sites, established industry websites and other quality sites.
Don’t feel comfortable scrubbing the list manually? No problem. Upload the spreadsheet to your Monitor Backlinks account and sort the domains according to DA (Domain Authority), Trust Flow and Citation Flow.
Backlink evaluation refresher:
- Moz Domain Authority shows the value of an overall website based on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the best score possible. Moz considers a domain authority between 40 to 50 as average, over 60 as good and below 30 as poor. Dump everything with a DA of 40 and below just to be safe.
- Trust Flow and Citation Flow come from Majestic SEO. Values fall between 0 to 100, with 100 being the best. A high Trust Flow score with a low Citation Flow score signals a problem. Aim to view only sites with values above 10 for both metrics.
The Monitor Backlinks report provides these numbers side by side for easy evaluation and you can use the filter to remove the bad links:
Is your remaining list small? Like less than 20 or 30 domains small? That’s okay.
You already have a link from these websites. This isn’t your target list. You’re going to build it from here.
2. Start with referring domains to find similar sites
This step requires a bit of manual work since bulk downloads aren’t an option, yet. Perhaps there will be a tool to find similar sites and download all of the URLs. Until then, it’s time to go on a domain hunt.
- Plug each valuable referring domain into www.similarsitesearch.com and record the results into your spreadsheet.
- If you’re using Chrome, there are several extension tools that will help you find similar domains. Google Similar Pages and SimilarSites Ultimate Discovery Tool are the most popular.
- MoreSitesLike.org Advanced Search allows you to search for sites that are indexed according to keywords.
Monitor Backlinks will show you all of the valuable data that verifies the value of each domain:
- Dofollow links
- Good Domain Authority
- High Trust Flow
Keep the websites that have all of the characteristics of a high-value domain and ditch the rest. The size of your list is dependent on the amount of time spent searching for similar sites. There are over one billion websites online today. If you want to find 500 websites to pitch, you can do it, but it will take time.
Next step: Link building.
3. Choose your link building strategy: Guest posts, link bait or broken link building
Not all link building is the same. Link building automation enthusiasts will bundle everything under one method, but in the age of personalization and high-value links, a custom approach will achieve the best long-term results.
Go back to your spreadsheet and label each site as a candidate for one of the following outreach strategies:
Guest posts: The site accepts guest posts or business listings.
Link bait: The site shares high-value information with its audience and your website has an infographic, video, image or resource they’ll find valuable.
Broken links: The secret to capturing links with the broken link building method is to scan a blog for broken links, not an entire site. Free options like BrokenLinkCheck.com and PowerMapper will work and Chrome has a “Check My Links” plugin. There are also manual search options; learn more by clicking here.
Once you’ve labeled the sites according to the link building method, it’s time to go to work and drive more referral traffic to your website!
a. Modern guest blogging
When guest blogging was new on the scene, spamming pitches was very much a part of the process. The news sites and blog community tired of this method quickly, and the SEO community embraces a better method today.
Always follow these simple rules when pitching for a guest blog post:
- See the submission guidelines. Always follow the website submission guidelines. Don’t pitch an author directly if the site clearly outlines contributor guidelines. No need to snoop through “Who is” to find out where to send your pitch; site owners that want guest blog posts make it easy to find their guidelines.
- Personalize. Explain your reasoning behind the pitch; how will it help THEIR audience?
- Post on social media. Many bloggers and journalists are active on Twitter. Engage and follow them if you can, and promote their content if it falls within your niche.
Learn more in our guest blogging guide. Remember, the purpose of your guest post is to encourage readers to click through a link and visit your website. If the site itself isn’t going to attract your target audience, skip it for now.
b. Link bait
Link bait is the best shortcut to getting backlinks. Review your site and identify the top URLs that have assets that will bring value to industry blogs and news sites.
Reach out to the site owner or editor to let them know about the asset and explain how it will be helpful to their audience. As Eric Ward once said, “What many people call link bait, I call content.”
If readers find your content helpful, they’ll click through to your website and your “link bait” will also serve as “referral bait.”
c. Broken link building
Broken link building is the most time-consuming process of the three, but it can help you reach your target audience on a site that doesn’t have a blog or guest authors. Save this method for the high-value sites that don’t give an option for guest blogging and give it your best shot. Even Google agrees!
If you don’t have time to put into this method, find someone who is qualified to execute it for you. The SEO community is full of freelancers who are willing to take one-off projects if you don’t have a dedicated SEO team. The referral traffic will be worth it in the long run, especially if the site is well-known within your industry or niche.
If you do outsource broken link building, make sure the person doing the outreach has an email address that matches your domain. No one wants to receive a pitch from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you an agency and looking to scale and speed up this method? Using a blend of SEO tools is the best way.
Monitor Backlinks has fully automated reports of SEO metrics that can provide insights within seconds of uploading your referring domains list, including metrics such as:
- MozRank & Majestic
- Page and Domain Google Index status
- TLD & server country
- External link count
The best part? Monitor Backlinks checks daily for new links to your websites. Once the initial research is done, incorporating the referring domain link building method can easily move into day-to-day SEO tasks.