Metrics have been seriously used in SEO for well over a decade, from waaaay back when link sellers would live or die by (the now extinct) toolbar PageRank…
Since then, various softwares have tried to emulate what Search Engines might think of a URL or domain with a ‘scoring system’.
The great thing about metrics is that they give a common objective ground between SEO practitioners, link buyers and sellers and clients.
- The metrics give a score from which we can measure our SEO efforts on scale.
- They help us quickly recognise low quality or spam.
- They save us hours of research, by giving us a single number to evaluate.
But, they are in no way perfect… They should always be taken with a pinch of salt, and will never top human research, and human gut feel of a site.
So with that said, which SEO metrics are the best? Which SEO metrics should link builders care about?
In this post we want to go through each of the most popular metrics in the market today and explain them in a basic, easy to understand way, to help you decide which metrics you’d like to track and measure for your SEO efforts.
Link SEO Metrics
Link metrics are based around the quantity and the quality of the links pointing at the indicated URL. You can use these metrics to evaluate your own URLs/Domains or to evaluate the URLs linking to you. You could also use these metrics for competitive analysis.
DA from Moz is one of the most widely used metrics to measure the authority of a domain.
The Moz DA metric scores the authority of a domain from 0 to 100. The idea, or theory behind the score is – the higher the authority, the greater “ranking strength” that site will have.
If you’d like to gauge what kind of scores certain sites should expect to get, take a look at these examples…
- The White House – the US Government, has a DA of 94.
- BMW – the international car manufacturer, has a DA of 76.
- Lanks Automotive, a small car garage in Beacon, NY, has a DA of 13.
How is DA Measured?
DA uses both the quality and the quantity of linking sites/pages to a given domain to score the authority.
How to use DA?
Use DA as a ballpark quick measurement of the authority of a site. Deeper analysis will reveal more accurate truths, but when doing analysis at scale this can come in handy.
PA, also from Moz, is similar to DA but it is used to measure the authority of a single page.
Moz PA has a scale from 0 to 100. All new pages will start with a score of 1, and then they will increase over time according to how well ‘loved’ they are on an external basis and within your site hierarchy.
For example, on the BMW website their homepage has a PA of 65. Arguably the most linked to page on their site, both externally and internally, this page has the highest PA on their site.
In comparison to this, a deeper page on BMW cars compatibility has a lower PA of 47.
As you can see, the more seemingly *important* the page is on a website, the higher the PA might be. The metric should be used comparatively to other pages on the website, rather than pages on other websites.
How is PA measured?
PA uses both the quality and the quantity of internal pages and external linking sites/pages to a given page to score the authority.
How to use PA?
Use PA as a quick approximation of the authority of a page within a site. Compare the PA to other pages on the same site, rather than pages on different sites.
DR is a relatively new SEO metric which is designed to give a domain a ‘rating’ from 0 to 100. To keep things very simple and clear, Ahrefs have decided to steer clear from the ‘authority’ terminology, even in their documentation about the metric.
DR is calculated similar to Moz DA, but they are a lot more transparent on their announcement blog post about how it is calculated.
How is DR measured?
It looks at how many unique domains have at least 1 dofollow link to the target website.
It looks at how many unique domains those sites link to (and dilutes accordingly)
It looks at those sites respective DR scores.
…Still with me? OK, so…
If a site linking to you suddenly obtains 100 more follow links, your DR should also increase, as well as all the other sites that site links to.
The more sites a site links to (think, directories) the less DR it will pass.
How to use DR?
Use DR as a ballpark quick measurement of the “authority” of a site. Deeper analysis will reveal more accurate truths, but when doing analysis at scale this can come in handy.
Ahrefs UR (URL rating) is a score from 0 to 100 based on how strong that URL’s link profile is. Ahrefs UR is inspired by Google’s PageRank and is comparable as a metric (not by scores) to Moz’s PA.
How is UR measured?
UR “juice” is passed through ‘DoFollow’ links on every page equally. For example…
If a page has a UR of 100, it will pass a part of its UR, equally between every other URL it links to from that page.
How to use UR?
Use UR as an assessment of the authority of a page within a site. Compare the UR to other pages on the same site, rather than pages on different sites.
Majestic Trust Flow
Trust Flow from Majestic is quite a unique metric. Scored between 0-100, it is intended to give a ‘trust’ value to a given URL.
How is TF measured?
Majestic crowdsourced a manual review of the web and collated a set of trusted ‘seed sites’.
How separated a given URL is from this set of seed sites determines the TF.
So for example, if The White House was in the ‘seed sites’, and you had a link from The White House, you’d expect your TF to be pretty damn high.
If the link came from a site that was 10 ‘steps’ away from the White House, the TF may be lower.
How to use TF?
TF as a standalone metric may be useful when quickly determining how close a website is to trusted seed sites on the web. The real use comes in when using TF with CF, explained later on…
Majestic Citation Flow
Citation Flow from Majestic replaced ACRank in 2012. The metric is a score of how many links exist to a given URL.
How is CF measured?
CF is measured by the quantity of links to a given URL. Whilst Majestic states that not all links are judged equally, the basic premise is the more links a URL has (internally and externally) the higher the CF.
How to use CF?
CF as a standalone metric may be useful when quickly determining how prolific a URL is in terms of quantity of links. The real use comes in when using CF with TF, explained in the next section…
Majestic Topical Trust Flow
Majestic Topical Trust Flow is a score between 0-100 given to categories to determine what niche or sector a given URL or domain is in.
How is Topical Trust Flow measured?
Topical Trust flow is a reference between 0 and 100 for many categories/topics. The higher the score in a given category, the more links from within that category are going to the URL. Exactly how Majestic determine the category of a URL isn’t made public, due to pending patents, but we find it pretty accurate. Whether they crawl content or use another method, it has still not been made clear.
How to use Topical Trust Flow?
Topical Trust Flow can be used to determine the topical relevance of links pointing to a given URL. This can be used to see how influential a certain URL will be in a given category for links or traffic.
Majestic Trust Ratio
Majestic Trust Ratio is Trust Flow / Citation Flow. This will give the trust flow ratio score. The perfect score for Trust Flow Ratio is ‘1’. Yes just a single digit ‘1’. This can be a score for a URL or domain.
How is Majestic Trust Ratio measured?
You see, the perfect score with the individual Majestic Metrics would be TF 100 and CF 100. These divided by each other would make 1.
The theory behind this is that, if a site has low Trust Flow, but high Citation Flow, this would mean that the site has a lot of link equity, but low trust coming from those links, indicating the links may have come from spammy, less authoritative parts of the web.
On the other hand, if a site has high trust flow, but low citation flow, it indicates that the site has few links, but the links it does have are of high authority.
TheWhiteHouse.gov has a ratio score of 1.17. Edging slightly towards more authoritative links, than volume, but very, very close to the holy ‘1’ ratio score.
Boschdishwasherreviews.com (a random affiliate site we picked) has a ratio score 0.52. This means the site has a lot of link equity, but those links are lacking authority.
How to use Majestic Trust Ratio?
The perfect score for Trust Ratio as mentioned above is 1, but a good rule of thumb for an acceptable ratio score is between 0.6 and 1.4. You should have this in mind when prospecting for links from certain domains or URLs.
Link Metrics Conclusion
Although imperfect, DA has been the most longstanding metric and used by many SEO’s and agencies reliably. This is a good metric to use if you are prospecting may domains at scale.
If we are taking a deep analysis into URLs and domains, Majestic’s Trust Ratio is a pretty solid way of understanding a URL’s trust/authority. Not an official metric and more of a calculation of two other metrics (TF and CF), it seems this one is the hardest to game.
Traffic SEO Metrics
Traffic metrics are used to ‘guesstimate’ how much traffic a website or blog gets by using complex formulas based on keyword volumes and ranking positions. Popular tools that utilise traffic metrics are Ahrefs, and SEMrush.
Here’s how it works.
The SERPS is 100 results, and we can expect a CTR on the top 20 to be something like the following, according to AdvancedWebRanking’s data for January 2019…
Here’s the CTR of each of the top 10 organic positions you could expect:
Position 1: 30.58%
Position 2: 15.6%
Position 3: 10.26%
Position 4: 6.36%
Position 5: 4.32%
Position 6: 3.08%
Position 7: 2.24%
Position 8: 1.74%
Position 9: 1.4%
Position 10: 1.15%
Now, we know the CTR of positions. The second half of the equation is keyword volume.
Keyword volume is also a ‘guesstimate’, measured from the Google Keyword Tool, Clickstream or other sources.
So, from this, we can ‘guess’ how many clicks a website would get from a certain keyword, knowing the keyword volume and position…
Let’s do a simple example.
Website is RedWidgets.com, Keyword is ‘Red Widgets’, volume is ‘1000’ and position is 4.
The ‘guesstimated’ traffic is 63.6 visitors from this keyword alone.
Now, do this for every single keyword this website ranks for, and voila! You have a picture of how much traffic this site ranks for.
Of course, this would entirely depend on how vast the keyword database of a tool is. Let’s look at the two main tools for traffic…
Ahrefs has a large keyword database of 474 million keywords in its site explorer (not to be confused with its total database of 7.5bn) and uses ‘Clickstream data’ combined with Google Keyword tool to predict volumes and organic SERP CTR.
What’s interesting about Ahrefs is that it uses Clickstream data for each individual keyword to calculate CTR.
For example, being #1 for ‘what is the time’ would presumably generate less CTR than ‘limo hire’ – because the ‘time’ query would be answered by Google above the SERP.
There are many nuances and industries where CTR is higher or lower than the average and Ahrefs tries to take all this into account accurately to give a picture of how much traffic a website gets.
Google Analytics Comparison
I compared the data for a small affiliate site we own, against actual analytics data, to compare the accuracy. This of course holds absolutely no bearing on the accuracy of the tool as a whole – the dataset would have to be significantly larger than 1 site. This is just a curious addition for the purpose of this blog post.
Affiliate site analytics data: 801 visits in previous month
Ahrefs traffic guesstimation: 226 visits per month
SEMrush also has a large amount of keywords in its Domain Analytics, although a little lower than Ahrefs, it’s comparable. SEMrush has 340m desktop keywords and 80m mobile keywords.
Although SEMrush claim to use third party sources and clickstream data for keyword volumes, it’s unclear if they take into account CTR for individual keywords or sectors when determining organic traffic levels.
Google Analytics Comparison
Again we will compare the traffic ‘guesstimation’ from SEMrush to the Analytics traffic in our example affiliate site…
Affiliate site analytics data: 801 visits in previous month
SEMrush traffic guesstimation: 127 visits per month
Traffic Metrics Conclusion
Out of the two major tools that ‘guesstimate’ traffic, we’d choose Ahrefs. Simply because we have found it to be more accurate on examples we have Analytics access to, but also because we seem to be in Ahrefs for a lot more research, whether it’s audits, keyword research or content analysis.
However, we should always take ‘guesstimated traffic’ with a pinch of salt. They will never give us a complete and accurate picture, but can be used to compare sites to others, or to give us a very, very rough estimate of how much search exposure a site has.
The Problem With Traffic Metrics
A lot of the bloggers out there, especially outside of the tech industries, aren’t focused on SEO. Instead they are more focused on social or direct visitors. They don’t write blog posts to gain keyword traffic and therefore don’t optimise their site accordingly.
This can sometimes wrongly make a blog appear ‘less authoritative’ in search engines because of a low traffic guesstimation. This is why we don’t give traffic estimates much weight when prospecting for outreach, especially in the lower DA tiers.
The traffic can also work against blogs or website in more obscure niches, where the volume of keywords are simply lower, or not even in the tools databases yet. A less popular topic doesn’t necessarily mean a less powerful blog or website to prospect from.
Silly example, but imagine the leading expert in ‘fingerless gloves’. The keyword traffic would be low, but the authority of the site could potentially still be there.
The major takeaway here is… don’t look at guesstimated traffic as a tool to make big decisions on opportunities or evaluations. Use it as a ‘soft metric’ to see if anything is majorly wrong, or to get a rough approximation of where the site sits in terms of organic exposure.
- For quick link analysis by scale, DA is a good place to start
- For more in depth and concentrated analysis on URLs or Domains, Trust Flow Ratio is an excellent indicator
- Don’t take ‘guesstimated traffic’ numbers too seriously, especially for Bloggers with low or no SEO intent
- Gut feel always trumps metrics
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