Commentary

Backlinks Still Have High Correlation To Web Site Traffic, Study Finds

Do backlinks still have an impact on Web site desktop traffic? One study released this week finds they might have more of an impact than first believed.

SimilarWeb set out to analyze the correlation between Web site traffic and the number of backlinks on desktop. The study required collecting data on backlinks for the top 100,000 Web sites for each of the five categories: all traffic, organic search traffic, paid search traffic, referrals traffic, and social media traffic. After determining the top 100,000 Web sites using traffic data for January 2016, the company tapped Majestic to analyze the data to integrate into the results.

The study intends to take a more accurate look at the correlations between the top sites' ranking and their associated backlinks, including referring domains and IP addresses. To demonstrate this, Roy Hinkis, head of SEO at SimilarWeb, analyzed how backlinks work for 500,000 Web sites, which were divided into 5 different groups.

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Those groups include the top 100,000 Web sites worldwide for each -- global rank, organic traffic, paid search traffic, referral traffic, and social media traffic. This would enable Hinkis to determine the true impact of backlinks on Web site traffic.

Hinkis found that the highest correlation between all traffic groups came through referring domains, though the strongest correlation of 0.8 came from the "global traffic" group.

He also discovered the impact of IP addresses in the results, which accounted for a significant amount of traffic.

The .edu and .gov domain names also proved to be dark horses when providing Web site traffic due to their positive correlation in all groups, Hinkis wrote. For paid search, there’s clear evidence of a high correlation between Class C Subnets and the results.

The findings show that backlinks still have a "very high correlation to the amount of Web site traffic," he wrote. "However, it would be detrimental to your SEO efforts to assume this is the only avenue for link-building."

Hinkis suggests that marketers invest on the number of links from referring domains, and to have diversity between general TLD, .EDU and .GOV domain name extensions in their backlink strategy. "As long as [marketers] follow the study findings and invest in backlinks from a lot of domains and TLDs, they will see positive correlation to traffic," he wrote in an email to SearchBlog.

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