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Study: Which Link Metric Correlates Closest to Organic Visibility?

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Link Relevance vs. Content Relevance in Link Building

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Throughout my career, most of my teams’ digital PR strategies for clients have consisted of closing link gaps, creating new ones, and earning as many high-tier links as possible. The goal was always the same: get our clients’ websites to the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs) and outranking their competitors.

To that end, we’ve earned press coverage for clients on every top-tier publisher you can think of, including “dream publishers” like CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Business Insider. We’ve even had dozens of campaigns go viral, earning thousands of links and hundreds of thousands of social shares, all resulting from sending a single outreach email to a journalist.

“What’s wrong with that?” you might be asking. “It sounds like a successful strategy.”

While “going viral” might not carry the same weight it once did, I’ll be the first to admit it – there is hardly a more exciting feeling when working in digital PR. And we all know that link volume combined with high authority links will help you rise in the ranks of the SERPs. So, actually, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that strategy.

But when all you care about is lots of links and going viral, sometimes you miss the mark on something that matters just as much, if not more: relevance.

Since 2019, Google has acknowledged that it uses Natural Language Understanding (NLU) when assessing the relevancy and intent of users’ search queries. So why is no one measuring relevance when it comes to link profiles?

The team at Journey Further sought to do just that — and in our latest study, we demonstrate why link relevance is more important than ever, and how a relevance-led approach can outperform larger and more authoritative websites time and time again.

What does it mean to be relevant in digital PR?

Like most things that catch fire in our industry, “relevance” has become a bit of a buzzword in digital PR. But what does it mean, really?

When you think about relevance, it’s simple. Ask yourself:

  • Does this campaign relate to the client’s product or service?

  • Does it have target keywords in it?

  • Does it talk about the main topics we want to target?

  • Does it answer the search intent?

  • Does it make sense for the client to be considered an authority and/or a trusted source on this topic?

If you answered no to most of these, you might want to go back to the drawing board.

For some clients, it can be difficult to come up with an idea that’s both relevant and newsworthy. The most relevant idea in the world will not earn links if it’s boring, and that’s the challenge we all face every day when creating digital PR campaigns for our clients.

Though it’s difficult, it’s in your clients’ best interest for you to think outside the box in ideation and come up with both relevant and link-worthy digital PR ideas — you’ll understand why after seeing the data from our latest study.

How do you measure content relevance?

Beyond manually determining relevance with those questions above, what if there was a data-driven way?

Steve Walker, the technology director at Journey Further, found this kind of analysis to be resource-intensive and prone to error. Humans aren’t as good at these tasks as machines are, so he created Salient, a free-to-use tool that measures the relevance of your content.

Steve thought, “If Google uses machine learning to measure the relevance of content, why aren’t we?”

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Using this proprietary technology powered by Natural Language Understanding (NLU) technology is how we can measure the relevance of content, analyzing an entire website’s link profile rather than individual articles. Incorporating the IBM Watson Machine Learning API allows us to extract sentiment, recurring keywords and entities, and a relevancy and frequency score for each topic.

Off the back of this insight, we can understand what gaps exist in the relevancy of the link profile. This information then guides our PR and content strategies to drive organic visibility.

Study: Which link metric correlates closest to organic visibility?

So, how important is relevance compared with much-heralded metrics like Domain Authority (DA) and link volume?

In a data-driven attempt to learn which metric is statistically the best driver of organic visibility, our team at Journey Further analyzed the organic rankings of 6,000 commercially valuable keywords, calculating share of voice for a range of competing websites. From there, we measured the correlation of these scores against three link metrics:

  1. Number of unique linking domains

  2. Domain Authority

  3. Topical link profile relevance

In this study, we focused on the home retail sector, with the following focus areas:

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Across all 15 sectors, topical link relevance was the only metric that had a positive correlation to organic visibility

The findings of our study show that topical link relevance has the strongest correlation in 10 out of 15 sectors.

Domain Authority had a stronger correlation in five sectors: outdoor/patio, office furniture, bedding, desks, and pillows.

Unique linking domains never had the strongest correlation to organic visibility and, in fact, showed a negative correlation in 6 out of 15 sectors.

However, across all 15 sectors, topical link relevance was the only metric that positively correlated to organic visibility every time.

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That’s the TL;DR of it, but read on for a deeper look at some individual topic areas and how we came to these figures. View the full study here.

Definitions and Limitations

To better understand the data, let’s detail some definitions first:

Correlation coefficient: A linear measure of the correlation between two variables. A value of 0 indicates no association between the two variables. A value greater than 0 indicates a positive association, and a value less than 0 indicates a negative association.

Organic share of voice (SOV): Organic SOV is a metric that represents how much organic traffic a site receives vs. the other sites in that sector for a set of high-traffic keywords. It considers keyword volumes, click-through rates, ranking position, and SERP features. The final SOV is expressed as a percentage of that keyword set’s total available search volume. So if your SOV is 25%, you’re winning 25% of the clicks for that set.

Topical link relevance: A score that shows the relevance of a keyword or topic to the entire document text or range of pages analyzed – in this case, the text on each page that links back to the sites we analyzed. The higher the number, the more relevant a topic. A score of 0 means that the topic was not relevant at all.

Unique linking domains: The total number of unique domains that link back to each site.

Domain Authority (DA): A ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website will rank on SERPs. A DA score ranges from 1 to 100, with higher scores corresponding to greater visibility.

Limitations

This study relies on correlation and thus has limitations. Please note that correlation ≠ causation, and because Google historically does not comment on studies, or reveal precisely how the ranking algorithm works, we’ll likely never find causation. However, based on patents mentioning the use of topical relevance in combination with the findings of the correlation studies, we can be confident in the validity of the data.

Relevance vs. Link Volume

As an example, let’s look at the bathroom sector. When looking at hundreds of keywords related to bathrooms like bathroom mirrors and bathroom ideas, we found that this sector has over 1.8 million searches per month, with leading home brands competing for share of voice.

After analyzing the backlink profile and relevance score, we then calculate a correlation with that brand’s share of voice to determine if there is any connection between this metric and organic visibility.

  • Anything below zero has a negative correlation, so there is no connection.

  • Anything over zero has a positive correlation.

  • The higher the correlation, the stronger the relationship between the metrics and organic visibility.

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With a correlation coefficient of .74, it’s clear that the metric that is most closely related to organic visibility for the bathroom sector is topical link relevance.

Unique linking domains, in this case, has a negative correlation. For example, IKEA has a backlink profile of more than 406K ULDs, but doesn’t have the biggest market share, which shows that there is no correlation to the link volume and market share.

Relevance vs. Domain Authority

When looking at hundreds of keywords related to dressers, we found that this sector has over 1.6 million searches per month.

Again, we did the same thing here and compared each brand’s backlink profile and relevance score to that brand’s share of voice.

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With a correlation coefficient of .61, we see that topical link relevance is the metric most closely related to organic visibility for the dressers sector.

However, this example demonstrates that all three metrics (relevance, Domain Authority, and link volume) are critical to organic visibility. All three have a very high correlation, which suggests that not only are these metrics correlated, but perhaps they are integral for boosting organic visibility in this sector.

View the full study here. (And feel free to reach out to me directly if you want us to run a free relevance report for you).

In SEO, it’s not enough to be popular, you also need to be relevant

Historically, the SEO industry has relied on metrics like Domain Authority and link volume. These two metrics are important, but only provide a portion of the puzzle. Alone, they don’t answer Google’s primary question: which website is the most relevant for a query?

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We’ve all seen campaigns out in the wild that make us scratch our heads, thinking, “what does this topic have to do with that client?” Think: why is a CBD company pushing out a study on anything but CBD? Why is a company that sells bathroom fixtures creating content about dogs?

When you fail to see the connection between the story and the client, you know they’re only thinking of one thing: links.

But, as my colleague Beth Nunnington likes to say, “in SEO, it’s not enough to be popular, you also need to be relevant.”

Don’t forget, most clients don’t want links for links’ sake. They want what links bring: increased traffic, better rankings for priority keywords, increased revenue, brand awareness, etc.

And links will only serve those goals when they’re relevant.

Don’t get me wrong – I still LOVE a CNN placement (and so do clients), but now, I’d also like it to be relevant.

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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