Shimon Sandler

Correlation of Inbound Links and Visitors

I have a friend who has a wine site and has been poking around the advertiser information (media kits) from a competitive site. He’s doing some comparative research for his site, and looking into ad sizes, CPM rates, and other types of information those sites are making public about their traffic to sell advertising.

He asked me if there is a correlation between Inbound links & pageviews, or Visits.

Meaning, if Site A had 50k page views last month with an Alexa “reach per million users” of 8. And, Site B had an average reach of 64. Would that mean that Site B had 8x as many visits, or 400k page views?
His site Winelog, had 50k page views last month with approximately 4K Inbound Links. WineSpectator has about 64k inbound links. Would that mean that they have about 16x as much traffic, or 800k page views? As stated in their Media Kit, the quoted number was closer to 4 million. Why the inconsistency? Is it just that the Alexa numbers are off.

Is there a simple formula for roughly calculating a site’s traffic based on inbound links?

Therefore, if a website has 15k Inbound links and 50k pageviews per month, and if I see nother site with 60k inbound links, should I expect them to have 4x the traffic? Or, is the relationship non-linear? Are other factors (like construction of the pages, lack of AJAX, etc) too much of a factor to do good comparisons?

He was concerned that some sites might be overstating their traffic in their ad kits.

Ok, let’s assume for a minute that Jason’s theory that Inbound links are correlated with visits is correct for Natural traffic. Does that mean the sites where he got the media kits from are lying if their Alexa ratings were low? I say no. Because, one major factor that is not being considered, is what if they are running a PPC campaign? Then, they could potentially have a million page views, and have very few inbound links.

Another possibility, is they could be buying links to increase their Search Engine rankings. Rather than naturally getting them thru other web publishers linking to them. Although, then the question is, did they acheive a higher position in the SERPs, and get an increase in website traffic thru their link buy?

Another possibility could be an older site that once upon a time had many inbound links and visitors, but just got stale, and lost it’s traffic numbers. So, it has a strong inbound link profile, but a decrease in website traffic.

I haven’t checked to see if any industry research has been conducted, so just kinda openly discussing these ideas.

* Permission was given to post this discussion.

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  1. Looking at alexa by itself is a very dangerous thing. It’s very easily influenced to make something look more important than it is for example look at my blog

    I’ve got about 43,000 links according to yahoo and 300,000+ page views.

    I guess you could generally say more links = more traffic but I bet there are lots of sites with bucketloads of links and zip zero zilch for traffic

  2. Thanks for posting this, Shimon. I do think it is interesting to think about. My main motivations for thinking about these things are:

    (1) I would never lie to an advertiser about my traffic, but it would be nice to know if other sites are lying. My gut feeling though is that any smart advertiser would be able to tell if the traffic numbers were overstated pretty quickly.

    (2) It’s just nice to have a way to determine what another site’s traffic is. Alexa and Yahoo! are good tools. They get is close, but not perfect. It’s nice to have some other methods to improve our estimates.

    I don’t want people to think I am accusing Wine Spectator of lying about their traffic. I’m just trying to figure out how Alexa and Yahoo! can be so off.

    Some other factors which may lead to having higher traffic than their inbound links or Alexa rating may indicate:

    – Wine Spectator is first a magazine. They likely get a lot of direct traffic from their magazine subscribers (in the millions probably).

    – WS also has a large newletter following (200k by their numbers). This is another source of traffic not accounted for by links, etc.

  3. Hi Shimon,

    Interesting reasoning and btw I like your blog but have been “lurking” a bit. 🙂

    “Is there a simple formula for roughly calculating a site’s traffic based on inbound links?”

    In my opinion, no. It is difficult to trust Alexa numbers, as GW points out. Also, you cannot equate even an average amount of visits per link, in my opinion. I have looked at a few sites with varying link numbers and traffic, and do not see any correlation. Perhaps if a study was done of hundreds of sites, using accurate link counts as well as traffic measurements, you could reach an “average amount of traffic per link,” but even this would be too statistically shaky.

    Even if you got the numbers from 100 sites, there may be another group of one hundred sites which provide a completely different correlation. Equating number of links to traffic is even harder than equating “number of search rankings in the top 10,” for example, to traffic. The top ten listing could be for very obscure terms, and drive very little traffic. The same could be said for many links: some would drive traffic but some would be obscure. You could even try to go a step further and say X link gave you Y ranking for a competitive term, so that in essence could be the cause for traffic increase instead of the listing to which that increase may have been attributed.

    This question is like trying to predict ROI from a future SEO campaign…there are way too many variables to provide a statistically confident prediction, IMO.

    Thanks again Shimon and Jason and I am curious if anyone agrees or disagrees with this.

  4. Pierre A. Calzadilla says:

    Hmm, am I wrong, but don’t the alexa numbers only represent those using the alexa toolbar plug-in? So therefore they are not even tracking a fair cross-section of web users.

    I refuse to use plug-ins like akexa, and most people swear them off too, who wants to be tracked anymore than we already are. Personally, alexa has ALWAYS been off for my site – way off.

    Am i wrong?

  5. Pierre,
    You have a good point. I am aware of the inaccuracies of Alexa. I chose to use Alexa in the abscence of a 3rd party tracking tool like Hitwise. IMO, Alexa provides a rough sampling of the data.

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