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Did you miss the first part in this backlinks analysis series? No worries, you can catch up right here: Analysis of 1 Million Backlinks: Udemy (Part 1/10)
We analyzed 1 million backlinks via 10 random sample sets of 100,000 backlinks across 10 different websites from a variety of business verticals to determine how the link metrics from those backlinks would impact gains or losses in organic search visibility.
A Quick Word About Link Analysis at Scale
Have you ever manually reviewed hundreds of thousands of backlinks one by one? I bet you haven’t — and it’s because you can’t. Well, maybe you can, but you would hate your life. So I don’t recommend doing that!
What you should do is look for patterns, trends and commonalities among link metrics for a given URL to determine whether or not it’s an unnatural link.
Pro Tip: Powerful crawlers and anchor text classifiers like URL profiler can literally save you hundreds of hours of grunt work. We’re in no way, shape or form affiliated with them, but we highly recommend checking them out!
Here’s a link audit tool stack that I’d recommend:
Upon completing a link audit, you should have a few outputs to work with:
- Danger List – These are the links that are extremely likely to be unnatural and should be considered for disavowal.
- Caution List – These are the links that could be unnatural and must be manually audited to determine if they are safe or dangerous.
- Safe List – These are trustworthy, authoritative links that are most likely to be natural. Getting more of these will help boost organic visibility.
- Link Schemes – These are large groups of similar links that are coming from the same source and are the most probable cause of site-wide links.
- Link Opportunities – Some websites (especially popular brands) earn natural, high-quality links without knowing it. An audit will help you discover those sources so you can build relationships and earn more links.
- Link Equity Consolidation – In almost every case, there are authoritative inbound links pointing to 404 pages on any given website. Those 404 pages should be revived by implementing 301 redirects to a live final destination URL to reclaim the lost link equity.
Link Metrics Considered
The link metrics can be segmented into 4 key categories:
These are the primary link metrics that will be used to evaluate Airbnb’s backlink profile:
Majestic Citation Flow – Rates how influential a URL may be based on how many sites are linking to it, and based on a 100-point scale.
Majestic Trust Flow – Predicts how trustworthy a page is based on the trustworthiness of those sites that are linking to it, based on a 100-point scale.
Moz Spam Score – Rates the level of penalization risk associated with a given URL, based on a scale of 0 – 17 where any rating of 11 or higher is likely to be spam.
Moz Domain Authority – An overall website rating that is calculated by metrics, such as linking domains, number of total links, MozRank, MozTrust, into a single 100-point logarithmic score.
Ahrefs Referring IP C-Class Diversity – IP Addresses are divided into lettered blocks (AAA.BBB.CCC.DDD). The more referring C-Class Duplicates that exist within the link profile indicates that the site is likely to be engaging in link networking.
Ahrefs URL Rating – Prediction score for how well a page is likely to rank in organic search results, based on a 0-100 scale.
We included the following websites in our study:
Analysis of 1 Million Backlinks: Airbnb
Airbnb is an online marketplace and homestay network enabling people to list or rent short-term lodging in residential properties. In plain English, it’s a site that allows travelers to gain access to unique homes, experiences, and places around the world.
Long-Tail Traffic? Who the Hell Cares?
Before I even started to examine their backlinks, I noticed a big, fat, ugly 404 for “best airbnb destinations” — a query that is slightly longer tail, but higher intent.
Airbnb should fix this 404 immediately!
Key Insights: Airbnb’s Link Profile
- Link Networking from Their Own International TLDs: A sizeable portion of Airbnb’s links are simply links from themselves. They probably won’t get penalized by doing this, because Google is smart enough to recognize that the intent is not manipulation, it’s just simply the nature of their cross domain linking structure.
A referring domain to backlink ratio of approx. 472:1 should raise a few eyebrows:
- Link Bloat: For a site of Airbnb’s magnitude, they should have higher-quality links. While too many low-value links likely won’t hurt them, it isn’t going to help them either. Ahrefs reveals that the top six referring domains are international TLDs:
After data sterilization, approx. 15k live links were found:
Airbnb has approximately 85k dead links coming from their own international TLDs:
I lowered the crawl speed by decreasing the threads and crawled the links again in Screaming Frog to confirm the accuracy of the HTTP responses:
I spot-checked a few of the links to confirm the server side errors:
- Referring Domain Velocity: On average, Airbnb earns links from approximately 2,000 referring domains per month. That level of referring domain growth has been instrumental to their organic search visibility. Airbnb has built links from more referring domains over time than key competitors:
The distribution is showing a wide range of referring domains at various strengths, with a surge of referring domains between DA 70-96, which is unusual for most sites:
Outliers at DA 88
From my experience, it’s rare to see more referring domains at the higher end of the distribution, but Airbnb is one of those sites that can naturally attract links from authoritative domains. Here are a few examples.
CBS mentioned Airbnb as a lodging option for travelers looking to attend the olympic games. This is the benefit of having a unique product with strong branding: natural link acquisition.
Another example of naturally occurring link acquisition:
The URL rating distribution from Ahrefs skews heavy toward the low end, with a cluster at the 8-11 range. We can infer that most of these individual URLs from the Ahrefs index are of lower quality:
Example of a spammy backlink identified by Ahrefs:
The Domain Citation Flow displays a strong cluster at around 30, with a longer tail drop off that normalizes at 60. We can conclude that most referring domains are somewhat influential, and there may be a few that are very influential:
Example of a link from an influential domain with high Citation Flow:
At the URL level, most backlinks have a Trust Flow rating of zero, with a significant drop off after 30, though there are a few outliers in the 50 range:
Moz’s Spam Score (0-17 scale) recommends reviewing links with a score above 8. Most of Airbnb’s links are below the alert threshold:
Upon reviewing Moz’s Spam Report, there were a number of URLs rated 9. Those links are from very unnatural domains, with the same spammy template, just different domain names:
The Duplicate IP C-Class is a staggering 99%, largely because of site-wide links pointing to Airbnb.com from its own international TLDs:
Most of Airbnb’s backlinks are coming from content and blog posts:
Related Content: How to Build Premium Quality Backlinks to Boost Ranking [podcast]
Despite a huge number of links from their own networks, Airbnb is very unlikely to face any risk of penalization from search engines.
Our sample was able to identify a small batch of safe links and danger links, but more than half of the links could not be determined programmatically. It is recommended that these links be reviewed manually to determine their fate.
Airbnb: Next Steps
- Investigate server response errors on international TLDs
- Determine if Googlebot is throttling sub-domains
- Fix 404 error: “Best Airbnb Destinations”
- Disavow danger list URLs
- Review caution list
- Invest in content strategy:
- Data-Driven Content
- User-Generated Content
Learn More: The Ultimate Guide to Link Building with Content
Content Opportunity: Unconventional Ways to Utilize Airbnb
From the Vice backlink example, it’s evident that folks are looking for outside-the-box ways to get value from Airbnb besides room rentals. They could survey their customers or hold a contest for the most unique use of an Airbnb rental.
Jumpshot, a marketing analytics company, has already taken a similar premise and built an infographic called “Who Uses Airbnb and Why?”
P.S. – They didn’t link to Airbnb in the post, which would be an easy link opportunity if Airbnb wanted it.
While Airbnb is at low risk for link penalization, there’s still a lot of opportunity to improve their Content Strategy.
Airbnb is just now getting ahead of their competition, and should implement the recommended actions to remain ahead!
Any SEO-savvy marketer with technical chops can likely implement these recommendations. If you’re a marketer looking to improve your link game, check out our ultimate guide to link building.
If you're not an SEO-savvy marketer or you just don't have the time, Single Grain can help you! We’ve helped business of all sizes improve their marketing ROI, ultimately increasing revenue – check out some of our case studies here.
Click the green button for your FREE consultation to see how we can help you. (Just wanna geek out about SEO? That’s cool, too! Let's chat.)
Have you done any link audits lately? What’s your process like? Let us know in the comments below!