Ever since the ignoble death of Googles PageRank – the long, slow decline that left many webmasters in denial and many more looking for a valid replacement – all sorts of metrics have been springing up. You have all of the associated Moz ranks, you have minimal single-factor metrics like link measurements, and then you have big aggregate metrics like Trust Flow and Citation Flow.
We’ve mentioned the Flow metrics before, in this post about PageRank alternatives. If you read that post, you have a cursory understanding of what the Flow metrics are. I’m here today to explain them in greater detail, and to help you put them to use in a tangible way.
Before we talk about what the specific metrics are, we need to talk about where they come from. Both metrics are part of the Flow ranking system measured and monitored by Majestic SEO.
Majestic started life as Majestic-12, and it started off as a distributed search engine project. Since then, it has expanded and changed focus into what it is today: an internet mapping engine and link intelligence database. It monitors links and assigns value relative between the two sites involved, and it studies the immense amounts of data it harvests in order to try to predict the effects of links on search engine ranking, among other things.
Unlike other aggregators and data harvesters, Majestic-12 has its own search engine powering its data. It doesn’t poll Google and Bing for data, it harvests data independently and uses it in correlation with Google data.
Majestic works off of two sets of data, two separate indexes. The Historic Index is the larger, more comprehensive index, but it tends to be anywhere from a few days to a month old. This is simply due to the immense size of the index; it takes time to build and calculate data and flows. The Fresh Index is smaller but much more recent, typically up to the day. It includes about a quarter of the data the Historic Index includes, but it’s perfectly serviceable for most people. For reference, the Fresh Index includes 810 billion URLs indexed, while the Historic Index includes 3.5 trillion. I’m not joking when I say it’s huge.
So what, specifically, are the Flow Metrics? They’re related to links, obviously, since Majestic is a link analysis engine above all else. Let’s take it from there.
What is Citation Flow?
Citation Flow is the easiest of the two metrics to understand, because it’s a simple numbers game. It’s a measurement of the number of links that point at your site. The more links you have, the more likely your site is to be influential. A site like Facebook has no doubt millions of links pointing at the site. Amazon likewise. These sites have incredible numbers of links.
Now think about what a citation usually is. In writing, it’s a reference to the source of something. In web links, a link is often to a source of data; citing your sources. This isn’t always the case, but the majority of links are provided for the purposes of providing more information than is available in the post you’re reading.
The more people citing you, the more authoritative you appear to be. The more links pointing at you, the more citations you have, and thus the higher your Citation Flow. The example I see most often is porn sites. These have a ton of links, typically from one another and from spambots, but none of those links are necessarily authoritative in any sense of the word. There’s not necessarily value attached to those links, and that’s fine.
Citation Flow, then, is essentially just a measurement of the sheer number of links your site has pointing to it. The more links you have, the higher your Citation Flow, as simple as that.
There’s one kicker to the whole thing; it’s a flow, not an individual static measurement. In this sense, it’s a lot like PageRank. If two sites link to you, and one of them has a high PR while the other has a low PR, the one with the better PR will give you more value. It’s the same way with Citation Flow. If two sites link to you, and one of them has a CF of 10 and the other has a CF of 90, the one with the CF of 90 will bring you a lot more value than the one with a much lower CF.
Citation Flow is measured on a scale from 1 to 100, with virtually no one making it to 100. Even Google is a firm 99.
Essentially, the more links you have pointing to your site, the better, as far as Citation Flow is concerned. However, it’s also better to have links from sites that themselves have a lot of links pointing in than it is to have links from relatively new sites. A link from Facebook is going to be a heck of a lot more valuable than a link from Bob’s Blog He Just Made Today.
This is a good thing, because it circumvents one of the common link building spam techniques, which is to build thin content blog networks and send those links to your money site, so it can reap the value before those sites are detected and nuked.
What is Trust Flow?
Trust Flow is, by contrast, a bit more complicated. It’s a measurement of value, while still being a measurement of quantity. A site that has a lot of links pointing to it is valueless if none of those links come from sites that matter. If all of your links come from spam posts on forum comments, none of those links are worth anything.
Trust Flow is a measurement of link quality, similar to how Google treats links today. A link from an authoritative site is a valuable link. The more valuable links a site has, the more valuable that site is by extension.
Think of it something like a “six degrees of separation” sort of thing. How many clicks does it take someone to get from an authoritative site to your site? The fewer clicks it takes, the better off your site is. The more different routes there are – i.e. the more times these authority sites link to you – the better you are.
What determines an authority site, though? This is where it gets tricky. Majestic simply decided that certain sites are authorities. These authority sites are the seed sites that count as the origin point for all authority value. Sites that these authority sites link to are second tier authorities. Sites those second tier authorities link to are third tier, thus being slightly less valuable.
Things get complicated as you iterate this process. Authority sites tend to link to other authority sites. Non-authority sites tend to link to authority sites as a way of legitimizing their information. All of the value feeds back into the authority ring, which leaves the worst sites out in the cold. However, at any time, an authority site can raise up a lower quality site with a simple link.
A site with a high Citation Flow but a low Trust Flow is not necessarily a valuable site at all. It has a lot of links, but no links that have real value. Meanwhile, the opposite can also be true. A high Trust Flow with a low Citation Flow typically means that the site is not very popular, but is potentially very high quality. Authority sites linking in means someone in a position of power thinks the content on that site is valuable enough to share. The low Citation Flow is simply a record of how new the site is, in that case.
There’s a new variation of Trust Flow called Topical Trust Flow. It’s exactly the same, except it has an added layer of filtering thrown on top of it. In addition to measuring generic authority in terms of degrees of separation from authority seeds, it also measures relevance according to topic. You could get a link from the #1 clothing boutique in the world and a first order authority seed, but if your site has nothing to do with clothing, that link will not be worth much in Topical Flow.
Topical Trust Flow is an important metric for modern day search optimization, because of the way Google assigns value according to relevance. If you’re getting a lot of links from sites, even good sites, that don’t have anything to do with your topic, those links are going to be suspect. Google might even think you paid for them or hacked to put them in place. This is, obviously, not a good thing.
Ways to Use Citation and Trust Flow
The first and easiest way to use both CF and TF is to simply check on your own site. I recommend checking the fresh index first, as it has the most recent data. Then check the historic index and see what the difference is, if anything.
Chances are you will have some minor variation between the two, as every point of data is moving in this massive index. Even if your number of links hasn’t changed, the number of links to the people linking to you may have, and that affects the flow into you.
In some rare cases, you will be absent from one index or the other. If you’re absent from the fresh index, it simply means that in this most recent pass, Majestic’s bots didn’t crawl your site. It’s nothing to worry about. It doesn’t mean you’re de-indexed, it doesn’t mean you’re blacklisted, and it doesn’t mean you’re removed from Google in any way. If you’re absent from the historic index, it might mean your site is too new, or did not have enough links that a Majestic bot found and crawled it. If your site definitely has the links and definitely has been around for a while, there may be some deeper issue at hand, but that’s not within the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the most common issue is accidentally blocking Majestic’s search crawlers from indexing your site, which will obviously mean you’re not in their index and can’t be calculated, either for your own Flow or for your value to others.
The second option you have for using the flow metrics is competitive analysis. Since Majestic is a public index and you don’t need to link it to your site in any way, it’s all public data. That means you can run searches and pull reports for your competitors in the same way you would pull them for yourself.
If you want to do a detailed link analysis, you can do that as well. Use the Moz Open Site Explorer bar to pull the search results for your chosen query or URL, then go to Majestic and import them into the link map tools. Remove unnecessary data from the file when you download it, filter it to show you just the information you need, and sort by Trust Flow to see the best links coming in to your competitors or to yourself.
Once you’ve identified those links, by the way, you can make an effort to acquire them for yourself. Any site linking to a competitor is a site whose link you might want to your own site as well. You’ll have to look them over and make sure they’re not affiliated with the competition, though; no sense trying to angle for a link from a site that will just laugh at you.
You can also use Topical Trust Flow for link audits. Pull your own backlink profile and run it through their link analyzer to see what each link looks like in terms of TF and TTF. Links that are very low in trust are not links that help you out; you can probably easily disavow them with no issues.
Any time you want to learn about the link profile of a site, go ahead and run that site through Majestic’s tools. There are simply so many good data points you can discover that it’s almost always worth it. As long as the site in question isn’t blocking Majestic’s bots, you should get a wealth of information.