Most companies today want to be "thought leaders."

That's a great aspiration, but it's hard to quantify either "thought" or "leadership." Even though "thought leadership" falls under the purview of data-driven SEOs and marketers, it's a rather non-data-driven pursuit.

So how do you measure whether your efforts are working?

To answer this paucity of data, I'm proposing four free and easily-available metrics that can help a company understand its position in the indefinable field of thought leadership.

1. Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries

One way to figure out what people think of you is to find out how people are searching for you online. Google Webmaster Tools is one of the best ways to get this data.

To view the data, go to Google Webmaster Tools Search Traffic Search Queries.

There are several things you want to look for:

  • High number of branded queries. Branded queries indicate that your company's brand name is recognized, and people are looking for your company. Branded queries (e.g., a query for "Quicksprout") are known as "navigational queries"
  • Branded queries combined with informational queries. When searchers look for your brand plus an informational query, this is a signal that your brand has higher thought leadership. Why? Because they are searching your site for what you have to say on a particular topic. An example of this would be "quicksprout online checkout tips" or "moz dealing with duplicate content."
  • High avg. position for informational queries. The column, "Avg. position" indicates how your site is ranking in the search results. First page results (1-10) for informational queries are a good sign. Obviously, you'll gain first page results for your own brand name. The true sign of success, however, is gaining first-page results for non-branded/informational searches.

2. Inbound Links

Generally speaking, the greater your thought leadership, the more links you'll get to your website. The number of inbound links is not alone a marker of your SEO power. However, gaining more inbound links often does signal that your site has some recognition and respect.

There are many services that are focused upon analyzing your site's link profile. The simplest way to get this information, however, is right in Google Webmaster Tools. Click on Search Traffic Links to Your Site. At a glance, you can find out who's linking the most, what content is getting linked to the most, and the anchor text used to create those links.

The main number you should focus on is the number of "total links" indicated in the top left corner. As your thought leadership grows, so should the number of total inbound links.

Remember, it's not just about building links. It's about building information. The number of links are an indication of your content marketing's success, and is not an end in itself.

3. Buzzsumo Reports

Buzzsumo is a free platform for discovering content popularity based on the number of social shares it gets.

High social sharing is positively correlated with thought leadership. To determine which sites are gaining the most social attention, search an informational query that is used in your thought leadership attempts.

Here's how I would create the report in Buzzsumo:

  • Search for "Top Content"
  • Enter your query.

You should test a variety of keywords, especially relevant longtail keywords. If your site rankis among the first page (top 15) of results, it's a good sign for your thought leadership.

Another helpful report is an "Influencer" report. This report combines SEO data with social sharing metrics to determine the top influencers in a certain field. You can filter influencers by the following five types: bloggers, influencers, companies, journalists, and regular people.

4. Google SERP position.

The final point of analysis takes advantage of a tool that you probably use everyday--the Google search results.

The best way to use Google search is to open an incognito window in your browser or to log out of Google. This way, Google won't provide results based on your history or sites you've visited.

Simply search for the informational queries that are used in your thought leadership efforts. Identify your key longtail queries, then search each for each one.

Thought leaders get featured on the first page of Google. It may take some time, but this is where you want to be.

Gaining rank in the Google SERPs is important, but it's not the most-important feature in marketing or SEO. I recommend that you work on increasing your blog traffic, and creating the best content that you can in order to improve your ranking.

Getting a good idea of what's working

As important as thought leadership is, there's still no ultimate tool that determines your level of leadership. It is more than these four metrics indicate, but they will give you a powerful measure of understanding as you pursue greater success in your content marketing.

How do you gauge your brand's thought leadership?

Published on: Oct 30, 2014
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of