Google Webmaster Tools

Why Google Webmaster Tools May Be The Second Best Backlink Checking Tool

There are three tools I use for most of my backlink checking, Yahoo Site Explorer, Open Site Explorer, and Google Webmaster Tools. For readers that have been backlink checking for a number of years, it might be surprising to find Google Webmaster Tools on this list. In the past, Google Webmaster Tools reported backlinks were so sparse that it appeared that Google was purposely attempting to obfuscate the links that were providing the greatest PageRank value being passed on to your site. It is not an overstatement to indicate that Google Webmaster Tools as a backlink checker historically was so “sucky” as to only be minimally useful.

Backlink Checking With Google Webmaster Tools

Unless you do a bit of digging, a cursory use of the current version of Google Webmaster Tools is not very informative about the links that are providing the most value through flowing PageRank.

links to your site

In the current version of Webmaster Tools, if you click on “Links to your site” or cursor down the page to “Download this table”, the report that is returned ranks sites based on the total number of “links” to your site. This provides misleading information about which external sites are flowing the most PageRank  to your site.  Websites or blogs that have site wide links in their navigation bars or footers appear at the top of these Google Webmaster Tools lists despite the fact that sites that link to your site in the main content section are most likely passing the most PageRank.  The search engine algorithms use page segmentation as a factor in ranking the value of links, and it is widely assumed that footer and navigational section links are devalued.

As shown in the report below for Koffler Sales from “Links to your site” on Google Webmaster Tools, the external site at the top of the table is Lawncareimproved with 7,163 links. Given that the home page of this site on has a Page Authority of only 33 and a PageRank of just 1, it seems unlikely that these 7,163 links are passing on very much PageRank.

The trick to getting a highly useful backlink report from Google Webmaster Tools is to cursor all the way down to the bottom of the page, and click on “download all links”. The “download all links” report completely re-orders the list of external links to your sites.

download all links

Based on reviewing “Download all links” reports for numerous sites, it appears that Google is ranking the sites in this report based on the PageRank that is actually flowing from the site. In this report, Lawncareimproved.com ranks #141, which intuitively seems to be about as expected.

Google Download All Links

The following is an edited version of the top links from a Google Webmaster Tools “download all links” report for Shopping Baskets Plus that ranks the links in an order that makes sense. This backlink report matches with my expectations for this site better than any other tool I have come across.   (For reference, some proprietary links that I do not want to make public have been removed)

GWT shoppingbasketslinkprofile

The ordering of links on the Google Webmaster Tools “Download all links report” presumably provides some insight into how links are being evaluated by the Google algorithm. However, assuming this hypothesis is correct and the ordering of backlinks in this report provides an indication of how the Google algorithm rates the PageRank flowing from external sites, there are some major discrepancies from on my expectation:

  1. A number of links that probably should be in the top 10 were not there; and
  2. The link from an article in the Daily Herald probably should be higher (it’s a prominent regional newspaper). However, despite my suspicion that Google’s calculation of PageRank is far from perfect, they seem to be the best game in town.

Yahoo Site Explorer

In the title this article, I indicated that Google Webmaster Tools may be the second best backlink checking tool. This statement can be amended to indicate that Google Webmaster Tools is my favorite tool for checking backlinks to my own sites. However, for in-depth backlink checking, Yahoo Site Explorer remains my favorite backlink checking tool. It is a superior tool because it allows you to check the backlinks to any website. Simply checking on the backlinks to your site does not provide nearly as much value as being able to check on other sites that are ranking well for keywords that you are interested in targeting.  Thus, Yahoo Site Explore remains my favorite research tool for backlink checking.

Open Site Explorer

The third backlink checking tool that I make extensive use of is Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz. This tool is particularly useful due to the quantitative information it provides about links. As shown below in a link analysis for Shopping Baskets Plus, this report includes the Page Authority and Domain Authority of the linking pages in the right hand colums. It is often informative to have a quantitative measure of the value of linking pages. Open Site Explorer is also a tool that can be utilized to analyze any site. The service comes in two flavors, a free version that provides information on the top five links with the greatest Page Authority, and a paid version that provide more detaileded reports.

OSE Shopping Baskets Plus

The biggest flaw in using Open Site Explorer is that the rank order weighting of sites does not give enough weight to page segmentation. Thus, a link may appear much higher on the list than appropriate due to being on a high Page Authority webpage, despite the link not flowing very much page rank due to being located in a devalued page segment.  In particular, links from the comment sections of blog posts with high Page Authority tend to be ranked highly by Open Site Explorer. This can lead to a misleading perception that significant PageRank is flowing from a link manufactured via by a comment. The fact of the matter is that a comment on a blog post that has dozens of other comments typically does not flow very much PageRank.  This Open Site Explorer flaw is highlighted in the above example. The top four ranked links to this site are all comment links.

The three tools mentioned above are free or have a free version. If you are interested in a professional strength backlink checking tool, check out Backlink Profit Monster 2.0. Special introductory pricing is available to Famous Bloggers readers.


Google seems to be making publicly available via Webmaster Tools the rankings of backlinks based on the value of the PageRank flowing from external links. However, this report seems almost hidden, as to get to it requires clicking on a link at the bottom of the “Links To Your Site” webpage.  However, regardless of the fact that it takes an extra click to get to this report, it’s nice to have a tool from Google that offers insight into the factors leading to your site’s Google rankings.

Randy Pickard has been optimizing websites to rank well in search engines since 1996. He is the editor of Internet Marketing Remarks and the General Manager of Shopping Baskets Plus, a supplier of shopping baskets to retail stores. Randy is also an avid bicycle rider who attempts to ride 200 outdoor miles per week, Chicago weather permitting.


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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Tanvir Alam January 30, 2013, 6:33 am

    Hello, I am facing a problem, I don’t see any data in Links to your site option in web master. It says No Data. everything is fine there unless this option. is there any mistake I did ? I need to solve this problem. Many Thanks for your nice post.

  • Randy Pickard
    November 22, 2012, 8:19 am

    Sadly, since I wrote this post, Yahoo Site Explorer has been shut down. Accord to Yahoo “With the completion of algorithmic transition to Bing, Yahoo! Search has merged Site Explorer into Bing Webmaster Tools. Webmasters should now be using the Bing Webmaster Tools to ensure that their websites continue to get high quality organic search traffic from Bing and Yahoo!.”

  • KSingh
    July 14, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Google Webmaster Tools is great but a major drawback is that you can only use it for websites you have administrator rights to and cannot use it analyse competitors. Yahoo backlink tool was great asset for this and definitely one of the most free in-depth tools out there. Unfortunately it does not exist anymore. Although they have supposedly migrated to the new Bing Webmaster tools, it has the same drawback as Google and not very useful for analysing competitor’s links.
    KSingh recently posted..5 Great Climate Change WebsitesMy Profile

  • Abacus May 21, 2012, 11:44 am

    Nice list; but I love SEOMoz’s OSE (Open Site Explorer) and Alexa the most. MajesticSEO is also good. Thanks for this list. Helpful

  • cris April 23, 2012, 8:04 am

    I love using google webmasters tool to check indexed backlinks,But I have found that it does not displya all the backlinks
    Do you know how to download a list of over GWT API?

  • shashi kumar
    April 23, 2012, 6:10 am

    Really it’s a great and useful information for me. I would like to use it for feedback of my blog.
    shashi kumar recently posted..How to set "Search Preference" in BloggerMy Profile

  • shashi kumar
    April 23, 2012, 6:08 am

    Really it’s a great and useful information for me. I think this is the major part of seo because without it you can’t judge where you are stand at present time but with the help of these best tools you can take real feedback of your blog or website and can take the necessary action which will help you in ranking.
    shashi kumar recently posted..How to set "Search Preference" in BloggerMy Profile

  • David November 30, 2011, 3:29 pm

    To test the integration of Yahoo Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Tools (BWT), I added one of my sites to BWT. A few days later, that site was indexed by Bing with results showing in BWT. I can confirm that many backlinks shown for that site in Google Webmaster Tools is absent from the BWT view.

  • David November 24, 2011, 10:14 pm

    It is a moot point now that Yahoo Site Explorer (YSE) has been integrated with Bing Webmaster Tools (BWT). However, in YSE, I found links in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) that did not appear in YSE. In BWT, the inbound links are significant fewer than what GWT shows. I spot-checked one site which has 144 backlinks to my site as shown in GWT (and I can confirm those exist) yet BWT does not show them.

    Based on my sites which I monitor with GWT and BWT (and YSE prior to its termination), GWT provides me with the most extensive view. What I am not able to 100% ascertain is whether GWT shows me ALL backlinks from indexed pages. If I have a backlink from a PR n/a site which Google does not have indexed, I would not expect that backlink to show in my GWT.

  • kumar sapkota
    September 29, 2011, 9:24 am

    webmaster tool is highly useful for a successful website. This really assist in this purpose. I am going to use this service. Thank you so much.

  • Katrina Rolo September 3, 2011, 10:54 am

    I been trying to check backlinks using marketsamurai. But there is discrepancy between its competition and rank tracking modules when both report the same domain. Also MajesticSEO is not giving consistent report, and its its more inconsistent with the others tool I use. I am wonder which should be benchmark to understand how many links point to my site.

  • Jimmy
    July 14, 2011, 10:59 am

    I use Google webmaster tool to check my own backlinks on Google, even though that Google are a bit slow to show them all.!
    But if I need to check another that isn´t mine, than I´ll use Yahoo, because a “Link:www.domain.com” search on Google doesn´t show all the links.

    I have tried the Soemoz toolbar, it´s okay but in the end it´s Google ranking of my sites that matters and not Yahoo or Seomoz.

  • Faissal Alhaithami
    June 30, 2011, 11:40 am

    actually I use Google webmaster to track my backlinks! Now you opened my eyes to yahoo site explorer and will give it a try. Thanks for sharing your thought with us.
    Faissal Alhaithami recently posted..The best time to post Facebook update [ INFOGRAPHIC ]My Profile

  • Quo June 29, 2011, 6:33 pm

    I never knew about being able to download the links from GA. That’s way better than looking at the number of links in the search bar. I’m gonna have to check this out on my sites, thanks!

  • Izwan June 29, 2011, 2:19 pm

    google webmaster have the most tools that needed by everyone eventhough newbies.. besides,i used to check crawl error on my site..
    Izwan recently posted..SEO Contest – Tip Blogging TerbaikMy Profile

  • Nipon June 28, 2011, 11:39 am

    I love using google webmasters tool to check indexed backlinks,But I have found that it does not displya all the backlinks
    Nipon recently posted..How To Make Money With Google AdsenseMy Profile

  • Andreas June 28, 2011, 10:05 am

    I am a real fan of the webmaster tools search queries section, because you do not need expensive tools to track your search engine rankings and you can always see in which direction you are going and where to improve.

  • Gautam A D
    June 28, 2011, 1:14 pm

    i always use GWT. its the best! recently google PR also got updated…GWT is a gr8 tool to check the statistics! 🙂
    Gautam A D recently posted..Recover lost BSNL username and password!My Profile

  • bodynsoil June 28, 2011, 4:33 am

    This is a very helpful post as I have been researching page ranking and backlinks. I wasn’t sure which link checking site I should use, now I know.. Thank you.
    bodynsoil recently posted..Making your own self watering planterMy Profile

  • Ray June 28, 2011, 4:18 am

    Seems to me a while back google wmt did a better job and showed you more. Now they seem to have a practice of hiding things as much as possible. Yahoo site explorer is decent so is seomoz open explorer. However, both are limited to some extent. Yahoo seems limited to 1000, and seomoz seems limited based on membership. But, for free they both offer some in site. Remember when google wmt used to actually tell you what your highest ranked page was? I do. It has been some time since they have hidden that. Another tool that is kind of handy is linkdiagnosis. Not perfect either but it does some interesting reporting.
    Ray recently posted..Google Pagerank Update June 27, 2011My Profile

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