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.
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.
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)
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:
- A number of links that probably should be in the top 10 were not there; and
- 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.
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.