Use Google Webmaster Tools to see who links to your pages and how they link. This is one way to judge the effectiveness of your SEO activities.
We briefly discussed how understanding the way that people are linking to your pages & posts is one way you can tell whether what you are publishing online is resonating with your audience. Based on some inquiries we’ve had, I thought I’d dive a little deeper.
As you might know, Google’s crawlers use links find and sort sites and pages. Put simply, links to a page can improve the page’s visibility in Google’s organic search results.
Google uses fancy technologies to deliver pages that are both important and relevant to their users’ searches.
Basically, a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. But not all link-votes carry the same weight. A vote from a page that is itself “important” carries more weight than less “important” pages.
This is why many SEOs work to improve the number of important links pointing to their (or their clients’) pages. However, it’s also important to understand that Google is constantly working to distinguish natural links from unnatural links. As Google puts it:
Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors. Unnatural links to your site are placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines. Some of these types of links (such as link schemes and doorway pages) are covered in our Webmaster Guidelines.
Only natural links are useful for the indexing and ranking of your site.
There is no shortage of debate on what counts as a “natural link” that helps pages rank. Nonetheless, pretty much everyone agrees that links matter for search visibility. So, if you care about search visibility, you should take some time to understand who and how other webmasters are linking to you. And Google Webmaster Tools can help.
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Who links the most
One of the first things you might want to know about links to your pages is who is linking. More specifically, what other domains are linking to your pages. To view a sampling of this information in Google Webmaster tools, you would navigate to:
Search traffic >> Links to Your Site >> Who links the most
This is take you to an overview of the top X number of domains that have links to pages on your site that Google has found. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list of every domain that might be linking to your pages.
You can export this data to excel to save a copy. You can also sort these linking domains by the number of links that point from them to your pages, as well as, the number of different pages on your site to which the linking domain links.
If you click on the linking domain and then on a page to which it links, you can see all the links from the linking domain to the page on your site.
Generally speaking, you should aim to increase the total number of relevant and important domains that link to your pages. Furthermore, you should work to acquire links to a variety of pages on your site, as opposed to, getting links solely to your homepage.
How your data is linked
In addition to understanding who is linking to your site, it’s helpful to know some things about how these other sites are linking to your site. One thing that is particularly important is the anchor text being used to link to your pages. Per Moz:
Anchor Text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. In modern browsers, it is often blue and underlined, such as this link to the moz homepage.
In the following HTML example, “This is the anchor text,” is the anchor text:
The anchor text communicates information to search engines about the nature and importance of the link.
In their quest to improve a page’s visibility in organic search results, many SEOs would optimize anchor text aimed at the keywords for which they wanted to rank. For example, if an SEO wanted to reank for the term “apples,” they would build links to their “apple page” with the anchor text “apples,” like this:
As Google’s engineers worked to distinguish natural from unnatural links, they released updates to their technologies that focused on analyzing patterns related to anchor text. One update in particular, known as Penguin, targeted pages that contained patterns of overly optimized anchor text links. Put simply, pages that contained overly optimized anchor text links would lose visibility in search results.
You can view a sampling of the anchor text for links pointing to your pages in Google Webmaster Tools by navigating to:
Search traffic >> Links to Your Site >> How your data is linked
This will give you a sense of the words that other webmasters are using to link to your pages.
If your pages have been earning links naturally, you’ll likely see anchor text that contains your name, your firm name and blog post titles. You’ll alos likely see “junk” anchor text. This is anchor text that includes things like:
- click here.
- view website
- read more
These are popular ways that webmasters have historically linked to pages around the web.
On the other hand, if you’ve had some unnatural link building done, you’re likely to see a high quantity of anchor text optimized for keywords that you might want to rank for. For example, if you’re a Chicago personal injury lawyer, you might see anchor text like:
- chicago personal injury lawyer
- chicago personal injury attorney
- chicago injury lawyer
- injury lawyers in chicago
While it’s reasonable that some of your pages receive links with anchor text like this, if the overwhelming majority of the anchor text to your pages matches this pattern, you’re likely to be vulnerable to an algorithmic problem that will prevent your pages from achieving their maximum ranking potential. In really bad cases, you might even receive a manual webspam action.
When other webmasters ask how you prefer that they link to your pages, you should encourage them to use words like your name, firm name, blog posts titles or even junk anchor text terms.
Your most linked content
Finally, you can also benefit from understanding which pages of your site are receiving links. To see this information in Google Webmaster Tools, navigate to:
Search traffic >> Links to Your Site >> Your most linked content
This will provide you with a sampling of your pages that are linked from other domains.
You can sort your linked pages by the number of links or number of source domains pointing them.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the number of links to a page can be quite different from the number of source domains.
For example, if another site contains a sitewide link to your site (i.e. a blog roll link) you’ll see many links from a single domain. On the other hand, if you publish a blog post that resonates with a large audience, that single page may receive one link from many source domains. This is the preferred situation as it reflects a more natural pattern of linking.
By clicking into any given page, you can get the link data (i.e. total links and total domains) for that specific page.
Whether you’re interested in understanding what other people think about your pages, monitoring the performance of your SEOs activities or resolving quality issues with your site, the Links to Your Site reporting features of Google Webmaster Tools can be a very useful tool.