I’ve been playing around with Yahoo Site Explorer for a while now and looking at the backlinks that various sites have. It’s a handy tool, but it does have its limitation (not least that it only allows you to view 1000 backlinks). But for getting a flavour of a site’s backlinks then it does the job.
One of the things that annoyed me about it was that there was no way to aggregate the results, so I wrote a little tool to do it for me (it’s here if you want to play with it: http://www.massmediadesign.co.uk/seo/SiteParser.aspx).
One of the things that I started to notice once the results were aggregated was just how many websites have hundreds of links from one single site and only a few more from other sites – to me, it’s a fairly clear sign of link buying (with obvious exceptions) and I was interested to see how some of the top ranking sites looked when their backlinks were aggregated.
So I did a test.
For this test I used the keyword ‘search engine optimisation’ on google.co.uk, and analysed the page 1 ranking companies. The results make interesting reading.
First, I looked at how many pages were indexed in Google and how many links Yahoo had pointing to the home page and to the domain in general (using the SEOQuake toolbar). Strangely I found that some websites had a higher number of links pointing to the home page than they did pointing to the domain, which I would say is impossible. That gives you an idea of how unreliable the data is! (I understand that the linkdomain query is a guestimate but the inbound links result is quite accurate – if you have more info on this then please pass it on).
Two things jump out here. Firstly, the sheer number of links that some of these sites seem to have attracted is immense. Getting that number of natual links would take a fair amount of work or some clever linkbait. Secondly, the fact that a site with 239 inbound links is ranking above a site with 495,000 links is very interesting. If any proof is needed that SEO is about more than the number of links pointing to your website then I think you have it here!
|Company Name||Number of indexed pages (Google)||Number of page inlinks (Yahoo)||Number of domain inlinks (Yahoo)|
|Big Mouth Media||4,230 (1)||9,528 (8)||17,325 (7)|
|Just Searching||885 (4)||46,582 (5)||48,339 (5)|
|Position Gold Ltd||74 (9)||217,679 (2)||212,816 (2)|
|High Position||94 (8)||66,586 (4)||80,215 (4)|
|SEO Co.||176 (6)||11,500 (7)||17,057 (8)|
|Search Engine Optimising||2,260 (3)||117,334 (3)||103,873 (3)|
|Web Optimiser||3,240 (2)||17.384 (6)||20,990 (6)|
|SEO Insider||751 (5)||233 (9)||239 (9)|
|Weblinx||96 (7)||274,910 (1)||495,296 (1)|
For each site, I exported the number of links to a .tsv and loaded it into my aggregation tool. Unfortunately the 1000 links limit makes the data extremely unreliable and I don’t know how (or if) Yahoo chooses what data is included in the export, but for the purposes of this non-scientific exercise then it’s good enough.
Below, I have listed the top 10 link sources for each website and the number of links from each source.
Big Mouth Media
|URL||Number of links|
|URL||Number of links|
Position Gold Ltd
|URL||Number of links|
|URL||Number of links|
|URL||Number of links|
Search Engine Optimising
|URL||Number of links|
|URL||Number of links|
|URL||Number of links|
|URL||Number of links|
Because of the limitations of the data, it’s difficult to come to any conclusions. But by just analysing these 1000 links, I find it interesting that some of the sites that are ranking for a very competitive keyword seem to be relying on a large number of links from just one or two sites.
A word of warning though – I wouldn’t rely on this as a means of trying to rank for competitive keywords. Our sample sites may well have a large number of single links from authority websites which haven’t been included in the data. Until we know how Yahoo chooses which sites to include in its 1000 results than it’s difficult to come to any solid conclusions but as a simple exercise, it provides some interesting results.
What you may find interesting is to run the same test on your competitors websites, especially those that are ranking higher than you are for your target keywords. You may identify some new link sources or perhaps some example of link buying going on. If you have any interesting findings them please add them to the comments.
Matt Cutts (Google’s head search spam fighting honcho) has announced that they’ve updated their Google Toolbar PageRank values and you can expect to see the changes in the next couple of days.
You mayt be wondering what Toolbar PR is and how this change will affect you. Most SEOs will tell you that it’s totally irrelevant and you don’t need to pay any attention to it. And they’re pretty much right, but most non-SEOs use it as a major indicator of how well their website is performing, so any change in it is a big thing for them. Are they right to place such a large emphasis on it?
Lets start at the beginning: What is Toolbar PR, how can you see it and what does it represent?
You can get access to the PageRank values by installing the Google toolbar. Once you’ve installed it you’ll see that for each website you visit, the green bar will get longer or shorter (actually it’s a number from 1 to 10 – for those real geeks amongst you, you may be interested to know that Google actually stores it as a floating point number and that there are n numbers after the decimal point. But that’s not important and maybe even just a little bit dull…) .
If you visit Google then they get a nice fat 10 and if you visit other pages then they get a big fat zero (including this blog!).
So, most sensible people would assume that pages with a high PR are more popular than those with a lower PR. If that was the end of the story then it’d be great, but it’s not.
Relying on Toolbar PR has the following drawbacks:
1. The value that is displayed is the PR of a website at a fixed point in time, so when an update is published it is already out of date.
2. Toolbar PR is also rather unreliable in that sometimes it’ll give you a different number depending on what Google datacentre you’re looking at (short lesson: When you go to google.com you’re directed to one of many servers, each of which can have slightly different results to the other – the same goes for PR) and sometimes it’s been reported to just show weird numbers.
3. This is the most important part – the value in the toolbar PR has no relevance whatsoever to the keywords you’re targeting. A site with 0 PR can rank above a site with a PR of 8 for a search if the 0 PR site is deemed to be more relevant to the search topic.
Toolbar PR has its uses, but if you’re evaluating the worth of a website, don’t base it purely on Toolbar PR. You should be investigating a stack of factors and coming to a conclusion based on the sum total of those factors, not a flaky green bar in your web browser.
When the updates are finally visible in the next day or two, don’t go nuts if your PR goes up or down. Note it and see how it relates to the other factors you measure – only then can you make a comment on the current SEO-worthiness of your site.
One of the great things about my job is that you’re asked to look at lots of different types of websites and suggest what can be done to them to help their search engine performance and their marketing performance.
it’s not as simple as one might hope. I’ve seen some really awful looking websites that have been performing really well in the search engines and I’ve seen sites that look fantastic but just don’t perform in the search engines.
Of course, an effective website really needs all elements to be working well. If you click a link in the search results then you hope that you’ll find a site that you want to spend some time on, not one that has you diving for the close button because it’s a mish-mash of colours and patterns. And a website that’s an artist’s indulgence with lots of lush graphics and design features but no text won’t be seen by anyone because it’s not going to appear in the search results at all!
I’ve spent the last couple of days looking at a number of websites for clients and one of the issues that kept coming up again and again was that their website never actually told me what their business did.
This sounds silly but I’ve seen so many websites that talk about the company’s ethos, their client list, their qualifications and the awards but never actually explained what they did. If I can’t quickly find out what your company does then you can be pretty sure that Google isn’t going to know either.
If you’re a graphic design company then tell everyone that you’re a graphic design company. Not only will this help the search engines return your website for relevant searches and increase the traffic to your website, it’ll help your visitors understand more about your business.
Let’s build on the graphic design example: Imagine that you have a visitor that knows nothing about graphic design but wants a new logo and brand design for their business. What text is more likely to speak to them and turn them into a customer:
1 – We are a graphic design company based in Banbury and we design logos and branding for businesses of all sizes. We also have our own printing facilities and can produce all the stationery that your business will ever need! Call us now for a free, no obligation quote.
2 – We pride ourselves on our customer-centric ethos. We work with you to deliver a coherent message for your global brand and weave the essence of your business into the fibres of your branding accessories.
Eh? If the guy is a plumber looking for some business cards then he’ll be off to your competitor quicker than you can weave your essence.
OK, perhaps I was being a bit silly with the second one, but it’s not too far from the truth with many websites. The rule is to keep it simple. Tell your visitors what you do in simple terms. Only when they’re clear about what your business does should you try to impress them with all that other rubbish relevant business literature.
Even the experts can get it wrong. Metcheck, one of the most popular weather forecasting websites managed to screw up their move to bigger servers and ended up putting their site down for at least a day, ruining their Google listing in the meantime (see image below).
When I checked their website over the weekend it looked like their domain had expired and some speedy young chap or chapette had dashed in and registered it. In fact, Metcheck had managed to cock it all up themselves. Quite how they managed it, I don’t know but in the time that their website was down, Google came along to index the website and update their database with any changes to the website.
In fact, what they ended up indexing was the holding page for the domain, hence the new title in Google.
It all seems to be back up and running now, and Google will resolve itself quick enough, but I assumed that the site was deleted and only went back to check what had happened since. Other people will have made the same assumption and will have moved onto another weather provider. Bad news for Metcheck – you spend time and money building up a loyal following and you lose months of hard work down to one little glitch.
So what can we learn from this?
- Be aware of when your domain is about to expire;
- Don’t point your domain to your new server before you have the website up and running;
- Even the best plans devised by the best people can go spectacularly wrong!
Whenever I talk to clients about SEO, I explain that a link from another website is seen by Google as a vote for your website. The more votes you have, the more popular you are seen to be and the higher you appear in the search results. OK, so it’s not quite as simple as that but fundamentally it’s right and it’s a nice easy analogy to understand.
What is also important, however, is who you link to.
Outoing links establish what neighbourhood you belong to
Look at the BBC News website. They provide news, but so that you can get a balanced view, they also link to other news websites so that you have an alternative source of information. Does that stop you going back to the BBC news site? No. If anything you trust it more because they have such confidence in their reporting that they can afford to link to their competitors.
It also puts their website squarely in the neighbourhood of a bunch of other trusted websites – if you were to draw a picture of the BBC site (and I have put together a small example) then you would see that the BBC website is surrounded by other authority websites. When Google comes to visit the BBC News site and sees that it is linking out to these other sites than it has no trouble deciding what domain the website belongs it. It’s clearly a news website and it’s in a good neighbourhood.
Does your website link out to other sources of relevant information? Probably not – because you don’t want to send people to your competitors and you may also have been given some advice by an SEO that if you link to other sites then you’re diluting the kudos given to you by Google (link juice) and passing it onto other websites.
Let’s address each point in turn.
“I don’t want to send people to my competitors”
Neither do I. But I do want to send them to trusted sources of information. That’s why down the left hand side of my blog, I have links to some of the most trusted and respected people in the SEO and Internet Marketing world (plus a few interlopers that managed to get in there!). None of them are my direct competitors but I wouldn’t hesitate to send people to them for some good advice.
“I don’t want to dilute my link juice”
Neither do I. But I do want to associate my website with trusted sources of information. There is a balancing act here. If it feels natural to link to a source of information that is useful to your readers then do it. Don’t worry about diluting your link juice because there is more to your website than the amount of link juice on one page. Your visitors come first, and if linking to another source of information is good for them then just do it.
Also, people like it if they’re are linked to. It’s an ego boost for them and they’ll come and check out your site. If they like it then they’ll link to you. So you have the situation where you’re actually increasing your link juice by linking out. So the moral here is, don’t worry about your link juice. If you see a good reason to link out then do it. It’ll help your readers, it’ll help Google understand the neighbourhood you operate in and it might even get you a link or two and some visitors.
Who should I link to?
Like most things, it’s good to look at what other people are doing, so take a look at your competitors and see what websites they’re linking to. You might find some inspiration and you might even find a website or two that you may be able to get a link from as well.
To help you out, I’ve developed a small tool that will crawl or spider (hence the cute image the top) any website of your choice and list all of the outgoing links from the website. Looking at the results will tell you a few things:
- By skimming over the results, you should be able to identify what neighbourhood you would put that website in. If they have lots of links to unrelated websites then there’s an advantage for you to exploit. You can start to build you own list of relevant websites to link to.
- If they have lots of relevant websites than take a look and see if you would benefit by linking to them as well.
- By combining the results with Yahoo Site Explorer you can probably find any reciprocal links on their site. Look for web directories to get you started.
The website analysis tool is here. It’s in beta, so please let me know if there are any issues with it.
A few of words of warning:
- Be careful who you link to. If you link to websites that are full of spam then that raises a question mark against your site – why are you linking to a spammy website?
- Remember the golden rule of website design – if it’s not useful to your visitors then don’t do it. You should only link out if it’s a source of information that would be useful to your readers – if it’s not useful to them then don’t bother adding the link.
- Finally, don’t just have a page full of ‘Interesting Links’. In a future blog I’ll cover how best to link out to other websites but ideally they should appear in the text of your page in context with the text content.
If you can think of anything that’s missing then please send me an email and if they’re useful enough then I’ll add them to the list.
1. Web site checker
Got a client on your back claiming that their web site is down but you can’t see anything wrong?
2. Check your site in all browsers
A fantastic tool to check the layout of your website in all popular browsers
3. Blog Design Principles
Design for a blog is different to design for other types of website.
Needing inspiration for your next masterpiece?
We all know that tables are a no-no for layout but CSS can be tricky. Here’s a simple template generator to get you started.
7. CSS Navigations
12. Firefox Extensions
13. GreyBit v0.1
Convert any website to greyscale – this helps your check the apparent contrast of text and colour schemes
If you can’t find a combination that you like above then these tools will help you create and visualise your own combinations
19. Slide Generator
The announcement that Google can now index flash pages thanks to a plug-in by Adobe should be welcomed by web developers and SEO practitioners but I’m afraid it leaves me with a rather cold sense of foreboding.
I’ve never been a great fan of Flash websites. Note that I’m not saying that I don’t like Flash – for things like image galleries then they’re great and add a touch of style that you can’t get from standard HTML (although Ajax does a good job of getting close).
But to have a whole website written in Flash with pages zooming backwards and forwards for no sensible reason is simply a way of distracting your users from reaching your website’s goal. The fact that Flash is/was an SEO killer was just another reason for me to avoid it.
So why am I concerned that Google can now index Flash files? Simply put, because I fear that we’re going to see the return of some nasty old SEO techniques of the late 90s that Google is doing a pretty good job of catching and penalising:
- Can Adobe’s plug-in cope with hidden text and keyword stuffing? With all of that animation zooming around, covering swathes of text then I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be complex enough to catch all of the hidden text (and don’t tell me that on-site SEO doesn’t matter anymore!).
- What about widgets? How can I be sure that the Twitter widget on the side of this page doesn’t have 10,000 links stashed in it somewhere? At least in the old HTML days I could give the code a once over before sticking it on my site. Who knows where I’m linking to now?
- My flash file can take up as little as 1 pixel. What can I put into my flash file that I wouldn’t normally have done in HTML due to space limitation?
I’m not a black hat SEO but it took me about 10 seconds to think about using those techniques in a flash file for SEO. Imagine what a creative black hat sort would be able to come up with? Will Adobe be able to keep on top of fighting Flash-based spamming techniques in the way that Google has struggled to do?
So do I see this as a step forward for the web? If anything, I see it as a step backwards. Aside from the re-appearance of tired SEO techniques, it’s an endorsement by Google for building entire websites in Flash and therefore encouraging the painful user experience that nearly always goes with it (with obvious exceptions of course).
- Will Google Grab Your Market Next? How to Prepare Now
- What’s Your Unique Selling Proposition When it Comes to Content?
- Is your login name “admin”? You’re a hacking target
- Google Chrome, Helvetica Neue and strange characters bug
- Where to Engage Your Future Audience: Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+?
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