Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to check backlinks

How many backlinks has got a website? Nobody knows it in fact. At the best we can find number of back links counted here and there. The most important question is - why do we need to know the number of backlinks at all? SEO? The count of backlinks is good for reporting and audit papers, that means telling our client how successful we have been in link building.
Well, we need still high quality backlinks to push our positions on search engines. But then, what are these quality links Google takes into account? What backlinks work best for us? Nobody knows how many weight points any of these worthy-links we hunt for have got… So, instead of asking what backlinks we need, we will pig headedly chase the counts, numbers of backlinks.
Checking backlinks on different web sites and/or on different conditions helps us chart the landscape and make important decisions in SEO.

Google Webmaster tool

Google Webmaster tool says: Top 62 domains that have links to pages on your site. Total links 1,267. Something smells a rat and there it is - Google as checked in 1,135 backlinks from the updowner.com, with 200 links pointing to one single page. Not all backlinks are listed in Google Webmaster Central, and some backlinks listed here are omitted in Google searches.
Google Webmaster tool isn't precise and it works for sites under our control. What if we want to find backlinks of competitors?

Anchor text

Anchor text that contains a domain name isn't a backlink, thus allinanchor: and its equivalent as_occt=links are worthless for checking backlinks. However it can hint the competition, allinanchor: "search engine optimisation" and google.com/search?q="search engine optimisation"&as_occt=links will show how many anchor texts on the web contain this phrase. Quick check finds about 68,400,000 results. Not very useful to estimate the competition either.

Google search query

Google search for Tuljo.com, google.com/search?q="tuljo.com" reports about 11,200 results. Fair enough. However, when we arrive on the last result page, it says: "Page 14 of 124 results." Which is right, left or right?.

How to find right number of results?

  • Google displays different counts on the last result page and pages before. Only when we actually start drilling down through the pages does Google bother to fully calculate the count of pages, so the right number of results is displayed on the last page. If it's less than 1000.
  • Though the statistics bar may estimate that more than 1000 results match your query, Google doesn't serve more than 1000 results for any query. Last Results Page. Google won't let you go beyond the 1000th result, that's the end of the line and we can't see beyond that
If there are many backlinks and we are too lazy to click out to the last page we can jump to the 1000th or last result using query parameter start=990. Or num=100 plus start=900. Parameter num=100 works if the Google Instant search is switched off. Search Settings > Google Instant predictions > Never show Instant results.
google.com/search?q="tuljo.com"&start=990 - Page 13 of 124 results

Checking backlinks

Google search query has special terms to check who links to the domain - as_lq= in URL query and link: in search box query. There is a space after link:, parameter as_lq= is empty and the domain name has to be in quotation marks.
  • Check from Google search box - link: "tuljo.com" - About 4,880 results.
    We have to climb to the last results page to see the correct number - Page 7 of 70 results.
  • google.co.uk/search?q=link:+"tuljo.com"&start=990 - Page 7 of 70 results.
  • google.co.uk/search?q="tuljo.com"&as_lq=&start=990 - Page 13 of 123 results.
  • google.co.uk/search?q="tuljo.com"&as_lq=&start=990&filter=0&filter=s - Page 26 of 254 results.
Different queries return different results. Webmaster Central (1,267 backlinks) shows domains that are missing in our queries and vice versa. Obviously the reasonable approach would be just to choose one formula and stick to this. In God We Trust.
  • We would filter out internal links adding -site:tuljo.com
  • We would do global search, instead of google.co.uk/search?q= do google.com/search?q=
  • We would encode
    q=link: "tuljo.com" -site:tuljo.com
  • We would substitute the plus sign + for any whitespace sequences in the search query.
  • We would add language hl=br to get results from Brazilian sites included.
  • We would try to disable filters &filter=0&filter=s&safe=off&pws=0
Still we can check only 1000 backlinks per query. Read more about Google search parameters on Tuljo.com.

Ready baked queries to check backlinks

Quick backlink check -
google.com/search?q=link: "tuljo.com" -site:tuljo.com&start=990
52 backlinks.
Formatted query string -
52 backlinks.
Check for max number of backlinks -
google.com/search?q="tuljo.com" -site:tuljo.com&as_lq=&num=100&start=900&filter=0
120 backlinks.
This last check string will count as backlinks not only proper anchors but also URLs in image alt and src tags and in text. And does not include links that are listed on Google Webmaster Tools. So this does not return a full list of backlinks definitely.
Another thought. The backlinks give various positive signals to Google. Why shouldn't a src attribute be a signal? It's still a link, right? Or even futher, an URL written in body text? Or our name on a image? What is a backlink at all?

Find my backlinks

As conventional means of finding backlinks fail to deliver a coherent picture, we try to find other ways to check our links. A fragment like "http://"tuljo.com" would do. But it doesn't because the double quotation mark inside the keyword breaks the search. Insead we try "http://tuljo.com"
69 results.
This is equivalent to "http://tuljo.com" -site:tuljo.com
The best we can do is different queries to catch a glimpse. In reasonable limits, we never get to the exact count. We can explore the backlinks, and to be honest, that's what we want.