By Christian Bullock on February 24, 2010
You probably know that getting inbound links to your website from good, reputable sites can help your site appear higher in search results, and get you more visitors. You may also have heard it's important to keep tabs on the number of links to your site - but why?
Reputation management. You want to know who's linking to you, and what they're saying about you. You also want to know whether the number of links to your site is increasing or declining over time. Below, you'll find instructions for checking inbound links to your site in Google Webmaster Tools.
What Should I Do with Links When I Find Them?
If you find a new link to your site from a blog or news site where you can comment, drop a quick “Thanks for the link!” Read the blog post or news article - and the comments - for any questions posed by the author or commenters. Addressing those questions in an open, honest and friendly way enhances your reputation and could make bloggers and article authors more willing to link to you again. You’d be amazed how far a little courtesy travels in cyberspace.
You may regard some links as “bad” - but don't disregard these links. If someone links to your site as they bad-mouth it, search engines will not downgrade your site just because the discussion isn’t entirely positive. In some cases, any publicity is good publicity. Just remember that you can contribute to the discussion, too, by adding constructive remarks, answering questions, and offering to put right any bad experiences someone has had with your site or your business. Again, you could be surprised by how much you gain from acting in good faith and being courteous.
All that said, you do want to make sure your site isn’t linked from a porn site or other bad actor on the Web. We’re all known by the company we keep, and the Web is no exception. You don’t want to be part of a bad neighborhood – it could ruin your website’s rankings and reputation. If you see a link from a site you don't want to be associated with, write to the site owner or webmaster and politely ask them to remove the link to your site. Don't tell them you think their site is bad for you - just make the request without making any negative remarks about their site.
Monitor your links – they should be increasing over time. Any website owner who wants to increase traffic should be creating new, compelling content on a regular basis. If you’re doing a good job of alerting people to your new content, and the right audiences are finding it, you should see an increase in inbound links over time.
If the number of inbound links to your site is decreasing, you should take a step back and re-evaluate your website strategy. Key questions you should consider are:
1) Am I creating new and interesting content?
2) Am I letting the appropriate audience know of this new content in the appropriate venues?
- Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter
- Press releases
- Online industry publications
- Notifying influential bloggers in your industry when you have content that could interest them
Are Your Inbound Links Coming from Diverse Sources?
Google likes seeing inbound links to a site coming from multiple sources, not just one or two. That's because it's not really difficult for a website owner to persuade one or two friends to link to a site. What really counts is getting links from people who recognize the value of your content, whether they're your friends or not. The more diverse your inbound link profile, the more likely it is that you've earned those links with high-value content.
Links to your site matter because they are one factor Google considers in determining whether your site is valued by people. Google can't interview a bunch of folks to find out if your site and business have a good reputation, so it uses inbound links as a proxy measurement.
That's also why buying links or participating in link-exchange schemes is such a bad idea. Google can tell whether the content on a page that links to your site is relevant to your site, and is also wise to link schemes. Participating in these can get your site penalized.
Checking Your Inbound Links at Google Webmaster Tools
2) Click on your website's URL.
3) At the bottom left side of the main dashboard, you’ll see an area that says Links to your site. Click on More >> Behold, your inbound link headquarters! Here you'll find:
- Who links the most. This shows you which websites link most often to your site.
- Your most linked content. This tells you which pages on your site have the most inbound links from other sites.
- How your data is linked. This shows you which actual words are used to link to your pages. The linking words are called anchor text.
All three of these sections are important.
Who Links the Most
This page shows you the domains - or websites - that link to your site. You can even drill down further to discover which individual web pages contain a link to your site. Just click the plus sign beside the domain that interests you.
You may want to thank the owner or webmaster of the sites that link to you most. They're good friends, and should be acknowledged.
Your Most Linked Content
This page shows you which pages on your site have the most inbound links from other sites. Again, click the plus sign beside any page to see more details.
As above, you can thank the authors of these pages for linking to you. Just as important, you may discover something valuable on these pages - something you can use on your own site. Just be sure to ask first, cite the original source, and provide a link.
How Your Data Are Linked
This page shows you the most popular anchor text for links to your website. Unfortunately, you can’t do much with this information. It would be great to see Google expand this reporting to include information about which specific website is using each piece of anchor text. Until Google does this, you can sit back and enjoy viewing the creative (and not-so-creative) ways that people link to you.
If you have identified specific keywords as important to your SEO strategy - and you don't have a huge number of inbound links to check - you can ask people at linking websites to use the terms you care about as anchor text for their links. Ask nicely, and be prepared to offer your thanks publicly in a way that's meaningful to them.
Want to check which sites you are linking to? Use the Redirectory tab on the AboutUs page about your site.