SEO: audit backlinks with Google Search Console
The best backlinks are those that search engines know about. Four reports in Google Search Console help analyze the strength of your backlink portfolio.
Search engines use backlinks – the links from other sites to yours – in their algorithms as measures of value and authority.
Google’s original PageRank algorithm devised the notion that links are like citations in, say, a research paper. The more citations it receives, the more valuable the site.
To attract links, the content of a site must be interesting to others. And link equity – the overall value of backlinks – is an algorithmic component of all major search engines. Analyzing the links that contribute to this equity can help you focus your link acquisition efforts.
Google Search Console’s “Links” reports are an excellent (and free) source for this analysis.
The Links page contains four sections:
- “Top linked pages” (external): pages on your site with links from other sites;
- “Top linking sites” (external): External sites linking to yours;
- “Top linking text” (external): anchor text on external sites that link to yours;
- “Top linked pages” (internal): pages of your site with the most internal links.
Additionally, Search Console discloses the total number of links to your site that Google has crawled, marked “2” in the image above (34,506 links). You can export a sample of these links by clicking “Export External Links”, marked “3”.
The export below contains only 9,451 of the site’s 34,506 total backlinks, or 27.4%. And the links are not necessarily the most important or the most representative. Nevertheless, by visiting the sampled pages, you can assess the type of sites linked to yours and how.
For example, the URL Linguee.com.ar highlighted above links to many sites, which it then translates. But Linguee.com.ar has many advertisements in the initial view and no real clean content. Google probably considers this a low value link.
Most Linked Pages
Each page of a site can attract external links. The “Top Linked Pages – External” report shows the number of links per page. For example, in the screenshot below, 375 sites (marked “2”) have 14,927 links to the homepage (“1”).
Click on any page to see which sites link to it. Clicking on the homepage URL, above, would show that Trustpilot.com links to it. Clicking on the next level will show which pages on Trustpilot.com contain the links.
You can also filter pages to include or exclude characters by clicking on the three-lined triangle, marked “3” in the image above, and then selecting “Target Page”. You can then restrict links to, for example, product pages.
Search Console makes filtering available in the same place in all reports. You can also export the data in all reports (marked “4” above). It’s a good idea to export the data periodically as Search Console does not save it. It only provides the previous 16 months.
Main binding sites
The top 1,000 domains that point to your site are listed in this report. For example, in the image below, Trustpilot.com is the first linking site (in the column marked “1”) with 7,002 pages (“2”) linking to just two pages (“3”).
Search engines use the number of unique, unaffiliated linking domains as their primary measure of value rather than the number of overall links. Fifty sites with one link are better than one site with 50 links, for example.
The analysis of the list of “Top linking sites” gives an idea of the number of interesting linking domains or not. For example, sites with paid links or with little unique content are of low value. Affiliate sites (belonging to the same company as yours) are also of low value. The site marked “4” above, for example, is affiliated.
Google won’t usually penalize your site these days for having lots of low value links – unlike the Penguin algorithm in the past. But low value links don’t help either. They do not contribute to your link equity and ability to rank.
Top link text
“Anchor text” is words that contain a link. It has a double value: It contributes to the contextual relevance of the page containing the link and, also, to the linked page.
The more specific the anchor text, the more valuable it is. The anchor text of “click here” or “learn more” sends weak relevance signals for both pages.
To analyze the anchor text that links to your site, scan the list in the “Top linking text” report, marked “1” in the example above. Text without the brand or domain will usually be the most beneficial.
There is no numerical data in this report and no way to tell which page contains the text or, alternatively, which page it links to. This report is therefore less useful than others.
Ideally, your site’s internal links point to the most important pages for ranking. Each internal link sends a small amount of link equity and relevance. Stronger internal link networks can produce stronger organic search rankings.
The “Top Linked Pages – Internal” report allows you to analyze your network of internal links. The total number of known pages with internal links, 43,985, is marked “1”.
The first page linked in the example above (2,038 links, marked “3”) is where buyers can place an order. The homepage is second. Go through the list to ensure that high priority pages contain an appropriate number of internal links. If not, consider rearranging your internal linking structure.