SEO Tools: Link Analysis, Part 1

In “Keyword Analysis Exercise,” we took a deep dive into answering questions about the role keyword density plays in search engine results. Using one of my favorite tools to answer the question, we determined there’s no magic equation that can be factored into producing better results.

However, we determined that if you want a Web page to be found for a particular keyword phrase, you better put the words on the page. While this seems like a no-brainer to most of the folks in the SEO (define) industry, it’s a concept many people fail to grasp.

Let’s start looking at some of the other signals that Web pages send to the search engines that help determine the overall relevance of the content to the query. Namely, inbound links. To get started, we’re going to look at some free tools. First up are Google PageRank and its freshly minted cousin, mozRank‘s Linkscape Report from SEOmoz.

What role does Google PageRank play in ranking its search results? Well if we’re talking about the little green pixels visible from the Google Tool Bar when activated, then not very much. If we’re talking about what’s bubbling and percolating behind the little green pixels, then quite a bit, actually.

Generally speaking, Google PageRank is a link-analysis algorithm that assigns a numerical weighting to each element of a hyperlinked set of documents. Google PageRank is designed to measure the relative importance of hyperlinked documents within sets of linking documents.

In other words, Google PageRank provides another series of signals that Google uses to produce relative results. The link-analysis algorithm is conveniently named after its creator, Larry Page. Hence, the endless confusion between algorithmic trademark protection and getting rankings in Google search results.

According to SEOmoz, mozRank is a general, logarithmically scaled 10-point measure of global link authority, as well as an algorithm for computing said measure. Like Google, mozRank uses a similar measure of the relative importance of a static set of linked documents, but uses different data sets.

Does mozRank or visible Google PageRank predetermine the order of search results? Of course not, but that won’t stop some folks from fixating on the little green pixels readily displayed in the Google Tool Bar. As an example, we’ll continue to use our results from a search query for “exercise equipment”:

Google SERPs Exercise Equipment

*PageRank and mozRank’s Linkscape reflect the score of the domain, not the URL.

If getting to page-one positioning for a particular search query was as simple as a numbers game, then there would be no need to work on anything else but link building to attain top results. All the same, you can use some numbers to grow your understanding of why some pages rank well for a particular search query, and others don’t. You can also grow your understanding of why rival sites rank, and yours don’t, by taking a look at information provided by some advanced search operators, which comprises our second set of free link-analysis tools.

The [link:] search operator will list documents that are linking to a specified Web page. For instance, a [] query in Google will list Web pages that have links pointing to the site’s homepage.

Unfortunately, Google only provides a small snapshot of links going to a particular document, unless you have admin access to the site. Then you can dig deeply into analyzing backlinks from Google Webmaster Tools.

Consequently, most folks in the SEO business will turn to another tool or two to understand a site’s backlink prowess. One tool of choice is Yahoo Site Explorer.

Does the number of links going to a particular Web page help determine its rankings in Google? Sure, but the number of backlinks to a particular Web page or Web site isn’t the only signal used that helps determine ranking order. To exemplify that top rankings aren’t determined by the pure volume of inbound links, just take a look at Google page-one results for “exercise equipment” side-by-side with information from Yahoo Site Explorer:

Google SERPs Exercise Equipment

As you can see, Yahoo Site Explorer allows you to review only the inbound links to the URL in question, as well as links inbound links to the entire site. While the numbers don’t determine the ranked order of the results, it provides us with a good idea of just how many links might be required to join the results on page one.

This information can provide some insight into deep-linking ratios that could impact domain authority in Yahoo. The information also helps explain why a category page for exercise equipment from Sports Authority has landed page-one search results in Google, even though the page doesn’t have anywhere near as many inbound links.

When it comes to inbound link analysis, some of the free tools provided by the search engines and SEO service providers can provide insight into how and what ranks highly in the search engines. But there are many more tools you can use to develop a link building strategy. Next time, we’ll take a look at some not-free tools for link analysis.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York March 23-27 at the Hilton New York. The only major search marketing conference and expo on the East Coast, SES New York will be packed with more than 70 sessions, including a ClickZ track, plus more than 150 exhibitors, networking events, parties, and training days.

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