A lot of business owners are hands off when it comes to dealing with their SEO provider, especially when it comes to link building. Honestly, I don’t blame a lot of business owners and marketing folks for doing this. It’s a concept that involves a lot of minutiae that most people of any stripe don’t feel the need to get involved in. Personally, as a white hat SEO company, I prefer not having to explain every link building activity that we perform and instead focus on the results. That said, I do think it’s worthwhile to be armed with a few tools as a marketing person or small business owner to be able to shine some light on what your SEO or link building company is doing so you don’t get blindsided by a Google penalty.
Tool #1 – Google Webmaster Tools
You know what the best thing about Google Webmaster Tools is? It’s free. Everyone likes that. I could make a long list of things that makes Webmaster Tools…ahem…Search Console (as it’s now known) a beautiful thing. But I’ll cut to the chase. Head into Search Traffic> Links To Your Site. Then click More >> under “Who links the most” and prepare for an embarrassment of link riches. If you want to see the biggest cadre of links available on the web, click “Download this table” and open up your files in Excel.
This is probably the most valuable list of links you can review to decide if the links to your site are worth a damn or not. If you’re a small site with a few dozen, or even a hundred or so links, you can review this manually. Check out the pages – are they legitimate websites? Do most of the links have natural anchor text? Anchor text, if you’re not familiar, is the actual text used in the link back to your site. When you look at these links, do they use sensible language in the links, or do they all use the keyword you’re trying to rank for? If it’s the latter, Houston, we have a problem. Get on the phone and start asking questions, or shoot me an email and I’ll tell you what hard questions to ask. I love blowing up shady SEOs…even when it almost gets me a lawsuit (true story).
Tool #2 – SEOTools for Excel
You know what…okay, this tool is free, too. You’re welcome America. If you’ve got more links than you can possibly go through manually, or you’re just a lazy S.O.B. that’s fine, there are tools that can make your world easier. One of them is SEOTools for Excel. Download it here. Once you have this you can do a couple of cool things to simplify your life.
• You can check the PageRank of all your links to see if they score terribly low – if so, then you might want to manually check them to see if they’re problematic. Take your list of URLs and paste them into Excel. Fire up SEOTools select an adjacent cell to your URL and select Offpage>GooglePageRank. In a second you’ll get the PageRank for your URL. Copy and paste down your list, go grab a cup of coffee and when you come back you’ll have the PageRank of each of your pages (pro tip, copy and paste the PageRank as values otherwise if you try to manipulate the cells Excel will try re-running the formulas and you’ll be drunk on coffee by 10am).
• Yes, PageRank is out of date, but it’s still a useful starting point to see if a link is worth something or not. You can also make an even better check by stripping your URL down to its domain and checking to see if the domain has juice (this is a better option more often than not). Here’s a simple way to do this:
− Take your list of URLs and copy and paste it into a new column in your spreadsheet. Select the pasted column and do a series of find and replaces.
∗ Step 1: Replace *:// with nothing.
∗ Step 2: Replace www. with nothing.
∗ Step 3: Replace /* with nothing. After doing this you’ll find that your column is nothing but clean root domains. Run the PageRank check on the domains (it’ll check the home page) and then you’ll have a better feel if the link comes from a quality site or not.
Tool #3 – Open Site Explorer
There’s a free version of this tool if you’re SUPER lazy and don’t want to put too much effort into your link builder nanny state. The folks at Moz were nice enough to include a “spam score” when you run your URL to see if their index thinks your links are spammy. Granted, there are tools with greater index sizes and such, but if you just want a quick and dirty way of checking up on things, give this a run and you’ll get at least a little bit of a warning if your company is doing very bad things.