Anchor Text Variation & Analysing Links in 2011

A lot has changed this year so far in terms of how we analyse competitors and particularly their link profiles, no longer is it acceptable to pull the links of the top 20 sites, you need to dig deeper than that thanks to recent changes in Google’s SERPs.

The problem is quite straight forward, late last year Google decided that the pages with the most links wasn’t going to be the one that ranked, Google switched and decided they new the best page to rank on your domain regardless of where the links were pointing. Many websites have seen deep pages spring to life with zero links thanks to Google’s new emphasis on relevance, however this leaves us with a few issues.

Where do we build links?


How do we know which links are helping our competitors rank?

To quickly get an understanding of what I am saying you need only search the term ‘seo’, there are at least 2 lisitings with pretty much zero links other than internal ones, yet they are ranking for a majorly competitive term.

They are still ranking based on links with the only difference being that Google have picked a more relevant page and seem to be deciding this based on content, URL structure and internal links.

So you want to rank for a term, to do so you’re are going to need to have a picture of every single link to your competitor not just the ones to the ranking page, the problem is there isn’t a tool that let’s you export all the links to a given domain, I like open site explorer but even this limits you to 10,000 links.

For me the best way to get around this is by using to the site: search modifier to discover what Google thinks are the most relevant pages for the keyword you wish to target.

So in a few simple steps;

1 – Find the competitors that rank for your target term

2 – Perform a site: search to find their most relevant pages

3 – Pull the links from the top ten pages into excel using a link tool of your choice

4 – Go have fun :)

9 times out of 10 this will give you all the links you need to effectively target the term.

In terms of how you build links my advice hasn’t really changed:

  • Build links to the most relevant page
  • Build Brand and Brand + Anchor Text to the homepage
  • Build a good number of variations to your internal/targeted pages

This brings me on nicely to my next point…..

Anchor Text Variation

Now we have known for a long time that anchor text variation has been good practice, sometimes for nothing more than dodging filters, however I am increasingly beginning to think it is quite a major factor.

Last weekend there was an algo shift in the UK, not Panda which hit Monday but something that happend over the weekend. On initial analysis all we could see is that sites with a good mixture of anchor text that included the target terms were benefiting.

Over the past couple of day I have been pulling links for the top ten ranking sites for 10 core keywords we track and the results seem to suggest a definite correlation between good anchor text variation and rankings;

anchor text variation

As you can see top ranking sites have better variations, as well as more anchor text from unique domains.

This is correlation and not causation but I for one will be looking to spread my anchor text a little further.

A Little on Panda

I don’t know about everyone else but this Panda Update is crazy!!!

Google sold it as the ‘content farming’ killer, however we are seeing some really strange results, sites with 100% content being hit and sites that publish nothing but duplicated content not being affected, weird.

We currently have access to more than 100 analytics accounts and are trying to figure this out, don’t believe everything you read either, a recent report on Search Metrics suggested a list of losers from their data but I can tell you 5 of the sites on their losers list saw traffic increases from Google!!

If anyone is suffering from Panda please drop me a line, we’re looking into a number of cases free of charge in an attempt to get our heads around this update.

We know it relates to site quality but we haven’t identified the individual factor due to the random variation in the sites being hit and as far as we can tell no one else knows the exact factors involved.

How To Analyse Link Growth Effectively

If you are actively attempting to optimise your website you will no doubt be monitoring your growth. Google rank, organic traffic and indexed content is something we should definitely be looking at, however there is another important aspect and that is the growth of our link profile.

There is a fundamental problem with trying to monitor your link growth, firstly there is no tool that can list 100% of your links (Don’t worry Google knows about all your links but chooses not to show them), the second problem is knowing how many of those links contribute to your page authority.

What I want to do in this post is go through some of the ways we can check our link growth, how we should monitor it and which statistics to use.

Right lets jump straight into it:


OK the obvious place to look for links is on Google,

Simply type in link:yourdomain and it will show pages that link to your domain;

links on google

As you can see from above this is the snap shot from SEOwizz.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, only 11 linking pages????

and here lies the problem;

The Problem

Google only shows a tiny percentage of the links to your site and in actual fact my count using this method fluctuates between 11 – 72. The reason for this I do not know.

Before anyone thinks Google is discounting links because of low quality or something, first know this.

I have links from over 50 PR4 pages including sites like SEOmoz, I also have links from a few PR5 and 6 pages, none of these show when I perform a link search on Google.

This is not the way you should be tracking links in my opinion and frankly means nothing in terms of keyword rankings.

I have consistently ranked on the first page for “google seo” and “seo techniques” despite massive fluctuations with the link count on this search.

Google Webmaster Tools

OK you can open up a webmaster tools account and submit and verify your site, once this is done Google will show you how many links are pointing to your pages, but again this is only a portion of the pages:

webmaster links

As you can see from the above pic, I have 2534 links pointing to the domain and 342 to the homepage, this is a more accurate figure in my opinion but again Google still only shows a partial amount of links, in my opinion Google only show the strongest links here.

The Problem

The main problem with the webmaster tools count is that it fluctuates so much, it is a good indicator of how many quality links you have pointing to a domain but it far from an ideal way of assessing popularity growth.

Yahoo Site Explorer

Now if you head on over to yahoo site explorer you will certainly get a better idea of where you are in link popularity terms.

yahoo links

Now there are some fluctuations on here and still even though it shows a lot more links it is not all of them, however this is the one I recommend on using when assessing raw link popularity, in fact any SEO tools I have ever used usually fall somewhere in between webmaster tools count and yahoo, usually closer to Yahoo.

The Problem

As I said yahoo is so much better for assessing raw popularity however it doesn’t give you any info about the quality and this is the hardest area to get around.

SEO Tools and How I Assess Link Growth

This is my advice and it is how I assess the link growth of all my clients, I will be mentioning certain tools in this section but they are not affiliate linked or even endorsed, I recommend them because they are the best.

Link Popularity

Already answered this one really, yahoo site explorer, this is how I asses link popularity growth but not how I assess how link quality is growing.


The SEOmoz Linkscape tool helps you to see how many quality links you have pointing to your page and how many route domains point to your page, you can actually get this information free by setting up an account, of course if you want in depth info you would need to go PRO, which in my opinion is only worth it if your site is making a real income for you or if your an SEO professional.

seomoz links

Some Things To Note

– SEOmoz only shows how many quality links point to you

– The tool performs a crawl of the web every 4 – 6 weeks so if you build links today you might to see them on SEOmoz for a couple of months.

As well as the SEOmoz tool you can also purchase SEO Elite, this allows you to see the PR of the page pointing to you and if the link is followed.

My advice is this use yahoo for link popularity and SEOmoz or Google webmaster tools count to assess how many quality links you have pointing to your page, but remember these only update every 2 months.

Why Don’t They Give Us It Straight?

The only way any tool could provide us with every single link pointing to our domain is if it could crawl the entire web and only Google possesses that kind of power. So why don’t they tell us about all our links??

Well the main excuse is competition, Google don’t want competitors to be able to discover everyone of your back links so they don’t make the information available. I guess you could then argue that they could provide it in the webmaster tools info, yes they could, why don’t they??? No idea other than maybe they don’t want to assist anyone to game the algorithm.

So when it comes to analysing link growth stick with yahoo for link popularity and SEOmoz/Webmaster Tools for link quality.

This post came from a question I was asked by Mike at HTS Tech Tips. If anyone has any questions feel free to forward them to me, I am happy to address any questions in emails and posts.