A couple months ago, we talked about the (somewhat convoluted) addition of link notifications to Google Analytics. Now they've taken things a step further in Webmaster Tools, allowing you to download a spreadsheet of the latest links to Excel or Google Docs. This is great news, but it may also have implications for where SEO is headed.
How it Works
Unlike the backlinks in analytics, the new link download feature is fairly straightforward.
- Log into Google Webmaster Tools
- Click on Traffic in the left column
- Click on Links to Your Site beneath Traffic
- Click on the Download latest links button above the link data
- Choose CSV for Excel or Google Docs for, well, exactly what it sounds like, and hit OK
Being the data hungry internet marketers that we are, access to the latest links indexed by Google is fuel for our addiction, but how can we put this data to use? Here are a few ideas.
Spotting Penalties - Assuming a sudden drop in traffic is the result of a penalty and not an algorithmic change, this tool will make it easy to spot which links are harming you. If your traffic drops suddenly on the same day that a particularly suspicious-looking link is indexed, you have a pretty good idea which links to consider removing.
Tracking Link bait Effectiveness - While you should already be tracking any manual link building efforts, this doesn't help you track your natural links. Goals that can't be measured can't be met, and this tool makes the measuring part much easier.
Measuring Link "Power" - There is unquestionably a lot of debate about what kinds of links have the most influence on rankings. Knowing when links were indexed and comparing this to when changes in Google traffic occurred should make it easier to identify causes, not just correlations.
But Why Did Google Do it?
This is the question that intrigues me most. Why is Google suddenly forthcoming with data that they have kept relatively inaccessible in the past? My first thought is that this is a precursor to a Google "disavow links" tool, which they may be under more pressure to implement now that Bing has already done it.
But this only brings up the stranger fact that Bing has felt an urge to appeal to the SEO community in the first place. Why are Bing and Google competing over the favor of the search optimization industry?One possibility is that the search engines believe webmasters have some influence over the consumer's choices.
Still, Google's sudden willingness to share link data indicates a level of confidence in the algorithm that we haven't seen before. While it's not as though they are handing us the secrets to the algorithm, they are freely giving away data that could make it easier to piece it together. This rings especially true considering that Matt Cutts recently said links will continue playing an important part for quite some time.
If I had to guess, I would say this change means Google is becoming confident enough in their algorithm to say, "Yes, this was the link that we didn't trust. No, this behavior is not acceptable."
This might be a bit speculative. Then again, Google recently developed a "brain" capable of identifying pictures of cats without any training from humans. It's currently 1% the size of the human visual cortex, and the project was run by the search team itself, so this kind of confidence in the algorithm wouldn't necessarily be unfounded.
Why do you think Google included the "download latest links" tool?
Image credit: Ella's Dad