Viewing Backlinks In Google Analytics

Cara Bowles    By under SEO Auditing.

Viewing Backlinks In Google Analytics 1This is big news from the Google Analytics team. Analytics now reports backlinks in real time, as they are indexed. The previous tool used by SEOs, Google Webmaster Tools, has been notoriously slow at reporting new links, but this will no longer be a problem.

Analytics is now reporting all links to your site as trackbacks, whether or not the blogger who links to you has adopted trackbacks. Here's what Ilya Grigorik of the Google Analytics team has said about it:

The concept of trackbacks...first emerged back in 2002...but the requirement for each site to explicitly implement this protocol has always stood in the way of adoption. If only you could crawl the web and build an accurate link graph. The good news is we already do that at Google, and are now providing this insight to Google Analytics users.

If you're not familiar with Trackbacks, then think of it as automated Google Alerts for all of your pages: you publish new content, we scour the web for pages that link to it and build automated reports for you right within Google Analytics - simple as that.

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past decade, you probably know that backlinks are the bread and butter of SEO.


Being SEOs, we would expect a giant button on the front page of Analytics saying "Click here to see your backlinks!!!" but, alas, Google has made it a bit more difficult to find the information, especially if you want to see it all in one place. Here's the convoluted process:

  1. In the left navigation menu, click on Traffic Sources
  2. Click on Social
  3. Click on Pages
  4. Scroll down and click on one of your URLs that has been shared. It doesn't matter which one
  5. Scroll back up and click on the Activity Stream tab
  6. Scroll all the way to the top, right below the Pages title, and click on All, or you will only see data for one of your pages
  7. Scroll back down, and switch from Conversations to Events
  8. In addition to social bookmarking and other events that used to be listed, you will now see trackbacks listed here. On the left side of any one of these, you will see a green arrow.  Click on it.
  9. You will land on a page that lists all of your trackbacks in the specified date range.
  10. Bookmark this page so you never have to go through all this again

Using the Data

Even after getting all the data in one place, it's not organized in a way that's particularly helpful to SEOs. At this point, there is no automated tool I'm aware of that can scrape all this information and put it in a more useful format, so here are two ways to use the data without creating any custom interfaces.

1. As Google Intended - Clearly, Google intends this to be used as a way to monitor mentions of your site online and respond to them. This might not sound exciting to some SEOs, but consider how much easier outreach becomes if somebody is already linking to you. Use this tool to get in touch with influential web personalities that are already linking to you, and start building some relationships. There are many ways to leverage these in the future.

2. Identify Your Link Bait - You should already be recording any links you've built on your own, so this tool is most effective as a way of monitoring the effectiveness of your link bait campaigns. This appears to be the most effective way to do that:

  1. Click on Traffic Sources, Social, then Pages
  2. Sort the results by Data Hub Activities.  This will list the pages with the most social activities first. Since backlinks are now considered social activities, your most linked to pages should appear close to the top.
  3. Click on the top page, and record it in a spreadsheet.
  4. Scroll up and click on the Activity Stream tab.
  5. Scroll down and switch from Conversations to Events.
  6. Click on the green arrow next to one of the trackbacks to get to a page listing all of the trackbacks to that particular page
  7. Above the results you will see text something like "1 - 10 of 127." It's the "127" you're interested in, since this is the number of links to your page that occurred in the specified date range. Record this in your spreadsheet
  8. If you like, visit the linking pages and assess them for PageRank, Alexa rank, and qualitative factors. Unfortunately, there's no way to sort these links by importance beforehand, so this will likely be too tedious for most SEOs. If you do collect this information, include it in your spreadsheet.
  9. Return to step 3 and repeat for the second page.
  10. Repeat steps 3 to 9 as many times as you like until the pages haven't attracted many links.

To accurately compare pages with one another, you may want to select a customized date range for each page. For example, it might be better to record the number of backlinks that occurred in the first thirty days after the page went live than to just record the number of backlinks that occurred over the past month.

How should we think about new links as we earn them? For a non-traditional slant on that question, take a look at our post about whether you can rank without backlinks.

Those are our recommendations. Can you think of other ways to use the data? We'd love to hear your input.

Image credit: ivanpw