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Webmaster Tools shows many backlinks. LINK: operator shows 10?

 5:04 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Hey guys- I have a site that dropped from first page to 8th page during the 1/13 update and I'm still trying to figure out what happened.

One theory is that Google stopped counting many of my external links for some reason...one thing that I noticed is that using the LINK: command with Google is only showing 10 external links for my domain (18 with omitted results shown).

Google Webmaster Tools however tells a different story-- it counts 154 external links to the site, 125 directly to the domain in question. These links come from about 80 unique domain names.

Now, late last year we engaged in a program where we asked partners we work with to link to our site using a specific keyword (our name and the type of product we sell). It worked- we got on the first page for that keyword. But now, since 1/13, we've dropped. Note that our site has that keyword throughout as we use it naturally to describe our products.

Given the discrepancy in the links Google knows about in Webmaster Tools and in the links that Google shows using the LINK: command it would seem to me that Google has stopped counting many of our external links and consequently we've dropped in ranking. When I check out the sites that rank above us using the LINK: command it shows 100+ external links for the leaders, on down to where we are with just 10 on page 8. It would seem to me that this is one of the factors for why they are now ranking higher.

So I'm wondering- given all that, is there anything we can do differently to get Google to count all our external links? Could we be penalized for having too many external links that follow the same anchor text schema?

In any case I think this external link discrepancy is an interesting one worth discussing :)



 5:16 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

It is normal for Google to show a much smaller sample of backlinks with the public link: operator search. They save the big list for the verified owner of the site, in the Webmaster Tools report.

Webmaster Central Showing Increased Backlinks [webmasterworld.com]
Link: Operator FAQ [webmasterworld.com]

Note that in neither case will Google report ALL the backlinks that they have in their index. They just don't share the complete data.

link to our site using a specific keyword (our name and the type of product we sell)

There are several similar reports around the forum recently - some suspect that the issue is too much identical anchor text.


 5:21 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks tedster- I was afraid of this. Guess I'll have to go back to the drawing board to figure out the drop in SERPs :)

There are several similar reports around the forum recently - some suspect that the issue is too much identical anchor text.

The thing thats weird is that we've dropped for basically every keyword equally. It's like we've been penalized and I worry that the inbound links we got last year that helped us go to first page are part of that, as you suggest. I guess the fix would be to ask our partners to drop and change their links :)


 7:03 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

My understanding is that Google looks for "natural" links - the kind that multitudes of non-related people would add to a website on their own - which would mean the words used would be varied. So maybe you could ask some of your partners to make some changes in the wording of the links?


 7:18 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Good call vero- it makes sense to me. We wanted the partners to follow a strict pattern but I guess we may be shooting ourselves in the foot with that.

I worry that doing that alone won't fix the problem though- the drop in rankings for every other keyword makes me feel like we're penalized somehow. But then again, having them not count links because they were "too similar" could also lead to a general drop too.

In any case I think the course of action is to have the partners change their links to all be different. Why not :)


 7:29 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

If this is a penalty (and it does show the signs) a large ranking drop across every search is often about backlink manipulation - loss of trust. But even if you get the identical anchor text changed, that may not be enough to truly re-build trust and see the penalty lifted. It sounds like you're in need of some more independent backlinks as well.


 7:52 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks for your insight tedster. I'm not clear on what you mean by independent backlinks- do you mean by sites that Google considers to probably be totally unrelated to the site in question?


 8:20 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

One other thing - don't ask all the partners at the same time to change the links. I think you'd be better off doing it in stages. Again, it would seem more "natural"

Also - Google looks at, not only the link, but the text surrounding it. So, you could do variations, such as
BUY red widgets
find RED widgets
with the capitals being the links, the rest just being surrounding text. That way, you'd still get your search terms in, just in variable ways


 8:40 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Vero- excellent suggestions all around. Much appreciated, I'll let you know how it goes :)

As to the partners updating at the same time, heh, it's not likely that'd happen even if I wanted to- they move pretty slowly!


 8:59 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

do you mean by sites that Google considers to probably be totally unrelated to the site in question?

Yes - that's exactly what Google wants to see and rewards the most. Someone links to your site and you had nothing to do with it.


 9:01 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

tedster- cool. Thanks for your insight!


 6:52 pm on Feb 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

As a followup to this thread, I investigated all the partners who are linking to the site in question, and actually only 4 had text links with the same keywords and 1 had an image link with the keywords in the alt tags. All the others did their own things.

I'm not convinced this is the problem, but one of the partners did add us to the footer of all their pages using the same keywords. That's kindof spammy in my opinion, so we're going to target that first.

Anyone have any additional thoughts on this? :) Is 4 sites making a similar link enough to trigger a penalty?


 7:32 pm on Feb 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

when you say partner, do you mean you're exchanging links with them?


 7:45 pm on Feb 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

Good question MM- I appreciate your insight here :)

In this case we asked business partners to link to the site in question to drive traffic from their site. Whether or not we linked back to them was never part of the deal, but perhaps thats still considered exchanging links? :)

In either case, I think the part where we stumbled was that we asked them to all link to us in a certain way in order to maximize SEO- sortof a controlled "google bomb" for a particular keyword. Though only 4 followed through with our request. However, one of them went a little wild and just threw us on the footer of all pages of their site (30+). I think that might be part of the problem. What do you think?

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