DIY SEO #6: Determining Your Website’s Strength

Determining Your Website's Strength

Update (11/04/1024)
Since writing this post, a few things have changed.  Google’s Pagerank is no longer accurate or updated.  So, that cannot be used at all.  Also, another source you can use for checking links is Open Site Explorer from  [End Update].

When performing SEO on your website, it would be really nice if we could just find which keywords are most popular, optimize for them, and then start ranking well for those keywords.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  How strong your website is in the search engines will greatly determine whether you will rank well for a keyword no matter how much on-page optimization you do.  So, how strong is your website?

What determine’s strength?
There are lots of websites and pretty much no matter what keyword you optimize for, there are hundreds of other sites optimized for that same keyword.  So, how do the search engines decide who gets ranked #1 and who gets ranked #101?  That’s actually a very complicated question (Google has over 200 factors in their algorithm), but I’ll over simplify the answer for our purpose here.  The ranking is determined by a combination  of how well a site is optimized for a keyword (the signal to the search engine that your site is relevant) and the strength of page relative to the competing pages.  The strength of the page is primarily determined by links.

The more links a site has the stronger they will be in the search engines.  But it’s not that simple or this would be too easy.  Not all links are created equal.  The link from a very strong site is worth more than a link from a weak site.  So, a site could have 1000 links pointing to it from weak sites and not be as strong as a site that only has 50 links pointing to it if those 50 links are from strong sites.

The Problem
We need want to determine our website’s strength and that requires knowing how many inbound links we have and how strong those inbound links are.  Unfortunately, no one wants to give up that info.  Google won’t even tell us a truly accurate number for how many inbound links they have found to our OWN site, nor will Bing.  So, what was going to be a somewhat difficult task, just became impossible.  We can’t get a definitive answer, but we can look at signals from a few sources and get an idea of our website’s strength.

What is Page Rank and do you even care?
One of the signals out there related to a website’s strength is Google’s PageRank.  If you spend much time looking around SEO forums and blogs, you’ve probably seen people debating whether PageRank is worth anything.  The reality is that PageRank is real and a very important number.  It is also, unfortunately, the reality that Google doesn’t tell anyone their PageRank.  The only PageRank info we can get is from the Google toolbar and that PageRank number is not your real PageRank, nor is it accurate.  It’s an overly simplified number (only 1 – 10), it’s not updated very often, and Google has no problem putting up false numbers if they feel the need.  So, I don’t recommend using that number as a key bit of data, but I do think it’s a signal worth looking at along with other signals.

The Strength TestThe Strength Test
Right now we just want to get an general idea of how strong our site is in the search engines.  It will help as we continue with our keyword research.  The key to determining a website’s strength is looking at several signals to create an overall picture of the strength.  These are the signals I look at:

  • Inbound links to your site according to Yahoo – This is done by going to Yahoo Site Explorer and entering your domain.  There is a filter near the top to exclude internal links (links from your domain), you want to use that filter.
  • Inbound links to your site according to Google Webmaster Tools – If you don’t have a Google Webmaster Tools account yet, set one up.  Once in your account (and once they’ve updated your data if it’s a new account), you should be able to get the link data by looking in “Your site on the web” -> “Links to your site”.  Be sure to look at both the www. and non-www. version of your domain name.  Google treats them differently.
  • Inbound links according to Majestic SEO – Since Google and Yahoo intensionally don’t list all your links, I suggest using Majestic SEO as well.  You should be fine with just a free account.  The good thing about Majestic SEO is that they have no reason not to show you all your link data.  The bad thing is that their link database, while absolutely enormous, is not the same as the Google or Yahoo databases.  So, they may have found links that Google or Yahoo have not found and vice versa.
  • PageRank of your homepage and your second tier pages (category pages or section homepages, etc).  You’ll need to have Google’s toolbar installed with the PageRank feature turned on to see this info.
  • Is your site already ranking for keywords and, if so, how competitive are those keywords?  This is just manually searching looking at a handful of keywords in Google and Bing.

Interpreting the Data
By looking at three sources of link data, you should start to get a general idea of how many inbound links you really have.  Don’t be freaked out by seeing different numbers from each source.  Frankly, I’d be more freaked out if I saw the same numbers in all the sources.  Your just trying to get a general idea of how competitive your site is.  If you have less than a hundred links, you’re not really even on the playing field yet.  If you have a thousands links you’ve got some strength, but how competitive you are will depend on how competitive your niche is.  If you have millions of links, you’re very competitive in just about any niche.

As for your pages’ PageRanks, if you are seeing 0’s and 1’s, then your site is looking pretty weak.  3’s and 4’s indicate that you’re probably reasonably competitive in most niches.  5 and up and your a significant player.  In some niches, a PageRank 5 site will dominate.

If you are already ranking in the top 10 for some of the keywords you looked at, then you know you’re on the right track and have some authority (strength) in the search engines.

Note: If you are a local organization, it’s OK if you don’t have huge link numbers / PageRank.  Local competition is less intense than on the national level where you may have to have hundreds of thousands or even millions of inbound links.  If you are a local organization, but found out from the competition research in DIY SEO #4 that in the search engines you are actually competing with a lot of national organizations, then you’ll just need to accept the fact that when marketing in the search engines, you’re competition is going to be more difficult.

Today’s Tasks:

  • Look up your inbound link figures.
  • Check the PageRank for your homepage and tier 2 pages in the Google toolbar.
  • Manually check some of your keywords (some popular keywords and some not so popular keywords) and see if you are already ranking for some of the keywords.

Photos by irene nobrega and saeru

How is your site’s strength looking in the search engines?

Do you have any questions about determining your website’s strength?

DIY SEO #5: Keyword Popularity Research <- DIY SEO: Main -> DIY SEO #7: Keyword Competition Research

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