Backlink Madness

So often when someone lists one of their sites for sale, they mention the number of backlinks it has. The number of backlinks a site has does impact its ranking in the search engines and would appear to be a important factor in valuing a website.

After a little research, I will continue to seek out backlinks for my websites but I will no longer waste a single moment on counting them.
Why not? Simple – those who keep count appear to be doing a poor job of it.

Google has never been known for being 100% up front about the number of backlinks it has listed for a website; so there’s no point in talking about their counts.

Many suggest using Yahoo’s Site Explorer Tool. I thought I would experiment a bit with that one as it does appear to give more complete results. So for a little over two months I kept track of the backlinks Yahoo had listed for each of my sites. I checked approximately once a week for 10 weeks. The results were only somewhat surprising – they were all over the place. My results may be a bit skewed as this blog enjoyed two articles reaching the front page of Digg; but, even with that the inconsistency remained.

My study took place during September to early November. I tracked 8 websites and counted links only from other sites to the entire website – settings Site Explorer makes available.

Let’s take two of my sites…

Site 1
Week 1 – 2,134
Week 2 – 1,757
Week 3 – 1,753
Week 4 – 1,730
Week 5 – 2,674
Week 6 – 1,878
Week 7 – 887
Week 8 – 873
Week 9 – 964
Week 10 – 3,550

Today – 3,920

Site 2
Week 1 – 4,355
Week 2 – 4,056
Week 3 – 4,018
Week 4 – 4,016
Week 5 – 5,256
Week 6 – 3,474
Week 7 – 2,486
Week 8 – 2,173
Week 9 – 2,340
Week 10 – 6,460

Today – 7,790

During this time, I intentionally did not make any special efforts at link building – the Diggs being the one huge exception. However, the Diggs did not happen until weeks 8 and 9 – so the spike in sites on week 5 had nothing to do with getting to the front page of Digg or any other link building on my part. All but the newest site in the list experienced a spike in Week 5 and a huge dip in Week 6. By Week 10, all 8 had slowly worked their way back to Week 5’s peak or higher.

So, what did I learn? Backlinks are a measurement of a site’s value that is mercurial at best and totally wrong at worst. Valuing a site based on it’s backlinks would appear to be as misleading as valuing a site based solely on PR or an Alexa rating.

Am I saying that accumulating backlinks is a waste of time? Not hardly. I’m just saying that there appears to be little point in worrying about how many a particular site has gotten and whatever number of backlinks a site claims to own today will most likely be a different number tomorrow.

A few suggestions for further reading...

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