image A while ago I wrote a post about 3 FREE ways to analyse backlinks for your website, which was received very well both by colleagues inside Microsoft and external readers of my blog.  I decided to follow up on this post by discussing another backlink analysis tool (with a difference) from SEOMOZ.org

To explain how effective a tool the SEOMOZ Open Site Explorer can be, I am going to explain how I have recently used it to help with a real SEO issue we are facing inside Microsoft…

Background info – what problem we are trying to solve…

Our Microsoft support website can be accessed globally using this URL – http://support.microsoft.com.  Users will be shown a local language version of the website automatically based on their default browser language setting.  This means that someone wishing to link to the French version of the support site will link to http://support.microsoft.com, the same as the German, the Dutch and every other language.  The same link can be used for any language, safe in the knowledge that end users will see the site in their local language.

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The problem of course is that search engines crawlers do not have a ‘browser language’, so they will only ever see the default language content (United States English), and will of course only ever ‘count’ a link to http://support.microsoft.com as a link to the English version of the site, never the local language homepage – even if the link came from a non-English website.

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It is possible to link to a local language homepage by using the following format (using IT for Italy as the example)…

http://support.microsoft.com/?ln=it

…however historically this has not been done, so the majority of our internal and external links are pointing to http://support.microsoft.com (effectively the U.S. English homepage)

Whilst we are working on internal (same sub-domain) linking improvements to get more link juice to the local homepages, we also have a lot of manual work to do in updating other Microsoft.com websites, and trying to get external links updated to use the correct format.

My job is to educate and motivate our internal site management teams to increase the number of links pointing to their local homepages :-) Open Site Explorer has come in useful for this…

Comparing URLs using Open Site Explorer

Counting the number of links pointing to each page is relatively easy (e.g. using Yahoo Site Explorer), however determining which homepages are ranking well compared to others is tricky since the Yahoo tool does not show how valuable the links are.  It is impossible to compare each hompeage against each other in the search results since they all use different languages.

The Open Site Explorer however, provides information to indicate the number of links pointing to a page, as well as the strength of those links.  In addition, it allows you to compare two URLs side by side.  Here is an example of the Russian (RU) Microsoft Support homepage compared against the Dutch (NL)…

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…which indicates that the Russian homepage has nearly twice the score (based on quality/quantity of backlinks) of the Dutch.  Scrolling further down the page you can also see the number of backlinks pointing to each page… 

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Important note: The Russian homepage has LESS links, but a higher score!  The information found by further scrolling down the page provides some insight in to WHY…

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Even though with the free version of the tool, I can only see metrics on the top 5 pages linking TO each URL, I can spot a couple of key differences in the backlinks to the two pages…

  1. The top ranking linking page for Russia (the Russian Microsoft.com homepage) has a higher ranking than the top ranking page for the Netherlands (The Dutch Microsoft.com homepage).
  2. Both homepages are linked from their countries Microsoft.com sitemap pages, however the Russian sitemap page is ranking higher than the Dutch page.
  3. The Russian homepage has a number of links pointing to it from high ranking Knowledge Base articles (support.microsoft.com/kb), whereas the Dutch homepage does not.

So by learning from the example of the Russian page, I have some easily actionable steps of requesting additional links from high ranking pages which are owned by colleagues at Microsoft.  By logging in to my pro account I can see additional links for further analysis and even export them to Excel.

Using the results for team motivation

The thing which I love about this tool is that the free version provides valuable and actionable data (as shown above).  This means that I can send a link to the tool to my global site management and content teams, provide a brief explanation of what it does and how to use it (I will in fact be sending them a link to this blog post as that explanation) and ask them to compare their own homepages and other content against their colleagues in other languages.  It’s amazing how a little bit of competition can motivate people for some proactive link building! :-)

Author: Chris Moore is a Program Manager working on Search Engine Optimisation at Microsoft.  http://www.twitter.com/chrismdotcom

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