That’s not a typo. You can actually get 10,000% more backlinks in Google, simply by doing nothing.
That’s the jittery reality of Google Caffeine, the new indexing system that Google rolled out in June. Billed as the “largest collection of web content we’ve offered,”, Caffeine indexes the Web more deeply and frequently, providing better real-time results for up-to-the-minute content like blogs and tweets. Google provides this diagram of how it works:
So, instead of a neatly stacked search index that’s refreshed in layers, the new one somehow involves all kinds of crazy flying objects.
Never mind the technical details. The most obvious change for SEO professionals is the “Links to Your Site” section in Google Webmaster Tools, which have skyrocketed wildly. (The change was recently verified by Google here.) Taking a sample of our clients at our SEO content firm Media Shower, plus self-reported data from other sites, we have seen an average 10,000% increase in Google-reported backlinks.
Your mileage may vary, of course. Some sites (particularly smaller sites) have seen a “modest” backlink increase of 400%, while others have seen their link counts explode over 50,000%! Here’s a partial list of sites we surveyed.
We’ve always known that Google only showed a fraction of indexed backlinks in Webmaster Tools. While this was not clear from the interface, the company always referred to link counts as a “sample.” Now Google appears to be revealing a complete count of backlinks, or as complete as they’re able to index. This looks to be the most accurate count of backlinks on the Web, which is great news for those of us who track month-to-month progress on building links.
So, who are all these new sites linking to yours? The bad news is that when drilling down into specific backlinks (not overall counts), Google is showing an even smaller sample than before. Worse, the sample may be lower quality than ever, since you will likely find hundreds of spammy sites that have simply scraped your URL off Google SERPs.
The “S”-word: Google will only tell you a fraction of the sites that link to yours.
While Bing has followed suit, only displaying a maximum of 1,000 backlinks to your site, it displays a more helpful sample of 1,000 high-quality links to your site. With Google, you have no idea what you’re getting from their sample; it could be from the fresh end of the link pool, or it could be from the part that someone just peed into.
In short, Google’s Caffeine-powered backlink reports are both a blessing a curse. On the one hand, we now have more accurate (and, we hope, stable) backlink counts that can be used to track monthly progress in linkbuilding efforts. On the other hand, downloading a specific list of backlinks gives us even less useful information than before.
Here’s how Google can make Webmaster Tools the “Bing-Killer”: simply provide more transparency in their “sample” of reported links. Is it a random sample? Is it weighted more heavily in favor of high-quality or low-quality sites? Is it based on an algorithm extrapolated from Sergey’s DNA?
The best SEOs want to know the highest-quality sites that are linking back, so they can find more sites like them. That’s also what Google wants. It’s good for sites, good for webmasters, and good for the Web.
We’ve always known that caffeine is a Web developer’s best friend. We hope that Google Caffeine will eventually become a similar friend for those of us working to make the Web a better place.