There’s always something to howl about

Notes on Inbound Link Text

I broke my blog a few weeks ago and it proved something pretty interesting about Google.  The lesson behind that experience can help you bring in higher quality visitors from search engines.

Fixing my mistake was simple since I’d just put a semicolon where it didn’t belong, and while the error was ugly, my site was back to normal in about a minute.

But sometimes coincidences happen, and while my site was belly up talking about some PHP parse error, Google’s friendly spiderbot came crawling by to pick up its latest snapshot of my site.  Oops!

So, normally, a search for “silicon valley real estate” shows my entry like this:

And, for the next day or so, it would look like this:

After reading the ugly description text, I put my eyes back in their sockets and thought about the title text.  I never use the phrase “steve leung silicon valley” on my site and my title tag at the moment was something like “Unexpected Error”.  But I knew, like the Erics have mentioned on BHB before, that Google gives a lot of weight to what people link to you say.

It takes those links so seriously, that it will literally use their text in its own search results if your site loses the plot for some reason.  Which shows how important other people’s links to you are.

How do I know people used that phrase to link to my site?  In this case, Google Webmaster Tools.  You won’t use it everyday, but it’s indispensable for a few reasons.  The most important is that it gives you insight into the great undocumented void of how Google sees your site, and if you have any technical issues that will prevent you from getting indexed correctly in their search engine.

In fact, Google Webmaster Tools has evolved to a point where it will flag issues that aren’t purely technical, like repeated titles.  This happens a lot with WordPress blogs which use the same title any time there’s pagination.

It also gives you the ability to communicate with Google if you really need to.  I once bought a domain name from someone who’d used it as a spam site.  It wasn’t showing up in the Google index in spite of a new owner and fresh content, but a quick reconsideration request sent through Google Webmaster Tools had the site restored in about two days.

It’s also useful if your webmaster or SEO used a black hat optimization technique which resulted in a penalty, and you’d like to make amends.  And, in many cases, Google will also send you a notification that there’s evidence your site shows signs it’s been hacked.

But for folks looking to build higher-value traffic to their sites, understanding how people link to you is the first step to building a keyword set that will bring in higher quality traffic.  So why the emphasis on Google?  Almost 70% of market share in the U.S. (and if this is any indication of which way the wind is blowing… almost 90% in the UK.)

Related posts:
  • Blogoff Post #5: It takes sharp-elbowed self-promotion to grab the brass link . . .
  • Blogoff Post #10: How your weblog can attract inbound links . . .
  • Google’s reciprocal link penalty for real estate sites explained


    12 Comments so far

    1. Chris the Implementer September 9th, 2008 5:35 am


      That is good insight… though snafu-ish… in nature. [Good Lord, is that a word?] As I ramp up in my understanding of the online community and maximizing back links and the like, this is very useful. Thanks for pulling time out to share the ‘ugly’ side of WHEN PARSE ERRORS ATTACK.

      Chris Brown

    2. Edge - The Credit Crunch September 9th, 2008 12:51 pm


      It’s a good thing to check for as often as possible. Sometimes, the details provided from that error, especially with widespread public tools, can disclose things like database table names or even worse – passwords.

      A close friend was hacked a few months ago and it turned out then a google result was giving anyone who paid attention login details to his database.

      For those that are worried, we were surprised to see that Google was very quick to respond to that particular email. Truth be told, we didn’t expect them to get back so soon.

    3. Steven Leung September 9th, 2008 5:55 pm

      Chris – thanks, it’s one of those lemons and lemonade situations, and it’s nice that a typo could reveal a little more about how Google works.

      Edge – good insight, Google’s amazingly responsive to some things and completely opaque in others.

    4. Al Donohue | Ridgewood Real Estate Guy September 9th, 2008 6:36 pm


      Great info and sounds like a tool that would really be helpful to me. I just tried to add my WordPress blog but could not figure out how to add the HTML file. Every time I tried to add it as a post my blog automatically inserts the date of the blog in the slug and I think that is why I can’t verify my site. I tried to change the slug but it didn’t work. I realize this is not your problem but if you have an idea of what I am doing wrong I would love to be able to add this tool.

      Thanks for the info.


    5. Steven Leung September 9th, 2008 8:03 pm

      Al – I think the only thing you’re doing wrong is using a post instead of a page. The folks here tried these instructions and many have confirmed they’ve worked.

      Good luck,


      1) Write a new PAGE (not Post)

      2) Paste on the title (subject) the exact code that you get from Google Webmaster Tools option “Upload an HTML file” (this is the verification method you have to choose). Example of the code:


      3) Click to publish it.

      4) Ask Google to verify your Blog.

    6. Steve: Thank you for the insight into how Google works and for the link to Google Webmaster Tools. I will give it a try.

    7. Steven Leung September 10th, 2008 3:09 am

      Michelle – thanks and best

    8. jaybird September 10th, 2008 1:49 pm

      someday I’ll know how to make a WordPress blog when WordPress for Dummies 2nd edition comes out. At least that’s my hope for finally learning what all the other BHB regulars seem to understand except myself. Until then thank god for REW.


    9. Eric Blackwell September 10th, 2008 2:59 pm

      @Stephen- Spot on with this, my friend.

      Many people have concerns about talking to Google. There is no need to be concerned in my book. They are great folks who are just trying to do their job just like we are. I have found them to be caring and to respond quick when there is a true problem (ala when my blog got hacked etc.)

      Thanks for documenting when there are issues. It helps others avoid them.



    10. Steven Leung September 10th, 2008 10:33 pm

      Jaybird – WordPress seems to have two humps in its learning curve. I spoke with a friend of mine who said she “sucks” at WordPress — her words.

      It turns out the reason she says that is because certain things like fonts, page layout and colors are “on rails”. Once they’re configured, they happen automatically in a way where, if you want to completely change the way your entire site looks, you can do that at the flick of a switch. Powerful.

      The trade-off is that she wanted to color outside the lines for one post, and because WordPress is on rails, it’s not something WP makes point-and-click. Hence, the suckitude.

      So the first hump is really in knowing what you want and configuring it into the system.

      Whether you do this yourself is a choice about what you feel the highest and best use of your time is. At least you’d be able to skip the book because…

      The second hump is tactical: buying into the fact that web publishing isn’t Microsoft Word. It’s actually less feature rich (think Wordpad) and more automated (autosave, version control… so if you save a change you don’t want, you can always go back in time, etc.)

      There are literally ten buttons you’ll use and most of them are the same across all blog platforms.

      WordPress really powerful, and not using it doesn’t mean you won’t be wildly successful, but a quick way to start is at where they take care of all the configuration and you can choose whether it’s right for you.

      Eric – Muchas gracias, mi amigo

    11. Tina Fountain September 11th, 2008 5:40 pm

      Steven – I had a similar occurrence, our website server was down for a couple of hours one afternoon and of course Google came calling during the short period our site was down. We did take a hit on may search terms, but it corrected it self during the next visit from Google.

      You mention that most people won’t use the Google webmaster tool everyday, I’m embarrassed to admit that I check it every morning!

    12. Steven Leung September 12th, 2008 12:24 am

      Tina – nothing wrong with that! :-)