Link analysis has always been an integral part to search marketing efforts. As with all marketing, you need to benchmark where you are and what your competitors are doing in order to put the right work in place and also to track performance. Within the last two years this process has become easier with a wider range of tools now available to aid you.
Search specialists will definitely know all of these and many more, but this list is aimed more at client-side marketers who want to benchmark their link quality against competitors, review SEO agency performance and spot opportunities for partnering with other sites, for example blogger outreach.
Added references to this excellent review of data quality from backlink analysis tools from Richard Baxter at SEOGadget. Don't purchase a subscription or use any of these tools until you've read this!
Here is a summary using the most important chart of many - see the full analysis. Data is presented for the www.seogadget.co.uk site.
Majestic is often lauded for the size of its database. This chart shows a clear difference between these services. Another report on Live links shows a similar pattern:
So which is the best tool? While the chart above may suggest Majestic the detailed analysis shows that you need a combination. Richard Baxter concludes:
"The bottom line is this – I would consolidate and de-dupe the data from all 3 to get the most complete picture of my backlinks. While Majestic and Google Webmaster Tools have the ”most” data, they’re not complete. Open Site Explorer is about on par with Majestic Fresh (it’s slightly better in this case) but the data is different.
They all have differing crawl depths, index compositions, user interfaces and additional features. I can’t see how any serious link analysis would omit data from any of these sources. On a product development note, I really wish Google Webmaster Tools would make their link data available via the API."
This is what we find when we speak to agencies and clients - most use both Majestic and SEOmoz.
Increasingly, there is overlap with monitoring online PR tools which record mentions across the web - for these see our compilation of 36 reputation management services.
We think Majestic SEO is particularly useful for top-level benchmarking. The paid service gives more detail on the links, but the free backlink history analysis report below compares competitor activity at the top level. Here we're comparing our recently launched site with the established DaveChaffey.com. It shows linkbuilding is a long-term play rewarded by a sound content strategy! If you use this tool, we recommend the cumulative view and focusing on the unique referring domains as explained below. We did an interview with Dixon Jones of Majestic SEO a year ago which reviews how to choose a tool and linkbuilding process.
Link analysis should be done before any link building campaigns are started. You should understand:
Below we have recommend 6 tools available to you for competitive link analysis work. All allow you to review your own links and competitor links. We haven't included Google Webmaster Tools because it only provides link information for your own site and isn't totally comprehensive. If you do use it, we recommend the Yoast Firefox plugin which overlays PageRank information. We also haven't included the Yahoo! Site Explorer which is an established tool, but likely to disappear with the Microsoft alliance. It's also been superseded by the Open Site Explorer which gives additional info on anchor text and nofollowed links (where link equity isn't passed from one site to another, for example in a blog comment or social network link).
Site address: www.google.com
Overview: We want to debunk the use of link: - it may seem an obvious place to start and is still recommended, but some we speak to still think this gives a comprehensive listing, but rather it is a sample because Google has decided to display. We've found the sample has bigger than it used to be. for example, although Smart Insights is new in 2010, we have already amassed a fair few links - see : http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=link:smartinsights.com+-site:smartinsights.com. In this example we use -site to remove links from our own site.
Site address: www.opensiteexplorer.org
Overview: With the demise of Yahoo Site Explorer imminent the rise of this new in 2010 tool is hardly surprising. Giving access to very useful data with just a free login this tool is a great place to start with link analysis (total number of links limited). Powered by SEOmoz this tool should be in all hands-on online marketers favourites.
Site address: www.majesticseo.com
Overview: Quite a well known tool in SEO, Majestic SEO gives incredibly detailed analysis on links. It prides its self on the size of its index and the its ability to turn this index into useful reports.
Site address: www.linkdiagnosis.com
Overview: While an easier to use interface linkdiagnosis.com makes it frustratingly difficult to get started as it is locked down to Firefox and you have to install a plugin just to view reports.
Site address: www.advancedlinkmanager.com
Overview: A tool created by the same team behind Advanced Web Ranking which is a popular keyword rank tracking tool this software which is available for PC & Mac is a great addition to their portfolio. It does however do a lot more than link analysis, it often promotes it ability to "automate" link building, it can be configured to source websites, get their contact details & send automatic link requests to websites. Not something I would recommend.
Site address: www.bing.com/webmaster/
Yahoo Site Explorer has recently been reborn within Bing webmaster tools.
You may also be interested in this more detailed review on Bing Webmaster Tools.
With many of the same features as its predecessor Bing Link Explorer allows you to view:
Using one of the tools above to help with your link analysis is definitely going to save you a lot of time. Remember when starting this work be clear what you want out of it, have objectives set and where possible benchmark your current performance so you can track your progress.
If you know of any other tools that we should have included above please let us know and we will take a look.
By Chris Soames
Chris Soames is a Smart Insights blogger and consultant, he has worked in digital marketing for over 6 years with the last few years managing international web strategies for a leading travel brand. Now the Commercial Director at First 10, an Integrated marketing agency, he helps clients get clarity on their marketing strategy and create campaigns engineered to engage with their consumers to help drive sell-through. Most of all, Chris enjoys working with talented people who want to create great (& commercial) things not just tick boxes.
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