The 6 Best Link Analysis Tools for competitor benchmarking for SEO and Online PR

Our review of backlink analysis software tools and web services

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.

July 2012 updates: Added a sixth tool – Bing Webmaster Tools and the SEOGadjet analysis.

Comparison of data quality of backlink analysis tools

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.

Size of link database

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.

Overview of backlink analysis tools

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:

  • How many links you have. When benchmarking it’s most useful to review individual sites (known as unique referring domains) linking to you rather than total links, since you may have many links from one site (a link repeated across the whole site)
  • The quality & related anchor text of the links (this could show some good wins in link reconfiguration)
  • How you compare to your competitors in terms of number, quality & anchor text
  • You should also have a good understanding of any quality links your competitors have and you don’t (Usually creates an obvious starting point)

 

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).

1. Google link: Advanced search syntax and Google Webmaster tools

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.

Pros:

  • Free
  • Quick
  • Simple

Cons:

  • Only shows a tiny segment of links
  • Requires plugins to export & pull together
  • Doesn’t provide link quality data (Page Rank for example)
Google Webmaster Tools gives a much better analysis as the SEOGadget research shows, but of course it’s only available for your own data.

2. Open Site Explorer (SEOmoz)

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.

Pros:

  • Free (though paid options available for more links and  functionality)
  • Quick
  • Simple
  • Allows comparisons to other sites through domain authority benchmar.
  • Easy to use scoring tools which make comparisons & benchmarking simple
  • Anchor Text analysis available
  • Export to excel functionality built in
  • Ability to drill down into links to specific pages

Cons:

  • Analysis beyond first 1,000 links requires payment
  • Cannot track links over time vs competitors to track your progress

3. Majestic SEO

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.

Pros:

  • Free (though paid options available for more functionality)
  • Quick
  • Allows comparisons to other sites
  • Allows you to trend external links over time
  • Anchor Text analysis available
  • Export to excel functionality built in
  • Ability to drill down into links to specific pages
  • Allows both a back link & domain link counts
  • Separates EDU & GOV links to allow easy analysis on quality links

Cons:

  • Not a sophisticated interface, requires practice
  • Analysis beyond first 1,000 links requires payment / subscription

4. Link Diagnosis

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.

Pros:

  • Free (though paid options available for more functionality)
  • Quick
  • Anchor Text analysis available
  • Visibility on nofollow links
  • Export to excel functionality built in
  • Ability to drill down into links to specific pages

Cons:

  • Slow
  • Only works in FireFox
  • You have to download a plugin to see reports

5. Advanced Link Manager

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.

Pros:

  • Ability to track link-building progress over time
  • Quick
  • Anchor Text analysis available
  • Ability to create custom reports & email / download
  • Ability to drill down into links to specific pages
  • Can be configure to run at certain intervals to keep everything up-to-date automatically

Cons:

  • Cheapest version = $99
  • Software only – Cannot be accessed by web browsers
  • Tries to do too much

6. NEW (July 2012) : Bing Webmaster Tools Link Explorer

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:

  • View trend reports going back 6months
  • Analyse links into specific pages of the website
  • View anchor text relating to the inbound links
  • Export all data into Excel to manipulate / analyse further
Pros:
  • Free
  • Quick & easy to use
  • Up-to-date
  • Ability to analyse by page
  • Ability to export & use the data in excel

Cons:

  • Only includes your link data other tools required for competitor analysis which measure things differently

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.


  • http://www.cicada-online.com Ned Wells

    Hi there, we recently did a competitor review for a medium-sized trade association in the UK. The tools we used for link analysis were all free and provided some helpful data on inbound links:

    Yahoo Site Explorer: siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/
    SEOmoz Linkscape: http://www.seomoz.org/linkscape
    SEOmoz Open Site Explorer: http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/
    Hubspot Website Grader: http://websitegrader.com/

    All provided different numbers, presumably because they use different sources of info. Including, interestingly, the two SEOmoz tools. However the trends produced by all the tools were similar and overall, produced a very helpful picture for the client.

    • Dave Chaffey

      Hi Ned, Thanks for those – good to share the Hubspot tool – I think of theirs as a paid service – didn’t know that was free – so thanks. It seems more basic compared to the others, but like the way they blend in the recommendations.

      I tried it on our site – they even store it for you http://websitegrader.com/site/www.smartinsights.com

  • Nathan

    For link management, we have been using a http://www.buzzstream.com/ which we have found to be great in managing link partner contact information across projects. We have found great efficiency from the move.

    cheers.

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  • Kristian Humle Lauritsen

    Hi Chris – nice list.
    You might also have a look at Search Metrics – http://searchmetrics.com/ which also has an extensive backlink database in several markets/countries

    • http://www.smartinsights.com/ Dave Chaffey

      Hi Kristian – thanks for the suggestion about Searchmetrics.

      I know the tool can be used for reviewing competitor visibility for defined keywords, but didn’t know it had a backlink database.
      Dave

  • Dale

    I have been using the cognitiveseo tool. Like raventools it aggregates from majestic and seomoz. What I like about it is its very focussed around a linkbuilders workflow. Worth checking out. Dale

    • http://www.smartinsights.com/ Dave Chaffey

      Hi Dale, thanks for sharing the tip. That’s a new one to us. Will check – fitting a tool in with workflow is key and not something the others support I think.
      I like http://www.analyticsseo.com/ for this reason too.

      I know Chris S is a fan of Raven – he selected this for reporting for First 10 client and it’s broader than SEO looking at a range of analytics when integrated with Google Analytics. We use it for Smart Insights weekly reporting distributed via Basecamp.
      Dave

  • http://www.nobleinfosys.co.uk/ Web Designer, London

    Both Google and Bing Webmaster tools are great backlink analysis tools however they share a common drawback. You can only really use it for backlink analysis of your own websites or sites where you have admin access to. Competitor analysys is not possible with these tools which is a big inconvenience and limits their use.

    • http://www.smartinsights.com/ Dave Chaffey

      Hi – thanks for for your comment. Yes, it’s tough today.

      This was the benefit of the Yahoo! Site Explorer – that you could use for competitor analysis.
      It does mean that we are forced towards paid options like Majestic and SEOMoz today for full functionality – can understand why though – creating the infrastructure to crawl, store and expose the link graphs is not easy/cheap.
      Dave

  • http://www.boxaid.com/ PC Support

    great list thanks!!! i think majestic seo is the best one so far.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexis.hansen.779 Alexis Hansen

    Thanks for this info. I am starting the think there may not be a need to pay for any of these services unless your are a really big gun in SEO. I am working on optimization for http://peoplelocatorskiptracing.com and finding most competitors don’t have more than 100 links.

    • http://www.smartinsights.com/ Dave Chaffey

      Thanks for the comment Alexis!

      Do you mean you use a free alternative, or it’s not necessary?

      Dave

  • Taran

    These are really great seo tools.This info is so helpful for me.Thanks a lot for sharing such nice tools.

  • http://twitter.com/JoseDarrelBella Jose Darrel Bella

    This is very useful. Thank you for posting.

  • rahul gupta

    Hey ! Thanks for the great and useful guide..

  • lauramartinez

    Thanks for such a detailed overview! I also love ahrefs.com for graphical presentation of data options, and majesticseo for their regular database update. I also use moonsearch.com – it works rapidly and shows whois results as well.

  • http://artonweb.gr/ Κατασκευή ιστοσελίδων

    My little experience on SEO, show me that one tool is not the perfect way to find backlinks.
    However, combination of 3-4 tools has better results.

  • Κατασκευή ιστοσελίδας

    I think you have mentioned some of the best backlinks websites that i have found.

  • http://www.candleforex.com/ CandleForex

    Good overview. It would be nice if someone figured out a tool to combine all the data from ahrefs, majesticseo and OSE, de-dup them and present it in a nice format.

    Might be able to get it done if all three providers have an API, and someone combines the API together, and present it……

  • Rajesh

    Bing Explorer is a Bad Bad Bad Bad tool. Don’t waste time to use this

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  • Simon Narracott

    I write a wine review site on http://www.by-invitation.com but find that a lot of the backlink monitors don’t analyse the competition enough to give an up to date analysis, especially on slow moving sites.

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  • Piero

    Very insightful piece. As a small business we’re always interested in cost-effective ways we can improve our SEO. What surprised me was how technical the process is when farming link sources.

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  • http://LeeRit.com/ LeeRit

    MajesticSEO and Ahrefs limit the number of backlinks we can see to less than 10 (for sites we don’t own). I think 10 is a very small number.

    Do you know if there is any free site that allow viewing more backlinks?

    Thanks

  • http://colibritool.com/ Stacey Lee

    I think best tool for SEO on the market is ColibriTool.com It’s very easy and they have great support too.Though your list of tools mentioned above is not that bad, since I have also some of it in my toolbox. But now, I am using ColibriTool than those tools. :)

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    Thanks for sharing these helpful tools. Do you think ahrefs providing correct data ?

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  • John O’Riordain

    Thanks for a detailed overview! I will definitely give some of those a try.

    I myself though am using Webmeup.com in order to check the backlinks and I must say it is very impressive. We’ll see how they compare

  • Morten

    Thanks. Want to optimize my site http://www.mini-mba.dk with Open site explorer

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    I was just searching on “backlink analyses websites” when I came across your site in 1st page of Google. Thanks for the comprehensive info. This helps me to decide on which service to use.

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    By my SEO experience, always is better to use more than one tool for anything, especially for competitor analysis or some deep research

    http://mbseoservice.com/seo-services/#tab-seo-competitor-analysis

    Some of tools that we use are:

    http://ahrefs.com
    http://cognitiveseo.com
    https://www.majesticseo.com

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    New tools are always available For SEO website analysis which helps you to further know the facts about the SEO and helps in On Page and Off Page SEO.

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