In the Google Webmaster Guidelines it states “avoid links to web spammers or ‘bad neighborhoods’ on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links” and it is important to remember that this advice applies to both your forward and back-links. It is easy to control the forward-links of your website but it is harder to check what the back-links are and to explore how these may impact your search engine rankings.
In this article I will sum up a number of ways on how you can explore the back-links to your website. Please do note that just knowing all your back-links will not guarantee a good ranking but still it may yield some interesting findings.
Check your back-links as Google knows them
There are at least three ways how you can explore your back-links in Google:
Google Webmaster Tool (specifically the Links to your Site-section) gives the best and most complete overview on how Google sees your back-links. However it is important to note that only the webmaster/owner of a website who has been verified can see these back-links. For your convenience you can even download all the links in a spreadsheet format and process them on your own computer.
The Link-operator in Google Web Search (link:yourdomain.com) shows anyone a number of the back-links of any website. It is very important to note that this overview is just a sample from a much larger set of back-links. The Link-operator in Google Web Search will never give you the total overview, just a number of back-links and even the total of this number can change every time you submit your query to Google.
Since the Link-operator only gives you a limited view of back-links, several people have found that you get a better (and more complete) sample of back-links with the following query: “yourdomain.com” -site:yourdomain.com. So let me translate this query for you: the first part means you are looking for any reference to yourdomain.com (note that the quotes are important), and the second part means that you want to ignore any reference to yourdomain.com from the domain yourdomain.com (more information on the Site-operator and other advanced operators can be found here). If a SEO or competitor performs an analysis of the back-links to your website, and does not have access to your Google Webmaster Tool account, then this will be one of the queries they will perform.
Check your back-links as Yahoo knows them
At Yahoo Search you can the Yahoo Site Explorer and some advanced queries in Yahoo Web Search to explore your back-links (as Yahoo sees them).
The Yahoo Site Explorer will give you an overview of the back-links to your website (they refer to them as InLinks). It is important to note that you do not need to be verified as the webmaster/owner of the website to see the back-links. Because this is the opposite of how Google show the back-links of websites, Yahoo Site Explorer has become very popular to SEO’s for exploring back-link profiles of websites. In addition, Yahoo Site Explorer also offers you the opportunity to download the results in a spreadsheet format on to your computer.
Alternatively you can use the following queries on Yahoo Web Search to explore the back-links of yourdomain.com: linkdomain:yourdomain.com -site:yourdomain.com – the first part finds all links to yourdomain.com and the second part means that you want to ignore the links on the website yourdomain.com (more tips can be found in this article: More Effecitve Use of Yahoo’s Linkdomain Command). You can also combine this query with the Yahoo Link-operator and see which pages within yourdomain.com are being linked too linkdomain:yourdomain.com -site:yourdomain.com -link:http://yourdomain.com -link:http://www.yourdomain.com (the following article explain this further: Link search with Yahoo’s linkdomain).
Check your back-links as Bing knows them
At Bing (formerly known as Live and MSN Search) there are two ways of exploring your back-links:
The Bing Webmaster Tools provide the best and most complete overview of back-links to your website that are known by Bing. You can get an overview of the back-links and forward-links (they refer to them as Outbound Links) per website and you can also download the complete overview in a spreadsheet format (similar to Google and Yahoo).
Unfortunately Bing discontinued the support for the Link-operator in 2007 and so far we have not seen any signal yet that it will come back any time soon (although according to some SEO’s the link-operator still gives limited results). You can try using the query links to yourdomain.com, however this will give you only a partial overview of websites linking to yourdomain.com and it contains a lot of noise (websites that may just reference your website or contain keywords from your domain name without actually linking to your website). Alternatively, it seems that the following query may also work on Bing Web Search: “yourdomain.com” -site:yourdomain.com, and it seems to work similar as it does at Google (meaning limited results). Finally, also inbody:www.youdomain.com -site:yourdomain.com could yield some interesting results (but like the previous mentioned queries on Bing, it is a partial list at best). If you know a better way (you can try to find one with Bing’s advanced operators), please do share it in the comments below!
However I do want to note that Bing did introduce a neat forward-link-operator called ‘linkfromdomain’ (e.g. linkfromdomain:yourdomain.com) which can give you some additional information about, for example, the nature of the outgoing links. The following article sums up a few of the things you can do with this Use This Live / MSN Advanced Operator to Research Links-Out.
Get more out of Google and Yahoo webmaster tools
Once you start exploring your back-links at Google, Yahoo and/or Bing you may also want to check out a recently updated FireFox add-on, released by Joost de Valk, called SEO Link Analysis which will give you more information about each back-link within the Google Webmaster Tool and the Yahoo Site Explorer interface. For me the most useful feature of this add-on is that is tells me if a back-link is no-followed and what the anchor text is. I think that information can be very useful to see why you may be ranking for certain keywords but not for others. Please note that although this add-on gives you an idea of the PageRank value of each back-link, I would urge you to ignore this (as you do not wan to suffer from PageRank-obsession).
Using alternative databases: Majestic and Linkscape
Of course the search engines can give you a pretty good profile of your back-links, but sometimes you want more (e.g. features or information). So in the last few years a few alternatives have appeared on the market, namely Majestic and Linkscape. Both databases were built and are maintained differently and can provide some interesting information. However the information in these databases are not the same as in the databases of the search engines. If you are considering spending more money on your back-link-strategies and subscribe to these services, it would be prudent to first try them out during a trial period and see which you find the most useful. I would also recommend that you read the following article as it highlights a number of the pro/cons of both services: Linkscape vs Majestic.
Build your own tool and database
If you are a little bit technical you can also explore building your own tool and database by using some of the freely available API’s, for example: Yahoo offers the best API with the Site Explorer Inbound Links API and Bing can be accessed through the Bing Search API (if you know Python, you can use this wrapper). Unfortunately the Google Webmaster Tools API does not include access to any back-link information yet, but maybe this is yet come in the future (?) so keep an eye out for this.
Alternatively you can of course also import the different spreadsheet formats, offered by the different webmaster tools of the search engines, into a database of your own and do some comparison and data-mining on the given information. This may yield some interesting results as well ;)
It can be important for a webmaster to know who is linking to your website and there are several ways of exploring these back-links:
- You can see which back-links your websites has according to how Google, Yahoo and Bing knows them (using the webmaster tools and performing specific search queries).
- You can use alternative databases (keeping in mind that these is not the same databases the search engines are using).
- You can built your own tool and database using the API’s and spreadsheets provided by the search engines.
Anything I may have missed or called wrong? Please add your thoughts to the comments below …