Recently there was an article from PotPieGirl about Yahoo! Site Explorer being retired officially (the most popular backlink checker there was), and that presents a conundrum for a lot of SEOs and affiliate marketers.Last updated 12/27/2011
The API for YSE powered the Rank Tracker in Market Samurai in terms of checking backlinks, as well as SEOQuake and SEO for Firefox (to name a few favorites). So what now?
The Benefits of Yahoo! Site Explorer
Why did everyone love YSE?
It’s not like they showed you the indexed links that Google used to rank your site – because there is no such tool for the public…
The beauty of Yahoo! Site Explorer wasn’t limited to checking your own backlinks, which is the case with Google or Bing Webmaster tools…
You could check the backlinks of other websites you didn’t own.
It opened up competitive analysis for anyone who wanted to dive into SEO and SEM, wondering what sort of dogs were in that dog pile, and if they should or should not join in the rumble.
Competitive analysis was really the most popular use of YSE…It gave you a bit of a head’s up with how competitive a keyword would be.
If you knew your competitor was showing 1,000 links to that page in YSE, you knew you had some work cut out for you (or not).
The next step was to use SEOQuake or SEO for Firefox, etc. to show the PageRank for those links…then you could really get an inside look at what you were up against.
But not anymore.
Another benefit of YSE was that it powered a lot of tools through its API, tools like SEOQuake and SEO for Firefox, Jonathan Leger’s “Web Comp Analyst” (which is also now retired), even Market Samurai (my favorite all-in-one SEO tool of choice).
Good vs Bad Points on YSE
My Own Recommended Backlink Checker Software
I use a couple of main tools for this, and have for a while. I’ll miss using Yahoo! Site Explorer in tools like SEO Quake, for example – but there are alternatives.
I use Market Samurai like a Swiss Army knife of SEO:
- Keyword Research
- Content Research
- Competitive Analysis (Broad Spectrum, Including a Backlink Checker)
- Exporting a Competitor’s Backlinks With PageRank and Anchor Text Information*
- Rank Tracking for My Websites and Competitor’s Sites
When I enter a market, I want to know the top players, who I’m ‘fighting’ against – and using Market Samurai totally flipped how I did market research (I used to simply count the “# of competing pages” in Google, and check allintitle and allinanchor data in Google – but that is woefully insufficient for a full-on campaign and deciding where to enter a market).
Since using the tool, I’ve learned a lot more about SEO than using my old keyword tools like Micro Niche Finder and simple searches in Google.
Additionally, I do export competitors’ backlinks…which is a killer feature of Market Samurai: it goes beyond what you could do even with SEOQuake – analyzing PageRank of the linking pages as well as analyzing their anchor text for the links.
Why is that a big, hairy deal?It shows you their authority links so you can mirror what they’re doing in many cases, giving you a leg-up on rankings.
I’m surprised at how easy it is in many cases to get these high PR links, but it’s one of my favorite features of MS (and gives you keyword ideas, too: just export the anchor text of the links).
OK, another thing: rank checking history – that’s something we all need as marketers, bloggers, SEO professionals – either for justifying your expense for your clients or for your own edification:
And I recommend you watch competitor’s pages, too.
To do this in Market Samurai, you enter URLs and map them to keywords you’re watching (makes the checking so much faster in MS), all in the Rank Tracker module.
Good vs Bad Stuff on Market Samurai
Try Market Samurai for 12 days free (you’ll save money if you buy during the trial, so don’t say I didn’t warn you).
I also suggest this tool, though, and have used it for about 2 years now (and love it for deep link analysis, copy cat SEO techniques and for a generally good time).
Then I also use SEO Spyglass, used to use it more often before owning Market Samurai.
I’ve reviewed SEO Spyglass here, but have yet to do a full on Market Samurai review (too much to write as it is, it’s really a mainstay of my business so I plan on writing up a review of how I use it).
In any event, I used to extensively use SEO Spyglass to check various bits of data on my competitors’ backlink profile:
- Their location in the world (for backlink checking, it helps to know if the links come from a different IP address – if so, the link is stronger than if it originates from the same server, SEO SpyGlass shows the IP data).
- Backlink count
- Originating page of the link (Market Samurai does this, too).
- PageRank of originating page for the link.
- Anchor text of the link.
- If the link is 1 or 2-way (reciprocal), since reciprocal links are weaker – Market Samurai does not show this.
- Check any URL vs. just the top 10 like Market Samurai.
So those are my two faves.
Good vs Not-So-Good Points on SEO SpyGlass
Good Stuff Here
SEO Spyglass is “freemium” software, they have a free download and they rock at that level, but they’re worth the price if you’re doing this for a large number of keywords or websites, or for clients.
Since I have a small network, the free version is all I use, and since getting Market Samurai I’ve just never upgraded SEO Spyglass.
That is going to change though since Yahoo! Site Explorer was retired.The reason being that Market Samurai will only work for the top 10 in Google/Yahoo!/Bing.
That’s a shortcoming of MS, but also why I use SEO Spyglass when need be.
This is also why I’ll be buying SEO Spyglass: you can’t export the data you get (I use screenshots to do so), and I need the competitive analysis both for my own information and because I like to use high PR links my competitors are using.
|I am planning on using SEO SpyGlass to export my competitors’ backlink information, including PageRank and anchor text, reciprocal vs. non-reciprocal – so I can get a leg-up on anyone in a far shorter time-frame than most, without needing to pay for special ‘link packets’ and all that. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-haa!
That alone cuts way down on my linking efforts like you wouldn’t believe, I almost feel bad.
Check out the free download version of SEO SpyGlass and see what I mean about getting a leg up on competitors.
Note: it gives different data than you will find with Market Samurai, it has access to various link indices, whereas Market Samurai runs on the Majestic SEO API.
|SEO SpyGlass Payment Disclosure|
|SEO SpyGlass has a ‘funny’ payment plan – you basically pay for 6 months to keep the tool’s index updated. I bring this up because Carla mentioned it below, and frankly it should be disclosed: to get the full features (export data, create reports, keep a history, etc.) you will need to pay $6.95 I think per month after the initial 6 months (or cheaper if you buy in bulk, see the SEO SpyGlass Live Plan for more details).
This is unfortunately *not* clear on their sales page, but the tool itself has few competitors, even at that price. Compared to Raven Tools, Open Site Explorer and other SEO tools (charging $99 a month or thereabouts, some even more) – the $99/6 months is a very small price in my book, and the Live Plan is literally the price of a good cup of coffee a month (or better) – so it’s not like you’re buying the tool every 6 months, or being charged what other tools like Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz, or Majestic SEO would charge a month (Majestic has a $45 or so/month plan).
But if you use the free tool, you can get a load of link analysis and ‘export’ by taking a screen shot with free tools you already have on your PC or Mac.
The free version still gives a competitive edge for backlink checking, it’s always good to have an in-depth look at search competitors like SEO SpyGlass offers.
I plan on buying the tool – but of course you need to make those ROI-based decisions for your own business.
Alternatives to Market Samurai and SEO SpyGlass
Let’s assume you didn’t want to try, use or buy either tool. What now?
There are a boatload of free websites you can try to check the number of backlinks to a website, so don’t cry me a river or anything.
There are two critical points I want you to understand, though, when doing this:
- You will never get the links that Google itself says they count: this goes for any paid or free tools. Google plays their cards close to their chest – keep that in mind, these are at best “indicative” of competition – you could be looking at a website that has 1,000,000 links pointing to it…but Google only cares or counts 25 of those links. Even Google won’t tell you, not even in Webmaster Tools do you have any guarantee the links they show are all the links they count, or if the links shown in GWT are even counting at all.
- Counting the number of backlinks will differ from tool to tool. This is to be expected, and depends on their crawl rate, how fresh they keep their link index, and their overall resources and ability for checking indexed links (keeping in mind that a tool may be checking links not found in the Google index, but that’s understood already).
- PageRank and other factors matter a lot when considering the data of backlinks: counting the quantity of links is not enough information, you need to check the quality of those backlinks.
Let me list some really quick competitive analysis tips for those of you not savvy on that jive turkey. (Airplane reference again, sorry, it’s just a funny movie that won’t get out of my head.)
Backlink Checking Tips: Determining Link Quality
I’ll assume for a moment you haven’t read my book on WordPress SEO for a second.
Most likely, I’m right, but you really should read it if you want to learn SEO methinks – I might be biased…
Here are some things to check that the Yahoo! Site Explorer didn’t give you (and most free tools don’t):
- PageRank of the page with the link…not the domain…(Alternatively, the MozRank of the linking page, which is SEOMoz.org’s version of determining link authority).
- Number of referring domains that are linking to the page you’re analyzing (especially helpful if you can see the # of different referring C-Class IP addresses, which SEO SpyGlass will do, Market Samurai shows the # of referring domains linking to a page and to a domain).
- Anchor text used.
- DoFollow vs. NoFollow links – nofollow’d links don’t confer PageRank or anchor text, and are simply not as strong as a dofollow link, but they still get traffic from one page to another.
- Relevance – is the link relevant from page A to B?
- Domain authority – is the linking from domain an authority site, like WikiPedia or the NY Times, etc.?
- Reciprocal links vs. 1-way links – if page A links to B links to A…that’s not as strong as page A linking to page B and page B sitting there all pretty high on the horse and happy like.
There are a ton of other things to think about, but really if you can get these metrics or at least the anchor text used and the PageRank – then you have a leg up and a decent amount of information.
Most backlink checkers won’t give you much more than quantity of links, and that’s an estimate and dynamic number…Google de-indexes domains, de-values their links, or the domains will build tons of links that have yet to be found…
But quality of those links matters – especially if there’s a PR 5 or over (since PageRank is logarithmic – on a scale of 1-10, with exponential increases in-between every value: like the Richter Scale, an earthquake that’s an 8 is devastating, much more destructive in spades than a 6).
A PR 7 link will be worth a jillion (precisely) PR 1 links, and so on: so you need fewer high PR links to out-do plenty of low quality links.
That’s game-changing information, or it can be. And mind you, it matters aplenty if a link comes from a high PR domain or high PR page…
Google ranks pages, not domains: so I may have a PR 3 homepage, but one of my inner pages may be a PR 0 (often the case)…
Just food for thought when checking backlinks.
The big lesson is to keep in mind that PageRank of the page and anchor text are invaluable information when sizing up either linking opportunities or competitors’ strength, even if you can’t ‘see’ the other information.
With that in mind, here are some free backlink checkers (some have premium versions).
Free Backlink Checkers Besides YSE
I just want to list them here, I sparsely go beyond the tools I’ve mentioned above, but I have looked at the following and found them a decent replacement if you don’t have premium tools.
Just know that most (like Blekko for example, or Majestic SEO) don’t offer link quality analysis: more like a quantity count and that’s that.
ahrefs.com (I have a follow-up post on this for my newsletter subscribers coming up, just found something out that was pretty cool by accident. ahrefs will offer their own kind of link-strength, but I’m not sure what sort of scale they use (like 1-10 or whatever), so it’s not PageRank but it’s something at least.)
Blekko.com (Check the “SEO” link and you’ll see the backlinks – doesn’t have as much as YSE did but still better than nothing, and they do list a portion of the links according to strength. They claim they only list the stronger links, the only problem is it’s a small index.)
Link Diagnosis (Requires a Firefox browser add-on, runs on SEOMoz.org’s Open Site Explorer, gives good information but limited index and gives better information if you have a premium SEOMoz account.)
Majestic SEO (They offer the “AC Rank” as a replacement for PageRank, so it’s some measure of link strength – and their ‘bulk backlink checker’ is pretty cool – requires a free registration, their premium reports give a lot more data – the only exception is in Market Samurai, you get access to Majestic for free and get PR and anchor text data. The free reports are very limited in terms of quantity of data, though.)
Open Site Explorer (From SEOMoz.org, free accounts get very limited data, premium is where it’s at – they have “MozRank” which is similar to PageRank and good for analysis purposes…pretty expensive though.)
Two Tools I’m Considering
When I originally wrote the post, I only had 1 tool I was considering. That’s doubled. The reason being that a comment below alerted me to another tool, which I’ve just never tried until a few minutes ago (a free version).
I only tried it because I was shocked to discover that Market Samurai’s PageRank and Anchor Text features were disabled due to Yahoo! Site explorer being down…
Update: The PR and Anchor Text are back up for MS, and it’s much faster than I remember.
So I’m giving it a whirl, and may buy it. It offers PPC information (which I don’t yet do), and Market Samurai doesn’t. It also features an SEO feature where you get SEO advice (though I use Clickbump SEO and SEO Pressor for this, from within WordPress)…
So some other things to think about, as well as the ability to check for dofollow links, check any URL (features only SEO SpyGlass did for me)…
PageRank and anchor text are still available currently…
Lots of cool benefits. One downside: you need proxies. For that I recommend paying $25 or so once to HMA and getting their lifetime proxies delivered by email (that’s pretty much what I use for a lot of my proxy situations).
Definitely give Traffic Travis a try. Just note that in my own trial of it, I noticed that I got some funky results (like it noted some of my URLs were not ranked, when in fact they were in Google’s top 10), I haven’t had that problem yet in Market Samurai.
The reason I recommend it though is because it offers other information that MS doesn’t, and when I do get into PPC advertising, I think Traffic Travis will prove pretty helpful.
SECockpit (this is the only other tool I really drool over – it’s not free and has a reasonable monthly fee if you’re making an income from your online efforts: fast, server-based, lots of data and access to premium features of Open Site Explorer data at a fraction of the cost)
I was on the original webinar selling SECockpit and tried it a month – loved it in fact, but since I have Market Samurai I didn’t want to pay monthly. They’re going through a bit of redesign currently and when they open back up I’m thinking of giving them a second go for their speed.
Unlike most of their competitors, they charge $77 a month, where others charge $99 (if you have an income from your endeavors, they’re worth a look).
Another place SEO’s talk about for this data is Raven Tools – I have no experience with them and can’t say what’s good or bad about it, but food for thought.
Problem With Many Backlink Checkers
This is a “problem” if you’re an affiliate marketer like me – if you have clients, then you simply add the cost to the price of your services, of course…
But the problem is that most of these tools (e.g.: SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer) are meant for SEO professionals who charge for SEO services as such.
The tools are specialized for SEO firms – but I’m not an SEO firm: I do my own SEO on my little niche sites and ride the gravy boat to the bank (more like a 12-passenger van).
The costs are pretty high, is all I’m saying. Even SEO PowerSuite has an enterprise edition, but all I need is the Professional – and the cost difference is astounding.
All in all, Yahoo! Site Explorer will be missed – and here’s hoping more tools will migrate to the Majestic or Open Site Explorer API.
Otherwise, there you have my top picks, along with some tips on competitive analysis to keep in mind while using your chosen backlink checker.
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