Best tools for effective backlink analysis

Although there is plenty of evidence to suggest that search engines are paying attention to other factors in addition to links when ranking websites, good quality backlinks are still very important and widely considered to be the leading ranking factor:

Ranking factors 2013

Effective link-building will form an integral part of any credible SEO strategy but before work begins on this type of activity it is highly advisable to conduct a backlink analysis in order to benchmark versus competitors and other leading websites, as well as gain a more thorough understanding and knowledge of links, link quality and link building strategies and tactics.

In his backlink analysis post for Search Engine Watch, Jon Ball identifies the following key elements of a comprehensive backlink analysis:

1. Total number of links
2. Number of unique domains
3. Linking domains vs. total links
4. Anchor text usage and variance – branded, keyword rich, etc.
5. Fresh/incoming links
6. Page performance
7. Link quality

There are a number of tools and software available to assist with backlink analysis. Search specialists and agencies will be familiar with many of these tools and are likely have access to a variety of them. However, for this post I’m going to look at the process from a client-side/ in-house search marketing perspective, where this may be managed a little differently from agencies and want to use a backlink analysis to:

  • Benchmark link volume and quality vs. competitors
  • Conduct a competitor analysis
  • Review SEO agency performance
  • Measure content and social media campaign performance
  • Identify opportunities for blogger/journalist outreach

It’s often advisable to work with at least a couple of tools, which will help provide a decent level of detail and is also useful for ‘sense-checking’ data and spotting trends or warning signs (e.g. spammy links or unnatural anchor text etc).

The backlink analysis tools

Whilst there are a number of tools to choose from, below is a review of three tools that I believe are particularly useful for in-house search marketing teams for backlink analysis and/or competitor benchmarking:

Google Webmaster Tools 

Google Webmaster Tools

Although Google’s Webmaster Tools can only be used to analyse link information for your own site and not those of competitors, the ‘Links to Your Site’ report (under the ‘Traffic’ section on the left-hand navigation menu) is still a useful resource for conducting a ‘high-level’ analysis of your site’s link portfolio. The report highlights the total number of links to your site, an overview report of who links the most, the most linked pages, as well as how data is linked (AKA anchor text).

Pros:

  • Free
  • Can manage multiple websites
  • Provides a good initial ‘high-level’ view of link profile
  • Linking domains can be downloaded as a CSV or Google Doc file to check and see if a given domain is linking to you

Cons:

  • Can only review your own website and not competitors
  • The ‘Links to Your Site’ feature does not provide a definitive list of links and is not as comprehensive or accurate as other tools such as MajesticSEO and Moz’s Open Site Explorer (reviewed below)

MajesticSEO 

MajesticSEO

MajesticSEO is widely considered to have one of the most comprehensive link indexes and provides some incredibly detailed link analysis reports. MajesticSEO also has an excellent blog providing SEO tips and best practices, training posts and videos and tool updates.

Pros:

  • Free (though paid options available for more detail and functionality)
  • Intuitive and easy to use
  • Ability to review competitor sites and compare to your own
  • Trend external links over time
  • Detailed anchor text analysis
  • Export to Excel functionality
  • 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:

  • Detailed analysis requires a subscription
  • Amount of detail can be overwhelming and requires time to reach proficiency

Moz Open Site Explorer

Moz Open Site Explorer

Moz provides a range of SEO tools, from rank tracking to keyword difficulty and SERP analysis. They also have a superb blog covering everything from SEO to content marketing and UX. However, Moz are well known for their link analysis tool, Open Site Explorer, which provides detailed link data and competitor intelligence capabilities.

Pros:

  • Free (though paid options available for more detail and functionality)
  • Intuitive and engaging interface
  • Provides useful side-by-side competitor comparison and benchmarking
  • Anchor Text analysis available
  • Export to Excel functionality
  • Ability to drill down into links to specific pages

Cons:

  • Detailed analysis requires a subscription
  • Link index not considered to be as comprehensive as MajesticSEO

—–

As suggested above, for an in-house SEO team it’s certainly worth using at least a couple of tools to conduct a backlink analysis, and considering their respective prices, both MajesticSEO and Moz compliment each other nicely alongside Google Webmaster Tools.

Whilst all three tools have their down sides, the advantages they offer far outweigh the negatives and they offer some excellent functionality that will provide any SEO team with some powerful actionable insights.