Links to your website constitute one of the most important factors in determining search ranking. Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and other search engines use links to your content to determine just how important it is. Not only do search engines care about the number of incoming links you have, they care about the quality of those links. In fact, too many links from the “wrong” kinds of sites can damage your search ranking.
The good news is that you can find out where links to your site are coming from. There are several tools, some free and some paid, that will provide a plethora of information about who links to you and why. Armed with these tools and the information they provide, you can improve your site and boost your search ranking.
Why Do I Want to Know Who Links to My Website?
There are many reasons you will want to know who is linking to your site. First and foremost, knowing who is linking to your content can allow you to judge the value of the content and identify problems with other content that doesn’t get as much attention. By making less popular content look more like highly linked content, you can boost your search ranking and increase traffic to your website.
Other reasons to know who is linking to you include identifying press coverage, expanding your understanding of sectors and niches interested in your site, identifying problems with your backlink profile, and simply sending thanks. If knowledge is power, then knowing who links to your website gives you the power to make positive changes to your content and boost your popularity. In short, knowing who links to you can help you optimize your website.
Google Webmaster Tools
One way to determine who is linking to your website is to use Webmaster Tools to analyze your site traffic. Webmaster Tools offers two ways to determine who is linking to your site, but only one is really useful. The best way to analyze link traffic with Webmaster Tools is to look under “Search Traffic” for the “Links to Your Site” selection. This will tell you who links to your site and how often they do so. This method is fast and can give a nice overview of incoming links while telling you which pages those links were directed at on your website. You can also import the list of incoming links to a spreadsheet program, which can be helpful for performing your own analyses.
Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer is a free online tool that allows you to compare your link profile to that of similar sites. It shows you how many unique domains are linked to your site, your total number of inbound links, and the authority of the pages that link to you. You can direct Open Site Explorer to only analyze the links to a specific page on your site or you can have it analyze your entire site. In the latter scenario, you won’t know what content is being linked to, but you will find out the URLs of every site that is linking to yours.
The catch with Open Site Explorer is that you can only use it a few times in a day. If you want to use it more than that, you’re out of luck. That means that you may not be able to explore the incoming links for every page on your site in a given day and you may have to make a compromise between getting a list of every URL linking to your site and getting an idea of what content is most often linked to. Despite this rather substantial drawback, many webmaster and site owners prefer Open Site Explorer to Google Webmaster Tools.
Ahrefs offers both free and paid services designed to augment Google Webmaster Tools. The free option has all of the features of the paid option, but limits the number of links it returns each time you analyze your site. If you want access to all of the links to your site, you need to use the paid version.
Ahrefs offers a great deal of information about your site including a measurement of your authority as well as the authority of the URLs of referring domains. It will also tell you what anchor phrases you use most commonly and give you an idea of the countries that access your content most frequently. Ahrefs can also give you a breakdown of link types, allowing you to determine if you get links from .gov, .edu, .com, or other sources. Obviously, .gov and .edu links are the most authoritative.
HubSpot will analyze you inbound links and tell you how you stack up to competitors. The tool also makes it easy to see which links are “best” by telling you which inbound links are generating the most traffic for your site. The simple graphical layout of HubSpot tells you the domain that is linking to you, the authority of that domain, how many visits it has garnered you, and how active it is. HubSpot offers a free trial as well as paid software packages at several different price points.
SEO SpyGlass is a commercial product, but it will scan and display a limited amount of information about links to your site for free. The paid version of the software can provide information about links to your competitors, tell you the PageRank of each link to your site, tell you how much traffic the link brings in, and search more than 400 different search engines.
SEO SpyGlass will tell you not just the URL of the site that links to yours, but the site’s Alexa Rank, its link value, and its domain age as well. Google and other search engines are putting more and more emphasis on domain age as a way to determining the value and credibility of a link, so knowing this information can be important for determining the value of your own site. It can also help you target better links. SEO SpyGlass can be used to analyze links to your competitors as well, giving you an idea of how you stack up in your own niche.
Google Webmaster Tools is a great way to get started analyzing the links to your site. Once you’ve exhausted the information that Webmaster Tools can provide, move on to other free options. Finally, when you’ve optimized your site as much as possible using free tools, think about investing in paid options. By the time you are ready to invest in a tool, you will be so familiar with the options that deciding which one is best suited to your needs should be easy.