When we try to make a website authoritative on particular topics, the number one method to creating that authority is content. The second most important aspect are links from other websites to your site. Many of these back links happen naturally, from press release syndication, trade show participation, and membership directories. But it is also important to have an active backlinking strategy in place.
Inbound links are a measure of implied trust and authority to your brand. Links on other websites pointing to your website suggest that the search engines value your content as authoritative and of high value.
This is often viewed as a measure of “link popularity.” In this sense, the more popular you are, the higher your website is likely to be in the organic search engine rankings. Think of a link from another site to yours as a “vote”. So, it would stand to reason that the more “votes” you have, the more relevant you are for a particular phrase or set of phrases.
It is important to note that not all links to your website are created equal. From the relevance of the content where the link resides to the link anchor text and the text surrounding the link are also evaluated in the quality factors of a backlink.
In layman’s terms, if another website links to you, this is considered an external or “backlink” to your site. Similarly, if you link out to another website, this is also considered an external link. Many top SEOs believe that getting external links is the single most important objective for attaining high rankings. This stems from the idea that external links are one of the hardest metric to manipulate and thus one of the best ways for search engines to determine the popularity of a given web page.
It’s not enough to just get links from other sites – those sites need to be trustworthy and authoritative, too. Naturally, these are harder to come by.
Once you have created a strategic back linking strategy, you will naturally want to monitor who exactly is linking to your site. There are several ways to track these links. We have identified 5 below.
Referral Traffic in Google Analytics
There are three ways people can come to your site: they type in your URL and get to you, they use the search engines to type in a word or phrase and then find your site from an organic or Paid search listing, or they have visited another site that has a link on it that, when a user clicks on it, takes them to your site. This is known as referral traffic.
If you go to your Google Analytics (assuming you have that installed on your site, and why wouldn’t you?) you can find these referral sources by going to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals for a list of domains. Clicking on each domain will show you the pages on that domain that have backlinks. You can click the little arrow next to each page to be taken to the actual page to see the link. If you are active in social media networks, you won’t be surprised to see LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others on the list. But there may be some that surprise you.
Links to Your Site in Google Webmaster Tools
Google’s Webmaster Tools provides greater insight into not only who links to your content, but which content is most popular and the anchor text that is used to link to your site. When you are in Webmaster Tools, go to Traffic > Links to Your Site, where you can see an overview of all three metrics. Click on the more link on each one to get a more detailed view of this information. This is a handy bit of information, both for soliciting additional links, as well as opportunities for guest blog opportunities.
Another interesting level to this is that your can click on each domain linking to you, and see all the pages that each one links too. This can be very valuable in determining which content is sticky, and can help determine new avenues for content development on your site and your blog.
Links to Your Site in Bing Webmaster Tools
Similar to Google’s Webmaster Tools, Bing also can show you inbound links through Bing Webmaster Tools. On the dashboard, navigate to Report & Data > Inbound Links, can you will see a list of all your pages that have inbound links. If you click on any of those pages, you will be taken to a window that shows all the URLs that are linking back to that page. You can not only view each page, but also export the entire list into Excel (which is highly recommended). You can also select a date range to view any new links, and check that against your back linking efforts.
Open Site Explorer at SEOMoz
SEOMoz is a great subscription site that can give you loads of data on your website, from xxx. They have a free tool, Open Site Explorer that allows you to see all the links to you site, both from within your domain, as well as externally linking sites. Open Site Explorer also allows you to compare your back links to up to five of your competitors in the same report.
Their reporting feature is very robust, and there are some features that are not available in the free version (social media stats, etc), but this gives you a great list to work from. The best feature of this site is the page specific metrics, which gives you a visual comparison of your linking power as compared to your competition. Of particular interest is that they break down total links and total linking domains as separate line items. This gives you a good indication of who is “buying” links, if they ratio of links to domains is low. Additionally, you can export reports on domains, anchor text, and even see top linked pages.
Take some time to play around with this tool, and you won’t be sorry. In our SEO Department at eMagine, this is one of the main tools we use, and we have a subscription to the service. It is extremely robust and very reliable (and no, we didn’t get paid to endorse them).
Search Pages using the “link:” feature
You can search right in Google for links to your website, but the results aren’t always accurate. If you type into the search field “link:yourwebaddress.com”, you will be given results for pages that supposedly have a link back to your site.
The easiest way to see if the pages have a link to your site is to go to the page, then right click on the page and select “view source” to see the code on the page. Then do a “find” (control +F on Windows, Command + F on a Mac) and search for your url.
While the process of analyzing and discovering links to your site may seen tedious and time intensive, it is vital to your SEO practices to have a strategic link building effort, and gain those “votes” for relevance and authority of your site to the topics and solutions you provide.