Evaluating Inbound Link Results in Search Engines
The creation of quality inbound links is the most important ingredient when it pertains to long-term search engine optimization success. The process for inbound link creation is a long-term commitment, which involves the creation of link-worthy content, effective link submissions and detailed documentation and reporting, among a series of other strategies and ideas (some good and some bad). As an ongoing practice, I recommend that website owners check their inbound links as recorded by the major search engines, in order to get a better understanding of what inbound links each search engine has found; but it’s important to realize that these queries may not always be accurate or up-to-date, so caution must be taken when evaluating this information.
How To Find Your Inbound Links in Search Engines
For most search engines, the standard search query for finding inbound links to a domain is: “link:www.domain.com”. This search will provide the user with a set of website results, which all have links pointing to the domain queried.
Yahoo Site Explorer
Yahoo provides the most detailed list of inbound links to a domain, through it’s tool, Yahoo Site Explorer. Users can find information on inbound links to the entire site, including sub-domains and internal pages and can also export the results (in batches of 50) for use with Microsoft Excel or a similar spreadsheet/database tool. Recently, Yahoo added functionality which allows searches to exclude same domain results, which (in my opinion) was the only reason why a website owner would consider using another search engine tool.
Note that in order to export results, users must be registered with Yahoo; but registration of course is free and relatively unanimous. I use Yahoo Site Explorer to obtain link results for not only the sites I’m concerned with, but the competition as well.
Interesting Note on Yahoo:
Logging into Yahoo to view link results versus not being logged in actually shows different link results. For example, when I check the inbound links to Cape Cod SEO without being logged in, I see the following results:
- 474 links to the home page
- 748 links to the entire site
When I am logged into Yahoo, I obtain these results:
- 251 links to the home page
- 605 links to the entire site
I need to investigate this in greater detail, as I only realized this discrepancy when I began writing this post today.
AllTheWeb’s Advanced Search Query
Prior to Yahoo’s “exclude domain” feature, the best place to obtain a complete list of inbound links, without domain-specific results, was AlltheWeb.com. By using the “advanced search” functionality, searchers could query “link:www.domain.com” and exclude resiults from the same domain. The downside to AlltheWeb.com is that it’s not possible to automatically export the results into a spreadsheet or similar program.
Google’s Link Command
It’s important to understand that Google’s traditional “link:www.domain.com” query will only yield a (very) small percentage of the inbound links that Google has recorded for any given website. My hypothesis for why this is the case is due to the fact that Google’s algorithm places so much weight on inbound link relationships, but have never done much research to validate that opinion. Even with Google Webmaster Tools addition of expanded link results for registered Google Webmaster users, it’s still not possible to obtain detailed link information for competitors in the industry or for a particular keyword strategy. I wrote a more detailed writeup related to the value of Google Webmaster Tools inbound link report on the KoMarketing Associates’ web log this morning, which I would recommend reading for those interested in more information.
MSN Search no longer allows users to obtain results for the “link:www.domain.com” query, apparently due to spam and an influx of automated queries. This functionality was removed back in late March and it remains to be seen when or if they will ever bring the feature back.
What Else You Should Be Aware of When Checking Inbound Links
One thing that should be considered, when researching inbound links to your website (or your competitors) is that search engines show users any and all references to the applicable domain or web pages. It’s important to realize that not all of these backlinks are actually providing value to the website, in terms of influencing (positively or negatively) search engine rankings for keywords. As a specific example, search engine backlink checks always include some results that have “nofollow” attributes enabled, which is an indicator to search engines to NOT value the external link (link to your page) that has been created, as it relates to search rankings. Finally, just because an inbound link is obtained today, does not mean that the inbound is seen in search results later today. There is still some time (which is debatable, in terms of the actual duration) in which the search engine must actually crawl the newly created link, credit the appropriate domain, and index the link in search results.