You know that you need to get links to your site. Maybe you’ve submitted your site to a couple directories and begged for a link or two. That’s just the start in a website publisher’s list of tasks regarding links. It’s probably not your most important task, but it does deserve regular attention.
Why should I track backlinks?
You want to know which sites are sending you traffic and why.
Not all backlinks are rated equal. They aren’t even all necessarily good. Are people linking to you with respect or with derision? A directory site full of paid listings is not going to bring you the same type of traffic as a link from a satisfied customer’s Tweet. And neither are as valuable as a link from an authoritative site with positive reviews of your product.
You might find that you’re getting so much free traffic from another site that it’s worth creating a landing page just for those visitors. For example, if you know you’re getting links from a professional association’s site list of recommended resources, you could create a page welcoming them and even providing them with a special offer. (You just need to be sure you give the association the new link you want them to use or route the traffic through server variables.)
These inbound links are crucial as you work on search engine optimization. The search engines like some links better than others, too. A link from a “link farm” or an article that exists just to provide links may provide limited traffic (or get you banned from a search engine index.) It will never pay off as well as a link from a site such as a recognized expert’s curated listing of links or from a popular site with few competing outbound links. It’s important to be popular with a respectable crowd.
They can lose traffic
You could be losing visitors because of outdated links. Maybe you changed the URL for a page because you got a new CMS, moved from .htm to .php pages, or redesigned your site. You need to watch your current backlinks so you’ll know who to inform of any changes in the future. A broken link to your site might be the fault of someone else, but you’ll still suffer the consequences. You might get a visits from motivated people, but they’ll come frustrated that they had to go in search of the correct link themselves.
Links place your site in context
People can link to your site because they are offering it to their readers as an example of how things should be done or because your product is a perfect complement to theirs. They also could be linking to your site as a poor example, or as part of a joke. Your product could appear in a top ten list of useless kitchen items. Your name could appear as a link with the words “this leader” or “this joker.” A lazy web page author might list your heavy-duty containers on a page with canning jars and storage containers because you sell containers—even though they aren’t meant for food.
You want to know this information if you’re concerned with your brand image and reputation.
Search engines can get as confused as readers if the words used as part of the link to your site are inappropriate. If you’re selling childrens’ toys, you don’t want the link to your site to be “dangerous toys” or “as dangerous as this” because the word dangerous then gets associated with your brand name in people’s minds and in search engine indexes.
Backlinks are an excuse to begin or continue a conversation.
Locating a new link to your site means you can now send a message to the author of that link and thank him or her. You can inform them of something new on your site and ask for their feedback on it. You can request that they correct, update or remove an unflattering link.You can ask them what you could do to make them happier with your product or service. Perhaps the linking organization has an event you could sponsor for additional PR and links.
It might be a success metric for your site
For a few blogs or sites created to influence the public or an industry, earning links from governmental or educational sites, or a pundit’s blog might be one measurement of your influence and reach. These links might be as important or more important than the number of visitors to your site who complete a contact form. This might be true if it’s more important for your message and your work to be cited than to be read in it’s entirety.
How to find your backlinks
It used to be easy to track links to your site. All you needed to do was go to one of the major search engines and type “link: www.yoursite.com” and you got a pretty complete list. No more. Now you have to dig.
Pay for it
Link Insight provides reports not only on pages linking to yours, but also pages linking to your competitors. The tool helps identify high quality linking opportunities. It has reports for just about any link-related purpose you could come up with.
Clicky is another option at less cost.
Use a free tool
Free analytic tools will only show you links from sites providing you with traffic. They cannot identify broken links to your site or missed linking opportunities.
Yahoo Site Explorer doesn’t provide you with much information, but it does show inbound links.
Google Webmaster also provides just the links, but it’s easier to view them by page rather than just seeing all the links to your domain.
Google Analytics provides you with better insight into the worth of your backlinks.