SEO is constantly changing, but it is still primarily about backlinks, as they remain the most important ranking factor. However, they now must be of the right kind and quality. Checking your backlinks allows you to better track your SEO efforts and see what is working.
The right backlink checkers also offer a way to see what the competition is doing and get ideas for increasing links to your own site. In addition, as competitors could potentially damage your site with negative SEO, backlink checkers offer a way to find and disavow links that may hurt your rankings.
As with most everything, there are both free and paid backlink checkers, with the paid services or versions offering better services and information. The following are the most popular tools, in no particular order, to make backlink checking easier and more productive.
Open Site Explorer
This is a tool offered by Moz, which has its own crawler to continuously crawl the net for information on websites. In addition to the number of links to the page, Open Site Explorer offers page authority, domain authority, linking root domains, total links, Facebook shares, Facebook likes, tweets and Google +1 information about the page. The free version is limited to three searches a day while the paid is unlimited and offers many other tools.
Like Open Site Explorer, MajesticSEO also has its own crawlers and is centered around a site explorer that offers a wealth of information on URLs. It is named Majestic Million and does an especially good job with backlink graphs that show which way a site is moving. It gives linking information on anchor text, referring domains and other measurements. It is free for the sites you own with the paid version offering extensive information on competitors’ sites.
Is a popular tool that offers cool tracking charts, a breakdown of extensions from linking domains, info on newly discovered and lost links, social network activity and so on all in an easy interface. However, most of the more in-depth information is for paid members only.
Banklinkwatch is the first place many people go for a free check of their backlinks. It is powered by Ahrefs and offers data on the number of backlinks as well as Page Rank, anchor text and other quality indicators. Being a free service, the interface is not nearly as slick nor is the information as extensive. There are also many ads on to deal with.
SEO SpyGlass is one of the tools of SEO PowerSuite. With an easy interface, it provides extensive information on links to include their quality as well as Alexa Rank, Dmoz/Yahoo directory listings and information on social media activity. Some key features are the analysis it provides on what the competition is doing and shows the best keywords to optimize a page for. While there is a free version, the paid one offers more features, including a larger variety of reports and the ability to save backlink history.
For a fast and free way to check backlinks on a site, this may be the best tool. It gives the number of links, Page Rank, anchor text, link type and other columns that will help you weigh the value of the links. A neat feature that is has which is not usually found in most free tools is the ability to save and share reports. While it is ad supported, the ads are not overly intrusive.
Although this is primarily a keyword research tool, Market Samurai also has features that are very useful when checking backlinks. In addition to tracking links to pages on your site or the overall domain, it offers link anchor text and other information on how the site is doing. An especially cool feature is the ability to find out exactly what is happening on your competitors’ pages. Unlike most other paid tools that require monthly subscriptions, Market Samurai can be purchased for a one-time fee.
Google Webmaster Tools
While it is not quick and the information offered is limited, Webmaster Tools still gives some good insights and is of course totally free.
Not all links are created equal. In fact, some can actually hurt a site’s rankings. As Google moves against paid linking and other practices it does not like, it appears some sites are being hit by negative SEO practices carried out by competitors. Whatever the reason, it is prudent to watch for links coming from bad places unrelated to your site. If you cannot get these links removed, you can contact Google and ask them not to count the selected links towards your site. Google has a page that explains how to do this here.