Bing Offers Up a Free Link Graph

Bing refreshed their webmaster tools offering & now allows you to look up link data for 3rd party sites.

We recently interviewed Bing's Duane Forrester about the new SEO tools & their product roadmap.

Here is a screenshot of their new link explorer, but I highly recommend setting up an account and checking it out firsthand.

For a long time Yahoo! provided great link data, but most other search engines were more reserved with sharing link data for competing sites. What were some of the driving forces behind Bing opening up on this front?

Bing values the power of strong partnerships as one way to spur innovation and deliver compelling experiences for our users. For any partnership to be effective, remaining as transparent as possible is critical, including those we forge with agency and publisher partners. Sharing link information was something very clearly asked for by tool users, so after doing the internal work to see if we could provide the information, it was an easy decision to build this tool when the answer came back positive. You wanted it, we had it and could share it. Done.

As a search engine your web index is much much larger than most SEO tools. On Twitter Rand mentioned that the index size of Bing's new Link Explorer was fairly comparable to Open Site Explorer. Is the link data offered in the tool a select slice of the index? Were you trying to highlight the highest quality link sources for each site?

We see the entire index, or at least "can" see the entire index and link ecosystem. We’re limited to the actual number we can show at any given time, however.

Currently it appears as though the tool lists link source URLs & page titles. Will the tool also add anchor text listings at some point?

On the list – sometimes we run into data sourcing issues, so when we hit those walls, it takes us longer to add features. Bing WMT pulls data from all the sources available within Bing Search, and sometimes those have limits imposed for other reasons. In those cases, we must abide by those rules or seek to influence changes to increase our own access/capacities. A search engine is a complex thing it turns out… J

There are filters for "anchor text" and "additional query." What are the differences between these filters?

Anchor Text is pretty clear to most SEOs. "Additional Query" allows you to look for, as an example, a page with "N" text appearing on it. So text not just as "anchor text", but simply appearing on the page.

Currently if I search for "car" I believe it will match pages that have something like "carson" on it. In the future will there be a way to search for an exact word without extra characters?

I’m going to split this answer. Users can enable “Strict” filtering to only see “cars” data by selecting the “Strict” box. To your point, however, this is what some of our tools are Beta. We will continually refine them as time goes on, adding features folks find useful.

Will you guys also offer TLD-based filters at some point?

First time anyone's mentioned it, so I’ll add this to our list for consideration.

A few years ago my wife was at a PPC seminar where a Bing representative stated that the keyword search data provided in the tools matched your internal data. Is this still the case?

Bing Advertising is completely separate from Webmaster Tools. I’m not sure if that rep was meaning data within the adCenter tools matches data or what. Bing WMT does import CPC data to showcase alongside keywords which sent traffic to your site. That data matches as we pull direct from adCenter. The data we show through our tools comes direct from Bing Search, so that’s a match if this is what you’re referring to.

Bing's Webmaster tools offers an API with keyword research & link data. Bing's Ad Intelligence is easily one of my 3 favorite SEO tools. Will Bing eventually offer a similar SEO-oriented plugin for Excel?

No plans on the roadmap for an Excel plugin.

At SMX Derrick Connell suggested that there was a relevancy perception gap perhaps due to branding. What are some of the features people should try or things they should search for that really highlight where Bing is much stronger than competing services?

Without doubt people should be logging in and using the Facebook integration when searching. This feature is tremendously helpful when you’re researching something, for example, as you can reach out directly to friends for input during your research process. While searching, keep your eyes open for the caret that indicates there is more data about a specific result. Hovering over that activates the “snapshot” showing the richer experience we have for that result. Businesses need to make sure they focus on social and managing it properly. It’s not going away and those who lag will find themselves facing stiff, new competition from those getting social right. Businesses also need to get moving adopting rich snippets on their sites. This data helps us provide the deeper experiences the new consumer interface is capable of in some cases.

You have wrote a couple books & done a significant amount of offline marketing. One big trend that has been highlighted for years and years is everything moving online, but as search advances do you see offline marketing as becoming an important point of differentiation for many online plays?

In a way yes. In fact, with the simplification of SEO via tools like our own and many others, more and more businesses can get things done to a level on their own. SEO will eventually become a common marketing tactic, and when that hits, we’re right back to a more traditional view of marketing: where all tactics are brought to bear to sell a product or service. Think of this…email marketing is still one of the single best converting forms of marketing in existence. Yet so many businesses focus on SEO (drive new traffic!) instead of email (work with current, proven shoppers!).

In fact, neither alone is the "best" strategy for most online businesses. It’s a blend of everything. Social happens either with you or without you. You can influence it, and by participating, the signals the engines see change. We can see those changes and it helps us understand if a searcher might or might not have a good experience with you. That can influence (when combined with a ton of other factors, obviously) how we rank you. Everything is connected today. Complex? Sure, but back in the day marketers faced similar complexity with their own programs. Just a new "complex" for us today. More in the mix to manage.

What is the best part about being an SEO who also works for a search engine?

On Wednesday, June 6th at 10AM PST, I was part of the team that brought a new level of tools forward, resetting expectations around what Webmaster Tools should deliver to users. Easily one of the proudest moments of my life was that release. While I’m an SEO and I work for the engine, the PM and Lead Engineer on the WMT product are also SEOs. ;) To say Bing is investing in building the partnership with SEOs is no mere boast. Great tools like this happen because the people building them live the life of the user.

What is the hardest part about being an SEO who also works for a search engine?

Still so few people around me that speak this language. The main difficulty is in trying to understand the sheer scope of search. Because everything you thought you knew as an SEO take son an entirely different dimension when you’re inside the engine. Imagine taking every SEO conversation and viewing it through a prism. So many more things to consider.

And, finally, nothing against Matt here, but why are dogs so much better than cats?

1 – they listen to you and execute commands like a soldier
2 – generally, they don’t crap in your house
3 – you can have a genuine conversation with a dog
4 – one of my dogs drives
5 – when was the last time your cat fetched anything for you?
6 – your dog might look at you funny, but won’t hiss at you
7 – guard cat? Hardly… you’d be better off with peacocks in the yard.
8 – dogs make great alarm clocks
9 – even YOU know you look strange walking your cat on a leash…
10 – dogs inspire you to be a better person

-----

Thanks for the interview Duane & the great new tools. :)

Duane also did a video review of their new tools on SEOmoz, which highlights how they show rank & traffic data on a per keyword & per page basis. To learn more about Bing, subscribe to their search blog & their webmaster central blog. Duane also shares SEO information on Twitter @DuaneForrester & via his personal blog.

Citation Labs Review - Here's Why I Use it

So what are we calling it today? Link building, link prospecting, content marketing, linkbait, socialbait, PR ? Whatever it is and whatever sub-definitions exist for the process of finding quality, related websites to link back to yours is difficult and time-consuming work.

As with most processes associated with SEO campaigns, or website marketing campaigns in general, enterprising folks have built tools to make our lives a little easier and our time more fruitful and productive. A couple of those enterprising fellows are Garrett French and Darren Shaw (from Whitespark.Ca) over at Citation Labs.

Garrett has a suite of link building tools available, many of them complement his flagship tool; The Link Prospector.

Link Prospector Review TOC

To help you navigate to specific sections of the review we've included in-content links below.

Getting Started

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So let's assume I've been contracted to embark on a link building campaign for SeoBook :) It's very easy to create a campaign and get up and running:

Create your campaign:

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Move right into the prospects section:

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Start prospecting :)

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Selecting a Report

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The nice thing about this tool is that it's designed for a specific purpose; link prospecting. It's not bloated with a bunch of other stuff you may not need and it's easy to use, yet powerful, because it focus on doing one thing and doing it very well.

The UI of this tool is right on the money, in my opinion. Garrett has built in his own queries to find specific types of links for you (preset Reports). Here you can see the reports available to you, which are built to help you find common link types:

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Customizing Your Prospecting

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As you can see, there are a variety of built in queries available which run the gamut of most of the link outreach goals you might have (interviews, resource pages, guest posts, directories, and so on). Once you settle on the report type it's time to select additional parameters like:

  • Region
  • Web or Blog, or Web AND Blog results
  • Search Depth (You can go up to 1,000 deep here, but if you make use of your exclusion lists you shouldn't have to dive that deep)
  • TLD Options
  • Date Range (Google's "past our, day, week, month, year, or anytime" options)

Try to make your queries as relevant but broad as possible to get the best results. Searches that are too specific will either net to few results or many of your direct competitors. Here, you can see my report parameters for interviews I may want to do in specific areas of SEO (Garrett includes a helpful video on that page, which I highly recommend watching):

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Using Exclusions

The use of exclusions is an often overlooked feature of this toolset. Brands are all over the SERPs these days so when you have the Link Prospector go out to crawl potential link sources based on keywords/queries, you'll want to make sure you exclude sites you are fairly certain you won't get a link from.

You may want to exclude such sites as Ebay, Amazon, NewEgg, and so on if you are running a site about computer parts. You can put your exclusions into 2 categories:

  • Global Exclusions
  • Campaign Exclusions

Global exclusions apply to each campaign automatically. You might want to go out and download top 100 site lists (or top 1,000) lists to stick in the Global Exclusions area or simply apply specific sites you know are irrelevant to your prospecting on the whole. To access Exclusion lists, just click on the exclusion option. From there, it's just a matter of entering your domains:

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Campaign exclusions only apply to a specific campaign. This is good news if you provide link building services and work with a variety of clients; you are not constrained to one draconian exclusion list. In speaking with Garrett, he does mention that this is an often overlooked feature of the toolset but one of the most effective features (both Global and Campaign exclusions).

Working With the Data

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So I ran my report which was designed to find interviewees within certain broader areas of the SEO landscape. The tool will confirm submission of your request and email you when it's complete, at any time you can go in and check the status of your reports by going to Prospects -> View Prospects. Here's what the queue looks like:

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The results are presented in a web interface but can be easily exported to excel. From the web interface, you can see:

  • Total Domains
  • Total Paths (pages on the domain where relevancy exists, maybe we would find a relevant video channel on YouTube where it makes sense to reach out)
  • TLD
  • LTS - Link Target Score
  • PR of Domain
  • Export Options

LTS is a proprietary score provided by Citation Labs (essentially a measure of domain frequency and position within the SERPs pulled back for a given report).

If we expand the domain to see the paths, using Search Engine Land as an example, we can see pages where targets outside of the main domain might exist for our interviewing needs:

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This is where Citation Labs really shines. Rather than just spitting back a bunch of domains for you to pursue at a broad level, it breaks down authoritative domains into specific prospecting opportunities which are super-relevant to your query/keyword relationship.

If you are on Windows (or run Windows via a virutal machine) you can use SEO Tools for Excel to take all these URLs, or the ones you want to target, and pull in social metrics, backlink data, and many other data points to further refine your list.

You can also import this data right into Buzzstream (export from Citation Labs to a CSV or Excel, then import into Buzzstream) and Buzzstream will go off and look up relevant social and contact details for outreach purposes.

We recently did a Buzzstream Review that you might find helpful.

You can also utilize Garrett's Contact Finder for contact research.

Creating Your Own Queries

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Another nice thing about Citation Labs's Link Prospector is that you can enter your own query parameters. You are not locked in to any specific type of data output (even though the built in ones are solid). You can do this by selecting "Custom" in the report selection field

In the Custom Report area you can create your own search operators along with the following options:

  • Region
  • Web or Blog, or Web AND Blog results
  • Search Depth (You can go up to 1,000 deep here, but if you make use of your exclusion lists you shouldn't have to dive that deep)
  • TLD Options
  • Date Range (Google's "past our, day, week, month, year, or anytime" options)

One of the tools we mention quite a bit inside the forums is the Solo SEO Link Search Tool. You can grab a lot of search operators from that tool for your own use inside the Citation Labs tool.

Garrett's Pro Tips

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Can you give us some tips on using the right phrases?

One objection I hear from folks who test the link prospector is "my results are full of competitors." This is typically because the research phrases they've selected don't line up with the type of prospects they're seeking. And more often than not it's because they've added their target SEO keywords rather than "category keywords" that define their area of practice.

The solution is simple though - you just need to experiment with some "bigger head" phrases. Instead of using "Atlanta Divorce Lawyer" for guest post prospecting, try just "Divorce Lawyer," or even "Divorce."

And I'd definitely recommend experimenting with the tilde "~Divorce" as it will help with synonyms that you may not have thought of. So if you're looking for guest posting opportunities for a divorce lawyer your five research phrases could look like this:

divorce
~divorce
~divorce -divorce
Divorce ~Lawyer
"family law"

The link prospector tool will take these five phrases and combine them with 20+ guest posting footprints so we end up doing 100+ queries for you. And there WILL be domain repetitions due to the close semantic clustering of these phrases. This overlap can help "float up" the best opportunities based on our LTS score (which is essentially a measurement of relevance).

All this said there are PLENTY of situations where using your SEO keywords can be productive... For example in guest posting it's common for people to use competitive keywords as anchor text. You could (and yes I'm completely contradicting my example) use "Atlanta Divorce Lawyer" as a guest posting research phrase along with your other target SEO KWs. The prospects that come back will probably have been placed by competitors.

How do you fine-tune your research phrases?

I often test my research phrases before throwing them in the tool. Let's go back to the divorce guest posting example above. To test I simply head to Google and search [divorce "guest post"]. If I see 4 or more results in the top 10 that look like "maybes" I consider that a good keyword to run with. The test footprint you should use will vary from report-type to report-type.

A good links page test is to take a potential research phrase and add intitle:links. For content promoters you could combine a potential research phrase with intitle:"round up".

I find that this testing does two things. For one it helps me drop research phrases that are only going to clog my reports with junk.

Secondarily I often discover new phrases that are likely to be productive. Look back at the list of divorce research phrases above - the last one, "family law," is there because I spotted it while testing [~divorce "guest post"]. Spending time in Google is always, always productive and I highly advise it.

What tips can you give us regarding proper Search Depth usage?

Depth is a measure of how many results the link prospector brings back from Google. How often do you find useful results on the third page of Google? How about the tenth page? There's a gem now and again, but I find that if I've carefully selected 5 awesome research phrases I save time by just analyzing the results in the top 20.

Your mileage may vary, and the tool DOES enable users to scrape all the way down to 1000 for those rare cases where you have discovered a mega-productive footprint. Test it once for sure, don't just take my word for it - my guess is you'll end up with tons of junk that actually kills the efficiency that the tool creates.

Any more expert tips on how to best use phrases and search operators?

You can addadvanced search operators in all your research phrases. Combine them with your research phrases and try them out in Google first (see tip 2) and then use them as you see fit. I use the heck out of the tilde now, as it saves me time and aids in research phrase discovery when I vet my phrases in Google. The tilde even works in conjunction with the wildcard operator (*).

So if you're looking for law links pages you could test [~law* intitle:links] and then add ~law* as one of your research phrases if it seems productive. It's not super productive by the way, because the word "code" is a law synonym... but I wouldn't have known if I didn't test, and if I didn't test I'd end up with link prospetor results that don't have anything to do with the targets I'm seeking.

Any tips on how to best leverage Exclusions (beyond putting in sites like google.com into your Global Exclusions :D )

If you have junk, not-ops that keeps turning up in your reports, add the domain as domain.com and www.domain.com to the exclusions file. Poof. It's gone from future reports you run.

You can even add the domains you've already viewed so they won't show up anymore. Be careful though - make sure you're adding them to your campaign-level excludes rather than Global.

How often do you update the tool and what is coming down the pike?

If you sign up and you find yourself asking "I wonder what would happen if I..." please write me an email. If I don't have an answer for you I will send you credits for you to do some testing. I will end up learning from you. I have users continually pushing the limits with the tool and finding new ways to use it.

We've added PR for domains, titles and snippets for each URL, blog-only search, and fixed numerous bugs and inefficiencies based on requests from our users. We're also bringing in DA, MozRank and an API because of user requests.

Thanks Garrett!!

Free Trial and Pricing

Citation Labs is currently offering a free trial. They have monthly and per credit (love that!) pricing as well. You can find their pricing structure here.

AHREFS Review: An In-Depth Look at a New Link Research Tool

Ahrefs is the newest entry into the link research tool space. They use their own bot and their own index (which they state is based on information from a trillion website connections).

They claim their index is updated every 30 minutes and the fresh data is available to their users within 30 minutes of the actual index refresh.

Ahrefs also has a ranking database of roughly 45 million keywords from 9 different countries (US GB FR RU DE ES IT AU BR). The tools within their membership are:

  • Site Explorer
  • SERPs Analysis
  • Reports
  • Labs/Tools

Their pricing is very straight-forward and only increases or decreases based on volume of data you have access to. You can check out the easy to understand pricing on their pricing page (and they offer SEO Book readers a 50% discount on the first month).

Site Explorer

Ahref's Site Explorer functions in a similar way to Majestic's Site Explorer and SeoMoz's Site Explorer. You can choose a specific URL, the domain without subdomains, or domain with all its subdomains:

ahrefs-site-explorer

If we look at the Site Explorer results, you'll see an overview of the last 45 days or so from Ahref's crawl history:

ahrefs-site-explorer-overview

On the left you can see some interesting stats like the total number of backlinks, different referring IP's and subnets (class c blocks and such), unique domains, and the types of backlinks the site has (text, image, redirects, and so on).

In addition to the overview report, you have other research options to chose from:

  • New Links
  • Lost Links (great opportunity for you to swoop in and alert the linker + sell them on linking to you and your resources)
  • Anchor Text Profile
  • Pages Crawled on the Site
  • Referring Domain Breakdown
  • SERP Positions (organic ranking report)
  • Raw Export of the Data (up to your limits based on your pricing plan)

New Links

In the New Link tab you can go back to a previous month, or work inside the current month, and find newly discovered links by the day. Here is what that looks like:

site-explorer-new-links

Click on whatever day you want and you'll get a list of linking urls, the target link page, and the anchor text used for the link:

site-explorer-new-links-results

This report can help you reverse engineer, down to the day, a link building campaign that your competitor is running (always good to be out in front of a big link push by a competitor) and can also help you evaluate your own link campaign or even help you spot a link growth issue that may have resulted in some kind of penalty or over-optimization filter.

Now keep in mind that, based on their stated crawling guidelines, the stronger links from stronger sites tend to get crawled more frequently so the spammiest of the spammy link approaches might not get picked up on. For that level of deep research a historical report from Majestic SEO and a link status checker, like Advanced Link Manager, is likely a better bet.

You can export this report to Excel or .CSV format.

Lost Links

The Lost Links tab has the same interface as the New Links report does. For your own domain you might want to consider tracking your own links in something like Raven or Buzzstream but this tool does report dropped links down to the day. Combine that with their crawling preferences (better links = quicker attention) and you can spot drops of substance quickly.

You can use this report to find links that a competitor has lost, off of which you can contact the webmaster and see if you can't promote your site or similar content to earn the link your competitor was previously getting.

You can export this report to Excel or .CSV format.

Anchor Text

The anchor text report is exactly what you expect it to be. It lists the anchor texts of external links, the number of occurrences, as well as an expandable dropdown menu to see the pages being linked from and the pages being linked to on the site you are researching.

site-explorer-anchor-text-report

You can export to Excel or .CSV and choose to export everything, up to your limit, or just the current page.

Crawled Pages

This report will show you all the pages crawled by Ahrefs with the following stats:

  • Page URL and Title
  • Crawl Date
  • Page Size
  • Internal Links
  • External Links

site-explorer-crawled-pages

I would likely use this report (on competitors) for checking some of their more popular internally linked-to pages as well as checking out how they structure their site. You can also jump right to a site explorer report for any of the URL's listed on that report as well as check the SERP positions for any of them.

Referring Domains

One thing I like about Ahrefs is that it's straight and to the point. It's very easy to get in, get your data, and get out. Each report does pretty much what you expect it to. This report shows the referring domains + number links coming from that domain. You can access the links from each domain by clicking the Expand button next to the referring domain:

ahrefs-referring-domains

SERP Positioning

Similar to SemRush, Ahref's provides estimated ranking data for keyword sets on both Google and Bing/Yahoo in multiple countries (US, UK, AU, DE, FR, ES, IT, BR, RU). The tool shows the:

  • Position
  • Keyword
  • CPC
  • Estimated cost
  • Ranking url
  • Global search volume
  • Advertiser competition
  • Last date checked
  • Rating (estimated visitors per month based on assumed traffic distribution)

site-explorer-ahrefs-serp-history

The other cool thing about this report is that it will tell you the change from the last time they checked the ranking.

SERPs Analysis

This is similar to the SERP positioning report. Essentially, you enter a URL and you get the Google + Bing & Yahoo ranking data with those same metrics as stated above:

  • Position
  • Keyword
  • CPC
  • Estimated cost
  • Ranking url
  • Global search volume
  • Advertiser competition
  • Last date checked
  • Rating (estimated visitors per month based on assumed traffic distribution)

In addition to that, you also have the following reports:

  • Daily Stats
  • History of Changes
  • Ads Analysis

Daily Stats

ahrefs-daily-stats

This report shows you, on a daily basis, the following data points:

  • New Keywords
  • Lost Keywords
  • Total Keywords that moved up
  • Total Keywords that moved down
  • Total Positions up
  • Total Positions down
  • Rating Change (estimated percentage of traffic gained or lost)
  • Cost Change (rating change * CPC)

There are graphical charts for:

  • Search Engine Traffic (shown above)
  • Keyword Trend (total keywords ranking)
  • Traffic Cost
  • Bar Graph for New and Lost Keywords
  • Estimated Traffic Changes
  • Estimated Traffic Cost Changes

History of Changes

This report breaks down the keyword changes by day and how much the specific keyword moved up/down (and the corresponding page that is ranking).

You can look at a daily report, a 7 day report, 30 days, or a custom range.

ahrefs-history-changes

Ads Analysis

Ahrefs also incorporates Google (and Bing/Yahoo but I had a hard time getting figures for Bing/Yahoo) PPC data. You can pull in the ranking of the ad, the ad text, volume & CPC data, as well as last updated date & competition levels.

ahrefs-ad-history

You can look at just the keyword/ranking data or choose from their other 2 reports; keywords/ranking + ad text (Table + Ads) or just the PPC ad text itself (Ads Preview).

Reports

You can create reports for your own domain for free or a any other site as a part of your subscription. Each domain counts as a separate report, so you can enter as many as you are entitled to in this interface but they do count against your monthly allowance.

ahrefs-reporting-1

The report overview looks like this:

ahrefs-report-overview

Each tab represents a data point you can review. In any tab you can choose to export the visible page or the entire report.

There are quite a few filtering options here, as you can see below:

ahrefs-filtering

Your filtering options, report-wide, are:

  • URLs from - you can include or exclude based on user-defined data (exclude by word(s), domain extension, and so on)
  • Backlinks Type - you can choose to show, specifically, different backlink types (nofollow, image, frame, redirect, form, deleted)
  • Pages - show links only to a specific page
  • Subdomain - show links only to a specific subdomain
  • Countries - show links from specific countries
  • Anchors - show or exclude specific anchor text links
  • Referring Domains - show links from a specific domain, or set of domains only
  • IP - show links from a specific IP or range of IP's only
  • Subnets - show backlinks only from specific subnets
  • TLD - show links from specific TLD's only
  • Date - show links based on specific crawl period

The cool thing here is that you can layer on the filters as you wish. The following screenshot shows all filters selected and available:

ahrefs-report-filtering

The reporting is really quite powerful and provides numerous ways to quickly filter out junk links so you can focus on the good stuff.

Labs

There are 3 additional tools in their Labs section.

  • Ahrefs Top - Top 1 million domains by number of backlinks, completely searchable
  • Domain Comparison - compare up to 5 domains for different link metrics (see below)
  • Batch Domains - (see below) dump in a bunch of URLs and get a total count of backlinks, referring domains, and IP's. Unsure of the limit here but I did about 25 with no problem.

Here is a screenshot of the domain comparison feature:

ahrefs-compare-top

ahrefs-report-2

The Batch Domains feature looks like this (and is completely exportable!):

ahrefs-compare-domains-batch

Ahrefs is Worth a Spin

I was impressed with the speed of this tool, the exportability of the data, and the report filtering capabilities. It hardly hurts to have another link database to pull from, especially one that is updated every 30 minutes.

The tool is quite easy to use and it does pretty much what you expect it to. If you are into link research you should give this tool a try. The database appears to be a fairly good size for a new database and the ability to slice and dice that data from right within the web interface is a solid feature. If you do try it out, let us know what you think! We are also adding their link data to SEO for Firefox & the SEO Toolbar today.

SEO Spyglass Review: A Brand New Link Source

SEO Spyglass is one of the 4 tools Link-Assistant sells (individually) and as a part of their SEO Power Suite.

We did a review of their Rank Tracker application a few months ago and we plan to review their other 2 tools in upcoming blog posts.

Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.

Key Features of SEO Spyglass

The core features of SEO Spyglass are:

  • Link Research
  • White Label Reporting
  • Historical Link Tracking

As with most software tools there are features you can and cannot access, or limits you'll hit, depending on the version you choose. You can see the comparison here.

Perhaps the biggest feature is their newest feature. They recently launched their own link database, a couple of months early in beta, as the tool had been largely dependent on the now dead Yahoo! Site Explorer.

The launch of a third or fourth-ish link database (Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, A-Href's rounding out the others) is a win for link researchers. It still needs a bit of work, as we'll discuss below, but hopefully they plan on taking the some of the better features of the other tools and incorporating them into their tool.

After all, good artists copy and great artists steal :)

Setting Up a Project for a Specific Keyword

One of my pet peeves with software is feature bloat which in turn creates a rough user experience. Link-Assistant's tools are incredibly easy to use in my experience.

Once you fire up SEO Spyglass you can choose to research links from a competing website or links based off of a keyword.

Most of the time I use the competitor's URL when doing link research but SEO Spyglass doubles as a link prospecting tool as well, so here I'll pick a keyword I might want to target "Seo Training".

The next screen is where you'll choose the search engine that is most relevant to where you want to compete. They have support for a bunch of different countries and search engines and you can see the break down on their site.

So if you are competing in the US you can pull data the top ranking site off of the following engines (only one at a time):

  • Google
  • Google Blog Search
  • Google Groups
  • Google Images
  • Google Mobile
  • YouTube
  • Bing
  • Yahoo! (similar to Bing of course)
  • AOL
  • Alexa
  • Blekko
  • And some other smaller web properties

I'll select Google and the next screen is where you select the sources you want Spyglass to use for grabbing the links of the competing site it will find off of the preceding screen:

So SEO Spyglass will grab the top competitor from your chosen SERP will run multiple link sources off of that site (would love to see some API integration with Majestic and Open Site Explorer here).

This is where you'll see their own Backlink Explorer for the first time.

Next you can choose unlimited backlinks (Enterprise Edition only) or you can limit it by
Project or Search Engine. For the sake of speed I'm going to limit it to 100 links per search engine (that we selected in a previous screen) and exclude duplicates (links found in one engine and another) just to get the most accurate, usable data possible:

When you start pinging engines, specifically Google in this example, you routinely will get captcha's like this:

On this small project I entered about 8 of them and the project found 442 backlinks (here is what you'll see after the project is completed):

One way around captchas is to either pay someone to run this tool for you and manually do it, but for large projects that is not ideal as captcha's will pile up and you could get the IP temporarily banned.

Link-Assistant offers an Anti-Captcha plan to combat this issue, you can see the pricing here.

Given the size of the results pane it is hard to see everything but you are initially returned with:

  • an icon of what search engine the link was found in
  • the backlinking page
  • the backlinking domain

Spyglass will then ask you if you want to update the factors associated with these links.

Your options by default are:

  • domain age
  • domain ip
  • domain PR
  • Alexa Rank
  • Dmoz Listing
  • Yahoo! Directory Listing
  • On-page info (title, meta description, meta keywords)
  • Total links to the page
  • External links to other sites from the page
  • Page rank of the page itself

You can add more factors by clicking the Add More button. You're taken to the Spyglass Preferences pane where you can add more factors:

You can add a ton of social media stuff here including popularity on Facebook, Google +, Page-level Twitter mentions and so on.

You can also pick up bookmarking data and various cache dates. Keep in mind that the more you select, especially with stuff like cache date, you are likely to run into captcha's.

SEO Spyglass also offers Search Safety Settings (inside of the preferences pane, middle of the left column in the above screenshot) where you can update human emulation settings and proxies to both speed up the application and to help avoid search engine bans.

I've used Trusted Proxies with Link-Assistant and they have worked quite well.

You can't control the factors globally, you have to do it for each project but you can update Spyglass to only offer you specific backlink sources.

I'm going to deselect PageRank here to speed up the project (you can always update later or use other tools for PageRank scrapes).

Working With the Results

When the data comes back you can do number of things with it. You can:

  • Build a custom report
  • Rebuild it if you want to add link sources or backlink factors
  • Update the saved project later on
  • Analyze the links within the application
  • Update and add custom workspaces

These options are all available within the results screen (again, this application is incredibly easy to use):

I've blurred out the site information as I see little reason to highlight the site here. But you can see where the data has populated for the factors I selected.

In the upper left hand corner of the applications is where you can build the report, analyze the data from within the application, update the project, or rebuild it with new factors:

All the way to the right is where you can filter the data inside the application and create a
new workspace:

Your filtering options are seen to the left of the workspaces here. It's not full blown filtering and sorting but if you are looking for some quick information on specific link queries, it can be helpful.

Each item listed there is a Workspace. You can create your own or edit one of the existing ones. Whatever factors you include in the Workspace is what will show in the results pane as factors

So think of Workspaces as your filtering options. Your available metrics/columns are

  • Domain Name
  • Search Engine (where the link was found)
  • Last Found Date (for updates)
  • Status of Backlink (active, inactive, etc)
  • Country
  • Page Title
  • Links Back (does the link found by the search engine actually link to the site? This is a good way of identifying short term, spammy link bursts)
  • Anchor Text
  • Link Value (essentially based on the original PageRank formula)
  • Notes (notes you've left on the particular link). This is very limited and is essentially a single Excel-type row
  • Domain Age/IP/PR
  • Alexa Rank
  • Dmoz
  • Yahoo! Directory Listing
  • Total Links to page/domain
  • External links
  • Page-level PR

Most of the data is useful. I think the link value is overvalued a bit based on my experience finding links that often had 0 link value in the tool but clearly benefited the site it ended up linking to.

PageRank queries in bulk will cause lots of captcha's and given how out of date PR can be it isn't a metric I typically include on large reports.

Analyzing the Data

When you click on the Analyze tab in the upper left you can analyze in multiple ways:

  • All backlinks found for the project
  • Only backlinks you highlight inside the application
  • Only backlinks in the selected Workspace

The Analyze tab is a separate window overlaying the report:

You can't export from this window but if you just do a control/command-a you can copy and paste to a spreadsheet.

Your options here:

  • Keywords - keywords and ratios of specific keywords in the title and anchor text of backlinks
  • Anchor Text - anchor text distribution of links
  • Anchor URL - pages being linked to on the site and the percentages of link distribution (good for evaluating deep link distribution and pages targeted by the competing site as well as popular pages on the site...content ideas :) )
  • Webpage PR
  • Domain PR
  • Domains linking to the competing site and the percentage
  • TLD - percentage of links coming from .com, net, org, info, uk, and so on
  • IP address - links coming from IP's and the percentages
  • Country breakdown
  • Dmoz- backlinks that are in Dmoz and ones that are not
  • Yahoo! - same as Dmoz
  • Links Back - percentages of links found that actually link to the site in question

Updating and Rebuilding

Updating is pretty self-explanatory. Click the Update tab and select whether or not to update all the links, the selected links, or the Workspace specific links:

(It's the same dialog box as when you actually set up the project)

Rebuilding the report is similar to updating except updating doesn't allow you to change the specified search engine.

When you Rebuild the report you can select a new search engine. This is helpful when comparing what is ranking in Google versus Bing.

Click Rebuild and update the search engine plus add/remove backlink factors.

Reporting

There are 2 ways to get to the reporting data inside of Spyglass

There is a quick SEO Report Tab and the Custom Report Builder:

Much like the Workspaces in the prior example, there are reporting template options on the right side of the navigation:

It functions the same way as Workspaces do in terms of being able to completely customize the report and data. You can access your Company Profile (your company's information and logo), Publishing Profiles (delivery methods like email, FTP, and so on), as well as Report Templates in the settings option:

You can't edit the ones that are there now except for playing around with the code used to generate the report. It's kind of an arcane way to do reporting as you can really hose up the code (below the variables in red is all the HTML):

You can create your own template with the following reporting options:

  • Custom introduction
  • All the stats described earlier on this report as available backlink factors
  • Top 30 anchor URLs
  • Top 30 anchor texts
  • Top 30 links by "link value"
  • Top 30 domains by "link value"
  • Conclusion (where you can add your own text and images)

Overall the reporting options are solid and offer lots of data. It's a little more work to customize the reports but you do have lots of granular customization options and once they are set up you can save them as global preferences.

As with other software tools you can set up scheduled checks and report generation.

Researching a URL

The process for researching a URL is the same as described above, except you already know the URL rather than having SEO Spyglass find the top competing site for it.

You have the same deep reporting and data options as you do with a keyword search. It will be interesting to watch how their database grows because, for now, you can (with the Enterprise version) research an unlimited number of backlinks.

SEO Spyglass in Practice

Overall, I would recommend trying this tool out. If nothing else, it is another source of backlinks which pulls from other search engines as well (Google, Blekko, Bing, etc).

The reporting is good and you have a lot of options with respect to customizing specific link data parameters for your reports.

I would like to see more exclusionary options when researching a domain. Like the ability to filter redirects and sub-domain links. It doesn't do much good if we want a quick, competitive report but a quarter or more of the report is from something like a subdomain of the site you are researching.

SEO Spyglass's pricing is as follows:

  • Purchase a professional option or an enterprise option (comparison)
  • 6 months of their Live Plan for free
  • Purchase of a Live Plan required after 6 months to continue using the tool's link research functionality.
  • Pricing for all editions and Live Plans can be found here

In running a couple of comparisons against Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO it was clear that Spyglass has a decent database but needs more filtering options (sub-domains mainly). It's not as robust as OSE or Majestic yet, but it's to be expected. I still found a variety of unique links from its database that I did not see on other tools across the board.

You can get a pretty big discount if you purchase their suite of tools as a bundle rather than individually

SEM Rush Review & Free Trial SEMRush Coupons

SEM Rush has long been one of my favorite SEO tools. We wrote a review of SEM Rush years ago. They were best of breed back then & they have only added more features since, including competitive research data for Bing and for many local versions of Google outside of the core US results: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom.

Recently they let me know that they started offering a free 2-week trial to new users. try SEM Rush for free.

Set up a free account on their website & enter the promotional code located in the image to the right.

For full disclosure, SEM Rush has been an SEO Book partner for years, as we have licensed their API to use in our competitive research tool. They also have an affiliate program & we are paid if you become a paying customer, however we do not get paid for recommending their free trial & their free trial doesn't even require giving them a credit card, so it literally is a no-risk free trial. In fact, here is a search box you can use to instantly view a sampling of their data

Quick Review

Competitive research tools can help you find a baseline for what to do & where to enter a market. Before spending a dime on SEO (or even buying a domain name for a project), it is always worth putting in the time to get a quick lay of the land & learn from your existing competitors.

  • Seeing which keywords are most valuable can help you figure out which areas to invest the most in.
  • Seeing where existing competitors are strong can help you find strategies worth emulating. While researching their performance, it may help you find new pockets of opportunities & keyword themes which didn't show up in your initial keyword research.
  • Seeing where competitors are weak can help you build a strategy to differentiate your approach.

Enter a competing URL in the above search box & you will quickly see where your competitors are succeeding, where they are failing & get insights on how to beat them. SEMrush offers:

  • granular data across the global Bing & Google databases, along with over 2-dozen regional localized country-specific Google databases (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States)
  • search volume & ad bid price estimates by keyword (which, when combined, function as an estimate of keyword value) for over 120,000,000 words
  • keyword data by site or by page across 74,000,000 domain names
  • the ability to look up related keywords
  • the ability to directly compare domains against one another to see relative strength
  • the ability to compare organic search results versus paid search ads to leverage data from one source into the other channel
  • the ability to look up sites which have a similar ranking footprint as an existing competitor to uncover new areas & opportunities
  • historical performance data, which can be helpful in determining if the site has had manual penalties or algorithmic ranking filters applied against it
  • a broad array of new features like tracking video ads, display ads, PLAs, backlinks, etc.

Longer, In-Depth Review

What is SEM Rush?

SEM Rush is a competitive research tool which helps you spy on how competing sites are performing in search. The big value add that SEM Rush has over a tool like Compete.com is that SEM Rush offers CPC estimates (from Google's Traffic Estimator tool) & estimated traffic volumes (from the Google AdWords keyword tool) near each keyword. Thus, rather than showing the traffic distribution to each site, this tool can list keyword value distribution for the sites (keyword value * estimated traffic).

As Google has started blocking showing some referral data the value of using these 3rd party tools has increased.

Normalizing Data

Using these estimates generally does not provide overall traffic totals that are as accurate as Compete.com's data licensing strategy, but if you own a site and know what it earns, you can set up a ratio to normalize the differences (at least to some extent, within the same vertical, for sites of similar size, using a similar business model).

One of our sites that earns about $5,000 a month shows a Google traffic value of close to $20,000 a month.
5,000/20,000 = 1/4 = 0.25

A similar site in the same vertical shows $10,000
$10,000 * 0.25 = $2,500

A couple big advantages over Compete.com and services like QuantCast for SEM Rush are that:

  • they focus exclusively on estimating search traffic
  • you get click volume estimates and click value estimates right next to each other
  • they help you spot valuable up-and-coming keywords where you might not yet get much traffic because you rank on page 2 or 3

Disclaimers With Normalizing Data

It is hard to monetize traffic as well as Google does, so in virtually every competitive market your profit per visitor (after expenses) will generally be less than Google. Some reason why..

  1. In some markets people are losing money to buy marketshare, while in other markets people may overbid just to block out competition.
  2. Some merchants simply have fatter profit margins and can afford to outbid affiliates.
  3. It is hard to integrate advertising in your site anywhere near as aggressively as Google does while still creating a site that will be able to gather enough links (and other signals of quality) to take a #1 organic ranking in competitive markets...so by default there will typically be some amount of slippage.
  4. A site that offers editorial content wrapped in light ads will not convert eyeballs into cash anywhere near as well as a lead generation oriented affiliate site would.

SEM Rush Features

Keyword Values & Volumes

As mentioned above, this data is scraped from the Google Traffic Estimator and the Google Keyword Tool. More recently Google combined their search-based keyword tool features into their regular keyword tool & this data has become much harder to scrape (unless you are already sitting on a lot of it like SEM Rush is).

Top Search Traffic Domains

A list of the top 100 domain names that are estimated to be the highest value downstream traffic sources from Google.

You could get a similar list from Compete.com's Referral Analytics by running a downstream report on Google.com, although I think that might also include traffic from some of Google's non-search properties like Reader. Since SEM Rush looks at both traffic volume and traffic value it gives you a better idea of the potential profits in any market than looking at raw traffic stats alone would.

Top Competitors

Here is a list of sites that rank for many of the same keywords that SEO Book ranks for

Most competitors are quite obvious, however sometimes they will highlight competitors that you didn't realize, and in some cases those competitors are also working in other fertile keyword themes that you may have missed.

Overlapping Keywords

Here is a list of a few words where Seo Book and SEOmoz compete in the rankings

These sorts of charts are great for trying to show clients how site x performs against site y in order to help allocate more resources.

Compare AdWords to Organic Search

These are sites that rank for keywords that SEO Book is buying through AdWords

And these are sites that buy AdWords ads for keywords that this site ranks for

Before SEM Rush came out there were not many (or perhaps any?) tools that made it easy to compare AdWords against organic search.

Start Your Free Trial Today try SEM Rush for free.

SEM Rush Pro costs $79 per month (or $69 if you sign up recurring), so this free trial is worth about $35 to $40.

Take advantage of SEMRush's free 2-week trial today.

Set up a free account on their website & enter the promotional code in the image located to the right.

If you have any questions about getting the most out of SEM Rush feel free to ask in the comments below. We have used their service for years & can answer just about any question you may have & offer a wide variety of tips to help you get the most out of this powerful tool.

Link Assistant's Rank Tracker - A Complete Review

Link Assistant's Rank Tracker Reviewed

Link Assistant offers SEO's a suite of tools, under an umbrella aptly named SEO Power Suite, which covers many aspects of an SEO campaign.

Link Assistant provides the following tools inside of their Power Suite:

  • Rank Tracker - rank tracking software
  • WebSite Auditor - on-page optimization tool
  • SEO Spy Glass - competitive link research tool
  • Link Assistant - their flagship link prospecting, management, and tracking tool

We'll be reviewing their popular Rank Tracking tool in this post. I've used their tools for awhile now and have no issue in recommending them. They also claim to have the following companies as clients:

  • Disney
  • Microsoft
  • Audi
  • HP

Rank Tracker is one of the more robust, fast, and reliable rank checking tools out there.

Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.

Is Rank Tracker a Worthy Investment?

Rank Tracker offers a few different pricing options:

  • Free
  • Pro
  • Enterprise

All of the editions have the following features:

  • Unlimited sites
  • Unlimited keywords
  • Customizable reports (you can only save and print with Enterprise level however, kind of a drawback in my opinion. Pro accounts should have this functionality)
  • API key's
  • Human search emulation built in
  • User agent rotation
  • Proxy support
  • Proxy rotation
  • Google analytics integration
  • Multiple language support (English, German, Russian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Slovak)
  • Runs on Windows, Mac, Linux

All editions offer access to their keyword research features, with all the features included, the only difference here is the free edition doesn't allow KEI updates.

Rank Tracker Feature Set

Rank Tracker offers a keyword research tool and a rank checking component within the application. A more thorough breakdown of the feature set is as follows:

Keyword Research

I prefer to do my keyword research outside of tools like this. Generally specific tools seem to excel at their chosen discipline, in this case rank checking, but fall kind of short in areas they try to add-on. I like to use a variety of tools when doing keyword research and it's easier for me, personally, to create and merge various spreadsheets and various data points rather than doing research inside of an application.

However, Rank Tracker does offer a one-stop shop for cumbersome research options like various search suggest methods and unique offerings like estimated traffic based on ranking #1 for that specified term.

Overall, a nice set of keyword research features if you want to add on to the research you've already done.

Rank Tracker also gives you the option to factor in data from Google Trends as well as through Google Analytics (see current ranking for each keyword and actual traffic).

Rank Checking

As this is the core piece tool it's really no surprise that this part of Rank Tracker shines. Some of the interesting options here are in the ability to track multiple Google search areas like images, videos, and places.

In addition to the interesting features I mentioned above, Rank Tracker also includes a wide array of charting and design options to help you work with your data more directly and in a clearer way:

Usability is Top Notch

While the interfaces aren't the prettiest, this is one of one most user-friendly rank tracking tools that I've come across.

First you simply enter the URL you wish to track. Rank Tracker will automatically find the page AND sub-domain on the domain ranking for the keywords chosen, so you don't have to enter these separately.

You enter the site you want to check (remember, subpages and subdomains are automatically included)

Choose from a whole host of engines and select universal search if you wish to factor in places taken up by Google insertions into the SERPS:

Enter your keywords:

Let Rank Tracker go to work: (you can choose to display the running tasks as line views or tree views, a minor visual preference)

That's all there is to it. It is extremely easy to get a project up and running inside of this tool.

Working with Rank Tracker

Inside of Rank Tracker the data is displayed clearly, in an easy to understand format:

In the top part you'll get to see:

  • the keywords you selected
  • current rank compared to last rank
  • overall visibility (top rankings) in each search engine selected
  • custom tags you might decide to choose to tag your keywords with for tracking purposes or something

On the bottom chart you'll see three options for the selected search engine (bottom) and keyword (top):

  • ranking information for each search engine for the selected keyword
  • historical records (last check date and position)
  • progress graph (visual representation of rankings, customizable with sliders as shown in the picture)

The ranking chart shows the chart for the chosen keyword and search engine:

Within the ranking results page, you can select from these options to get a broader view of how your site is performing on the whole:

Customizing Rank Tracker

Inside of Rank Tracker's preferences you'll see the following options, most of which are self-explanatory:

This is where you can take advantage of some of their cooler features like:

  • adding competitors to track
  • adding in your Google Analytics account
  • customizing your reporting templates
  • changing up human emulation settings
  • adding in a captcha service
  • scheduling reports
  • adding in multiple proxies to help with the speed of the tool as well as to prevent blocks

You can track up to 5 competitors per Rank Tracker profile (meaning, 5 competitors per one of your sites).

Key Configuration Options

Rank Tracker has a ton of options as you can see from the screenshot above. Some of the more important ones you'll want to pay attention to begin with their reporting options.

You'll want to set up your company information as shown here: (this is what will show on your reports)

On a per profile basis you can customize client-specific details likeso:

You can create new and modify existing templates for multiple report types here as well:

Emulation settings are important, you want to make sure you are set up so your requests look as normal and human as possible. It makes sense to check off the "visit search engine home page" option to help it appear more natural in addition to having delays between queries (again, to promote a natural approach to checking rankings/searching).

One thing that irks me about Rank Tracker is that they have emulation turned off by default. If you don't adjust your settings and you try and run a moderately sized report you'll get a Google automated ban in short order, so be careful!

In addition to emulation, search approach is also worthy of a bit of tinkering as well. Given how often Google inserts things like images, products, and videos into search results you might want to consider using universal search when checking rankings.

Also, the result depth is important. Going deep here can help identifying sites that have been torched rather than sites that simply fell outside the top 20 or 50. 100 is a good baseline as a default.

Successive search gives you a more accurate view as it manually goes page by page rather than grabbing 100 results at a time (double listings, as an example, can throw off the count when not using successive search)

Finally, another important option is scheduling. You can schedule emails, FTP uploads, and so on (as well as rank checks) from this options panel. Your machine does have to be on for this to work (not in sleep mode for instance). In my experience Rank Tracker has been pretty solid on this front, with respect to executing the tasks you tell it to execute (consistently).

Software versus Cloud

There are some strong, cloud based competitors to Rank Tracker. Our Rank Checker is a great solution for quick checks and for ongoing tracking if you do not need graphical charts and such (though, you can easily make those in excel if you need to).

Competitors and Options

Raven offers rank tracking as a part of their package and there are other cloud based services like Authority Labs (who actually power Raven's tools) you can look into if you want to avoid using software tools for rank checking.

There are some drawbacks to cloud-based rank tracking though. Some of them do not have granular date-based comparisons as they typically run on the provider's schedule rather than yours.

Also, most cloud rank checking solutions offer limits on how many keywords you can track. So if you are doing enterprise level rank checking it makes sense to use a software tool + a proxy service like Trusted Proxies

Pricing and Final Thoughts

Rank Tracker offers a generous discount if you grab all their tools in one bundle. If you want to customize, schedule, and print reports you'll need the enterprise edition.

I think requiring the purchase of your top tier for the basic functionality of printing reports is a mistake. I can see having that limitation on the free edition, but if you pay you should get access to reports.

You can find their bundle prices here and Rank Tracker's specific pricing here. Also, similar to competitors, they have an ongoing service plan which is required if you plan to continue to receive updates after the initial 6 months.

Despite my pricing concern regarding the reporting options, I think this is one of the top rank checkers out there. It has a ton of features and is very simple to use. I would recommend that you give this tool a shot if you are in the market for a robust rank checking solution. Oh I almost forgot, rank checking is still useful :)

One More Note of Caution

Be sure to read the below complaints about how unclear & sneaky the maintenance plan pricing is. This is something they should fix ASAP.

Why You Should Use Multiple Web Analytics Tools

Why Analytics Are So Important

With SEO the most important thing to track is performance. Of course the bank account (& its growth rate) is a high level tracking mechanism, but it is the result of the combination of many ideas & efforts, the combination of multiple marketing strategies & traffic streams. To dig in further on what's working web analytics are your bread and butter. They don't give you aggregate data or could be data, but precisely and exactly what is happening on your sites: separating out what is working from what is not.

Without analytics you are flying blind.

Which is, of course, dangerous!

Redundancy for the Win

Most web analytics tools are either good for realtime tracking or offering granular historical data. Few tools are available at a reasonable cost and great at both. For that reason, I prefer to always use at least 2 web analytics tools.

The other major reason to use 2 tools is to have a stable baseline in case something changes. For instance, Google announced a change to how Google Analytics tracks sessions & only a few weeks ago they also changed how image search is reported, merging it in with core search. Either of those 2 changes could at first make a webmaster think that maybe they had recovered from the Panda algorithm, when the only thing that changed was an arbitrary forced change by their analytic tool provider. Many webmasters have complained about the changes, but can't force Google to change their ways with a product that is provided for free.

Did the above site recover from Panda or was it a data anomaly from Google changing web analytics? If you are using 2 tools it is far quicker to know the answer to that question.

Ok, so you like the 2 tools idea, but what tools should you use?

Primary Web Analytics

   

If you don't mind Google tying you to your website (or want to integrate data that is only available in Google Analytics) then Google Analytics is an easy starter choice. If you don't want to give your data & identity to Google then Clicky is a great primary analytics tool.

If you love Google's feature set but want to host your own data they still sell the Urchin software for $10,000. It offers additional features like logfile analysis, robot & spider reports, individual visitor drilldown, server errors, works on intranets, and so on.

   
There are many other high end providers like Omniture, but I haven't really played much with them as most of our sites tend to be affiliate sites. If you do have a complete customer loop on your site & a sign-up process then services like KISSmetrics & ClickTale further allow you to dive in on how individual users use your website.

Back-up Web Analytics

My general goals & preference with a back-up analytics tool are:

  • light weight (doesn't use significant server resources)
  • low cost
  • provide a general overview baseline to compare primary analytics against
  • offers realtime data (as some of the primary analytics tools have a delay to them & having realtime data allows you to see how, where & why your content is spreading, which can help you further engage in conversation and help to spread it further)

   

As for the back-up web analytics tool, I typically go with Mint because it is quick and easy & only costs a one-time fee of $30 per site. Installation takes about 5 minutes, you upload it & then it just sits there and does its job.

I have also tried Piwik & Open Web Analytics. Of those 2 I prefer OWA because it is more lightweight (Piwik may have more features, but has a lot of files). OWA also has a cool screen recording option baked into it. Be aware that if you have a high traffic website & use OWA that you may create too many MySQL connections and cause the server to be less responsive.

If you are fine with tying some of your websites together but do not want to have them tied together in Google Analytics then you can have one install of OWA or Piwik on a dedicated server & set up multiple profiles for different websites. Be aware that if you have things like screen recording turned on then you are going to be eating significant server resources!

Your Turn

What are your favorite web analytics tools?

Increase Your Profits with MixRank's New Competitive Research Tool

Not many spy tools out there do what MixRank does. MixRank is a tool that gives you the ability to peek into the contextual and display ad campaigns of sites advertising with Google AdSense.

Uncovering successful advertising on the AdSense network can give you all sorts of ideas on how to increase your site's profitability.

Not only can you uncover profitable AdSense ad campaigns but you can pick off AdSense publisher sites and leverage competitive research data off of those domains to help with your SEO campaign.

With MixRank own your competitors in the following ways:

  • Obtain the domains your competitor's ads are served on
  • Swipe your competitor's ad copy
  • Watch ad trends to target your competition's most profitable campaigns and combinations of ads

Another great thing about MixRank is how easy to use it is. Let's go step by step and see how powerful MixRank really is!

Step 1: Pick a Competitor to Research

MixRank makes is super easy to get started. Just start typing in a domain name and you'll see a suggested list of names along with the amount of ads available:

Here we are going to take a look at Groupon as we consider building a niche deals site. Keep in mind that MixRank is currently accepted free accounts while in beta so over time we can expect their portfolio to grow and grow.

MixRank breaks their tool down into 2 core parts:

  • Ads (text and display)
  • Traffic Sources

We'll cover all the options for both parts of the MixRank tool in the following sections.

Step 2: Working with Ad Data (Text and Display)

Let's start with text ad options. So with text ads you have 3 areas to look at:

  • Active Ads
  • Ad Reach
  • Best Performers

Here's a look at the interface:

As you can see, it is really simple to switch between different ad research options. Also, you can export all the results at any time.

The image above is for "Active Ads". In the active ads tab you'll get the following data points (all sortable):

  • Publishers - maximum number of AdSense publishers running that particular ad
  • Last Seen - last known date the ad was seen by MixRank
  • Frequency - amount of publisher sites on which the ad appeared
  • Avg. Position - average position of the ad inside AdSense blocks

Here you can export the data to manipulate in excel or do some sorting inside of MixRank to find the ads earning the lion's share of the traffic.

The Ad Reach tab shows up to 4 ads at a time and compares the publisher trends for those ads. To spread the love around let's look at a couple ads from LivingSocial.Com:

Here you can see that one ad crashed and fell more in line with an existing ad. You can compare up to 4 ads at once to get an idea of what kind of ad copy is or might be working best for this advertiser.

The Best Performers section compares, again, up to 4 ads at a time (use the arrows to move on to the next set) which have recently taken off across the network.

Needless to say, this report can give you ideas for new ad approaches and maybe even new products/markets to consider advertising on.

If the advertiser is running Banner Ads you can see those as well:

With Banner Ads, MixRank groups them by size and you can see all of them by clicking on the appropriate size link.

When you click on a banner ad you'll see this:

This is a good way to get ideas on which banner ads are sticking for your competitors. Also, it's a great way to get ideas of how to design your ads too. A little inspiration goes a long way :)

So that's how you work with the Ads option inside of MixRank. One thing I dig about MixRank is that it's so easy to use, the data is easy to understand and work with, and it does its intended job very well (ok, ok so 3 things!)

Step 3: Traffic Sources

Now that you have an idea of what type of text ads and banner ads are effective for your competition, it's time to move into what sites are likely the most profitable to advertise on.

MixRank gives you the following options with traffic sources:

  • Traffic Sources - domains being advertised on, last date when the ad was seen, average ad position and number of days seen over the last month
  • Reach - total number of publishers the advertiser is running ads on

The traffic sources tab shows:

  • Uniques - estimated number of unique visitors based on search traffic estimates
  • Last Seen - last date MixRank saw the ad
  • Days Seen - number of days over the last month MixRank saw the ad
  • Average Position - average position in the AdSense Block

A winning combination here would be recent last seen dates and a high number under the Days Seen category. This would be the advertiser has been and is running ads on the domain, indicating that it may be a profitable spot for them to be in.

You can also pull these domains into a competitive research tool like our Competitive Research Tool, SemRush, SpyFu, or KeywordSpy and find potential keywords you can add to your own SEO campaign.

Another tip here would be to target these domains as possible link acquisition targets for your link building campaign.

The Reach option is pretty self-explanatory; it shows the total number of publishers the advertiser is showing up on:

Another good way to evaluate traffic sources is to view the average position (remember, all the metrics are sortable). A high average position will confirm that the ads are pretty well targeted to the content of that particular domain.

Combine the high average position with Days Seen/Last Seen and you've got some well-targeted publishers. You can export all the data to excel and do multiple filters to bring the cream of crop to the top of your ad campaign planning.

MixRank is Looking Good

It's early on for MixRank but so far I like what I see. The tool can do so many things for your content network advertising, media buy planning, link building campaigns, and SEO campaigns that I feel it's an absolute no-brainer to sign up for right now.

For now it's *free* during their beta testing. Currently they are tracking about 90,000 sites so it's still fairly robust for being a new tool.

A Complete Review of Wordtracker's Link Builder

You need links to rank, period. We can talk all we want about great content, social signals, brand signals, and all that jazz but quite a bit of that is subjective.

If you practice SEO, and have success with it, then you are well aware that a claim of "you need links to rank" is an objective, true statement without a bunch of false positives.

The gray areas come in to play when we talk about things like anchor text, quality, volume, and so on but the overarching truth is without links you are largely invisible in the SERPS.

Ok, enough of what you already know. Wordtracker recently updated one of their core tools with some cool new features and functionality.

What is Link Builder from Wordtracker?

Link Builder is designed to address a most of the core, key functions of a link building and prospecting campaign.

  • Locate potential link partners via competitor backlinks or based on specific keywords
  • Setting up a link building campaign and sorting your links properly (blogs, directories, social media, etc)
  • Tracking the status of your link campaign's efforts

Wordtracker uses Majestic SEO's Fresh Index by default but you can use the Historic Index as well.

I might opt for the Fresh Index initially, because Majestic tends to have dead links in the historic index (thanks to the significant churn on the web) but if you can't find enough decent prospects in the Fresh Index, using the Historic one isn't a bad option.

There is a lot I like about this tool and a few things I'd like to see them add to or improve on.

Step 1: Setting Up a Campaign

I'm a fan of clean, easy to use interfaces and Wordtracker definitely scores well here. Here is the first screen you are presented with when starting up a fresh campaign:

Researching competing link profiles is not enough with respect to link prospecting, in my opinion. I really like the option to not only research multiple URL's at once but also to research keyword-specific prospects.

You can research lots of countries as well. Below is a snapshot of the countries available to you in Link Builder:

Step 2: Prospecting With Competitor URL's

I am craving some chocolate at the moment, as you can tell from my selected URL's :)

Here's a good example of my decision making process when it comes to using the Historic Index and the Fresh Index. My thought process usually involves the following information:

  • The bigger/older the link profiles of the URL's the more likely I am to use the Fresh Index to avoid lots of dead links
  • If the site is a well known brand I will be more likely to use the Fresh Index given the likelihood that the link profile is quite large
  • Smaller link profiles, newer link profiles will probably benefit from using the Historic Index more

In this example the sites I'm researching have big link profiles and have been around for quite awhile in addition to being large brands, so I will use the Fresh Index to cut down on potential dead-ends.

I selected the "Edit Sources" box because I want to make sure I pick the URL with the most links (or you can just go with both) but I wanted to show you the options:

I'll leave all selected just to maximize the opportunities. Sometimes you'll find pages ranking for specific keywords you might be targeting, rather than just the homepage ranking, so you can use both or one or the other if that's the case.

In this scenario I'm looking at the URLs ranking for "chocolate", and they all happened to be homepage's anyway.

Wordtracker is pretty quick with getting the data in, but while you're waiting you'll see the following screen:

Step 3: Working with the Analysis Tab

In order to keep the results as targeted as possible, Wordtracker automatically removes the following links from the results:

  • Image Links
  • Redirects
  • No-follow links

One thing I'd like to see them do is let no-follows through because even though they might not pass any juice they certainly can be decent traffic sources and link building isn't just about passing juice, it's also about brand building and traffic generation.

I'd even say let image links through. I understand they don't want to be a pure link research tool but image links can be valuable for some of what I just mentioned as well. I would say, give us the data and the ability to filter it rather than just taking it away completely.

Here is a snippet of the result page and a description on what it represents:

On the left are pre-designed buckets that Link Builder groups your links into. This is helpful but I'd like to see more flexibility here.

They also offer a tagging feature to help you group links in another way. The tagging can be helpful for things like assigning links to specific people within your group or really any other custom setup you have going on (maybe stuff like grouping keywords into priority buckets or whatever.)

The prospect tab gives you the domain (chow.com in the below example) the link sits on, the page it links to on a competing site or sites, and the page the link is actually on from the linking site:

All you have to do is click that "links to" button to see where the link is pointing to (in this case chow.com is only linking to 1 of the sites I inputted).

The column to the right shows the page on the domain where the link is originating from and the number in the middle is a measure of how important that particular prospect might be.

The furthest most right column shows columns that tell you whether the domain is also linking to you and how many other sites, out of the sites you inputted, that domain is linking to. The idea being that the domain might be more likely to link to you if they are linking out to multiple competing sites as well:

The grayed out button to the right of the co-link count is the "target" button. This is the button you'd click to let the tool know that this is a prospect you'd like to target.

You have the following toolbar available to you in the Analysis tab:

These are generally self-explanatory:

  • Delete - removes selected prospects from the campaign
  • Export - export your results to a CSV file
  • Copy to - copies prospects to another campaign within your account
  • Tag - allows you to tag selected prospects to help create custom grouping fields
  • Filter - filters Top Link by "contains" or "does not contain". An example might be if you wanted to target a link prospect or prospects which contained the word "chocolate" somewhere in the URL

You can also click on any of the groupings on the left to view those specific groups only. I find that the groupings are fairly accurate but I personally prefer the ability to customize fields like that rather than being boxed in.

I created a sample tag titled "for eric" that contains 2 links I want a team member named Eric to work on:

Step 4: Working with the Contact Tab

The Contact tab has most of the same toolbar options as the Analysis tab with one exception:

  • Find Contact and About Links - click on the links you want to find contact information on and/or find the about page on

Link Builder works in the background to find this information and you can continue working in the application. There is a notes option as well. There's no specific way to leave multiple, time-stamped notes (for team environments) but the input box is expandable so you can leave an ongoing contact history.

You have the same contact flag on the right and to the left of that is an email icon that turns yellow if you click it and is designed to let you know contact is in progress or has been initiated.

When the contact request comes back (just refresh the contact tab) you'll see the following, new fields within the Contact tab that denote the contact/about pages for the prospect:

Step 5: Reporting

The Reporting piece of Link Builder has the following reports:

  • History - options for the Fresh/Historic Index of Majestic SEO via cumulative and non-cumulative views for the chosen domains
  • Spider Profile - the link category breakdown (the aforementioned pre-defined link sources Wordtracker assigns your prospects to) of each domain
  • Target Summary - number of targets, number/% of targets contacted, number/% of targets not contacted, number/% of targets linking to you

This gives you a quick overview of the growth of competing link profiles, current link building rate, types of links they have, and your own Prospect metrics. All the reports are exportable to PDF.

Here's the History report:

Here's the Spider Report:

Here's the Target Summary:

Additional Campaign Options

As we discussed earlier, you can either input a list of domains to search on a specific keyword.

If you search on a specific keyword to start you are able to select URL's to include in your prospecting search. Everything else, in terms of options after the URL selection is the same as if you were to have started with domains.

Having a keyword search to start a campaign is helpful in case you are looking to go beyond competitors you already know of and get a real deep look into link prospects across that keyword's market as a whole.

Also, right next to your campaign name you can sign up to be automatically notified of new links and prospects for your campaign:

Firefox Extension

Link Builder also has a Firefox extension that allows you to grab all the external links from a page and save them in your Link Builder account.

I find this is helpful on directory sites (for gathering a list of topic-specific URLs), as an example. The extension is really easy to use. You can install it here. Once you arrive at a page you want to use it on you just click on the LB logo in your toolbar:

Then once you click on the option to gather the links, you get the following interface:

You can save the chosen links right into your Link Builder account.

What I Like

The features that I like in Wordtracker's Link Builder tool are:

  • Ability to prospect by multiple URLs or by choosing a specific keyword
  • Option to use Fresh or Historic Index via Majestic SEO
  • Simple ways to keep notes and contact information
  • Ability to search for contact and about information on selected prospects
  • Robust selection of countries
  • Initial, intelligent link grouping
  • Exporting capabilites
  • Fast results and a really clean, easy to use interface

What Could Be Improved On

I think Wordtracker could do some things to make this tool even more functional and useful:

  • More flexibility with the naming and assigning of link types
  • Have profile-wide settings to include all links (no-follow, image, etc) or exclude some rather than excluding without a choice to include
  • More filtering options around the data points they offer and whether a prospect has been targeted or not
  • More robust link tracking (if the status of links change send me an alert). Though I realize that is getting into link tracking versus link building, it's still a nice option
  • A bit more flexibility with notes and timestamps for a more defined contact history (especially if teams use this)

A Solid Link Building Product

Overall I think this tool does a good job with its intended use, link building. I think some users would like to see more done to make it more team friendly but I think you can accomplish a lot with their tagging feature.

As stated above, I'd like to see some more done with notes and such but as a link prospecting and building tool Wordtracker's Link Builder is worth your time to try out.

You can grab a free trial over at Wordtracker.

Update to Firefox 5

I am not sure how many people were holding off on updating to Firefox 5 because of our SEO extensions, however we made versions for Firefox 5 quite a while ago for Seo for Firefox, Rank Checker & the SEO Toolbar. When you first go to update it there might be a message that the extensions are not compliant. If that is the case, upgrade to Firefox 5 & then after you get Firefox 5 installed it has a check for updated versions of extensions.

Our newest extensions no longer support Firefox 3 (we get some complaints from people using 3.6) and some early versions of Firefox 4 (like 4.0.1) may not be supported either. If you have an older browser & try to install our extensions you will get an incompatibility message, likeso:

If you like the extensions as they are then there is no need to upgrade, however if you are having any issues with them (not being able to install them, not being able to pull Bing rankings, blank CSV export, etc.) then an upgrade should fix the problem.

Firefox stated that the version 5 update is a security one, so I did it right away. If your Firefox version is high enough you should see an "allow" message box, likeso:

Shout out to Brad McMillen, who had a support request & donated $20 to charity: water to receive a response. He was the first person to do so after months of us making the suggestion on the help desk area, even with 10 daily freetards (who are too lazy to read installation instructions) send us support tickets every day, flaming us because they "paid" for Firefox years ago & such. ;)

I have been losing weight recently and working out a decent amount every single day & working a bit less. I even had time to go see my mom, see my sister, and visit my favorite childhood park.

As an added bonus we dusted off the Nintendo & found a store selling vintage games that had my favorite pinball machine ever - Medieval Madness. I felt like a genuine escentric when trying to explain to my wife how buying a pinball machine for the house was reasonable. Even more eccentric, she didn't counter the idea. Who knows where that will lead...but it could add extra incentive to buy vs rent, if only California real estate didn't start at 7 figures on up. :D

Extra time for reading, exercising & playing has led to a higher level of personal happiness, even as my fear of crushing state debts & banker fraud leading to a new wave of fascism the world over grow daily.

Probably the single best business move I made over the past couple years was deciding that freetards were worth less than nothing and just deleting them. Part of what helped me do that was I actually had an employee answer tickets & after less than a week of doing it he was miserable & had a health issue. Since discarding freetards entirely I have seen 0 business impact and a huge lift in quality of life. If you are trying to please too many people and are showing signs of an unbalanced life for it (things like lacking sleep, high stress level, gaining weight, etc.) then a change is in order. I am still pretty chubby, but have already lost about 30 pounds.

Sometimes I think it makes sense to lean into living a somewhat unbalanced lifestyle to build leverage, but after you are doing well for a while at some point it makes sense to live a bit more balanced life & enjoy it a bit more (or else the hidden health issues will become unhidden in short order). :D

I think sometimes if you just read the blog posts things can be perceived to be more cynical and negative than they actually are. One of the bigger things I struggle with is having inspiration to keep making new posts after having published thousands of them. As I read more about the history of communications & how monopolies come to control information it is easy for me to write about some of the parallels between that and the current market. It is much harder to have something new to write about marketing though, as so much of it is just a repeat of history.

Sure we can say everything is changing and hype everything new to try to pick up some links from people who want to cite quasi-research, but beyond understanding broad stroke philosophical stuff, a lot of what is new is either just hyping what is new for the sake of it or a regurgitation of what was old.

The Google <3's brands theme is something that has been playing out for about a half-decade now. And if you look at every other major established ad driven media model, brand is there as well. Other big components of the ad ecosystem?

  • Classifieds = local/mobile/deals
  • retail = ecommerce/deals/payment processing
  • channel segmentation = ad personalization & social media platforms that you reveal your tastes & interests on

What areas are Google pushing into? Those exact same areas. Just look at this 2007 slide from Hal Varian...

...or see what Larry Page is pushing on Google+

I think about our products in three separate categories

First, there is search and our ads products, the core driver of revenue for the company. Nikesh and Susan are going to talk more about ads later in the call

Next, we have products that are enjoying high consumer success--YouTube, Android and Chrome. We are investing in these in order to optimize their long-term success

Then we have our new products--Google+ and Commerce and Local. We are are investing in them to drive innovation and adoption

The other hard bit with blogging is that of course sometimes there are some really delicious bits to SEO that most the market is unaware of. If you blog them there is a good chance the idea dies. Sometimes valuable tips are shared though, like in Rae's latest link building group interview.

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