Google's Link: command has been broken forever, but now Google is letting you see a far more representative sample of external links to your site and your internal link structure if you verify that you are the owner of your site by signing up at Google Webmaster Central. They also allow you to export your linkage data in an excel file. Some ways to use this data:
look at internal link structure of important pages and make sure they are well represented
look at internal external structure of important pages and make sure they are well represented
look at which pages on your site are well represented and make sure they link to other key pages
download your external linkage data and sort by date to look for new link sources (and why they are linking at your site)
run the excel sheet through a duplicate site remover or c class IP range checker to see how diverse your linking profile is
If you have shifty sites obviously there would be little to no upside in verifying those sites with Google, but if your sites are generally above board you might find this tool useful.
Please be careful when reading feedback about SEO Elite. I shockingly discovered that many of the below comments praising SEO Elite are fake. Read more about it here.
If my experience with someone posting fake testimonials to this page says anything else for the marketing used to push SEO Elite, I am not sure how much I would trust any of it.
Why I Don't Recommend SEO Elite
I used to recommend Brad Callen's SEO Elite, but due to evolving search algorithms placing more emphasis on site age and usage data I believe that (unless you are penalized or are right on the edge of being penalized) looking through a link profile does not have much value beyond just getting a quick glance at it. And you can do that free using the link explorer inside Bing's webmaster tools.
And if you do get penalized by a search engine, you might be able to get a ticket (as well as link data for your site) inside their webmaster tools sections, plus the online link data sources are great at helping you spot trends and patterns.
SEO for Firefox offers everything you would want to know about links and site authority status outside of anchor text, and my friend Joost De Valk created a free SEO link analysis Firefox extension which shows anchor text and PageRank next to links.
Just spending 5 minutes installing those two extensions means you don't need to waste any time or money downloading and installing bulky software. Further, if you use the online link databases you can be certain you are pulling fresh data & they have loads of features in their interfaces (like seeing which links are brand new, many ways to look through anchor text profiles, tracking new links to competing sites, and so on).
Free Online Link Analysis Tools (No Download Required!)
Tattler and Backlink Analyzer both allow you to view backlink information for free. Tattler is quicker than any of the paid tools on the market. At the price of free it can save you anywhere from $150 to $225 when compared to software like Optilink or SEO Elite. If you want a bit more data than what is featured in Tattler you may want to give Backlink Analyzer a go. Here is a free video on how easy it is to use Backlink Analyzer:
The above mentioned tools were powered by Yahoo! Site Explorer, which has since went away. :( ... However Bing offers a replacement in the link explorer inside their webmaster tools.
Catching Up With Free Tools:
SEO Elite does have a few features that are not included in the free tools listed above, but about the only features I found useful are also available in free easy to use web based tools, like rank checker. SEO Elite later added at co-citation data, which is something many other tools like Link Tree or Hub Finder have been doing for years.
Stay Away from Bad Link Neighborhoods:
I also would recommend avoiding link exchange networks and the typically low quality links people get by using automated link software. Years after search engines started torching websites for getting links from crappy link exchange directories people were still selling access to them, in effect charging you money to get your site penalized. ;)
Google's Matt Cutts has confirmed that these types of links can hurt your website and prevent Google from even indexing it. Most the sites that participate in them are spammy. If you force your link building and get many low quality links it will be much harder to crack the top 10 rankings. If you want to do link building that will actually help you rank I recommend reading this post.
Why Affiliates Push SEO Elite so Hard:
Affiliates recommending SEO Elite with rave reviews make over $70 per sale to recommend it. If I would have just recommended it to you via an affiliate link and you would have bought it I would have another $70 in my pocket, but think of effective link building as the art of getting real editorial citations that send traffic your way.
Since quality links require real human editorial judgement, most software will not help you on that front. In fact, focusing on software that has you looking at the wrong things may make it harder for you to become a topical expert.
A couple years ago when the algorithms were less evolved this was useful software, but I wouldn't recommend buying it today.
on SEM2.0 a PPC keyword research tool named Key Compete was mentioned. It shows you keywords competitors are bidding on by URL, and can be used for keyword ideas for arbitrage plays or authoritative content sites. You know if people are bidding on the keywords that there are going to be relevant ads. If you track your earnings and outbound ad clicks (if you do not want to buy a script for that use the free script here) then when you find an overpriced outbound click you can go buy the keyword list for that advertiser and start cranking out bids or content based on exploiting a great keyword basket or an idiot advertiser. As technology gets cheaper and people keep getting better at packaging highly relevant affordable market research the only thing that will prevent you from becoming commoditized is your brand.
Here is a brief overview of a few of the other free competitive anaysis tools on the market. All I ever have to do to realize how Alexa is inaccurately skewed toward marketing and webmaster resources is look at my own graph. There is no chance in ___ that this is one of the top 1,000 sites on the web.
Recently there have been a couple launches of services which compete with Alexa, and appear to have quite a bit less webmaster skew to them.
Compete.com gives a snapshot of your site which includes average pageviews per visitor and average time on site.
Quantcast.com gives a snapshot of your site which includes demographic information (they think 90% of the readers here are guys), and breaks your site visitors and traffic volumes down into passers-by, regulars, and addicts. Sites which have highly engaged visitors are typically going to be much harder to compete against than sites which are entirely reliant on search.
There are also a number of tools which show you what keywords competitors rank for,
Spyfoo shows top ranking keywords, competing advertisers and organic competitors.
Quintura updated their website to allow you to use their keyword research tool right from there home page, without needing to download any software. It is exceptional for discovering keyword relationships and digging deeply through a category.
So the web is becoming far more social in nature. Many clients insist on owning a 6 page brochure site (or maybe 100 of them) and expect the SEO to rank them for crumbs. There are a few potential outcomes of working with clients like that:
the client's website and marketing are so bad that you can never rank them
the client's website and marketing are so bad that you can just get them a bit of exposure (but will later be marginalized by improving search technologies and competing companies that better understand the web)
If your marketing is dependant on a piece of software that is publicly available and your strategy is just to replicate what is already out there, then even if you find a way to compete (temporarily perhaps)... eventually you are going to get marginalized.
If a company with greater resources that is more receptive to the web hires a person half as competent as you they are probably still going to kick your ass, in the longrun.
Why fight the algorithms and the natural trends of the web? Doesn't it make more sense to leverage the trends to your benefit?
If you accept bad SEO clients all you are doing is pushing your services toward the commodity end of the market. And that a path to unhappiness.
Most sites are easy to relate to popular or important link rich ideas if you are creative. For example, to some people this site relates (or at points in time related) to web browsers, open source software, religion, politics, science, education, human rights, free speech, marketing, market manipulation, entrepreneurship, blogging, search, and many other link rich topics.
Part of why I stray off topic is because I think everything is related. But it also doesn't help that I entered the market so late, and SEO is generally hated when compared with the general linkability and passion with which people talk about innovating search technologies. What can you do to make your site relate to something people care a lot about or are irrationally / emotionally drawn toward? Do you care about the environment? Are you religious? Are you disabled? Are you part of a minority? Do you care about human rights? Do you wish the world was safer? What flaws in Google's business model concern you? How did you overcome your biggest faults and fears? Could you help stop wars?
The things you are not supposed to talk about are the things which link rich people link at. You know your idea has legs when people at different ends of the political spectrum link to your idea and claim it as their own because they identify it as being associated with their ideology.
Typically it helps if most of your content is focused on your core topic, but some of the people who are easiest to talk about are easy to talk about because they can relate their topic to other hot topics. If you are a usability consultant why not talk about blogging and search, for example.
At some level, at a very major level in fact, the way we feel about a transaction is more important than the transaction itself. Some people like a sporting event more if they got the ticket from a scalper, other if they got the ticket for free from their boss. Some people need to feel like they've taken the system (whatever the system is) for everything it's worth. Others need to pay retail (especially on a wedding dress, cemetery plot or flu shot).
Marketers are working hard to corrupt the way we feel about our friends and the people we respect. I think, in the end, it's not going to work. We're hardwired to respect real authenticity, and at some level, that means trusting the motives of the person we're listening to.
In addition to all of these forward and backward link tools many video content sites and social bookmarking programs allow you to use other's work to explore interesting items, which sorta brings the fun back to the web...finding all kinds of cool stuff.
As technology evolves, and more users become editors, the value of being a general editor will be commoditized to nothing unless you work long hours, have a community helping you, are heavily biased, passionate, or can add some other significant value to the information you consume and sort. But if you are an agressive marketer being able to sort through information so many different ways makes the job much more fun because it gives you so many options.