The “death” of Yahoo Site Explorer has even inspired a eulogy over at SEOMoz by Michael King, to say nothing of write-ups at Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land, among other places. The tool was born in September 2005. What is it about the closing down of a five-year-old tool that brings on nostalgia in SEOs?
Quite a bit, when the tool was YSE. Many SEOs started their career with this tool. It was free, after all, and at the time it came out, users couldn’t get the kind of information it offered without paying through the nose. Not only did YSE give you complete information on your own site’s links; it also gave you pretty complete information on links for sites you didn’t own. Google has always been coy about sharing this kind of intelligence; at best, the search giant offers only a sampling of links, since their algorithm depends so much on links to determine a website’s ranking.
As SEOMoz notes in its moving eulogy, YSE not only allowed you to get that information directly from them, but enabled other tools to deliver the same information. “Most importantly YSE we will remember you for telling us who linked to our competitors. This is how you truly changed the world. We respect you and commend for all your efforts and the API that once fed a variety of tools such as BackLinkWatch and the SEOBook Link Tool Suite. Your knowledge, speed and freshness will be missed,” King posted.
Although YSE is being merged with Bing Webmaster Tools, most observers do not believe that this particular capability will be preserved. To be fair, Microsoft has been updating Bing Webmaster Tools, as Search Engine Watch reported earlier this month. Now users can get a host of valuable information not previously available to them from BWT, such as malware alerts. It also seems sensible that Microsoft would include another of YSE’s beloved functions: “your special ability to tell us about everyone else that knew about us and where they’d shared it on the web,” as King characterized it in his eulogy. In fact, as Thom Craver noted at Search Engine Watch, Bing Webmaster Tools now provides expanded “Crawl Details” information which includes all inbound link information, in addition to information about malware.
This may be comforting, but YSE’s death still leaves many SEOs with nowhere to go for that all-important, accurate intelligence on their competitors’ links. Or does it?
Frank Watson at Search Engine Watch notes that he hasn’t found any free tool that provides all of the information users could get from YSE. “But there are some places that can give people low on funds a start,” he adds.
One place to start is Open Site Explorer, available from SEOMoz. You can compare information on up to five sites, and find out how many linking root domains and total links a web page boasts. The tool shares specifics and other useful information. But OSE also hides a lot of link information related to social media behind a pay wall, teasing you with the phrase “PRO only” under columns headed “FB Shares/Likes,” “Tweets,” and “Google+1.” If you want that information, it’s going to cost you $99 a month.
Web SEO Analytics offers a free backlink analysis tool, but limits users to 50 backlinks per report. If you’re patient enough to piece lots of reports together, it could work for you. Naturally, the company also offers a paid backlink analysis tool that doesn’t carry that restriction; it’s less pricey than OSE Pro. Watson also recommended SearchMetrics; the tool might be useful, but I wasn’t impressed with the amount of information it gave me for free.
Other tools that Watson recommended included the SEOBook toolbar and the SEO for Firefox browser plug-in. I haven’t tried these tools personally, but I know a number of SEOs who swear by these tools. Watson notes of the latter that it “will gve the individual numbers at the top or side of any page you have loaded…time consuming but free.”
There are a ton of good paid SEO tools out there – almost too many to list. And there, in a sense, is the rub: with YSE, you got information for free from a search engine that you’d normally expect to pay for. With this tool’s demise, competitive link analysis just got more expensive, difficult, and time-consuming.
Karen Blakeman, however, offers some hope that free, extensive competitive link analysis still exists, and can still be had from a search engine. She recommends trying Blekko. She notes that Blekko lets you track down links in two ways, but you get the same results either way. If you haven’t tried Blekko before, they offer a unique approach to search; you can modify most of your searches with slashtags. Think of these as filters. The most useful filters for this purpose are /links and /domainlinks. Blakeman suggests using either of these with a URL or domain name.
For example, if you search on Blekko for http://www.seochat.com/ /links, you’ll find pages that link to SEO Chat’s home page; a search on Blekko for http://www.seochat.com/ /domainlinks lists all inbound links to the site.
The second way you can get link data is by going through actual search results. When you do a search on Blekko, you’ll note that every result features a downwards pointing arrow. When you click on this arrow, you’ll get a small pop-up box with several clickable options. Click on “links,” and you’ll get a list of sites that link to that page.
Incidentally, if you’re looking at search results on Blekko, you’ll also notice a clickable “seo” next to that downwards pointing arrow. Clicking on that pulls up a slew of statistics covering the results inbound links, arranged in charts. When I tried that for SEO Chat, I found that we have links from 40 states and 51 countries, and a number of other useful tidbits. But the point is, Blekko doesn’t know who I am…so I could get the same information about our competitors, for free. Incidentally, Blekko also offers a toolbar that provides SEO data as you browse. They just might be the most viable option for getting the kind of information Yahoo Site Explorer once gave.