In a short discussion via Twitter with Alan Bleiweiss of Search Marketing Wisdom, it seemed of interest that once again there is a massive variance in data. Ive picked a site that I worked on previously and have access to in Google Webmaster tools and have ensured to removed any identifying details, but some pieces of data were removed from the screenshots but the data removed did not relate to this blog post. To access any of the backlink packages detailed below just click on the screenshot to be taken direct to their site to play with the tool yourself.To get my own baseline for the site and how the different backlinks tools compare I averaged out the total links found which are shown in the screenshots below. The average number of links between the 6 different applications is 2,292 links, and I will rate the percentage of links found below up or down based against this average number of links.
Google Webmaster Tools Link CountAnalysis: Google Webmaster tools is actually fairly close just 1% lower than the average number of links found by the different software packages, what is interesting is that it was the only package to get close to the average. The biggest problem to get this data you have to verify that you actually own or control that site, which makes it harder to be used for competitive analysis. The amount of back links found seems to indicate GWT may not be your most accurate guide, its just an average after all...
Google Search Tools Link CountAnalysis: This LINK: statement has to be one of the worst methods of all techniques to see your backlink profile so if you are using this to judge the success of your campaigns you might as well give up now. The number of links found using the Link: statement was just 2% of the averaged figure, a massive failure.
Yahoo Site Explorer Link CountAnalysis: Yahoo SiteExplorer which soon may disappear with the merging of Bing/Yahoo search platforms which a shame as it is fairly accurate with just 14% less links than the averaged amount, showing just 1,981 backlinks or as it calls them "inlinks". The best part about Yahoo Site Explorer is that it doesn't require you to verify you own the site so its still great for competitive link analysis.
OpenSite Explorer Link CountAnalysis: Built by SEOmoz around the Linkscape architecture it is the heavy hitter in link analysis finding 68% more backlinks than the averaged amount but slightly less than the subscription software. The interesting part was that the total links found by OSE was actually quite close to the count of follow backlinks the subscription software found. OSE only estimated that there were around 366 backlinks which were dofollow links which can have a positive effect on your search rankings. OpenSite Explorer might provide you with a fair bit of benefit when doing a link analysis as you can potentially only get the links that count and maybe less likely to have duplicated links counted or dead links included in your total count as can happen with even the best subscription software.
Majestic SEO Link CountAnalysis: Majestic SEO is one of the older link discovery packages but has only recently started rebuilding and expanding its data set, it still appears to be too early in the process as it showed 37% less links than the average. The software offers more data to those who have signed up for a free account and it can provide a lot more technical information than many of the other backlink tools listed.
Subscription Software Link CountAnalysis: Using some specialist software ive tracked around 4447 backlinks to the site, this was the largest number of links found with around 81% more links than the averaged amount. The package is obviously more expensive than the free options but it does show that you get what you paid for, as it also allows you to see a detailed backlink profile including 3772 followed links and 387 nofollowed links. Both of these do not match with Google Webmaster Tools, which crushes any claims that Google is only choosing to show either just followed or nofollow links in its links to your site.Since there are several backlink tools available I didn't want to give preference to any and a also because ive found some just use the platforms above accessing the data via data APIs. This data is then just packaged in some nice CSS or stripped back to bare essentials and presented within your dashboard, it is a shame that some packages that claim to offer backlink analysis are just regurgitating public backlink data via Yahoo or Linkscape.
Bing LinkDomain:It seems that this tool is once again not publically available but it did show the most promise of all the solutions last time I tested it, so we cannot do a test at this stage.Which Backlink tool is best?If you can afford the subscription alternatives they are always going to provide more functionality and the brute force strength you need on some projects to get a true understanding of a competitors backlink profile. Outside of that GWT is the most averaged of all the solutions examined which should keep your boss happy but OpenSite Explorer or Subscription platforms vastly outperform the other alternatives.