I’m Susan Kistler, the Executive Director for the American Evaluation Association. I contribute each Saturday’s post to aea365.
As part of our monitoring efforts for AEA’s website, we regularly review backlinks –links into a site from another site. Backlinks give you an idea of the level of exposure of a site, the types of ‘friends’ it keeps, and commentary related to the site’s content. For evaluators, checking backlinks can help you to: evaluate a program’s site, programs, and messaging; research a particular client or interviewee; or understand better the references to your own firm’s (or a competitor’s!) website.
Lessons Learned: No one approach to backlink exploration covers all backlinks. I think of looking at backlinks as akin to conducting an interview – you want to gather data from multiple sources, each is likely to contribute to a broader understanding, and the extent of the data gathering may depend on the extent of the need for the information. Each option will return a list of sites, but that is only your starting point. Knowing the number of links tells you little, the true story comes by clicking through to the sites that are linked to your site of interest in order to learn the nature of the reference.
Here are three approaches we’ve used for backlink tracking (with many thanks to LaMarcus Bolton, our technology director, for his ongoing assistance):
Hot Tip: Google Search allows backlink checking for any site. Enter the name of the site you wish to check using the following syntax:
- General: link:http://sitename
- Example for this site: link:http://aea365.org
Warning! Do not put a space between the colon and the url for the site.
Often, you’ll want to exclude a site in your search. For instance, the main AEA website at http://eval.org/ has multiple links to the aea365 blog and we don’t want to review AEA’s own links to itself. To exclude a site, use:
- General: link:http://sitename -site:http://sitename
- Example for this site: link:http://aea365.org -site:http://eval.org/
Hot Tip: Yahoo Site Explorer allows similar tracking to Google search. Where Google tends to return fewer results from websites with higher traffic, Yahoo digs deeper. And, a big advantage here is that the first 1000 responses can be exported for further sorting and analysis which is great for smaller sites, but problematic for sites with thousands of backlinks such as AEA’s homepage. You need only enter the site address of interest into the prompt box on YSE to get started.
Hot Tip: Link Diagnosis is a free tool specifically designed for backlink exploration. On the downside, it only works in Firefox, it is slower than either Yahoo or Google, it only explores 100 pages on a website, and it requires the (quick) installation of a program to get a full report. While you need only enter a site address in the prompt box to get started, on a large site, Link Diagnosis can take several minutes to run in the background. Why bother? The upside is that the generated report is fully exportable and includes useful information including the anchor text used to link to the site, the Google Page Rank (an indicator of site importance) of the referencing site, and the number of outbound links on the referencing page. Plus, Link Diagnosis produces a list of link counts by page within your site of interest.
The above reflects my own opinion and not necessarily that of the American Evaluation Association. Inclusion in this post does not represent an endorsement by AEA.