Google Blogoscoped

Monday, April 11, 2005

Finding Backlinks

A backlink is a link pointing to one’s page. Tracking down backlinks is important if you want to understand the online discussion. People who point to your idea may discuss it, correct it, and built upon it. If you’re not seeing the backlinks, however, you may halt the conversation or miss out on its outcome. But how do you find all those backlinks?


Technorati is one of the most popular backlinks checker. Usually, it works quite well. But from where I’m standing it looks like the Technorati link database has died. No new backlinks are reported for about a week – a long time if you want to keep track of the discussion you’re participating in as blogger. Technorati has been focussing on different services lately, like Tags, but I’ve got a feeling they have a hard time coping with the ever-increasing size of blogspace.


For a while now, I’ve used Bloglines as alternative backlink-checker. However, using the URL these days more often than not returns a database error after a minute. If it works, it’s still as good as Technorati in terms of quantity of backlinks (it seems to find the half that Technorati is missing, but it doesn’t give the full view on blogspace either).

On a side-note, I wonder why Bloglines doesn’t offer an interface to query this service (or if they do, it was well hidden last time I checked).

Google News in the meantime started to accept more and more blogs. This is starting to turn it into a good alternative to Technorati et al, except you cannot track links. The closest you’ll get is to set-up a Google alert to track your blog’s name as it appears in Google News.

There are some small blog-link analyzers, like Daypop Blogstats, Feedster Link Search, or Ice Rocket’s Blog search (which lets you enter your URL as well), but they fail to keep up with the speed of blogs.

Enabling trackback, naturally, is one approach to enable a discussion. But it only tracks those blogs who ping you.

You may also check the referrers in your statistic. This will find most relevant backlinks – at least those someone clicked on, creating a referrer entry in your log files. You can also code a more easy look-up referrer table in PHP.


Not too long ago, I built my own FindForward backlinks-checker. It would alert you via email of any new link pointing to your site. In fact, this found almost too many backlinks to check upon (it would find not only blogs, but any kind of site pointing to you). The approach was simple to implement – just include a small JavaScript into the page, which triggers a PHP, which will check the referrer the visitor came from and then display a small blog-button. As links are saved in a database, you will only see new backlinks once a month. This blog-button also serves as web counter.

Where was the catch? My server was simply swamped by traffic. About 100 people used the button after a while, and 100 was the figure I was aiming at to calculate if this would be in any way feasible. However, traffic was too high – one hit to my server for every hit to a page by one of the 100 users – and not everyone liked when I was showing a small Amazon-button every second time later on. Even then, this didn’t make enough money to cover the additional server this would have costed me. And the one thing I didn’t want was slowing down other people’s blogs because the FindForward button wouldn’t load. In short, I stopped the service after this initial “beta.”


What are other alternatives? The best backlinks tool I currently know, after Technorati and Bloglines, is BlogPulse. BlogPulse is not only a great looking Web 2.0 site. It has two features to find discussions. One is the Advanced search page, which lets you enter any link to find recent backlinks. It doesn’t have a whole lot of links, but it does have some.

The second tool BlogPulse offers is the conversation tracker. It seems to be mostly intended to find backlinks on a per-post basis, but also allows you to simply enter your blog front-page URL. Instead of showing a flat list of links, BlogPulse does the one thing that’s meaningful here: it shows not only backlinks, but also links pointing to those who backlinked, within a nested (indented) list.


With all these choices, what’s the best to get backlinks? At the moment, I’m using a PHP call which sends off an email to me whenever a new referrer is found (a referrer is a server value which tells where the visitor just came from). As I have a central script file which outputs all my blog entries, this referrer check is easily included. It lists all URLs in a database so I won’t get the same link twice. And it finds links almost the second they are created. (It will mostly, but not exclusively, find fresh links – in the end, it’s enough if one person clicks on the link that has been set up, no matter how old.) A URL blacklist of search engines and the like will make sure I won’t get alerts when someone searches something and finds one of my posts.

One thing to remember with this approach: the extra functionality and database connection needed for this may stress and slow down your server.


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