SEO tools are nothing new, especially with respect to link research, but 2011 has seen the market really come into maturity. New tools are being released at a rapid fire rate and more established players continually upping the game. A core driver of this market is an increased demand for efficiency and automation among agencies, but a significant contributing factor is that many of the free tools offering from search engines' themselves are being downgraded or de-commissioned of which, the big news recently is, of course, the closure of Yahoo! Site Explorer, one the mainstays of the SEO's toolset.
Quick to jump into the gap is the Quick Backlink checker (QBL) from Link Research Tools. Unlike most other similar tools, Link Research Tools claims that QBL is specifically designed to replace Yahoo! Site Explorer (YSE), providing quick and dirty reports over the massive amount of information that's available elsewhere and using only the most important, freshest links.
You will need a paid-for account to run QBL, unlike the old YSE, but it's inexpensive. There's also a limit on the number of reports you can run per month (100 on the Quick Account). I tested the tool on the Search Engine Watch domain.
You've got two options when starting a report: reviewing the domain as a whole, or just your individual URL. The results are quick to come back, and the tool saves each report that you generate (these are retained for a limited time period). You get data on nine points, plus the raw links list itself. Each data point is presented as a pie chart by default, with options to view it as a data grid or export the data as CSV or XLS.
- Anchor text: a breakdown, by phrase, of incoming anchor text.
- Link status: how many of your links are followed vs nofollowed.
- Link type: a breakdown by the type for incoming links (redirects, text links, image links, etc)
- Deeplink ratio: how many of your links point to internal pages vs the home page.
- Top level domain breakdown: which top level domains your links are coming from (.com, .uk, etc.)
- Country popularity: the geographical location of your incoming links (US, UK, etc.)
- IP address popularity: the proportion of links coming from different IP addresses.
- Class-C popularity: the proportion of links coming from IP address C-Blocks.
- Link power: the quality of your links, as measured by Link Research Tools own metrics (Strong, Good, Average, etc).
My first thought was that some of these points would have been better presented as a data grid or another format by default. A pie chart for the deeplink data, for example, is a good fit, but for anchor text, with the biggest chunk of the pie simply saying ìotherî, this is a poor default choice. Yes, you can fiddle around and ultimately export the data, but the tool is supposed to be quick, after all.
My second thought was that for a tool meant to be "quick and dirty", some of the data was extraneous. Are breakdowns for IP, C-Block and country that important for anything but a deep analysis of a link graph? I'll let you decide.
Focusing on the quick overview aspect, the most useful reports were the anchor text, deep link and link status breakdowns. The ability to generate reports on your link sources quickly and in batches is also handy, although this data on your link sources isn't as important as getting it on your competitors. I also liked the percentages given for different values in all data sets. However, not being able to group link results by domain is a downside, as you may have to wade through a lot of links from the same site before finding something more interesting.
Of course, any link research tool sinks or swims on its data, regardless of how good its reports are. Again Link Research Tools assert that the point of QBL is speed over accuracy, but of course we still expect a decent minimum level of data quality.
Most of Link Research Tools' reports have the ability to plug into various link data sources, such as Open Site Explorer (OSE) and Majestic SEO, but this option isn't given for QBL. One can only assume that they are using their own database and other free data sources, but this information wasn't given.
QBL reports far fewer links than other tools out there and results are capped at 2000. For instance, the tool reported 1,047 links and 661 linking domains for searchenginewatch.com whereas OSE reports 1.5 million links and over 27,000 linking domains. Whatever factors account for the difference is not made clear from the report itself and I was left wondering why the cap of 2000 links were not reported.
Nonetheless, I also ran the tool on searchenginewatch.com again after about a week had passed, to see what, if any, difference in the data would be. It reported two extra links and four extra linking domains, so obviously the data is being kept fresh.
How Did it Compare to Similar Paid SEO Tools?
Comparing QBL directly with OSE, I could not say that it was remarkably faster, despite the emphasis on "quick." Ironically, OSE's reports are generated faster although, to be fair, they suffer challenges too as exporting CSV data from OSE takes a long time. Also OSE's ability to filter the data set on multiple criteria, as well as its domain comparison, top pages and linking domain reports are incredibly useful time saving features that QBL lacks.
However, there is one clear advantage of QBL: the fact it gives you those percentage proportions on some key top level metrics, such as link status and type. OSE gives you all the information in one form or another, but working out the percentages would be time consuming. So, in that scenario, QBL did provide a quicker overview.
YSE: a replacement?
The bottom line is this: does QBL form a direct replacement for YSE? Right now, I would have to say "no", although it comes close. The main reason it doesn't is simply because YSE was a free tool and QBL isn't.
However, QBL gives you data on more links and provides a level of overview that YSE didn't. Nonetheless, working with the links themselves is the same. You get a fairly raw list, and it's up to you to import that list into other tools to do useful things with it, such as extracting the linking domain list, etc.
Overall, didn't find QBL compelling enough to open my wallet and pay for the features and did have some minor gripes about the presentation of the data.
If you already have a Link Research Tools account, then I'm sure you'll find this a useful addition to the tool-set. If it was offered free of charge (for the sake of linkbait, for example), it would definitely be worthwhile as it ticked many of the boxes that we are now missing from the closure of Yahoo Site Explorer