If the cliché is correct in the SEO world that “content is king,” then backlinks would be queen. While a discussion on the importance of backlinks and what they mean to search engine rankings is out of the scope of this entry, I need to give importance to this post and will say that in general backlinks are highly valuable to a site because they give a site credibility in the eyes of the search engines, and often times search engines will take the link text as describing what the page its linking to is about.
Now that we understand why we need backlinks to our site, let’s take a deeper look into how we can go about finding them; apart from the prehistoric method of just searching the engines for keywords and submitting to sites that get returned.
We will be working with operators on the MSN search engine. While you may be familiar with search operators like site:, which returns a list of all the pages indexed for a given domain, and InURL:, which will show a list of pages that contain a certain string in their URL, you may not be familiar with some advanced operators that may be combined to produce some highly targeted results that can be incredibly valuable to SEOs.
Traditionally, checking backlinks consisted of navigating to your search engine of choice and typing link:mysite.com. This returned a list of all the pages that linked to your site. Simple enough. While this does provide some useful information it simply isn’t enough. The limitation of this method is that it only returns results for whatever page you search for; strange, because the limitation is that it’s doing exactly what we told it to. But if you think about it, how long would it take to type in link:mysite.com for every page on your site? Now you begin to see the limitations of this search operator.
Enter linkdomain:. This search operator was introduced by MSN to return pages that link to any page within a domain, not just a single page that you submit. Now you can easily see who’s linking to products in your catalog, or which of your blog entries people reference most often.
While this can provide valuable information, the real power of the linkdomain: operator comes when it get used in combination with itself. Take the following for example:
(linkdomain:sitea.com linkdomain:siteb.com linkdomain:sitec.com) (-linkdomain:sited.com)
This search string will return any pages that link to sitea.com, siteb.com and sitec.com, but not sited.com. For SEOs with clients that have fierce competition this search tactic can be a lifesaver, because it allows you to check for sites that link to your competition but not to you. Remember above we noted briefly the importance of backlinks, and how in the eyes of search engines they can give a site credibility. Thus, any site which shows up from this search query with links to your competition and not you is potentially lost credibility.
Let’s end with a real-world example. We are in the wine magazine business and are in the process of conducting a linking strategy, trying to get new backlinks to our site in an effort to boost our listings. Our company is Wine Mag, and we want to find a list of pages that link to our competiton: Wine and Spirits, Wine Spectator, and Food and Wine, but not to us. We conduct the following search at MSN.com:
This returns exactly what we wanted, a list of pages that link to our competitors but not to us, and we could now begin the process of contacting the site owners for backlinks.