It’s no secret that backlinks are a key component to the SEO game, but the challenge is finding sites that will link to you. Don’t waste your time by randomly asking site owners/administrators for links; take a cue from your top competitors and complete a competitive link analysis.

Competitive link analysis is the process of using a tool like Yahoo’s Site Explorer or Open Site Explorer by SEOmoz to view backlinks to your competitor’s site. Each tool is free (though SEOmoz has a paid version that provides backlink text and other valuable reports) and the only information you need is a URL.

However, it appears the two site explorer programs are moving in different directions. SEOmoz recently updated Open Site Explorer to incorporate social media information as well as improve their link reports. This update is positioning SEOmoz to become the leader in link analysis because rumors are swirling around the blogosphere that Yahoo will shut down access to Site Explorer by the end of the year.

Microsoft’s purchase of Yahoo’s search engine is facilitating the change as Yahoo gets swallowed up by Bing. Seeing as how Google doesn’t offer a similar backlink service it should not come as a surprise that Site Explorer is headed for the chopping block. Microsoft is simply falling in line with the philosophy that the public cannot easily obtain a consolidated backlink report from a search engine.

SEO old-timers will certainly miss Yahoo’s free and very useful tool and with SEOmoz limiting their free content in favor of their paid results, I say that for the time being take advantage of Yahoo Site Explorer while it’s still around. The backlink report may not be nearly as robust as that from SEOmoz’s paid Open Site Explorer service but if you’re looking for a free, easily accessible backlink list pointing to competing sites then Yahoo is still the way to go.

Thanks to SEOmoz filling the soon-to-be vacated backlink analysis arena, search engine optimization will continue to rely on backlink analysis (it just won’t be free).

Are you familiar with either site explorer program? If so, what are your thoughts on Microsoft closing up shop on Yahoo Site Explorer, or the updates SEOmoz has made to Open Site Explorer? 

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