Link Building Tool Review: SEOmoz PRO
Second in our review series are the link building tools from SEOmoz Pro; I was excited to review this tool set since it’s not one I use. Let’s start with a quick overview of what’s in the program and then focus on the link building tools.
SEOmoz PRO is a set of “software, tools and resources to maximize your search engine optimization.”
Buying a membership to SEOmoz PRO gets you “campaign-based web apps, dozens of SEO tools, webinars and full access to Open SiteExplorer“.
There’s a free 30-day trial and three paid packages to pick from: PRO, PRO Plus and PRO Elite. I’m using the PRO option for this review.
There are four tool categories in the PRO set:
- Link Building & Competitive Analysis
- Keyword Research & Ranking
- On-Page Optimization
- Social Media Monitoring
I’m going to focus on two of the four and look at the Link Building/Competitive Analysis and Social Media Monitoring tools. But before we jump into the research tools, I want to point out a couple of handy items found on the Dashboard each member gets with their membership.
A customized Dashboard is assigned to every paid member, it provides easy access to your campaign reports, news, and a helpful Q&A and SEO Resources sections:
The Q&A section allows you to ask unlimited questions about any aspect of SEOmoz PRO or SEO in general and get timely answers from the SEOmoz staff. I searched through the Q&A extensively and found many of the answers provided were more informative than the instructions around the tools!
The Q&A has great search options making it easy to find information on almost any subject related to the toolset or SEO. You can even set it to send an email when someone asks a related question or brings up a subject you’re interested in.
The SEO Resources area is divided into eight categories, each offers practical solutions to help jump-start your SEO and link building efforts.
Three of the categories stand out: PRO Perks, Link Directories and Social Media Directory.
PRO Perks is a list of exclusive online discounts available only to PRO members. For example, members receive 20% off social media tool KnowEm and $50 off all Mail Chimp plans. Both are good discounts and good companies to work with.
Link Directories and the Social Media Directory are lists of a directory and social media sites you can submit links to. SEOmoz includes a caveat with the resources they list:
In many cases, acquiring a link from these resources is not an easy process – you may need to send an email and convince an infrequent editor or submit to very stringent criteria (or pay), but this is to be expected. If the links were easy to earn, they would certainly be much less valuable.
Webmasters frequently look for ways to secure a handful of links while they focus on developing link marketing plans. Using the directory lists will help with this, its an easy way to jump-start your link building with “better” directories and market your site using social media.
Getting Started: Research Tool Center
Before you can use any of the Research Tools or start comparing backlinks, you need to set up a campaign. This can be done from the Dashboard by following the prompts under “Start A New Campaign”.
Once your data has been pulled and analyzed, you’ll be able to go to the Research Tools center and use most of the tools and services listed.
I’m going to focus on the Open Site Explorer, Competitive Link Research Tool and the Link Acquisition Assistant since these three tools have been exclusively designed to help with your link building.
Open Site Explorer (v3)
In the Research Tools section, there are seven active tools and two services offered; of them, the backlink analysis tool Open Site Explorer is the link building star.
Open Site Explorer (OSE) pulls data from a huge collection of web pages (51 billion pages, 9.2 trillion links at this writing) courtesy of the SEOmoz Linkscape crawler.
OSE is a third generation Linkscape but with upgraded features and a sleeker look:
Currently, in its third version, the tool offers four domain measurements and four social media counts on every URL it analyzes. The four domain measurements are an important part of OSE and the PRO tool set overall, so it’s important to understand what they are and how they are used.
The four domain measurements are:
- Page Authority. Predicts a page’s ranking potential in the search engines based on an algorithmic combination of all link metrics.
- Domain Authority. Predicts a domain’s ranking potential in the search engines based on an algorithmic combination of all link metrics.
- Linking Root Domains. Number of unique root domains (e.g. *.example.com) containing at least one linking page to an URL/domain
- Total Links. All links to a page including internal, external, followed and nofollowed.
The two measurements to watch are Page Authority and Domain Authority, the higher your numbers, the better. I exchanged emails with SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin several times as I reviewed the tool, I needed to understand some of the dynamics behind Page and Domain Authority and how they related to the much-hyped mozRank and mozTrust.
Here’s what Rand said about the importance of Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA): (Note: I have Rand’s permission to reprint our conversations)
Rand Fishkin: We’ve been trying for a couple years to push PA + DA more heavily; you can certainly sense that in our posts on the topic. That said, I recognize that mozTrust and mozRank are used by lots of folks, but hopefully if they read more of our material (or just try using a varied set of metrics), they’ll see/realize that PA/DA are a better option for most things. mozRank is still quite useful to compare against PageRank…. mozTrustis something we hope to keep iterating and improving on.
Bold mine to emphasize points. I also asked Rand who wrote the mozRank patent filed April 2010 which includes the concept of mozTrust:
Rand Fishkin: Nick Gerner and Ben Hendrickson coded the algorithms. The three of us (myself included) worked on the design of these algorithms, but honestly, they’re extremely close to Google’s “PageRank” algo and Yahoo!’s “TrustRank” algo. We changed a few things to be updated to what we believed the engines had changed since writing the original papers, but otherwise they are exceptionally similar.
I did not go through Google and Yahoo’s patents and compare them to what the SEOmoz team wrote, but suffice it to say, if the names are as close as they are, then I am sure the algorithms are also exceptionally similar.
- PageRank —-> mozRank
- TrustRank —-> mozTrust
Rand mentioned SEOmoz commissioned SEOByTheSea owner Bill Slawski to develop the list of seed sites mozTrust uses in its algorithm. I asked him if he could talk about the seed set and the sites within it, and here’s what he could share:
Debra: What type of sites are on the list? Government? Educational? Brands?
Rand: All of the above – I’m certainly happy to share a few samples, e.g. Nasa.gov, Si.edu, Newzealand.govt.nz, etc. We focused on geographic diversity and editorial integrity – meaning sites that we felt relatively confident had little to no outbound links placed by non-editors. We didn’t consider age, dmoz inclusion or ranking for any particular keywords.
Given the size and scope of the Web, I’m wondering how big a list is being used and how much influence mozTrust is playing in determining PA and DA as a result.
So why am I am taking time to share these conversations and talk about the value behind Page/Domain Authority versus mozRank/Trust? For clarity mainly.
It seems a lot of people are blogging about mozRank becoming the new PageRank, I’ve even noticed PageRank and mozRank scores being used to show value on sites for sale.
Keep in mind what the mozRank metric is patterned after; it, like PageRank, should not be a solo metric you use to make business decisions.
While I understand the terms “PageRank and “mozRank” are easy to understand and universally suggest a page carries some kind of “importance” (or not), if you are interested in accumulating quality links and ranking well, it is better to focus on Page Authority and Domain Authority versus mozRank.
Page/Domain Authority represent SEOmoz’s best ranking predictions and uses mozRank and mozTrust in their calculations. Just like PageRank is one component of Google’s algorithm, mozRank is one part of the Page/Domain Authority mix.
In the end, getting links from pages with high PA and DA scores will do more for your SEO efforts than those with high PageRank and mozRank scores alone. Even the SEOmoz engineers agree PageRank is green pixie dust so it might be a good idea to not place too much emphasis on using the mozRank metric over others.
The social media scores are a simple a collection of counts, they show how many likes, shares, G+1’s and tweets a domain receives.
These social media “counts” are not factored into the Authority scores. The information may be simple, but it’s good to know given the emphasis placed on social media signals these days.
Open Site Explorer has six options for displaying backlink data:
- Inbound Links. These options show the Title and URL of the pages linking to you. You can filter results to show followed and unfollowed links as well as those using 301 redirects. When I compared reporting accuracy between OSE and Yahoo! Site Explorer plus a third commercial tool, I found all three sites reported almost/close to/within acceptable ranges the same backlinks so OSE appears to be fairly accurate here.
- Top Pages. Best pages on the domain according to Page Authority.
- Linking Domains. Shows root domains linking to you.
- Anchor Text. Analyzes the anchor text phrases used in inbound links.
- Compare Link Metrics. Looks at things like mozRank, Followed/not links, total links, etc. Great feature here is the ability to compare up to five domains instantly.
- Advanced Reporting. Create spreadsheets using advanced filters.
Each tab allows you to down and export data as a CSV (spreadsheet) file, nice if you want to leisurely review data or share with a group of employees/people.
Open Site Explorer’s Compare Link Metrics option and the Competitive Domain Analysis (CDA) tool (found under your Campaign Manager) look very similar but are different, one measures page level metrics, the other domain. The CDA tool allows you to export data to a PDF and links to the PRO User Guide which I found extremely helpful and a terrific information source.
The PRO User Guide walks you through every part of the Competitive Domain Analysis (CDA) tool and explains why and how it will help with your link building.
The content in the Guide is, hands down, the most descriptive and useful “how to” information in the PRO toolset. Scattered throughout are helpful tips such as this one:
It’s also the only “how to” guide I could find; Open Site Explorer would benefit greatly by placing links to the guide on its analysis tabs and/or creating guides for each tab topic. People would benefit from seeing how the options can be used and save time learning how each can be used.
How Does This Information Help Secure Quality Links?
Keep in mind OSE and all its options can be used to analyze your backlinks and those of your competitors. The tools provide a listing of where your competitors are linking and then evaluates the algorithmic weight of those pages and domains.
The higher they’re weighted, the more link popularity they pass which makes them a viable link building candidate you can pursue.
I don’t advise getting all of your links from the exact same places (pages/sites) but knowing the types of sites linking to your competitors will help you find better links and develop stronger partnerships.
Competitive Link Research Tool
Another research tool found in the Link Building and Competitive Analysis Tools area is the Competitive Link Research Tool. This tool identifies authority sites your competitors are getting links from but you are not.
From the SEOMoz blog:
What we do is take your site, and up to five related sites (maybe competitors). From those we find all the links the related sites have, and find the common ones. From that we create a check-list. These are the big important sites your industry is engaging with, but you aren’t.
I compared my test site (which sells memory foam mattresses) to a national brand, an exact match mattress domain and Wikipedia’s memory foam mattress page. (All three sites in top five on Google.)
Here’s what I got back:
The results were disappointing at best. Based on the description, I expected to be given “big important sites” but what I got were seven small spammy-looking blogs (red lined) plus six brands, two of which were duplicates. The Feedburner result was no help which left four sites to cultivate.
The last column in the chart, “Linking Pages” shows the page hosting my competitors link but doesn’t tell me which competitor, I have to click and manually look at each page to figure out who was getting the link.
I really like the concept behind the tool but the execution, time involved to research results plus the lack of CSV download, would keep me from using it.
Link Acquisition Assistant
The Link Acquisition Assistant generates large lists of sites to add your links to. Using up to five keywords, your location, brand name, two competitors, industry designation and the topic of your website, the tool will generate lists of sites by category.
The eight categories are: General Directories (example below), blogs, brand mentions, industry directories, local directories, relevant social media sites, news/press releases, and the competition.
The upside to using this tool is the volume of topical, industry and local links you will acquire. The downside is the amount of time you’ll have to spend manually clicking each link and culling the information returned to find the best sites to link to.
Again, no export function here so you can spread the results out and look at them or assign them to an employee to handle.
Consider hiring an intern for this project or breaking it into sections and a little every day. While it’s time-consuming and cumbersome, this type of linking is an inexpensive way to build links.
Social Media Monitoring Tools
There are two tools in this category, Social Media Monitoring and the Blogscape tool. Since monitoring your social media mentions and mining social media sites for linking leads is a viable way to develop a list of partner sites, I was excited to see these two tools.
After reading the descriptions, I decided to test the first one since it used a broad range of social media sites.
The Social Media Monitoring tool brings back blogs, static sites, article directories, and RSS feeds using the keyword phrases you ask it to search for.
It’s also supposed to bring backlinks to content found on Reddit, Digg, Delicious and Twitter but so far (the tool is still considered a prototype) it only brings back tweets.
Like the two previous tools (Link Acquisition and Competitive Link Research are also prototypes) the Social Media Monitoring tool is clunky and difficult to use. When I searched on the word “sleep”, 140,000 results were individually returned (gray box).
There is no export function for the data collected so if I wanted to see the blog/site/directory page hosting my terms, I had to click each result separately.
You can filter the results by time, mozRank, relevance, and duplicates which will eliminate a number of results but again, once you have them, you have to manually click and look at each. There’s also no way to check-off a site/tweet you’ve seen before or had the ability to save one to view later.
The tool doesn’t seem to be returning Digg, Delicious or Reddit results for any term I searched, so I’m assuming this element will be added later.
Each term/phrase had 1500 tweets returned, the results were hyperlinked so you can see each Tweet individually, but there is no way to export this information or any other on this tool. Also, there is no save option for the report, if you click away from the page for any reason, you have to start over.
Again, I really like the concept behind the tool but it would take an inordinate amount of time to go through the results in it’s current form unless you are using very long-tail terms.
Of all the link building tools I looked at and reviewed in SEOmoz PRO, the Open Site Explorer was the best. With its clean interface and above average filtering options, the OSE is a good backlink analysis tool for the serious link builder.
That’s it for me, until next time, good linking!