How to Find Who Links to Your Website
Do you want to know who links to yours or a competitor’s website?
Backlinks are crucial if you want to rank in search engines.
Generally speaking, the more backlinks a page has from unique websites, the better it performs in search engines.
SIDENOTE: This is a correlation study. It doesn’t prove causation. Furthermore, it’s not only the number of links that matters but also the quality.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console offers the best starting point for most people as it’s free.
To see who links to your website, go to:
Search Console > choose your property > Links > External links > Top linking sites
This report shows the top 1,000 websites linking to your site plus the number of:
- Linking pages (how many of their pages link to your website)
- Target pages (how many of your web pages they’re linking to)
NOTE: It’s sorted by linking pages by default, but you can also sort by target pages.
Click any website on the list to see the individual web pages to which they link, plus how many times they do so.
Click on any of these pages to see the referring pages from which the target website links.
There’s also another report in Search Console that shows your top linked pages.
Search Console > choose your property > Links > External links > Top linked pages.
By default, this report is sorted by Incoming links. That shows you which pages have the most backlinks.
Sort by Linking sites to see which pages have the most links from unique websites.
That’s much more insightful.
Click any web page to see the top linking sites to said page, plus the number of backlinks from each.
Click any linking site to see all the linking pages.
You can download and save any of these reports. Just hit the download icon.
Now let’s talk about the downsides of using Google Search Console data:
- All reports are limited to the top 1,000 pages. That makes them somewhat pointless if you have more than 1,000 pages on your website, or if you have links from more than 1,000 unique domains.
- No link context. There’s no way to see the anchor text of a specific link, the surrounding text, or whether or not it’s followed, etc.
- No quality metrics. When Google says “top linking sites,” they’re not referring to the quality of said websites but simply the number of times they link to you. There’s no way to tell how good or bad any of the linking sites are, or whether they’re helpful or harmful when it comes to SEO.
To fill in the gaps, we’ll need to resort to another tool.
Ahrefs Site Explorer
Ahrefs has the world’s largest index of live backlinks.
It’s updated with fresh data every 15–30 minutes as our robots tirelessly crawl and recrawl the entire web.
Plug any website, subfolder or web page (even if it isn’t your own site) into Ahrefs Site Explorer to see how many backlinks and referring domains (links from unique websites) it has.
Site Explorer > enter website, web page or subfolder > select mode > Overview
You can see that Nerdwallet’s guide to budgeting has 1,910 backlinks from 558 referring domains, which brings me to a crucial point:
You’re not limited to researching your own web properties with Site Explorer.
I have no affiliation with nerdwallet.com, and yet I’m still able to see link data for it.
To see every website linking to your chosen target, head over to the Referring Domains report.
Site Explorer > Referring Domains
This report is like the top linking sites report in Google Search Console… but on steroids.
Like Search Console, it shows the linking websites and the number of backlinks from each. But it also shows additional SEO metrics like:
- Domain Rating (DR)
- Nofollowed vs. “dofollowed” links
- Estimated organic traffic to each linking domain
- First seen (i.e., when we first saw each site linking to the target)
- If you want to see the actual backlinks from each linking website, hit the caret.
To see a full list of backlinks from all linking sites, head over to the Backlinks report.
Site Explorer > Backlinks
For each backlink in this report, we show the linking page, the surrounding link text, the target URL (i.e., the page to which the backlink points), and a bunch of other useful SEO metrics.
By default, the report groups similar backlinks together, so you will only see unique backlinks.
However, you can change this so that you see all backlinks or just one link per domain.
As with the referring domains report, there are also tons of insightful filters in here.
What to do next
The truth is that merely knowing who links to your website isn’t that useful or insightful.
It’s a bit like looking at someone’s Facebook friends. You’ll get a list of hundreds or thousands of people, but that’s all. There’s no telling their real friends apart from the “friends” they’ve never met in real life. There’s a lack of context.
Build and nurture relationships with serial linkers
People who link to your website time and time again are known as serial linkers.
These are people with whom you likely already have good relationships. You can see who they are in Google Search Console; just go to the top linking sites report and sort the target pages from high to low.
Ignore social networking sites (e.g., linkedin.com, facebook.com), forums (e.g., reddit.com), and other sites from which any links are likely to be the result of user‐generated content.
The trick here is to maintain and nurture your relationships with the people behind these sites because they’re likely to link to you again in future.
But here’s an actionable way to take this idea even further:
Find your competitors’ serial linkers, then build relationships with those people too!
To do this, go to Ahrefs Site Explorer, paste in a competing domain, and head to the Referring domains report.
Site Explorer > enter competing domain > Referring domains > add “dofollow” filter > sort by a number of dofollow links to target (high to low).
Look for links from sites you recognize or those that appear to be industry blogs.
Hit the caret to see the backlinks from each website to investigate further.
Found a site that fits the bill? Search for it in the referring domains report for your website and see if that site already links to you. If there are no links from that site, or only one or two, then it might be worth pursuing a relationship with them.
Learn from your most linked content
Link building works best when you have content people actually want to link to.
But it’s not like infographics always attract more links than blog posts, or studies, or interactive quizzes, or any other type of content. Different niches tend to favor different content types.
The best place to start understanding what works and what doesn’t in your niche is to look for commonalities between your most linked pages.
Search Console > select property > Top linked pages > sort by Linking sites
If we do this for the Ahrefs blog, it’s clear that studies seem to attract a lot of links.
Now, this is insightful and useful for sure, but wouldn’t it be cool if we could do the same thing for competitors’ websites too?
That’s not possible in Google Search Console, but it is in Ahrefs Site Explorer.
Site Explorer > enter a competing domain > Best by Links > add “200 ok” filter.
If we run that report for nerdwallet.com, we’ll see that calculators and posts with statistics attract the most links.
If we run it for a tech blog like 9to5mac.com, we’ll see that leaks and exclusive reports about upcoming Apple products are what attract links.
Finding who links to your website is a useful starting point, but merely knowing this won’t improve SEO. The crucial part is understanding how you compare to your competitors and more importantly, learning from those that are winning at SEO.
That’s the easiest route to better rankings for most websites.