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  How to Build a Free and Fast Link-Alert Service

by Eric Ward

Imagine this scenario: Anytime a new link to your site is found, you receive a private email alerting you to it and showing you the exact page where the link to you can be seen. Now imagine this fabulous service not only exists, but also is free. With a little ingenuity, you can create such a service on your own, right now, in five minutes. I'll show you how in a moment.

As a Webmaster or Web marketer, you like to know when another site has linked to your site. With a billion Web pages out there, that's a pretty tall order. Many times you will be linked to without even knowing it. Not everyone sends you an email when they link to you. For example, directories, link lists, topical Web guides, and even Web-based newsletters that review other sites do not send out an email notifying every site they have set up a link to.

While there is no perfect notification solution, there is one way to be alerted of new links. In fact, any site owner or Web marketer can cobble together a service that will send them an email anytime a new link to their site is found. It's this simple: Use one of the many Web-page-change-alert services.

Instead of providing a site with a static page to examine daily for changes, go to your favorite search engine. Once there, do a link search, take the resulting URL(s) (with your search results), and then have the tracking service track those URL(s) every day. It sounds harder than it is, but I know it works. How do I know? Well, every morning I receive an email report that shows me the new links pointing to my site.

What? Don't believe me? Let's try it together right now. The following simple steps make it really easy:

Step 1: Open Two New Browser Windows

First, open two new browser windows along with this column. In the first new browser window, paste in (and then go to) this URL: (an excellent free service called TrackEngine). Take two minutes to create a new account. (It's free.)

Now go back to your second new browser window and paste in this URL:

You should have a total of three windows open: my ClickZ column, the TrackEngine site, and the search engine AltaVista.

Step 2: Do a Link Search to Your Site

Next, do a search at AltaVista for links to your site by typing the following URL in the search-box link: (Remember to replace with your site's URL.)

Once you click the search button and get your results, you are looking at the number of pages within the AltaVista database that have links on them to your site. Depending on the quality of your content and the length of time your site has been around, you could have as many as a couple hundred links or just a couple.

Step 3: Create a Bookmark and Track

Here's where we get clever. The AltaVista search results have a very long URL string (over 70 characters long) in the location area of that browser window.

This long URL is what we want to track because it is actually nothing more than our original query (i.e., the original URL we typed in -- link:, now included directly in the location area along with our search results.

Go back to the TrackEngine site, and once your account has been opened, click on "Create bookmark." Using your mouse, copy the long URL from AltaVista's search results into the "Track this page" box at TrackEngine. Follow the directions at TrackEngine for the other two fields, and voilą! You've successfully created a free link-alert service.

In a nutshell, what you have done is instructed TrackEngine to go to AltaVista every day, run your links search, and email you the results only when those results have changed from the previous day. And an added bonus is that these changes will be highlighted in blue by TrackEngine automatically. You have just scored a shiny, new links report in your inbox on a regular basis.

Builder Beware

Now the important thing to remember is that this type of service is not comprehensive, so you shouldn't base any critical business decisions on it. Since you are searching only the AltaVista database, your results will be only as thorough as AltaVista's findings. But (and this is a big but), it's pretty darn good considering it's free. Since you receive email only when the results have changed, you will find yourself getting excited when you see new email from TrackEngine.

The beauty of creating an alert service is that it's so simple you can do it yourself without examining server logs or contacting your server administrators. And you can create additional TrackEngine reports with other search engine results, like Google or Excite. You could even create one to keep up with new links to a competitor's site.

TrackEngine is one of many services that you can use to cobble together a minitracking system. Another one is TracerLock, and the oldest one of all, Mind-it.

Using a little ingenuity and available free services, you'll be amazed at the tracking data you can have sent directly to your inbox, free of charge.

Until next time, I remain,

Eric Ward, the Link Mensch

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