Now, let's roll up our sleeves and find some even more useful data about your site. Have you ever wondered how many other Web sites link to your site? What the URLs are for them? How to find them?
To do this with my urlwire.com site, type in link:http://www.urlwire.com
. You'll find at least 900 other sites have linked to the main page at urlwire.com.
Now imagine doing this same link search for your site and your competitors' sites. You'd find out exactly which sites are linking to theirs but not yours. That can be an incredible bit of information to have, and it's free.
What's the NetSense in all this? Use the large engines to help your site's link popularity. Some search engines rank pages higher if they have more links pointing to them.
One caveat: Keep this in perspective. The search engines index at best about 30% of the Web, so any data you get will never be 100% accurate. However, since no search engine indexes more than that, everyone is playing with the same universe of data.
This is a fancy way of saying the linking data you get free at AltaVista is better than anything else you can get, and you sure can't beat the price.
Eric Ward is a consultant, speaker and writer who launched the Web's first awareness-building service for Web sites in 1994. Reach him at AdAge@netpost.com