To Google, links are like a big foam finger on your URL. It’s the can’t-be-missed site waving wildly for Google’s attention among a mob of tiny-handed competitors.

If you’re going to do it yourself, setting up your site with a link strategy, finding places to link, determining where to get the biggest boost for your efforts and keeping an eye on how search engines view your site are key to your SEO program. Here are some of the tools to get you linking.

Where to Start 

SEO hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that it no longer relies on good old keywords. Doing keyword research with tools like SoloSEO and Google Alerts gives you a place to start your linking labors.

SoloSEO lists places to find keywords, content and links that will give your site the biggest bang for the written word.

Google Alerts is like your private investigator. It’s your eyes and ears across the entire internet. Tell Google Alerts what search terms to look for, and it will notify you when it sees your words used in places like web pages and blog posts. Use Google Alerts to get back to you on what your competitors are up to and who’s saying what about your business. For those at a loss for something to write about, Google Alerts can give you some great content ideas.

Where to Link

Once you know where you want to link, you’re going to need the cooperation of others. BuzzStream is a great resource for an arsenal of free link building tools. Use these to source link opportunities, conduct link research, and automate link building tasks. BuzzStream is also a good blogroll contact builder. It will help you finds sites to approach about linking or guest posting.

Worthy Links

Since you don’t want to link to everyone, it’s time to separate the junk from the gems. If you’re looking for new links, identifying bad links that are tarnishing your reputation or trying to figure out who is riding your link coattails, Majestic SEO, Link Research Tools and Moz’s Open Site Explorer are great analysis tools.

Majestic SEO runs the largest link database available. One of its most valuable uses is identifying backlinks for domains, subdomains or URLs.

Link Research Tools can create the links that will get your site to the top of the search engine results. It also identifies the links that drag it down the rankings.

Open Site Explorer shows what’s linked to your site. Search engines measure your site’s popularity with these inbound links, so it’s important to know who’s using you. These links are also a great conversation-starter for building stronger, mutually-beneficial relationships with other site owners.

Even if SEO isn’t your full-time job, you’ve got lots of tools available to build and manage a link strategy that will leave your competition wondering if they are doomed to pay-per-click advertising.