I'm an ahrefs heavy user, it's probably the web app I use the most on a daily basis. In the past I also tested SEMRush and SpyFu (I prefer the UX and the granularity of the results in ahrefs). But these tools can be a little pricey if you just need a quick and dirty backlink / mentions report to gauge the popularity of a website.
I've just discovered a quick hack to get a free backlink snapshot using Google Search. You simply have to type the following query structure into the Google search bar: "domain.com" -site:domain.com replacing domain.com with the domain you're researching. Don't forget the minus (-) sign.
Let's apply this technique to the domain of my web radio, cmfradio.com
We get (at time of writing) 1890 results. That's 1890 web pages where you can read the mention cmfradio.com
4 caveats to this approach:
1° mentions might not be backlinks since there might not be a hyperlink behind the mention. But most of these mentions will be (it's pretty rare to mention a domain incl. the extension without inserting a link).
2° there's no way to see which links would be dofollow (transferring SEO juice) vs nofollow (not transferring any authority). You can get this info on ahrefs or SEMRush.
3° we're talking about web pages, not unique domains so it could give you a false sense of popularity if one domain has links on multiple pages. To my knowledge, there's no way to apply a search operator which would limit the results to one per domain.
4° there are many backlinks which don't use the domain name as the anchor (as the visual name of the link). For leading websites, there will be many more backlinks than exact mentions (see below for the confirmation).
If we want to be accurate, it's more a quick search hack to check the exact mentions of a specific domain excluding the domain you're researching (hence the - site: operator).
Nevertheless, it's a smart way to get a fairly good idea of the popularity / potential authority of the domain you're researching.
Let's just, for fun, type "buzzfeed.com" -site:buzzfeed.com. Here's the result.
And let's compare this to nytimes.com
This would mean, as expected, that buzzfeed.com is less popular / has less authority (conferred by inbound links) than nytimes.com. Let's check what we get on ahrefs.
Indeed, there's a big difference.
As you can see, there are also many more backlinks recorded on ahrefs than web pages displayed by Google, for both BuzzFeed and The New York Times.
Roughly half of BuzzFeed's backlinks probably use BuzzFeed(.com) as the anchor but only 1 in 16 NYT backlinks.
Anyway, I thought it would be worth sharing this neat little hack.
Since Google is, as usual, blazing fast, it will give you a quick idea of where a domain stands vs its competitors. The cool thing is also that Google will display the web pages based on their authority in the SERPs, in descending order.