Link Analysis


Link analysis is the process of identifying and counting specific URLs appearing in external websites. The presence and replication of URLs across web pages can be viewed as one type of impact metric, similar to the inclusion of scholarly citations in publications. The inclusion of a URL on a web page suggests value through the acts of “awareness and uptake.” Placing URLs on an external web page represents use/reuse in certain circumstances. Practitioners can utilize link analysis to locate the URLs of digital objects from their collections on other websites.

Applications for assessing digital content use/reuse

Link analysis tools query a set of words, phrases, or URLs against external web pages compiled in a search tool’s search index or using a web crawler. The types of queries allowed by link analysis tools change over time. Currently, Webometric Analyst relies on the Bing search engine API, which does not support hyperlink searching. Instead, a practitioner could use a URL citation, a “title mention,” or a co-inlink as their query term. For additional information on URL citation, title mention, and co-links, see Thelwall, Sud, and Wilkinson, “Link and co‐inlink network diagrams with URL citations or title mentions.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 63, no. 4 (2012): 805-816.

The output of the analysis will generate a variety of data that practitioners can use as the foundation of an assessment, including: the URLs of those sites that contain the original query, a list of domain names that contain the original query, and tallies of the top and secondary level web pages containing the original query. 

Practitioners can begin to analyze the impact of digital objects by compiling data from a link analysis, developing an analytic framework to evaluate the data, and reviewing the link analysis output to better understand:

  • Where users are providing URLs to the practitioner’s digital objects

  • The types of users who are linking to the practitioner’s digital objects

  • The purpose(s) and/or motivation(s) for linking to the digital objects

  • Any information or comments that the linked objects might have generated 

  • The overall frequency of use/reuse instances

Some of these approaches, including understanding the types of users, the motivations for linking to objects, and the importance of any associated comments related to the linked object on external web pages may require the practitioner to investigate link analysis results beyond reviewing the list of results. For example, a practitioner may be required to visit web pages listed in the search results to determine any potential impact. 

Experts in link analysis encourage practitioners to incorporate comparative benchmarking as part of the assessment process. Thelwall (2009) recommends that practitioners generate data on 10-15 similar websites or objects and apply the same analytic approach to assess their impact. The practitioner can then compare all results to have a more comprehensive picture of how their websites or objects “perform” in the broader content universe.


Ethical guidelines

Practitioners should follow the practices laid out in the “Ethical considerations and guidelines for the assessment of use and reuse of digital content.” The Guidelines are meant both to inform practitioners in their decision-making, and to model for users what they can expect from those who steward digital collections.

Additional guidelines for responsible practice

None known


  • Link analysis provides practitioners with a way to locate instances of linking to digital objects within indexed web spaces.

  • Link analysis allows practitioners to compare search results from their collections against peer, aspirational, or top websites and objects. Note that a practitioner would first need to collect data on peer, aspirational, or top websites before this analysis is possible.


  • The presence of an object’s hyperlink on an external website does not, in itself, denote value.The presence of an object’s hyperlink may have been generated automatically or might have been derived from the creation of the webpage using a design template, minimizing the importance of the URL’s inclusion on the page. 

  • Practitioners should note that link analysis alone will not provide the analysis needed to assess use/reuse of digital objects. Instead, link analysis can generate a list of data points that the practitioner will need to explore further, using a variety of methods to assess the presence, extent, frequency, and context of use/reuse. 

  • Link analysis will only help practitioners evaluate use/reuse with the information they can obtain from reviewing websites. Consequently, this approach will not provide practitioners with all of the data they may need to appropriately understand users or their motivations.

Learn how practitioners have used this method

Case Study: Using link analysis to evaluate the impact of digital collection content
Eccles, Thelwall, and Meyer developed a case study to determine if link analysis using Webometric Analyst would allow practitioners to measure the impact of a digital resource. The researchers started with the assumption that placing web links for digital collections on external pages denoted intellectual impact, since links “indicate awareness and uptake.” Querying the root URL pages for specified digital collections, including the British Library Archival Sound Recordings and the UK Data Archive, the researchers compiled links to external websites that include the queried URL. They also compiled results for a set of “competitor” websites to make a comparison possible. They found that this method was best suited for digital collection websites that have stable URLs that have not changed over time. They also found that this approach was able to identify a variety of external websites that referenced some of the queried pages, which catered to a variety of audiences (including scholars, bloggers, and genealogists).

Eccles, K. E., Thelwall, M., & Meyer, E. T. (2012). Measuring the web impact of digitised scholarly resources. Journal of Documentation, 68(4), 512–526.

Additional resources

Eccles, K. E., Thelwall, M., & Meyer, E. T. (2012). Measuring the web impact of digitised scholarly resources. Journal of Documentation, 68(4), 512–526. 

Kelly, E. J. (2014). Assessment of Digitized Library and Archives Materials: A Literature Review. Journal of Web Librarianship, 8(4), 384–403.

Thelwall, Mike. “How do I run a webometric link analysis using Webometric Analyst?” TIDSR: Toolkit for the Impact of Digitised Scholarly Resources (2017).  Available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. 

Thelwall, M., Sud, P., & Wilkinson, D. (2012). Link and co-inlink network diagrams with URL citations or title mentions. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63(4), 805–816.


Contributors to this page include Santi Thompson.

Cite this page

Thompson, S. (2023). Link Analysis. Digital Content Reuse Assessment Framework Toolkit (D-CRAFT); Council on Library & Information Resources.

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