I agree Yahoo Site explorer is where it's at. It shows the amount of inbound links and you can exclude the links from your own site, really quite useful.
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Some great advice on here. Bravo! Surprising how many people miss the opportunity to include keywords in the links text. We only started doing this recently!
Google consider unique content and quality backlinks for increase the ranking of your website. Link building is three types-
1. One way- When you post only your link on other website then it will come in One way link building.
2. Two way or Reciprocal or Link Exchange- When you post your link on other websites then take their links fro same websites on your website.
3. Three way- When site A post its link on site B, site B post its link on site C, site C post its link on site A means all are doing link building but no one exchange the link from other.
You can see yahoo links from the help of tools like SEO Quake, SEO toolbar... etc. But If you want to see the Google links you must use Google webmaster tool
No system will ever show all backlinks a site has and for good reason. You should focus more on getting quality links and that means links from ad free sites, links from clean sites, links from sites that are of quality.
I know many talk about "blog networks" but the fact is those links are being devalued due to the fact google knows most of them are content farms and also due to the fact they contain ads. Your link juice is bled off due to these ads.
As for most article directories you have the same problem, including those so-called top article directories. There are way too many links and far too many ads on many of these sites. They are also considered content farms by google.
If you want to get real link juice then you should be posting to ad free article directories that are also properly SEO'd. Look into some of the social places such as multiply, livejournal, and etc.. These are also good places to help build up your rankings.
Directories are important - do your research though as some hold a lot more weight with google than others. Stay away from linkfarms, automatic comments etc as this could get you blacklisted and not worth it.
Basically, start a blog, keep it up to date with good content, and find out who else is of like mind, is discussing topics you`re interested in, or supplements your information with some of their own.
Link exchange is the most successful way for increasing your visitor traffic without paying any money for advertising. I think, if you want to promote your web site on a limited budget, then link exchange is undeniably the best option.