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Mastering Backlink Audits: A Simple Guide for Success

Introduction

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As every SEO, startup founder and marketer knows, backlinks serve as an endorsement from one website to another, signaling to search engines that others vouch for your content. However, not all endorsements are beneficial. Positive review can boost your reputation but a link from a disreputable site can harm it. 

This highlights the importance of conducting a backlink analysis on a regular basis. A stringent, no-nonsense approach like this not only safeguards your site’s reputation but also unlocks the door to SEO excellence. 

With that in mind, our guide aims to equip you with the knowledge to effectively analyze and refine your backlinks over time. And once you secure a robust backlink profile, your site will gain authority, and enjoy higher rankings, and your content will ascend in Google’s search results. So let’s take the plunge, shall we? 

What is a Backlink Audit?

A backlink audit thoroughly evaluates all links from external websites pointing back to your site. By closely examining referring domains linking to your site, the goal is to determine the quality and relevance of those backlinks.

The process analyzes exactly where your backlinks originate from, the anchor text, and more importantly, spots any questionable toxic backlinks potentially creating issues or even leading to penalties from Google.

More specifically, a quality backlink audit identifies:

  • Total number of external backlinks: The comprehensive number of other sites linking back to your content. More quality backlinks signal authority, but that doesn’t mean domains with low DA/DR metrics should be disregarded.
  • Referring domains: The root domains sending you backlinks, assessing their strength. Links from authoritative sites pass more value.
  • Anchor text distribution: The types of anchor text used in links to analyze optimization levels. Too many instances of anchor text that exactly matches keywords puts you at risk for penalties.
  • Spam score percentages: The overall proportion of links that are classified as suspicious or low-quality to quantify risk on that front.
  • Toxic backlink sources: Any spammy, paid link networks, or sketchy tactics inflating link counts inauthentically. These require disavowal — a process that we’ll explain in more detail in a few minutes.

Essentially, backlink audits examine all these factors to identify whether the links are valuable or harmful. Harmful links drag down your site’s integrity and domain authority in the eyes of Google, reducing the ranking of your website and dragging it down in terms of search results. 

Why Conduct a Backlink Audit?

A detailed backlink audit can give you a gold mine of info that can significantly impact your SEO and backlink strategy. For starters, it can help you to create high-quality links and outperform your competitors in search rankings.

Additionally, a regular backlink audit helps you understand what is happening in the background so you can deal with problems before they arise. 

Without a regular backlink audit, many things can happen without you noticing. For instance, valuable types of backlinks driving authority to your site could disappear without you even noticing. Even worse, a competitor might build pornographic or casino links to your content, which is a matter that must be addressed with the utmost urgency. 

These unreliable or manipulative links hurt your search engine rankings and credibility over time. Google wants to see natural links coming to your site because other sites find your content helpful. Links from low-quality sites can make it look like you artificially inflate rankings by participating in shady linking schemes.

At best, lots of bad backlinks dilute the power of your good links. But they could also trigger manual spam actions and penalties from Google. Getting hit with a penalty takes a major toll, causing your site to plummet or even disappear from search results.

Good Backlinks vs. Bad Backlinks

Staying on top of your link profile with regular audits helps you catch issues early and take corrective actions. 

How to Prepare for a Backlink Audit

Preparing for a backlink audit is best described as a systematic approach to ensure you have the right tools and processes in place. First and foremost, you’ll need access to robust SEO platforms that specialize in backlink analysis. Some of the industry favorites include Ahrefs, Moz, and Semrush.

You could also use Google Search Console for free, but it doesn’t provide the granular level of detail necessary for a more complete analysis. 

A paid tool offers unique features that can help you identify new and lost backlinks, evaluate the quality of backlinks, and understand your competitors’ backlink profiles.

Then, before diving into the audit itself, prepare a spreadsheet where you can track your findings. This spreadsheet should include columns for the URL of the backlink, the anchor text used, the linking page’s authority score, and notes on the quality of the backlink. 

This framework will help you systematically assess each backlink and make informed decisions on which ones to keep, which backlinks to disavow, and where there are opportunities for new ones.

You should also have a clear goal of what you want to achieve with your backlink audit. Common goals include: 

  • Identifying and removing toxic backlinks
  • Discovering lost or broken backlinks to reclaim valuable lost link equity
  • Evaluating the quality and relevance of existing backlinks
  • Analyzing competitor backlink profiles to uncover new link-building opportunities and strategies.
  • Detecting any patterns of unnatural link acquisition that could lead to search engine penalties.

Last, but not least, try to collect historical backlink data for your website. This data can provide insights into how your backlink profile has evolved over time — it can highlight trends, patterns, and potential areas of concern. Likewise, historical data can help you measure the impact of your backlink strategies and guide future efforts.

How to Do a Backlink Audit in 5 Steps

With the right tools in place and a system for documenting your findings prepared, you’re officially ready to begin with your backlink audit. Here are 5 simple steps to get you started.

Step 1. Pull Your Backlink Data

Use Moz, Ahrefs or SEMrush to extract all backlink data for your website, usually in the form of a .csv file. 

Consolidate this information into a single spreadsheet — and make sure to remove all duplicates to ensure accuracy. This data forms the basis of your backlink audit. It will allow you to assess your site’s backlink profile thoroughly and identify areas for improvement.

Step 2. Evaluate Your Backlink Profile

Once you have collected the data, start analyzing the quality and relevance of these links. To do this, you must:

  • Identify unnatural links: Look for any links that seem out of place or irrelevant to your content. These could be spammy links that might harm your site’s reputation.
  • Find out the spam score: Tools like Semrush offer a “Spam Score” metric, indicating the quality of incoming links. High spam scores suggest low-quality or potentially harmful backlinks.
  • Analyse anchor texts: Examine the anchor texts used in your backlinks. They should be relevant to your site’s content and not overly optimized with exact-match keywords, which can signify spammy or manipulative link-building tactics.

Step 3: Check the Quality of Each Backlink

While saying ‘the more, the merrier’ still rings true when it comes to your backlink profile, not all links are built the same. As mentioned above, some are spammy, toxic and exist solely to tank your rankings in SERPs. That’s why you should check the following to determine how suitable each backlink is in terms of: 

  • Source website’s authority: Measure the website’s credibility and trustworthiness that links to you.
  • Relevance to your niche: Ensure the linking site is relevant to your industry or topic.
  • Link location on the page: Evaluate whether the link is placed within the main content, footer, or sidebar.
  • The link’s Follow vs. NoFollow status: Determine if the link passes SEO value to your site.
  • Anchor text used: Check the relevance and diversity of the anchor text in the link.
  • Traffic and engagement: Analyze if the backlink drives traffic and engagement to your site.
  • The overall content quality of the linking page: Assess the quality of content on the page that links to you.

Step 4. Find and Fix Broken Backlinks

Albeit not as harmful as toxic ones, broken links can harm your SEO by wasting link equity and providing a poor user experience. 

Example of broken backlinks in Ahrefs

Once you identify broken link instances with SEMrush or Ahrefs, either recreate the missing content on those URLs or redirect the broken URLs to relevant, existing pages using 301 redirects. This process helps recover lost link value and improves site navigability.

Step 5. Find New Opportunities to Build Valuable Links

A backlink audit isn’t just about looking at your existing links or fixing broken ones. It’s also a chance to find new ways to get good-quality links. So, whilst you’re sifting through the data, think about

  • Which kinds of content on your site get the most backlinks? Focus on creating more of this content to keep getting new links.
  • How your competitors are building their backlinks and try using their methods for your website.

Identifying and Handling Toxic Backlinks

By the time you complete the process above, you will have been able to identify good links and toxic/spammy links. A link is toxic if it:

  • Originates from an irrelevant or unrelated site
  • Uses excessive keyword stuffing in anchor text
  • Comes from a site with a history of spam behavior
  • Uses sneaky redirects or tactics to manipulate metrics

Impacts of Toxic Links

A few toxic backlinks may merely dilute your positive backlink equity. However, a larger amount can seriously damage your site’s authority and rankings. Google will see unnatural link-building practices and distrust your content.

Toxic backlinks also carry the risk of manual spam actions if found to be part of intentional manipulation efforts. Penalties can ban your pages or entire domain from search results.

To help you identify toxic backlinks, we’ve come up with a shortlist of questions you should ask yourself when evaluating a backlink:

  • Is the link from a low-authority site?
  • Does the link come from a spammy site or one that is irrelevant or unrelated to your content/niche?
  • Is the anchor text used in the link unnatural or over-optimized?
  • Does the link come from a search engine-penalized site? 
  • Do you have too many links from the same domain?
  • Do many of the linking pages have very little content? 
  • Is the link flagged as spammy by Ahrefs or SEMrush?

Once the bad apples have been identified, it’s time to remove them. To do this, try contacting the website owners to remove the links. 

If they don’t respond or refuse, you can use Google’s Disavow Tool to tell Google to ignore these links when assessing your site. To complete the process, you must: 

  1. Create a .txt file with URLs or domains of backlinks to disavow, one per line.
  2. Format whole domains as “domain:example.com”.
  3. Open your Google Search Console and access the Disavow.
  4. Select your site and upload the file.
  5. Submit to tell Google to ignore these links.

Best Practices for Backlink Audits

Backlink audits are essential for maintaining the SEO health of your website and finding new opportunities for improvements. However, this is far from a one-and-done affair — to get the best results from this strategy, there are a couple of key considerations that should be kept in mind.

Maintain a Routine Backlink Audit Schedule

Establish a routine schedule for your backlink audits — monthly, quarterly, or bi-annually, depending on your website’s size and the scale of your link-building efforts. Use calendar reminders to stay on track with these audits without fail.

Set up Google Alerts for your website’s name or domain. This can help you passively monitor new backlinks as they are created, alerting you to both opportunities and potential issues in real time, allowing you to respond swiftly, prevent backlogs, and get ahead of problems before they even arise.

Ongoing Monitoring and Analysis

By developing a proactive approach and continuously assessing the quality of incoming links, you’ll gain a treasure trove of actionable data that can be leveraged to further optimize your SEO strategies.

Ongoing monitoring and analysis allow you to both identify and resolve issues and give you the agility to adjust your efforts in real time. Think of it this way — if your analysis shows that certain types of content that you’ve published outperform other types by a significant margin, you can more efficiently allocate resources to where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. 

Staying Updated with Search Engine Algorithms

Search engine algorithms evolve constantly, and what works today might not work tomorrow. Keep your ear to the ground regarding the latest algorithm updates from Google and other search engines to understand how they might affect the evaluation of backlinks.

Be prepared to adapt your link-building and backlink maintenance strategies based on the latest algorithm changes. This might involve focusing more on the quality rather than the quantity of backlinks or revising the types of sites you generally target for backlinks.

Advanced Techniques and Strategies

Here are some advanced backlink auditing strategies and emerging technologies to take your efforts to the next level:

Conduct Competitor Link Audits

Leverage backlink analysis tools to pull your competitors’ entire backlink profiles. Review their links sorting by domain authority, anchor text ratios, referral URLs, and other attribution. Then, try to identify current high-quality sites linking to them that you could potentially earn links from as well. See what anchor text variants and pages they are optimizing. 

You can also use backlink analysis tools to automatically pinpoint where competitors are gaining significant equity-passing links that your site has yet to obtain.

For example, if you find that most of your competitors have great backlinks from .edu domains, you can develop an outreach campaign focused specifically on getting .edu links to fill this performance gap quickly.

Leverage AI for Your Link-Building Efforts

Machine learning and AI are making it easier to handle backlink audits by automating the detection of good and bad links. While the notion of AI-aided web scraping is a controversial topic, there are plenty of tools that can automate the research part of link building. 

As technology improves, your SEO role will shift towards analyzing these automated insights to make smarter decisions. This means less manual work for you and a more effective approach to managing your site’s backlinks.

Conclusion

Backlinks are key to SEO success. However, it’s important to regularly check your backlinks to ensure they are of high quality and help build a strong reputation online. Aim to check your backlinks every quarter to spot any new or lost links. Look at their relevance, eliminate harmful links, and find areas where you can reach out for more opportunities.

We’ve shown you simple ways to gather your backlink information, sort and analyze it in spreadsheets, and spot links that might be damaging your site. We’ve also pointed out how to find and replicate your best backlinks. Keeping a close eye on your backlinks ensures they help your SEO, not hurt it.

Not the ball is in your court. Start your backlink audit today to protect your online marketing efforts and keep your site visible on search engines long-term.

FAQs

What is a backlink audit, and why is it necessary for SEO?

A backlink audit is a process where you check all the links that point to your website from other websites. It’s like taking inventory of who’s recommending your site across the internet.

What tools are essential for a backlink audit?

For a thorough backlink audit, essential tools include Semrush, Ahrefs, and Google Search Console. These tools help monitor your link profile, analyze backlinks for quality and relevance, and optimize your link profile for better search engine rankings. They also come with features that help you identify toxic links, provide recommendations, generate detailed reports, and find new link-building opportunities.

Can a backlink audit improve my website’s search engine rankings?

Yes. When done properly, auditing backlinks can directly lead to improved search rankings. It can help you remove harmful links, identify new linking opportunities, and of course, spy on competitors. 

How do I identify toxic backlinks, and what should I do about them?

To identify toxic backlinks during a backlink audit, look for signs like unnatural anchor texts, links from low-quality or spammy websites, irrelevant content, and excessive links from a single source. Once identified, attempt to remove these links by contacting the site owners directly or disavow them through Google’s Tool to mitigate their negative impact on your SEO

How can I use competitor analysis in my backlink strategy?

Use competitor analysis to identify where they’re getting their backlinks. Look for patterns and sites linking to them but not to you. Target these sites for your own backlink efforts to close the gap and improve your site’s visibility and authority.

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Dan Fries

Dive deep into the mind of BlueTree CEO Dan Fries and explore a wealth of knowledge on the nuances of link-building and digital marketing.

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