Are you familiar with link building and its benefits? Do you follow any link building strategy for your business?
Do you know about link penalties? If not, then you seriously need to gear up for the challenges you might experience soon!
Before we show you how to perform a backlink audit, let us review, or introduce (for the newbies), backlinks so that we can understand why and how to audit them.
NOTE: This post is a great intro and tutorial for auditing backlinks, we also have an in depth video and a free tool to help you audit and disavow bad and spammy backlinks.
What are Backlinks?
A major search engine ranking factor, backlinks are the legitimate links from authoritative sites that point to your website for a particular piece of information
Websites with more number of quality backlinks have a higher possibility of getting ranked in Google searches. On the contrary, sites with ‘toxic’ backlinks from irrelevant sources or acquired illicitly are considered as spams and can diminish the page authority in the eyes of search engines.
In 2012, Google released its major update named the Penguin update to wipe out the SERP rankings of websites with unnatural links and it still continues to do so each and every day. So, how to prevent your website from the hits of Google?
The easiest way is performing a backlink audit for your website on a regular basis. Auditing the backlink profile of your site is the first-off page step to take and should be considered prior to building your link building campaign.
The right backlink audit would help you eliminate all the spammy links that are a threat to your rankings. Later, you can adopt ways to clean your toxic links and develop a strategy to build fresh and quality links. Today, we are here to share with you the step-by-step procedure involved in a backlink audit.
Depending upon your budget and needs, you can choose between the following tools.
- Google Search Console (free)
While each tool has their own robust databases, my tool of choice is Ahrefs (I have a paid subscription). It has an index of 12 trillion known links and crawls 6 billion web pages daily, plus it offers other useful tools like the Keyword Explorer and Rank Tracker.
Moz and Majestic are pretty handy too and also have a free version/trial which you can use to gain insight into your competitor’s backlink strategy and gain insights into what can be done to improve your own link profile.
For my backlink audits, I use Ahrefs, and of course Google Search Console.
Step 1) Aggregating Data
First and foremost, backlink data has to be collected. The data from Ahrefs and Google Search Console(GSC) combined is sufficient in my opinion. The steps for both the platforms are as follows –
Google Search Console
- In the left sidebar, go to Search Traffic > Links to your site.
- Under “Who links the most”, click on “More”
- Now, click on “Download more sample links” & “Download latest links”. Save both the files in CSV format.
A problem which I have had with Google Search Console frequently is that I get “No data available” for my links under “Who links the most”. This might be because of a glitch with GSC or maybe the correct version of the URL isn’t added. It is best to have both www and non-www versions.
- Log in or sign up for a free trial.
- Enter your domain name in the search box.
- In the left sidebar, click on “Backlinks”
- Above the results, click on “All Links”.
- Finally, export the data using your preferred file format.
Before going any further, it is a good idea to analyze your link profile as a whole according to following metrics. I will be using Ahrefs for this, however, this can be done through other tools as well. Noteworthy mentions are Moz, Majestic and SEO Powersuite.
- Check number of backlinks per referring domain – While having a high number of backlinks(quality ones) usually indicates a strong link profile, multiple backlinks from the same domain are considered to have lower value. In Ahrefs, go to Referring Domains to check this.
- Check for dollow and nofollow links – A link profile consisting of only dofollow links is considered to be spammy/manipulative and can invoke a penalty. It might be time to start acquiring some nofollow links.
On the otherhand, if you have a high majority of nofollow links, you should focus on getting dofollow links, which pass link juice and actually help in ranking your website.
- Check for anchor text – Irrelevant anchor text or even over optimized anchor text can get you in trouble with the search engines. Ahrefs provides us with a brilliant feature “Anchors” which can be accessed in the left sidebar. Here you can see the anchor text as a whole & their respective percentages and optimize accordingly.
- Check for most linked-to pages – Find the pages which gather the most links. Usually, this is the homepage. If your internal pages aren’t acquiring links, it might be a good decision to actively seek out links for your deeper pages. You can check for your top pages under Pages > Best by links in the left sidebar.
- Check for broken links – Any links that return a 403, 404, 410 or 503 page can be classified as broken links – these links don’t exist anymore. Filter these links out of your list, there is no need to disavow them.
Step 2) Refining Data
Once you have analyzed the data, it is time to move onto conditioning your data.
- Open the two CSV files you have downloaded from Google Search Console. The backlink data in the files is under the first column. For both files, remove the header and copy all URLs to a new spreadsheet.
- In the Ahrefs data, the backlinks are in the fourth column, under “Referring Page URL”. Again, remove the header and copy all the links to the new spreadsheet.
Combining these two data sources should have left you with a pretty comprehensive list of the backlinks to your site.
However, you’ll notice that many backlinks are coming from the same referring domains. What I like to do is copy all the links to a free tool like orangefox.com/cleaner and then do the following actions > “Trim To Root” followed by “Remove Duplicate URLs”. You will be left with a list of one link per one domain(trimmed to the root). Copy the list in a notepad file.
One could have used Excel’s inbuilt feature of Removing Duplicates (can be found under Data). However, it doesn’t always yield satisfactory returns for me.
If it works for you, go ahead with Excel.
Step 3) Gathering data metrics
It is time for analyzing the metrics, nature and quality of the backlink. The tool I would recommend most for that is URL Profiler which is a powerful link analysis software. You can sign up for a free trial.
Download and install URL Profiler. You’ll have to go through setup process. Click on the “Accounts” menu and enter the API keys of the various tools.
Coming to the fun stuff, right click the URL List box on the box and select “Import From File”. Import your previously created notepad file which contains the links.
Enter your domain in the link analysis field.
Now, depending upon your criteria for an unnatural, spammy link, check the boxes to gather the data that you want. I would recommend that you check Moz, Ahrefs & Social Shares for the URL level data (Majestic too if you have a paid account) and Moz, Ahrefs, Social Shares, Site Type and IP address for Domain level data. I don’t check for HTTP headers since we already checked for broken links beforehand.
Finally, click on “Run Profiler”. This might take some time depending on the speed of your computer. Once done, you’ll have a spreadsheet of backlinks with their corresponding data metrics.
If you don’t want to use URL Profiler, you can gather data for your backlinks in Ahrefs too, as shown in the following steps.
- Click on “More” in the top navigation.
- Go to Batch Analysis and enter the links you had kept in your notepad file.
- Click on Start Analysis.
You’ll be provided with data about total backlinks, link type, URL Rank & Domain Rank, IP address, social metrics, dofollow/nofollow. Click on export and choose your preferred format.
If you also want to have Moz’s Page Authority and Domain Authority for your analysis, you can use Moz or a free tool like www.seoreviewtools.com/valuable-backlinks-checker. However, it only allows 25 URLs at a time.
Step 4) The Backlink Audit
Before starting out your backlink audit, it is necessary that you decide on a criteria for unnatural links. A bad link can be identified if we pay attention to some of the following things ->
- Links from sites not belonging to your niche.
- Links from adult or gambling sites.
- Spammy sites
- Link farms
- De-indexed sites
- Links from the same IP address
Now, open your spreadsheet of backlink and their metrics. You can sort by IP address – links from same IPs are usually part of a low-end link network. Also, it is upto you which score you want to use – Ahref, Moz or Majestic. That can’t be discussed here, it would require another article.
Also, make sure that the anchor text isn’t spammy – blacklist links with anchor text in a foreign language or an adult word. Finally, if you do a batch analysis of individual URLs, you can find the number of external links from each page – your backlink is valuable if this number is low.
It is recommended to go through each link regardless of what a tool tells you about it. You should be thorough in your approach. Once you have conducted a lot of backlink audits, it will become second nature and you’ll be able to differentiate a good link from a bad link based on a little data and instinct.
Removing Bad Backlinks from your Website
Now when you have learned how to perform a backlink audit, it’s now time to know a few simple ways to weed out the spammy backlinks from your website.
Backlinks removal became popular in 2012 with the release of Google Penguin update. However, prior to the algorithm, links couldn’t harm your SEO. The more backlinks your website had, the higher were the chances to rank high for your keywords.
Things have changed completely now. Today, it’s the quality and authority of the backlinks that count and not their number.
But, before we proceed further, let us understand what does it actually mean when we say, “remove backlinks”.
Removing backlinks means to give instructions to Google for not considering such links during its crawling and the pagerank process.
Once you identify which bad backlinks are required to be to removed using the methods discussed above, the next step is to submit a request to Google to remove them.
While such bad links will still be visible in the link list of your Google search console, those will not be taken into account by the Google algorithm.
So, here we go:
Method 1: One of the ways could be contacting the webmasters and asking them to either remove the bad links or add the nofollow tag to prevent them from the pagerank algorithm. Although, it’s very difficult to contact webmasters and get your work done, it’s still a necessary step.
Method 2: Remove the pages that have bad backlinks pointing to them. The simplest way to ‘get rid’ of a page is by either changing the URL or un-publish it. This will notify Google of a 404 error (page not found) when trying to access that page.
Method 3: Use tools like Whois, Google disavow, etc. These tools can help you remove the bad links quickly and without many efforts.
Now Go Audit Your Links
Getting backlinks is definitely important for your website’s ranking. However, if you follow Google Webmaster guidelines for creating a website that offers value to the users, you would never fall prey to bad backlinks.
And remember, Google is clever enough to differentiate between quality links, spammy links and links that were built for the sole purpose of tricking their process.
To prevent your website from unauthorized linking, performing regular audits of your backlink profile is a great idea. These regular audits can help you identify links that are hurting your domain.
A quick recap:
- Determine the links that are potentially spammy or toxic.
- Add such links to a .txt file according to the Google’s guidelines.
- Submit the file to Google using the disavow tool.
So remember, to prevent your site from Google updates, prevention is always the better cure.
Today’s Guest Post Brought to you by
Gurbir Singh is an SEO consultant at SEO Discovery. Before diving into internet marketing, Gurbir experimented with web design and development but found a passion for helping businesses grow. Aside from the world of Internet, Gurbir is a hardcore gamer and avid reader.