How to Do a SEO Backlink Audit
SEO Back-Link Audit to Mitigate Ranking Google Penalties
How to do a strategic back-link check and cleanup
Published on by: James Hobson
Originally published on 1-04-2013 on Blogger
A strategic link audit process is an essential part of every search engine optimization initiative. When you have completed a comprehensive link audit you will have the information needed to develop a customized link building strategy. This includes finding quality back link opportunities and removing unwanted back-links. that improves search engine ranking and mitigates problems caused by improper link building practices and algorithmic driven ranking losses.
Your link building strategy should be fluid and flexible. Obviously the overall objective is to increase the number of links from relevant, high quality sites, however specific needs will sometimes be discovered and need special attention. Special action may be required to disavow links, remove or amend broken links, etc. Effectively you need to not only build your link base but also manage it.
If your goal is to improve your search engine rankings, ultimately your backink footprint is more important than the number of links to your site. Your link profile must be carefully managed. It is worth mentioning that every part of your link building efforts should be done in an ethical and white-hat manner. Link building is an acceptable SEO practice if you understand the guidelines. It is almost a certainty that your link audit will uncover technical SEO problems.
How to Start Your Link Audit
The first step in the process is to complete a basic benchmarking process for the client site to identify existing links, evaluate the quality of each link and attempt to identify problems such as broken links, low quality or harmful links (links from bad neighborhoods). As you move through the process you should keep in mind what information is going to be the most valuable in helping you with your specific needs and keep appropriate notes.
Typical Link Related Problems and Needs
- 1) Getting a new website into competitive rankings.
- 2) Moving an existing site up for existing rankings, or developing new rankings for top keywords.
- 3) Corrective actions to mitigate ranking loss, de-indexing, or similar issues.
- 4) Establishing a good understanding of your link footprint’s health and overall quality.
- 5) You need to resolve issues reported in Google Webmaster Tools.
Why You Should Consider Doing Competitor Site Link Audits
A competitor link audit, even if less detailed, can be of immense value in improving the client’s search engine rankings. The primary purpose for doing a competitor back-link check is to identify high quality sites that potentially offer the chance for links to the client site. If you have a competitor that is ranked very well for high traffic or high value niche terms they must be doing something right. Take a few hours to examine their link sources and look for places to get relevant links.
The Benchmarking Process
Link Audit Tools and Back-link Checker Tools
Make no mistake, a link building audit is tedious and time consuming. Fortunately there are numerous online link tools that make the work a bit lighter. While paid services offer the most robust tools some of these back-link data providers have free versions. Some recommended sites:
- SEMRush.com is one of our all-time favorites. This site has a great menu of tools, pulls accurate and detailed information. A free account is available however we recommend subscribing to any of the three services with monthly fees from $79 to $179 to $499. This is a TOP PICK by our team.
- Google Search Console (previously Webmaster Tools) is a free tool which is a must-have in your Google account. This tool allows you to manage key settings that matter to Google, and is a top go-to place for information on how Google sees your link profile, and link problems perceived by Google.
- MajesticSEO is an extremely robust SEO tool that offers a free version and paid versions priced out at $50, $150 or $400 per month. The site comparison tool, keyword checker and history tool are just part of what makes MajesticSEO a top tier service provider. This is a TOP PICK by our team.
- MOZ Open Site Explorer is a product offered by the folks at MOZ. You can run with a 30 day free trial before you elect to subscribe to MOZ Pro for only $99 per month. This is a solid SEO tool.
Recovery from a Google manual or algorithm based penalty
How to know if your ranking dropped is penalty related
At one point Matt Cutts, former Google senior engineer, estimated that Google dropped manual penalties on sites at the rate of over 400.000 per month. Additionally, algorithm based hits affect an even larger number of sites. It is extremely common that websites for small to mid-sized companies have been ill managed by SEO hacks. If you have noticed a sudden or deep loss of rankings your site may very well be suffering from penalties. There are ways to recover from Google penalties. It’s worth noting that as of 2015 many sites are losing search engine ranking because they are not mobile friendly. If your site is one of these you need to rebuild you website as a responsive website design.
The Google Link Disavow Tool
After you have completed a thorough back-link audit you need to identify the undesirable links. Links from “bad community sites” such as porn or gambling should be the first to manage. Next are links from spam sites, irrelevant and low quality content sites. If you’ve engaged link building services in years past there is a good chance that you have a lot of bad links. Google in particular prefers that you contact the owners of the sites where the links exist and ask that they be removed. This is a very tedious process, and very often a fruitless pursuit. This is when you need to escalate your efforts to use the Google Disavow Tool. Be advised, even Google says to use this tool with caution.
It could be argued that Google’s quest to slaughter link farms and spam link sellers was elevated with the release of the Disavow Tool. Google has empowered the SEO community and website managers to identify bad link sites and sources. There is a specific manner in which this tool is to be used, and its power may be more than you imagine. Our recommendation is to use this tool for only extreme problems, especially if you have received one of the dreaded notices in Google Search Console.
We’ve yet to find a single link checker tool that we believe finds every back-link. You can anticipate some variances in the information delivered by various sites, tools and software. Chances are that the links that don’t show up are of little consequence, and the links that are the most important will be captured by every link search tool.
Some of these tools enable you to export search results in spreadsheet form. This is extremely handy for managing data and working with clients. With a little effort you can modify one of these spreadsheets into a link tracker tool. You can use the new link tracker tool as a manifest where you add newly created links and maintain a good record of link building activity.
The Truly Important Site Metrics
For a new site the process is simply one of carefully earning and gaining links from relevant sites, and taking steps to not let any particular keyword or phrase become a majority percentage of your total back-link footprint. You may choose to use these services to measure your link velocity (rate at which you acquire links) which normally is relatively even, or use back-link data on competitor sites to support your own link building efforts.
For an existing site you have a two-fold process. Part one is to amend problems such as broken links or killing off bad links. Part two is moving forward to manage your link profile to present a natural footprint. It’s probably fair to say that until 2012 many top ranked sites spent a lot of time and effort to acquire links without critical consideration. These sites picked up back links in mass, and through a variety of methods which are now sketchy SEO methods. Link building rules have changed so more attention needs to be focused on improving quality, maintain a measured pace and abandoning the wild west ways of link building.
For your link audit you should, at a minimum, acquire the following metrics:
- List of domains that link to your site
- Anchor text for each link
- Target URL for each link
Other information to obtain, understand and leverage:
- Percentages of predominant anchor text
- Percentage of site-wide or non-site-wide links
- Percentage of links that are dofollow or nofollow
- Page Title – missing, duplicated, or over 70 characters in length
- Meta Description – missing, duplicated, or over 160 characters in length
- Errors and Redirects – temporary, permanent, 3XX, 4XX, 5XX, no response
A good link audit requires both knowledge of how to acquire data, and an understanding of what the data implies or means. For example, compiling a list of anchors text is one thing but you need to carefully analyze the anchor text for long-tail or short-tail, exact match, etc. It’s important to note how well your existing links have been used to increase the ranking value of multiple site pages, and notice whether or not the anchor text used for each page have created a tight link theme.
If you’re feeling particularly energetic or curious you can progress into a granular analysis of the links to each page and the page itself. Taking time to measure the quality metrics of each link can open your eyes to less obvious areas for improvement. An example would be trying to reconcile why two pages, each with the same number of links have vastly different organic rankings. Yes, competitive pressure is a factor but perhaps a line item review of the links would reveal the lower ranked page having links from pages with a high number of outbound links, low trust level, foreign hosting, or other seemingly meaningless details.
Fine tuning your back-links and recovering lost links
Most business websites have been reworked many times. Often this means deleting pages, many of which have inbound links pointing to a missing page. A few minutes to amend your htaccess redirects can recover the benefits of old links. Additionally, our recommendation is to go very lightly on using “rel no follow” within your site. It’s a good idea to remove this from all or almost all links on your site.
As you work through this process you need to make a lot of notes, carefully consider the details and never lose sight of the big picture. You should absolutely make sure that you understand the significance of any changes, modifications or additions that you pursue. If you have properly educated yourself you can complete a link audit that will lead you to the path of better rankings.