A backlink is undoubtedly one of the strongest ranking factors today. It shows Google that another website finds your content valuable to their audience to link it with the articles posted on their website.
The more the backlinks, the higher the relevance and ranking a website is awarded by Google. Like content marketing, it is imperative to regularly carry out a backlinks audit to continue outranking the competitors.
What is a backlink audit?
A backlink audit is the process of evaluating all the links to your website to determine their feasibility. That is, it entails identifying the links and evaluating them to separate the bad ones from the good ones.
If you are starting, you can leverage Google Webmaster Tools to review all the links manually. However, if your website has been active for several years and is reputable, you need a robust tool as checking every link manually can take weeks.
From experience, the most effective backlink audit tool in the market today is SEMRush Backlink Audit. Thousands of SEO experts and businesses use it as it’s efficient and offers accurate reports regardless of the niche or the number of links evaluated.
Here’s how to perform a full backlink audit, in seven simple steps.
1. Choose the right tool
First, decide which tool you are going to use. Google Search Central (formerly Google Webmasters and Google Search Console) provides you with a full list of your backlinks for free. You can find them in the “Links to Your Site” section under “Search Traffic” in your menu.
However, the data you get from Google Search Central is limited, and it will take a lot of time to analyze each link individually. To better understand your backlink profile and spot harmful links quickly, it is best to use a premium tool, many of which give you a limited number of searches for free. Here are the ones I recommend:
Each of these tools has its pros and cons. If you have the budget for it, you can use all three, but one should be enough for most small businesses.
2. Run a backlink audit
Once you’ve chosen which tool to use, run a backlink audit and review your profile. Each tool will provide slightly different data alongside the links.
For example, SEMrush will give you a toxicity score right off the bat and tell you how many of your links are toxic. Moz will give you a spam score for each link, along with referring domains’ PA and DA scores. Ahrefs will show you a Domain Ranking, URL Ranking, and Traffic score for each referring domain and URL.
3. Find and remove harmful backlinks
The next step is finding which backlinks look spammy. Sometimes, scammers will link to your site to try to improve their rankings. At other times, a competitor will run a malicious black-hat campaign and set up hundreds of spammy links in an effort to decrease your rankings.
On Moz, you can sort by spam score to find links that are most likely to be spammy. On SEMrush, you can go a step further and filter for toxic and potentially toxic links.
Besides looking at toxicity, spam, and DA scores, you can also look at the anchor text of keywords. Spammy keywords will often have a spammy anchor text, such as:
- Make money
You can browse the most common anchor texts for backlinks pointing to your site in any of the above tools.
SEMrush will also show you top anchor text attributes. If you see a lot of links with anchor texts that revolve around “Money,” for example, that’s a bit suspicious.
Another thing worth looking at is your backlink acquisition over time. In Ahrefs, for example, you can see a graph displaying that. If you see a sudden spike somewhere, and you weren’t running a feverish backlink-building campaign then, you probably experienced a malicious link attack.
Other things that require a second look include:
- A lot of links from sites with low DA scores (they’re not inherently bad, though)
- A lot of links pointing to your site but from a small number of referring domains
- A lot of links from suspicious CTLDs, like .ru domains (unless your site is in Russian, of course)
4. Remove and disavow bad links
The next step is deciding how to deal with bad links. Sometimes, you can remove those links by contacting the site owner. If, however, they were created with malicious intent, good luck with that! A quicker and more effective way to deal with them would be to disavow them using Google’s Disavow Tool.
If you are using SEMrush, you can add links from the backlink audit to a special Disavow list, which you can export and upload to the Google Disavow Tool. Other backlink audit tools also allow you to export a list of backlinks.
At the same time, it’s also a good idea to check your messages in your Search Central account or check the Manual Actions report to see if your site received any manual penalties due to bad links. If it did, you can submit a reconsideration request (after you’ve fixed the problem by removing or disavowing those links).
5. Discover your best-performing pages and top referrers
Take a look at the top domains linking to you, as well as the top pages attracting the most backlinks. If you see a blog linking to you often, consider reaching out to the owner and establishing some sort of relationship. It will also give you an idea of which type of blogs to target in future backlink outreach campaigns.
Analyze your top-performing pages to figure out which content attracts the most organic links. Try to identify trends, such as:
- The use of infographics
- Covering certain topics
- A specific style of content, like listicles or how-to guides
6. Recover lost and broken links
Using tools like SEMrush or Moz, you can view your recently “lost” links — sites that were linking to you but then stopped. You should also look for broken links — pages that are linking to a non-existent or misspelled URL on your site or an article that you took down. You may be surprised by how many you find, especially if you haven’t conducted an audit in a while.
Reach out to those site owners and supply them with the correct link. If they manually removed a link, ask them why; perhaps they thought your content was outdated.
7. Conduct competitor analysis
After running an audit on your site, run a check on your top competitors’ sites. Compare your backlink profile to theirs — are they getting more and higher-quality backlinks than you? On Moz, you can compare the link profiles of different sites side by side.
Check their top referring domains to see their backlink sources. They might be using a strategy like guest blogging to obtain their backlinks from those sites, and you might be able to do the same. If you own a local business, see which directories they are getting citations from, and create listings in them as well.
Another thing worth looking at is your competitors’ top-performing pages — those that have the most backlinks. Which type of content is on those pages? That can help you get an idea of which content attracts the most organic backlinks.
It’s worth doing a backlink audit at least a couple of times a year. That allows you to remove dead links quickly and improve your backlink outreach strategy over time. A full backlink audit shouldn’t take more than 30-60 minutes if you have the right tools, and it is well worth your time.