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Did you know that 66.31% of the web pages have no backlinks?
What are backlinks and why are we talking about backlinks?
In simple words, backlinks are the inbound links on your web pages from external websites. And we are talking about backlinks because it’s Google’s one of the top three ranking factors.
So, if you want your site to rank high in Google search results, you need to have an effective link-building strategy in place.
However, before you jump on the link-building bandwagon, it’s important to know that all backlinks are not the same.
Inbound links can be categorised into one of the following:
- Quality backlinks: A quality backlink is a link from a trusted or high-authority website. It’s not meant to manipulate the search engine results. Moreover, it’s contextually placed where it adds value to the reader.
- Toxic backlinks: Toxic backlinks are by and large meant for manipulating search engines. They come from sources such as link schemes, or sites built specifically for linking out, etc. They are also known as spammy links.
While quality inbound links help your site rank higher and get more traffic, toxic backlinks may hurt your SEO and even attract penalties from Google.
But how do you differentiate between the two?
An effective backlink audit is an answer.
In this post, we’ll cover the step-by-step process to conduct a backlink audit so that you can keep your site’s SEO in shape.
What is a Backlink Audit?
Backlink audit is the process of analysing all the links from external sources that lead to your website. Its purpose is to identify the quality and harmful backlinks. This will help you manage them effectively.
If you’re engaging in content marketing or link building strategies, it’s advisable you audit your backlinks quarterly. Otherwise, you can conduct a backlink audit once in six months or a year.
Moreover, the backlink audit requirement also depends on the type of your website.
For instance, performing a backlink audit of an eCommerce or publication site may take considerable time since they tend to have thousands of web pages and inbound links. So it’s advisable to audit such sites at regular intervals.
If you’re not sure how often you should audit backlinks on your site, you can consult an external agency and take their SEO services for a seamless audit process.
Why Should You Care About Backlink Audit?
According to a study by Backlinko, quality backlinks is one of the most influential search ranking factors. And the number one organic result has 3.8 times more backlinks as compared to positions two to ten in Google search.
At the same time, we can’t deny the fact that toxic or spammy inbound links are harmful to your website’s SEO health. It’s because Google also evaluates the sources that link to your site while indexing and ranking your pages.
So if your website has a high volume of unnatural, spammy, or low-quality backlinks, Google may consider it as a link scheme intended to manipulate Google search results. This is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and your site may get penalised for it.
The link penalty can include:
- Google may push your website down in search result rankings, or
- Remove your site from the Google index (your site can’t be found on Google)
In both cases, your site’s search visibility and rankings are affected negatively. Needless to say, this results in a significant drop in organic traffic and sales.
That’s why it is crucial that you conduct a periodic backlink audit to locate the toxic links, remove them, and prevent potential penalty risks.
Besides finding harmful backlinks, a link audit also provides insights into your overall backlink profile. It can be useful for your link-building campaigns.
That said, here’s a step-by-step process to perform an effective backlink audit for your website.
How to run a Backlink Audit on Your Site?
Before we begin, here are some tools that we have used for illustration purposes and you may also need them to audit your backlinks.
Let’s dive in.
Step 1. Find all the Backlinks to Your Site
Before you can audit the backlinks, you need to find all the inbound links on your website. But sometimes one tool may miss out on a few links that others might capture and vice versa. So it’s advisable to collect links from as many sources as possible.
Thankfully, there are many tools available to get you through this process.
Let’s start with the free tool — Google Search Console (GSC).
If you haven’t added your site to GSC, do that first. Then:
- Log into your search console dashboard and click Search Traffic
- Next, click Links To Your Site
- You’ll be able to see the backlinks report for your website
It’ll look like this.
Here you can check all the backlinks (External links) and the top linking sites. Then, click Export External Links button on the top right corner and save the list in Google sheet.
However, it’s better to use a paid tool since GSC would show you only a sample of the links, not the full backlink profile.
With that, here’s how you can generate the backlink report with Ahrefs SEO tool:
Step 1. Log into your Ahrefs account. It’ll show you the dashboard.
Step 2. Enter the URL or domain name as shown in the image below.
Step 3. Click the Backlinks on the sidebar and you’ll be able to see the list of inbound links.
Then export this list of backlinks to an excel sheet.
Also, export the list of linking domains and perform batch analysis on them to know the metrics such as domain rating (DR), organic traffic, referring domains, etc.
Step 2. Evaluate Your Backlink Profile
Next, you would need to identify and set the criteria for your backlink profile.
For example, you want to allow inbound links only from the websites with DR more than 10 and 100+ organic traffic. The domains that do not meet these criteria may not necessarily be spammy or toxic. They might be new or low-quality sites that are not the right fit for your backlink profile.
Now you have the list of linking sites that you would like to keep and also the ones that you would want to consider for removal or disavowing from your website. Then create two separate sheets:
- Link Removal Sheet for low-quality backlinks and low-authority domains
- Link Disavow Sheet for spammy/toxic links
Next, you need to:
Identify Unnatural Links
To find the unnatural links, you need to check the links from identified low-quality sites in your GSC links report.
You need to dive deep into each domain that links to your site and analyse it. The pages or linking sites that you think are irrelevant to your niche and the linked page, copy them into the sheet created for link removal.
Similarly, follow the same process for the backlink reports generated from all other available tools.
Find out Spam Score
Now you need to find out the spam score of your site or backlink profile with the Moz link explorer tool.
First, sign in to your Moz Pro account.
Click Link Research on the sidebar and expand the dropdown menu. Then, as highlighted, click Spam Score.
Next, enter your domain name and click Analyze button.
As shown in the screenshot, you’ll be able to view the overall spam score of your backlink profile and its breakdown.
The spam scores are categorised as:
- Low spam score: A score between 1% to 30%
- Medium spam score: A score between 31% to 60%
- High spam score: A score between 61% to 100%
Thus, you need to assess the spam score of your site.
As you’ll scroll down the page you’d be able to see the list of backlinks sorted according to the spam score.
Then copy all the inbound links with a spam score of more than 30% and paste them into the link disavow sheet that you created earlier. Ideally, you don’t want the medium and high spam score domains’ backlinks on your site.
Analyse Anchor Texts
Another way you can locate spammy backlinks is by analysing your anchor text profile. Most of the genuine sources link to your site by using your brand name or contextually relevant keywords.
To view your anchor text profile, click Anchors on the sidebar of Ahrefs dashboard. This way, you’d be able to see the list of anchor texts being used to link to your site.
As you can see top anchor texts used for linking to Supple’s site or web pages are the branded keywords.
You need to ensure that inbound links shouldn’t have more than 2% non-branded business generating keywords.
At the same time, if you find anchor texts that are not even remotely relevant to your niche, it’s a red flag.
For instance, if you’re an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software company and your anchor text profile looks something like this — you have some serious cleaning work to do.
These are spammy links. Export them to the link disavow sheet.
Step 3. Remove or Disavow Harmful Links
Now that you have identified and collected the list of low-quality and spammy (or toxic) links, you need to clean up your backlink profile by either removing or disavowing them.
Removing Low-quality Backlinks
This is where you’ll use the Link Removal Sheet created earlier.
First, you need to reach out to the website owners of the linking sites that might be low-quality and do not qualify as per your backlink profile criteria. But they are not spammy sites.
So you don’t want to disavow them straight away as Google may also penalise you for disavowing any site without any obvious reason.
Instead, consider sending them an email requesting to remove the link.
You can use the below email template for link removal requests.
Subject: Please remove links to our website
We are cleaning up our website: <your domain name> and need your help in removing some links from your site.
Your website is probably perfectly legitimate, but we’re trying to eliminate as many links as we can.
We are requesting this since some of the links on our website have been acquired against Google Webmaster Guidelines. Hence, it’s crucial for us to remove the links that are harming our website traffic.
Additionally, linking to our site could also be harmful to your website traffic. So it’s also advisable for you to remove the links.
Here are the links that we expect you to remove:
We prefer the links to be removed
rathenrather than disavowing them, even if they’re “nofollow” links.
Do let us know if you have any questions.
Thanking you in advance for your cooperation and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Then you need to track the link removal requests and follow up with them once more if needed. If there’s no response from their side, you can transfer those links to the disavow sheet.
Disavowing Toxic Backlinks
Now it’s time to disavow all the spammy backlinks you have copied into your Disavow Sheet.
Disavowing a link simply means that you’re requesting Google not to consider specific links while indexing and ranking your website.
For this, you can use the Google Disavow Tool. However, use this tool carefully and under the supervision of an SEO specialist. If you use this tool incorrectly, it may damage your site’s SEO performance.
Before you upload the disavow list in the tool, ensure that you convert the Link Disavow Sheet into a .txt file and write them in the format provided by Google.
Here’s an example of the text format.
Once the file is ready, check it twice, thrice, or as many times as needed. But check every link and ensure that you’re not disavowing any high-authority links by mistake.
Then open the Google disavow tool, select your property, and upload your list. Sometimes Google may take up to six weeks to process your request.
Also note that whenever you upload a new disavow file, Google overwrites the old list. So ensure that your new list also contains the previously disavowed links.
Step 4. Find and Fix Broken Backlinks
Occasionally, some pages on your website may return a 404 error (page not found) error if they are unintentionally deleted or redirected with existing backlinks on them. In other cases, there might also be a linking error by referring domains.
This can deprive your site of the benefits — link equity, rankings, traffic, etc. — that come from these inbound links. Such links are called broken or dead backlinks.
Hence, you need to find and fix the dead inbound links on your site.
To find the broken backlinks:
- Enter your domain name in Ahrefs SEO tool and click ‘Broken’ in the Backlinks section.
- Select best pages by links report and filter it for 404 errors.
Thus, get the list of all the broken backlinks on your site.
And to fix the broken inbound links:
- In case of linking errors, reach out to the linking site and ask them to fix it.
- If you have changed the URL, redirect the broken page to the new address.
- Create the valuable content and replace it on the broken page or redirect it to another relevant page.
Step 5. Improvise Your Link Building Strategy
Backlink audit is not just about managing the toxic inbound links, it’s also an opportunity to improve your link building strategy.
Here are some quick tips:
- Focus on quality backlinks: The way you identified the spammy links, you also need to highlight the high-authority and quality backlinks on your site. You can simply thank the site owners for linking out to your site and start building relationships with them. Also, offer them more of such link-worthy content in future. Further, start researching similar sites in the same niche and start outreach for link building.
- Compare your backlink profile to your competitors: Use an SEO tool and conduct competitor SEO analysis with a focus on backlinks. Find their most linked pages and analyse them to know their link-building strengths. Then check if there are gaps in your link-building strategy and resolve them.
- Monitor your backlink profile: Keep checking the niche, authority, and anchor texts of inbound links to ensure that they fit into your backlink profile.
- Hire SEO experts: If you want to focus on your core business activities, consider hiring an SEO agency to help you with link building. They’d not only help you build a robust backlink profile but also improve your overall SEO performance.
As we conclude this post, it’s worth reiterating that backlinks are one of the most crucial search engine ranking factors. So make sure that you audit your backlinks regularly.
While you may want to build as many quality inbound links as possible, ensure you follow the above steps to locate and manage the toxic links.
Remember, your site has a better chance of ranking higher with a few high-authority backlinks against a site with tons of spammy inbound links. So focus on quality over quantity.
Also, be very meticulous while auditing backlinks. Consider removing or disavowing only those links that you surely know are causing damage to your site’s search performance.
Furthermore, request the site owners for link removal before you put them on the disavow list.