Backlinks are one of the most neglected aspects of search engine rankings, but they have an immense impact on your website’s visibility. High-quality backlinks are considered an indicator of a website’s value, and vice-versa. Low-quality links can actually lead to ranking penalties, so conducting a backlink audit is one of the best things you can do for your website’s rankings.
Find Your Current Backlinks
The first step in optimizing your backlink profile is … well … knowing what your backlink profile is. Luckily, there are countless tools and programs available for this purpose, but we recommend starting with Google Search Console. It’s a great first option, as it will give you the most important and relevant data: how many links your site has, and which sites are providing the most.
While it’s helpful to have a single website providing a large number of links, it’s generally preferable to have a large number of websites giving you one or two backlinks, rather than having one or two websites make up the majority of your backlink profile. While your total number of backlinks should be the most important individual factor in an audit, it’s still important to diversify your profile so as to have as many unique domains as possible linking to your website.
Identify Toxic Links
A higher number of backlinks isn’t always better, and that’s why it’s important to follow up your initial search with a more targeted look at your website’s profile. By determining which links are beneficial to your website’s growth and which ones aren’t, you’ll be able to start improving the overall health of your backlink profile.
SEMrush offers a Backlink Audit Tool which provides a more in-depth analysis of each of your backlinks. According to SEMrush, the best backlinks are those that add value and are relevant, while suspicious or spammy links are detrimental to your website. SEMRush will rank your links in terms of their “toxicity,” allowing you to decide which ones to remove through Google’s Disavow tool.
Which backlinks you choose to remove can have a significant impact on your ranking, both positive and negative. Disavowing harmful links will reduce the penalty from search engines, but removing too many at the same time can lead to its own penalty. Therefore, you should start by targeting the most problematic links, then slowly evaluate the others until you reach a point at which you’re comfortable.
Link Assistant’s SEO Spyglass provides a substantial amount of information designed to give you the knowledge you need to make informed decisions about your backlink profile. However, that data can be overwhelming to someone new to the field, so it’s distilled into a penalty risk rating (out of 100%) for every link, representing how likely it is to result in a search engine penalty.
Links with a value close to 100% are likely causing a significant drop in your visibility, so disavow those as quickly as possible before moving on to the rest. While there isn’t always a clear dividing line between “good” and “bad” links, you can check the quality of those that fall somewhere in the middle before making any final decisions.
Evaluating Potential Threats
Nobody knows exactly how SEO rankings are calculated, but SEO Spyglass and similar tools can give you an idea of which links could be having a negative impact on your brand. Once you’ve removed the worst links from your backlink profile, the next step is to determine which others to keep and which are worth disavowing.
The best way to make those decisions about individual backlinks is to do the evaluation yourself whenever you’re not sure. While this involves slightly more legwork, it gives you more control over the links you keep.
For links with a penalty risk between 25% and 75%, there are a few things you can look at to get more information. This information can all be found using SEO Spyglass. Again, each decision has to be a somewhat subjective judgment, but following these guidelines will give you a better chance of keeping the right links while removing those that are harmful.
Search engine indexing: If a website isn’t indexed in search engines like Google, that’s likely an indication of lower quality.
Anchor text: The text containing the link to your website should be natural and contextually related to your product or service. If the anchor text seems generic or unrelated, the link probably isn’t helping your SEO ranking.
Social media: While there isn’t necessarily a direct link between social media presence and link quality, it can still be evidence of organic engagement, so a website with more shares, likes, etc. is more likely to be bringing in traffic.
Analyze Your Backlink Profile
Removing the most harmful links is a great way to start, but using more advanced data can help you get an additional leg up on the competition. We’ll mostly be talking about SEO Spyglass, but there are certainly other programs available, both premium and free, for those interested in exploring the available options.
With such a wide range of information available, it’s hard to know what exactly your focus should be during a backlink audit. While this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list, here are some of the most commonly cited factors in a quality backlink profile.
Depending on the nature of your product or service, you may be looking for backlinks from a certain country or region, or for a more diverse set of links. SEO Spyglass from Link Assistant is a great tool for determining the origin of your backlinks. This can go a few ways:
If your links are generally coming from countries that your business has no affiliation with, this can be a red flag. When your backlinks are from websites that likely have no personal interest or engagement with your brand, there’s a good chance they’re spam or something else that could result in a ranking penalty from search engines.
If a large portion of your backlinks is from websites based in a single country, it may be in your best interest to diversify your profile as much as possible. The best-case scenario is to have a similar number of links coming from every country in which your business is relevant.
If link diversity doesn’t appear to be an issue, you have one less issue to worry about during your backlink audit. Still, you should continue to monitor this periodically in case your website’s backlink profile changes significantly.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this—if your business only serves a specific location, you likely don’t need the same level of backlink diversity that other businesses would aim for. This goes for most aspects of a backlink audit, as nobody knows your industry better than you, and no advice or set of guidelines will match up perfectly with every specific situation.
Growth Over Time
Since backlinks correlate with success in other areas, you should aim for consistent growth and spikes associated with specific marketing campaigns. SEO Spyglass will show you how your backlink profile has changed, and you can use that information to figure out what has and hasn’t been effective in the past.
Your growth history will also help you identify where and why potentially threatening links originally appeared. Determining what led to those issues will help you avoid similar ones in the future, while also allowing you to build on previous success and continue focusing on what has led to more links.
While your backlink profile is made up of links leading to your website, not all of these are created equal. It’s generally better to have as many good links as possible, but it’s also important to have links sending readers to different parts of your site—not just a homepage or landing page, but also pages within the website.
Internal links indicate that readers are more than superficially interested in your content, which is a key factor in SEO rankings. Most links will probably be going to your homepage, but if the difference becomes too disproportionate, it may be worth considering ways to increase the number of links leading to pages deeper in your site.
The intricacies of SEO are incredibly complex, and there’s no way to perfectly understand everything that’s affecting your website’s placement in the rankings of every search engine. However, with the increasing importance of online marketing and sales, more money is being put into this field than ever before, and there are plenty of tools available to give you a leg up on the competition.
While we’ve covered the basics of backlink audits in this article, there are obviously more pieces of information, tools, and strategies that could be relevant to your business’s unique circumstances. Experimenting with the available options might be daunting, but the guidelines and ideas in this article should give you a point to start from as you conduct your first backlink audit.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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