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Competitor Link Analysis
13 min read

How to Perform Backlink Analysis Like a Professional

Stewart Dunlop



As a link building agency, the very first task we perform whenever we take on a new client is a backlink analysis.

This is important because it shows us three things that are essential to know before we implement a link building strategy.

These are:

  1. The client’s existing backlinks

  2. The pages and types of pages that generate the most links

  3. Potential issues we need to resolve

In this article, we’ll go into greater detail about the steps we take and the things we look for. You can use this information to help you perform your own backlink analysis.

What is Backlink Analysis?

Backlink analysis is a complete audit of a website’s backlink profile. It highlights the quality and quantity of backlinks, and the content on the site that attracts the most links. This helps website owners spot issues and opportunities to maximize their rankings.

You typically perform a backlink analysis on websites you own, but you can also check out competing sites. Both types of analysis are useful parts of any SEO strategy.

What to Look for When Performing a Backlink Analysis

A backlink analysis can help you discover information like:

  • Spam links: Use a backlink analysis to find links from PBNs and link farms. This is important because low-quality websites linking to your site can affect your rankings.

  • Broken links: When an external link is broken, no page on your site receives the link juice. A backlink analysis will help you identify and fix broken links—maximizing the authority each backlink passes on.

  • See popular content: When you know what types of content attract links, you can create similar content to generate even more.

  • Highlight pages that could benefit from links: Sending links to a web page can help its rankings increase. Backlink analysis can highlight the pages that would benefit most from links.

  • Competitor analysis: Find out how your competitor’s backlinks compare to your own. See which pages generate links and the sites they have referrals from.

When to Perform a Backlink Analysis

We always perform a backlink analysis before starting a link building campaign. But this isn’t the only time you might want to perform one.

Here are some occasions when backlink analysis is useful:

Before Link Building

Performing a backlink analysis is essential before starting new link building campaigns. The results show your starting point so you can measure your efforts.

An analysis can also highlight the most effective steps to take to build links. For example, you’ll discover which types of content have a high chance of generating links.

Periodically, to Measure the Impact of a Strategy

Once your strategy is up and running, you should perform backlink analysis to measure the impact of your strategy.

Aim to check vital metrics every month to ensure that you are generating links as expected.

After a Ranking Decrease

Bad backlinks can cause your website rankings to decrease. If your site is on a downward spiral, a backlink analysis can identify potential issues and help you turn things around.

When You Receive a Manual Penalty

Sometimes you will receive a manual penalty in your Google Search Console dashboard. This is when a human reviewer decides your website has broken one of Google’s guidelines.

If your website receives a manual penalty relating to its links, perform a backlink analysis to find bad ones and then remove or disavow them.

Before Buying a Website

It’s helpful to perform a backlink analysis before buying a website so you can make an informed decision about whether to go through with the deal.

You can see potential issues (such as if the site has a lot of bad links) and opportunities, such as a lot of broken links you can easily redirect or fix.

If You Haven’t Done One Before

Even if you aren’t in one of the situations above, it is still useful to perform a backlink analysis if you haven’t done one on your website before.

You’ll better understand the types of sites that link to you and why they do so.

How to Perform a Backlink Analysis

You need a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool that will provide information about your links to perform a backlink analysis.

At LinkBuilder we use Ahrefs. But there are plenty of other options available such as Moz, Majestic, and Semrush.

Read more about our favorite backlink monitoring tools here.

1. Start with a Website Overview

Backlink analysis conducted within Ahrefs

The first step is to get an overview of your site’s backlinks. This will show you all the basic backlink data you need.

Metrics to look out for include:

  • Referring domains: A referring domain is a site that links to your website. Domains that link to your site multiple times are included only once.

  • Referring pages: This is the number of pages that link to your website.

  • New and lost links: This shows how many links you gain or lose over time.

  • CTLD: This is the top-level domain code of the links that point to your website. This is useful because it highlights links from a particular country. For example, .in is for India and .uk is for the UK.

Most SEO tools also provide a domain authority metric. In Ahrefs this is Domain Rating (DR), and in Moz it is Domain Authority (DA).

These metrics consolidate all the information the backlink tool has about your link profile into a single score out of 100. They are an easy way to get a quick overview of your website’s backlink profile.

Knowing the link data mentioned above won’t necessarily inform your strategy. But it shows where your site is currently at and helps you measure progress.

2. Discover Your Top-Performing Pages

One of the most useful parts of a backlink analysis is discovering website pages that have the most links on your website.

On Ahrefs, you can access this report by clicking the “Best by links” option in the “Pages” section of the sidebar.

Analyzing the top performing pages by inbound links

This report highlights which pages have the most backlinks. It also shows the number of dofollow and nofollow links that point to each page.

Dofollow vs. nofollow links

A nofollow link is a link that the website owner has told search engines not to follow. These links are much less valuable than regular dofollow links as they don’t pass on link juice.

Seeing which pages attract links is useful for three main reasons:

  • Create Similar Content - Certain types of content are more likely to generate links. Original research, statistics pages, tools, and thought leadership tend to attract more links than informational content. When you know the type of content that attracts links, you can create similar content to generate more. For example, if you see that a statistics page on your website has a lot of links you could create similar pages on different topics.

  • Use Content as Linkable Assets - A linkable asset (or skyscraper) link building strategy is when you reach out to website owners asking them to link to content on your site. Pages with existing organic links are good linkable assets because you know people are happy to link to them.

  • Share Page Authority - Pages with a lot of links have more authority than those without links. Share this authority with other pages on your site by linking to other articles from the most linked pages. Just identify high-value pages that could benefit from a rankings boost and then add links to these articles.

3. Find Pages That Could Benefit from Links

If you are planning a link building campaign, the next step of your backlink analysis should be to identify pages that are most likely to benefit from links. Linking to the right pages will maximize your campaign’s impact on your site.

Several factors suggest a page will benefit from links:

High-Value Pages

High-value pages are most likely to generate revenue for your business.

For ecommerce stores it could be product or category pages, for SaaS tools it could be sales pages, and for affiliate websites it could be reviews or “best of” type content.

When you generate links to these pages, you make them more likely to rank. This leads to more potential customers seeing the content.

Pages Ranking Outside the Top 5

Pages that rank for your target keyword at the bottom of page one or on page two can be good candidates to build links to.

This is because you know Google trusts these pages enough to show them in the results.

A link or two may be all the page needs to jump up the rankings. And at this stage, a slight increase in rankings can result in significant traffic increases.

Compare that to generating links to a page that currently ranks on page five. Even if it moves up 30 places it still won’t be on page one.

Pages with Fewer Links than Competitors

When competing pages have more links than yours, they have a ranking advantage. Building links to your blog post will help level the playing field.

Look for pages on your site that are outranked by competing content with a number of links you think you could match or beat.

And be realistic here. If the page has thousands of links, it will be tough to reach a similar number. Instead, build links to pages where the difference between your page and your competitors is just a few links.

4. Identify Broken Backlinks

Finding and fixing broken links is an important part of backlink analysis. Doing so ensures that all your links give your website the maximum amount of authority possible.

What Is a Broken Backlink?

A broken backlink is a link that directs people to a page on your own site that doesn’t exist. Anyone who clicks on the link receives a 404 error.

It’s an issue because these links don’t pass on authority to any particular page on your website.

Broken backlinks typically occur because either:

  1. The link points to the URL of content you have deleted

  2. The website made a typo when adding the link

It’s easy to find broken backlinks on most backlink analysis tools. On Ahrefs, head to the “Broken Backlinks” section.

This will show you all the broken backlinks that point to your website. It highlights the page the link points to and the error that appears when people click on the link.

Broken backlink analysis using ahrefs

With this information, it’s easy to see if the problem is that the page no longer exists or if the link has a typo.

How to Fix Broken Backlinks

Fixing broken backlinks isn’t easy as you don’t control the links pointing to your site.

But you do have some options.

If the error is because you deleted a page, you can either recreate the page or set up a redirect so anyone who goes to the old URL will be redirected to a page of your choice.

If the error is due to a typo, contact the website owner and ask them to fix it.

If they don’t accept this request, you can set up a redirect from the page with the error to the correct page.

5. Find Spam Links

Spam links come from low-quality domains like PBNs or link farms.

These links can result in manual penalties or rankings decreases, so it’s a good idea to check for them during your backlink analysis.

No one signal tells you that a link is spammy. But there are some tell-tale signs you can use to identify toxic backlinks.

Here are three of the most common:

  • Irrelevant Country Code Domain - Look out for linking domains with a country code that doesn’t match your website or audience. An example of this is when you target an English-speaking U.S. audience but have a lot of backlinks from sites with a .cn (China) country code.

  • Suspicious Domain Names - Sometimes the linking domain name itself will be suspicious. Look for signs like the name not making sense, domains that hint at offensive or NSFW content, or domains from niches that are unrelated to your website.

  • Anchor Text - Link spam will often have anchor text that doesn't relate to your website. Therefore, the anchor text report is a good way to find suspicious links.

To dive a little deeper on anchor text - The signs to look for are similar to those you look for when trying to find suspicious domain names.

Look out for anchor text that is:

  • Gibberish

  • Irrelevant

  • NSFW or adult

Once you’ve identified links you think are spammy, you need to check out the pages to confirm that is the case.

Click on the links in your backlink checker to assess whether the link is spam.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Poorly written content

  • Templated or low-quality website design

  • No “About” or “Contact” information

  • Other articles on random topics with lots of external links

If the website tickets even just one or two of these boxes, it may be worth taking action to remove the link.

Google’s disavow tool makes removing links a straightforward process. Just create a list of all the domains you want to disavow and upload it to Google. Read Google’s official instructions to find out more about the process.

6. Analyze Your Competitors’ Backlinks

The final (optional) step is to perform the above steps for websites that compete with yours. This can provide great insight into the strategies your competitors are using.

Some of the things you can discover from analyzing a competitor’s site include:

  • The types of content that attract links by looking at the pages with the most links.

  • Which websites link to your competitors by looking at the sites they have incoming links from.

  • Content that ranks without many links. Creating similar content could be a good opportunity to rank without link building.

We have a complete guide to analyzing your competitor’s backlinks to learn more.

What to Do Next?

Once you’ve performed the above steps, you’ll have a much better understanding of your website’s backlinks. Use this to inform your backlink and content generation strategy going forward.

If you need guidance about the next steps, we have plenty of articles to help.

This page contains some of the most effective strategies you can use to generate links from high-authority pages. Meanwhile, this one shows how we use guest posting to land impressive links for our clients.