Backlink audits are essential to understanding your link profile.
Why people link to your website
The pages they link to
Potential problems, such as spam links
With this information, you can create more effective link building strategies and avoid the risk of a Google penalty.
This article will highlight eight steps you should take when performing a backlink audit.
What Is a Backlink Audit?
A backlink audit is a thorough analysis of the links that point to your site. By reviewing your backlinks, you’ll identify harmful links and find opportunities for future link building.
Performing a backlink audit is an essential step whenever you take over a new site. It shows exactly what you are working with and lets you fix any errors before implementing other strategies.
You can also use a backlink audit to benchmark your website’s metrics before conducting a link building campaign. When you know your start point, you can tell if the strategies you implement are generating links.
You should also consider performing a backlink audit if you have an existing site that you haven’t yet audited. You may find opportunities that you didn’t even know existed, such as posts that have organically attracted a lot of links.
Why Perform a Backlink Audit?
There are three main reasons to perform a backlink audit:
1) Benchmark Your Site
A backlink audit provides essential information about your website’s backlink profile. You can use this to benchmark your website.
Use the data to measure the impact of your link building efforts. Or you can use it to compare your website to those of your competitors.
2) Discover Bad Links
Bad links affect how your website ranks on Google. Too many external links from link farms or PBNs—whether or not you generated them intentionally—can result in penalties.
While Google’s algorithm is increasingly able to ignore such links, some do get through. If you suspect that links are affecting your rankings, it can be best to remove them.
A backlink audit will highlight problematic links. You can then use this information to assess whether you think the links are negatively affecting your website. If they are, you can take steps to remove the links.
3) Find Opportunities
A backlink audit is also essential for finding backlink opportunities. And the results of your audit should influence your future campaigns.
For example, you can see the type of content on your website that generates the most links. Creating more content like this can result in even more links.
Before You Start: Choose a Backlink Audit Tool
You need tools to perform a backlink audit. There are several you can use that are both free and paid.
Three of the most popular are:
1) Google Search Console
Google Search Console provides backlink data straight from Google. It provides a ton of useful insight, including:
Total number of links pointing to your site
Most linked pages
The sites that link to your pages
Manual penalties (if you have any)
Google Search Console is completely free. The biggest issue is that it doesn’t provide as much link context as other tools.
This makes it difficult to assess link quality and spot problems or opportunities using Search Console alone.
Ahrefs is a popular link building tool, and it’s the one that we use at LinkBuilder when performing SEO audits.
It provides a ton of information into your backlink profile, such as:
Number of referring domains
Your Domain Rating (DR). This is a score that rates your backlink profile out of 100 compared to other websites
You most linked pages
Anchor text data
The country of the linking websites
The biggest benefit of Ahrefs over Search Console is that it provides a ton of context around each link. And DR is an easy way to assess the link profile of both your website and others.
The biggest issue is that Ahrefs pricing starts at $99 per month.
Moz is another popular SEO tool that provides plenty of essential backlink information.
You can see:
Total linking domains
Total inbound links
Domain Authority (DA)
Linking sites by Domain Authority
One of the best metrics offered by Moz is Spam Score, which is a quick way to assess how spammy a site’s backlink profile is.
Moz pricing starts at $99, although you can try out most of the tools for free.
4) Other SEO Tools
Most SEO tools will provide the metrics you need to perform a backlink analysis. SEMRush, Majestic, and SpyFu are all good alternatives to the above list.
How to Perform a Backlink Audit: An 8 Step Process
1) Benchmark Your Website
The first step in any backlink audit is to get an overall view of your backlink profile. Use this information to assess how your website is currently performing so you can measure improvements.
Factors you need to discover include:
Number of Backlinks
This is the total number of links pointing to your site. Count each link, even ones that come from the same domain.
Number of Referring Domains
This is the number of domains that link to your site. If a single domain links to you multiple times, only count it once.
Number of Dofollow Links
Dofollow backlinks are those that Google’s algorithm considers when ranking websites. They are far more valuable than nofollow links.
Your Website’s Authority
Most SEO tools provide a domain authority score based on the quantity and quality of the links that point to your site. Use these metrics to get a quick overview of your site’s backlink profile.
We use Ahrefs’ DR, but Moz’s DA and SEMRush’s Authority Score are popular alternatives.
Your Backlink Acquisition Rate
This will show you how fast your site has been acquiring links. When you start a link building campaign, you’ll want to acquire links at a faster rate than this.
Noting all these metrics will provide you with a clear overview of your current website’s backlink profile.
2) Discover the Content People Link To
The next step is to discover the content on your website that people already link to.
This information is essential because:
Articles people already link to are good candidates for linkable asset outreach campaigns
Creating content similar to the content that already generates links is a good way to get more links
You can use internal linking to direct link juice from your most linked pages to high-value pages
You can easily find your pages with the most links in Google Search Console by clicking on “Links” in the sidebar and then viewing the “Top Linked Pages” report.
You can also use Ahrefs or Moz to get more information about your top pages.
On Ahrefs, just click the report for “Best by links” in the “Pages” section.
Example: Top Pages on Neil Patel’s Website
Below are the pages with the most links on Neil Patel’s website.
Of the top four pages, one is a free keyword tool and one is a page with lots of statistics relating to page loading time.
If I was Neil Patel and I wanted to build links, I would consider building more free tools, creating more statistics pages, or building content around page speed.
The chances are that Neil has already run a backlink audit and come to the same conclusion.
That’s because some of his other most linked pages include:
Free tools for A/B testing and SEO analysis
Several articles on page speed
A page filled with content marketing statistics
Simply Creating Content Isn’t Enough to Generate Links
You also need a strategy for getting your content in front of people. After all, people can’t link to content if they don’t know it exists.
This could mean using a blogger outreach strategy, creating linkable content around keywords you think you can rank for, or using a PR link building campaign.
3) Look for Link Types
There are many ways to generate backlinks. Knowing the types of links your site already has can inform your future campaigns.
This is a good step to take if you are new to a website, whether that’s because you have just bought it, or because you are taking over SEO from a previous company.
Head to the “Backlinks” section in the “Backlink Profile” menu of Ahrefs to see all your links. You can also order the links by DR to see those from authoritative sites first. Or filter the list so you only see dofollow links.
Common types of links to look out for include:
- Guest Posts - Guest post backlinks are when you write articles on other websites that link back to your own. They are a great way to generate high-quality links and also allow you to link to specific pages on your website.
- Roundups - Roundup articles are those where multiple experts provide their opinion on a particular topic. If a website has a lot of links from this type of article, it could suggest it is using a service like HARO to generate backlinks.
- Niche Edits - Niche edits are paid backlinks. It’s when one website pays another website to link directly to them. A clear sign of paid backlinks is when a website has a lot of links with keyword match anchor text. Or if they have links that don’t appear to be adding much to the article. If you see a lot of this type of link, it could be a sign that the website has used this link building strategy before.
4) Identify and Disavow Harmful Links
This is a very important 'defensive' play.
So far we’ve focused on discovering SEO opportunities. But you should also use a backlink audit to identify potentially harmful links. You can then take steps to remove these links.
Here’s how to do it...
Step One: Check for Manual Actions
If you’re taking over a new site, the first place to look is Google Search Console to find out if you have any manual actions.
Just click on the “Security and Manual Actions” tab in the sidebar. Hopefully, you’ll see a “No issues detected” message like in the image below.
But if you see a manual action, taking care of this should be your priority as it will be very hard to rank with this in place.
The manual action message will provide more information about your next steps, but it will likely involve removing or disavowing bad links.
You can then submit a reconsideration request to tell Google that you have fixed the issue.
To do this, you just need to upload a spreadsheet with all the domains you want to disavow in Google Search Console.
Google provides further information about how to do this here.
Step Two: Check for Spammy Backlinks
Even if you don’t have a manual action, it’s still a good idea to check your website for spammy backlinks.
Check Your Moz Spam Score
One of the easiest ways to do this is to use the Moz Spam Score. It shows the percentage of links coming from sites with similar features to those penalized by Google.
You’ll see a breakdown like the one in the image below. The lower your Spam Score, the better.
Moz also shows a list of your links organized from highest to lowest spam score. This is an easy way to identify potential culprits to remove.
Check Your CTLD Distribution
Country Code Top-Level Domains (CTLD) are the domain endings that suggest a website is from a particular country. For example, .co.uk for the UK, or .in for India.
Links from websites with CTLDs unrelated to your website are often suspect. If all your content is in English but you have a lot of links from China, these links may be spam.
You can see this information in the Ahrefs “Backlink Overview” report.
Most websites will generate some links from countries that aren’t relevant to their site. And not all of these links are spammy.
But if the percentage of links from these countries is disproportionately high, you should look into why this is the case.
Anchor text is the words that people attach the link on your site to. Most often, people will use branded anchor text or anchor text related to your articles.
You can see examples of this in the image below—it shows the anchor text for running magazine Runner’s World. The most-used text either relates directly to the brand, or to running-related topics.
You may have a problem if a lot of your links have anchor text that is unrelated to your website content. We put together a guide which discusses optimal anchor text optimization.
Be especially aware of anchor text relating to topics like casinos, loans, or pharmaceuticals.
What to Do If You Find Bad Links
If you find harmful links, you have two basic options.
The first is to simply leave them. All websites attract spam links and Google is typically quite good at ignoring them. If your website has a relatively small percentage of bad links and you’re generating traffic from Google, you probably don’t need to do anything further.
But if you have a lot of bad links and are worried that they may cause a manual penalty from Google, you can disavow the links.
5) Look for Content Refresh Opportunities
A backlink audit can highlight opportunities to increase your traffic by refreshing stale content. The idea is to identify pages on your website with a high number of links but not much search traffic.
You can then refresh the page and optimize it for a specific keyword to give it a better chance of ranking.
First, you need to head back to the top pages by links report in Ahrefs.
You can then click on the drop-down menu of each page to see an estimate of how much organic traffic it receives.
If you notice a page has a high number of links but not much traffic, it could be due for a refresh.
The key to improving your rankings is to identify why the page doesn’t have traffic despite its links.
There are several reasons why this may be the case:
The page is old and needs an update
The page isn’t well optimized for SEO
The page doesn’t meet what search engines consider to be the searcher intent for the keyword
What Is Searcher Intent?
Searcher intent is what Google thinks a user is looking for when they search for a particular keyword. You have the highest chance of ranking when your page meets what Google considers to be the right intent.
It’s easy to discover searcher intent by looking at the articles that already rank for a keyword.
Take the query “Best SEO tool.” All articles that rank for this term are lists of tools. If your article targeting the keyword is all about why your product is the best SEO tool, you stand little chance of ranking. In this situation, you should update your content so it is a list.
6) Identify 404 Errors
404 errors occur when a link points to a page on your website that no longer exists.
It’s bad for the user experience because when someone clicks through the link they get an error instead of the content they want. It’s also bad for link building because the link juice from a referring website is lost when it goes to a 404 error.
The good news is that there’s an easy solution. All you have to do is redirect the old URL to a new page on your website.
Once you do this, anyone who visits the old page will be sent to the new one. And the link juice will also be directed to the new page.
Ahrefs makes it easy to find 404 errors. All you have to do is click on the “Broken backlinks” report in the “Backlink profile” sidebar menu. This will highlight all the broken backlinks on your own site as well as the pages that point to them.
Below you can see three broken backlinks on Backlinko.com.
When we click on one of these links (from Neilpatel.com) we can see it takes us to a broken error page.
Once you’ve found broken links you need to set up a 301 redirect to a new page on your website.
This is relatively easy to do using either:
An SEO plugin like Yoast
By editing your site’s .htaccess file
By using a tool provided by your website host
Optional Step: Check Your Competitors
Once you’ve completed all the above steps you should have a very good idea about your website’s backlink profile.
A final optional backlink audit step is to perform the same checks on your competitors’ websites. This will help you compare your site’s backlink profile to the profiles of sites you compete with.
You can use this information to see places where you can improve and gain inspiration for your next link building strategy.
We have further information about how to check your competitor backlinks here.