A to Z backlink audit with new SEO SpyGlass
Even in 2019, backlinks still firmly remain one of the most powerful ranking factors. And just like quality links can get you to the desired Google's top, bad links can cause you helluva lot of troubles. Therefore, a backlink audit firmly stays one of the most important SEO activities of all times. And you have absolutely no excuse to skip it especially when:
- you're an SEO agency, and you need to audit your customers' sites for spammy links or Penguin penalty
- you've bought a domain and want to make sure there are no reputation-damaging links from the past
- you think of buying a new domain and want to check how it's doing backlink-wise
- you delegated your website's SEO to an agency and want to make sure they don't buy low-quality links
- you want to stay safe from negative SEO attacks
- you are a human being that owns a site 😃.
Luckily, with a tool like SEO SpyGlass, you can carry out an uber-effective backlink audit with minimum time and efforts wasted.
So without further ado, let me guide you through these simple steps to make your backlinks sound as a bell. Let's do this!
1. Get the full list of backlinks
The very first thing to do to start auditing your links is to get the total number of all webpages and domains that link to your site. With the SEO SpyGlass' new, updated, and constantly growing index, you can be sure no link will ever slip away from the tool's sight.
So to extract the full list of links and referring domains, you need to create a new project for your website.
- Start the tool, click New, enter your website's URL to analyze, check Enable expert options, and hit Next.
By default, there's a Domain and subdomains option enabled. However, you may also choose between Domain only or Exact URL if you don't have subdomains or you want to analyze one specific page.
At the next step, you need to specify the sources to pull the links from. I would recommend going for all the three options. SEO PowerSuite Link Explorer is our own crawler that gathers links across the Web. Google Search Console shows 40% of links (up to 100,000 rows of data) that Google "sees" at the moment, and Google Analytics collects the ones that bring you traffic. Combining these three methods will allow you to collect the most comprehensive list of links.
- So check all the three options, log into your Google Search Console and Google Analytics accounts, and hit Next.
At the third step, you can limit the number of links you are willing to collect as well as the number of links from one domain. By default, the tool offers you to collect 10 links for one domain to filter out sitewide links. As a rule, that's more than enough, so we can leave the default settings unmodified.
- Leave the settings as they are and hit Finish. Now give the tool some time; the full list of backlinks is on the way.
2. Initial clean up
To avoid turning your workspace into a mess and get rid of the links that hardly bring you any profit, we need to do some initial sorting out. So at this stage, we're going to get rid of missing and non-existing links.
As you may understand, you need to have only live and dofollow ones in your profile. And since SEO SpyGlass can visit every backlink page in real time, we can see its status and presence even ahead of Google.
So first of all, we need to check the status of every link you own.
- To do that, move to the Backlinks submodule, which is under the Backlink Profile, and click the Update Factors button. This process may take some time as the tool will have to visit every page that has a link to your site, so make sure to analyze no more than 5,000 links at a time.
Now that we've collected all the backlinks and updated their statuses, it's high time for us weeded out those that are missing and no longer exist.
- In the same Backlinks submodule, in the search bar in the top right corner, type "link is missing". Now you will be shown the full list webpages that no longer link back to you.
- Then select all the pages with the "link is missing" status, right-click them, and hit Remove backlink(s) from project.
- Now you need to repeat the same procedure for the pages with the "page not found" statuses and remove them just like in the example above.
At this point, you are supposed to get rid of backlinks that are of no interest to you and have a much cleaner profile consisting of dofollow backlinks mainly.
3. Measure links' Penalty Risks/ Identify spammy links
Now that you've cleaned up your backlink profile a bit, we can get down to analyzing your links. And, of course, the very first thing to do is identify toxic links. The best and least painful way to do it is with the help of SEO SpyGlass' Penalty Risk metric.
This parameter is calculated based on a huge amount of factors like the age of the linking domain, incoming and outgoing links, page/domain InLink Rank, as well as factors that characterize backlink profile diversity.
It's going to be much quicker but by no means less effective to analyze links' Penalty Risks by linking domains. That is especially useful for large sites with thousands of links coming from the same domain.
- Move to the Penalty Risk submodule, which is also under Backlink Profile, right-click the list of linking domains, and hit Update Penalty Risk.
- After that, click on the header of the Penalty Risk column. By doing so, you will sort the domains by riskiness (from the most risky to the least risky one).
As a rule, links with Penalty Risk over 70% shout for your attention and need to be investigated in the first place. Otherwise, they can get you under the Penguin penalty. The ones that are from 30 to 70% can be potentially harmful, and you'd better take a closer look at them. Links with a 0 to 30% Penalty Risk value are safe and sound, and we'll just leave them as they are.
- In the Penalty Risk submodule, click the arrow next to the domain with Penalty Risk over 70%, and check the page that links to you in your browser.
- As for domains with Penalty Risks from 30 to 70, click on the info icon next to them and have a look at the list of factors that caused such a Penalty Risk score. If you have not so many links in your project, you can check them manually as well.
4. Check if spammy links bring you traffic
Just before we get down to removing or disavowing the spammy links, we need to see whether they bring you traffic or not. You see, sometimes a spammy link may be a good source of visitors to your website. So don't be in a hustle to remove all the spammy links from your profile. After all, the last thing we want is a traffic drop, so let's check referral sessions to your site received through backlinks.
- To do that, you need to move to the Backlinks module, right-click the header of any column, and pick the Referral Sessions (GA) column to add to your workspace.
- After that, select the backlinks that you want to check traffic for, click the Update factors button, and select Backlink Traffic.
Now you can compare the Penalty Risk column to the Referral Traffic one and clearly see if some spammy links bring you traffic. So what you need to do is analyze the traffic value of these pages and decide whether it's worth keeping them or not.
5. Try to remove spammy links
After you've identified the reputation damaging links that also don't bring you any traffic, it's only right to remove them until they get you in trouble. So far, the right way to do it is by contacting website owners who pointed these links to you, asking politely to remove them.
So first of all, you need to add the Contact Info column to your workspace.
- In the same Backlinks module, right-click the header of any column, pick Contact Info from the list, and hit OK.
- Now select spammy links you want to get rid of and update the Contact Info column. After that, the tool will nicely present you with website owners' emails.
So now you only need to reach out to them and ask if it's possible to take down spammy links pointing to your site.
6. Disavow spammy links
If you don't hear back from website owners, which happens quite often, you may disavow spammy links with the help of the Google Disavow tool. Basically, it's the way of telling Google what backlinks to ignore when assessing your site. The good news is, you can now generate a ready-to-submit disavow file right in your SEO SpyGlass project. It's also as easy as pie.
- Select the backlinks you'd like to disavow, right-click them, and hit Disavow backlinks.
- Now you need to decide whether it's just a link or a whole domain that you're willing to disavow.
Sometimes it's much better to disavow the whole domain as disavowing a single link leaves you at risk of missing other spammy links coming from the same domain.
- After you've moved all the needed pages to the disavow list, go to Preferences > Disavow/Blacklist Backlinks and choose the action (Disavow, Disavow/exclude from updating, Blacklist).
You can simply disavow the backlinks, disavow and also exclude them from all your future project updates, or disavow and blacklist the links — they will be removed from your project for good.
- Once you're done with your disavow list, hit the Export button and save it in a separate folder on your computer.
- At this final step, you need to go to the Google Disavow tool and submit the disavow file we've just generated. By doing so, you'll make Google understand what backlinks to ignore while crawling your site.
7. Turn nofollow links into dofollow ones
As you may know, nofollow links are not counted by search engines, pass no link juice to your backlink profile, and, therefore, are considered a bit less useful. However, you can try to make some profit even from nofollow links. Basically, all you need to do is reach out to "link owners" and ask them to make those links dofollow. This can be especially useful if nofollow links in your backlink profile are of high authority, as this can significantly boost your rankings.
To make it all happen, we need to assess the backlink quality of nofollow links. This can be comfortably done with the help of SEO SpyGlass' InLink Rank metric. Just like Google Page Rank algorithm, it evaluates a link on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the number and weight of incoming links to a certain page.
First of all, you need to filter backlinks according to their statuses.
- So type in "nofollow" in the search bar in the upper right corner, and the tool will show you all your nofollow links.
- After that, update the InLink Rank column — and you'll get the full list of nofollow links accompanied by their InLink Ranks.
The next thing to do is get website owners' emails.
- So add the Contact Info column and update it to make the tool collect all the needed email addresses for you.
Now that you've calculated backlinks' authority and collected emails, you need to get in touch with the website owners whose nofollow links have the highest InLink Ranks. Just ask them if it's somehow possible to replace a nofollow link with a dofollow one.
8. Check linked pages
At this point, you're supposed to have a clean backlink profile with reliable links that bring you profit. So the last thing we're going to do is make sure your backlinks lead to live and accessible pages of your site.
- What you need to do is move to the Linked Pages submodule and update the Linked Page Status Code column.
At our next stop, we need to detect pages with 404 Not found statuses.
- Just type in 404 in the Quick filter bar in the upper right corner, and you'll be soon given the full list of links that point to inaccessible pages.
So after you've spotted them, go ahead and fix your error pages or create redirects to other pages.
9. Balance disavowed links with some new ones
Now that you've cleared out your backlink profile, it's fair to feed it with some brand new links. Of course, the best way to grab yourself some is to steal them from your competitors. And SEO SpyGlass' ability to compare your backlink profile to the ones of your competitors' makes the tool your perfect partner in crime.
So let me show you how you can identify strong and weak sides of your backlink profile as well as discover new link-building opportunities.
- Move to the Domain Comparison module and hit Add Domains. After that, type in the domains of your SEO competitors, or add projects you have already created and saved.
There is a nice opportunity for you to see what links you have in common. Just move a bit down to the Link Intersection tab — and that's it.
You can also switch to the Prospective Domains and enjoy a huge list of new link-building opportunities collected especially for you.
10. Maintain a "healthy" backlink profile
If you're still reading, congrats on surviving through your first backlink audit! The first one is always the hardest. But now that you're done, it's going to be much easier for you to maintain your backlinks. There are only 3 recommendations by following which you can always keep your backlink profile safe and sound.
First of all, you need to make regular website audits your habit. By doing so, you will always be aware of the state of your backlink profile and able to take action in time. With the generous help of SEO SpyGlass' Scheduler, you can set particular tasks to be run at a specified frequency.
- To do that, you need to go to Preferences > Scheduler, hit the Add button, and choose the task type.
- Then specify the task settings, enter the task name, and hit Finish.
That's it! Now the tool will run regular backlink audits without you having to raise a finger.
Another thing I can strongly advise you to do is regularly monitor your competitors' backlink profiles. By doing so, you can get an idea of how your own profile can be improved as well as discover new priceless backlink opportunities.
If you are an SEO agency, it's also a good idea to treat your clients with fully customizable SEO reports to always keep them updated. Doing this will ensure that not a single detail slips away from your and your customers' sight. So move to the Reports module and check them out.
Well, that's it for backlink audit. I know that there's no surefire way to do it, and every SEO does it differently. So go ahead and share your backlink audit routine in the comments. And may the force of SEO be with you.