Run an in-depth backlink audit
(with the help of SEO SpyGlass)
Discover all links to your site & get rid of the ones that are hurting your rankings
Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors to search engines. And it's a pretty simple idea: the more reliable, relevant resources link to a page, the more useful and valuable that page must be (and the higher rankings it deserves). Similarly, 'bad' backlinks (links from spammy or irrelevant sources) are treated as indicators of poor quality, diminishing the page's value and authority in search engines' eyes and often resulting in ranking penalties. This is why evaluating the status quo and auditing your site's backlink profile is the first off-page step to take. It's crucial that you do that before you even consider a link building campaign — this way you'll be able to eliminate all links that may threaten your rankings, and then start clean with building fresh, high-quality links.
Step 1: Get the most complete list of your backlinks
To run a comprehensive and accurate backlink audit, you should definitely start with getting a complete list of webpages that presently link to your site.
How-to: Find backlinks with SEO SpyGlass.Run SEO SpyGlass, enter your website's URL and let the software collect all your backlinks.
Tips: 1. Pull backlinks from Google Search Console and Google Analytics. For an even more comprehensive backlink picture, you may want to use all 3 backlink sources integrated into SEO SpyGlass. To do this, check the Show expert options box at Step 1 of creating a project, and you'll be able to pick backlink sources at Step 2. SEO PowerSuite Link Explorer is used by default — it's our in-house link index that's updated non-stop, in real time. You can also select Google Analytics and/or Google Search Console to complement the backlink search.
2. Check if all the links are still in place. It's not always possible for link indexes to keep up with all the changes on the Web, and some backlinks that no longer exist in reality may still be kept in SEO PowerSuite Link Explorer, Google Analytics, or Google Search Console. Thus, when you analyze your site's backlinks, you may have some non-existent backlinks messing up your stats.
That's where SEO SpyGlass' real-time link checks come in handy. To check your backlinks in real time, go to Backlink Profile -> Backlinks, select the backlinks in your workspace, and hit . Deselect all factors to be updated and only keep Page factors under Internal factors selected. Hang on a little while your links are being checked. When the check is complete, examine the Links Back column: it will show whether each link is indeed found on the page (Yes), is found on the page but has a nofollow attribute (Yes (Nofollow tag)), or if it has been removed from the page (No (Link Missing)).
If there are any links with a No status in your project, you can safely remove them from the project completely (right-click the link and hit Remove backlinks from project) to make sure you aren't wasting your time on analyzing links that no longer exist.
Step 2: Assess your backlink profile as a whole
A link profile is made up of individual links — but before you look into the details of each of your links individually, you need to understand how they are performing together, and identify the core strengths and weaknesses of your link profile as a whole. You can do that in the Summary section of the Backlink Profile module in SEO SpyGlass. Here, you’ll find your total number of backlinks and a wealth of important stats on them.
How-to: 1. Compare your Total Links vs. Linking Domains. The total number of backlinks your site has is a good starting point in understanding how strong your backlink profile is. Yet multiple links coming from one and the same domain are considered to have lower value, so unique linking domains are typically a more reliable metric than link count.
Your link profile will obviously have considerably more total links than linking domains, but your aim is to have as even a ratio as possible.
2. Check the dofollow vs nofollow ratio. While it's true that nofollow links do not have SEO weight, a natural link profile can't consist of dofollow links only, so your best option is to have a natural mix of nofollow and dofollow links.
If nofollow links prevail in your backlink profile, it's a signal to rethink your link-building strategy and try to focus on acquiring more SEO-valuable dofollow links.
If there aren't any nofollow links in your profile, this may be a flag that your links were acquired in an unnatural manner and you need to further investigate your profile for other traces of spammy techniques.
3. Assess your link profile growth over time. Check with the Backlink Progress and Linking Domains graphs to see how your site's number of backlinks has been growing. Look for spikes to figure out which of your marketing activities (content, campaigns, etc.) have been especially successful in attracting links.
4. Analyze how many backlinks are coming from homepages. As the homepage is the most authoritative page of a website, links appearing there can be easily deemed as paid links — especially if their number is excessive.
If links from homepages considerably exceed links from internal pages in your link profile, pay extra attention to these links and make sure they were built naturally.
5. Check backlink countries. When it comes to backlink countries, just like with other aspects of link audit, you should keep in mind your links' diversity. Yet the rule of a thumb is that if you optimize your website for a specific geo-location, your aim is to get maximum location-relevant backlinks.
Say, if you're a UK-based business that targets a local market, but most of your links are coming from USA-based websites, it's high time for you to switch to getting links from local sites.
6. Check top anchor texts and keywords. Irrelevant anchor text, keyword stuffing, or too many identical anchors can get you in trouble with search engines and cause a ranking drop.
If your obvious anchor text leaders are commercial anchors with lots of money keywords, it's high time to start an anchor-text diversification campaign.
7. Examine the linked-to pages. Most links your site receives will typically point to your homepage — the first level in the structure of your website. However, you need to balance those links by a number of other links going to deep internal pages of the website.
If you have very few links pointing to your internal pages, it may be a good idea to launch a thought-out content marketing campaign that earns more backlinks for your deeper pages.
Step 3: See how your links compare to competitors'
The next crucial step in evaluating your link profile is checking how it compares to your main competitors — to identify your site's strong and weak points and see what will help you outrank your competition.
How-to: Add competitors' sites for comparison. In your SEO SpyGlass project, navigate to the Domain Comparison module and specify the URLs of your top SEO competitors. Voila! Your backlinks will be compared to those of your top ranking rivals against a bunch of crucial link factors, with a 1 to 5 overall rating assigned to each site.
Tips: 1. See where your competitors' links intersect. Looking into the intersection in your competitors' backlink profiles can give you insight into their link strategy — and help spot some valuable link building opportunities for your own site.
To do this, go to the Link Intersection submodule (still under the Domain Comparison module) to see the domains that link to two or more of your competitors but not to you.
2. Explore competitors' links in-depth. When you were adding competitors to the comparison, SEO SpyGlass created a project for each of them in the background. In the Projects drop-down menu, select a competitor you'd like to look at in detail, and hang on a moment while SEO SpyGlass loads all the data. Switch to the Summary module for an overview of the competitor's link profile. The anchor-related part can be especially useful for ideas on new anchors for your links. Anchor diversity (unique anchors divided by backlink count) is also an important metric to consider — it'll give you a solid idea on how many of your anchors you need to optimize for your target keywords.
Step 4: Pinpoint potentially dangerous backlinks
Now that you've reviewed your link profile as a whole, it's time to spot the potentially dangerous links in it. The most convenient way to go about this is to analyze link quality by domain — it is considerably quicker and no less effective. Especially if you have a few thousand links or more, evaluating them by linking domain is going to save you tons of time.
How-to: Calculate Penalty Risk. In SEO SpyGlass' Backlink Profile module, switch to Linking Domains — here, you'll be able to review & analyze the domains that link to your site. Go to the Link penalty risk tab. Select all domains and hit .
Hang on a moment while SEO SpyGlass is checking the domains. When it's done, click on the header of the Penalty Risk column to sort the domains by their riskiness.
Roughly, a link with a 0 to 30% risk value is usually considered safe. A link in the 30 to 70% range may potentially be harmful, so it's recommended that you take a closer look at it. A Penalty Risk of over 70% is considered high and calls for immediate action.
For details on why any one of the domains is considered risky, click the i button next to the domain's Penalty Risk value. This will reveal a list of factors that make links from this domain potentially risky.
Step 5: Re-check suspicious backlinks manually
It's up to you how "strict" your backlinks cleaning-up will be, but removing lots of backlinks at once may cause a ranking drop, so, not to overdo with link removal, you need to smell-test the suspicious links manually and get rid of your links in the most "glaring" cases only.
How-to: Examine the risky linking domains. Still in Backlink Profile -> Linking Domains, switch to the Linking domains quality tab, and go through the available columns to double-check all the suspicious links you've found. Select the domains and click to check if the domain is relevant to your topic, if it's indexed in search engines, if the anchor text seems natural, and if the website itself is trustworthy.
Tips: 1. Explore domains' social signals. It's never been officially confirmed that social signals are used in search engines' ranking algorithms. Yet social media stats are important indicators of visitor engagement with any website, and can thus give you a good idea of the site's quality.
Still in the Linking domains quality tab, check with Page Facebook Popularity, Page Google+1's, Page LinkedIn shares, etc. to see how your backlink pages are performing socially.
2. Check how much traffic each backlink brings. Although not an SEO factor, stats on traffic through backlinks let you see which of your links bring actual visits to your site.
Switch to Backlink Profile -> Summary and go to the Traffic coming through backlinks workspace. To check how many visits each link brings, go to Preferences -> Preferred Backlink Factors, select Visits to Your Site, and hit OK. Back in the Traffic coming through backlinks view, select your backlinks and hit , selecting Visits to Your Site once more. Specify your Google Analytics credentials at the next step, and the tool will sync with your GA account and gather the traffic stats.
Now, you can see how many visitors each of your backlinks has brought in the last 30 days in the Visits to Your Site column.
3. Use tags. You may want to tag some of your backlinks at this stage, so that you can quickly sort out all the links that require further action (e.g. if you plan to contact the webmaster to ask for link removal). To tag a backlink, right-click it and choose Add tags to selected record.
Step 6: Have harmful links taken down
Once you've identified dangerous links in your backlink profile, it's time to get rid of these reputation damagers. The most commonly used method of doing that is by contacting the webmasters of sites that link to you, and simply asking them to take the links down.
How-to: 1. Get webmasters' contact details. To save time on digging up contact info manually, you can get webmasters' email addresses right in SEO SpyGlass. To do that, go to Preferences -> Preferred Backlink Factors and select Contact Info from the list of available factors. Click OK. In your SEO SpyGlass workspace, right-click the header of any column to open the workspace editor. Add a Contact Info column to your workspace (by double-clicking it in the list of available columns on the left), and click OK once more. Now, select the links you'd like to get contact details for, hit the Update factors button, and select Contact Info to be updated. The column you've just added will now populate with email addresses of webmasters (if available on the website).
2. Reach out to webmasters via email. Copy the email addresses SEO SpyGlass found for you, and send out emails to webmasters. If you only found a couple of spammy links, you can easily do that by composing a personal email for each of the webmasters — but if we're talking about dozens or hundreds of harmful backlinks, you may want to create an email template requesting link removal. In either case, make sure you introduce yourself in your email, mention your position (e.g. SEO or site owner), explain that you are trying to prevent (or recover from) a search engine penalty and would appreciate it if the link was removed, specifying the URL of the page you found the link on.
Step 7: Disavow links you're unable to remove
If you have a large number of spammy links to your site, or if you don't hear back from the webmasters you contacted asking to remove the links, you can tell Google to ignore these links by disavowing them. You can easily generate a disavow file right in SEO SpyGlass.
How-to: 1. Add links to the disavow list. In your SEO SpyGlass project, select the backlinks you'd like to disavow. Right-click the selection, and hit Disavow backlinks.
2. Decide if you're disavowing the backlink or the domain, and add comments. In the menu that pops up, choose whether you'll only be disavowing the backlink page you just added (Backlink), or the whole domain that links to your site (Linking Domain). At this step, you can also add a comment to the records you're disavowing. Comments are useful for your own future reference - whenever you review or edit your disavow file later, you'll instantly see what kind of sites you were disavowing and why.
3. Export your disavow file. After you've added all links you're about to disavow to the list, go to Preferences -> Disavow/Blacklist Backlinks. At this stage, you can edit the comments by double-clicking any comment to make changes. Clicking Add lets you add links to your disavow links, and clicking Remove deletes selected records from the list. In the Choose the action menu, you can select whether you'd like to simply disavow the backlinks, disavow and exclude them from all future updates you make in the project, or disavow and blacklist the links (have them removed from the project completely).
Once you're happy with you disavow list, hit the Export button and select the folder to save the file in so that you can upload it to Google Webmaster Tools.
4. Upload your disavow file to Google. In the Google Disavow Tool, select your website and upload the disavow file you generated. That's it — you've told Google which of your backlinks to ignore, and your site is all set to start clean!
Tip: Mind that every new disavow file you upload to Google will overrite the previous one. If you've already submitted a disavow file for your site, make sure your new file includes the previously disavowed links in addition to the ones you're disavowing for the first time.
Your link profile is all clean and shiny!
Now that you are done with backlink audit and free from spammy links, you've got a clean link profile to start working on. It's time to start building relevant, high-quality backlinks to win search engine's trust and respect.
Create a winning SEO campaign with SEO PowerSuite:
- Find your target keywords
- Check current visibility in search engines
- Detect on-site issues and fix them
- Optimize your pages' content
- Get rid of harmful links
- Build new quality backlinks