Table of contents
Today, we’re talking about backlink audits: what they’re for and how to use them. We always talk about building links or what high-quality links are, but we don’t really talk about performing a backlink analysis. We’ll start by talking about the backlinks themselves. Let’s dig in!
A backlink is a link pointing to your site. It can be an internal link, where your site is linked to the page, or an external link, where another site links to the page. Backlinks are crucial indicators of a site’s popularity and contribute significantly to the user experience. Search engines prioritize sites with high-quality inbound links because they signal relevance and authority. Consequently, search engines frequently revisit popular pages, recognizing their value to users.
However, not all links are beneficial. Bad links can harm your site’s standing with search engines. Penalties for such links can vary, from lower search rankings to severe Google penalties. On the other hand, good incoming links are characterized by relevant anchor text, appropriate destination, strategic placement, and high authority.
But what’s the difference? How do you know what high quality backlinks are versus poor quality? What exactly is a bad backlink?
Identifying Bad Backlinks
There are several characteristics that bad backlinks share, the most important being that they can negatively affect your site’s search engine ranking. They might be a case of unintentional linking due to coding or a copy-pasting mistake, or it could be due to spammy or malicious intent to try and lower your site’s ranking.
A bad backlink might also result from the overuse of exact-match anchor text, links from sources known for malware, or phishing activities. Bad or low-quality backlinks are considered undesirable for several reasons:
- Low-Quality or Spammy Sites: Links from websites that are considered spammy, such as those involved in link schemes or those that host illegal content, can harm your site’s reputation and rankings.
- Irrelevant Sites: Links from sites that aren’t relevant to your content or industry can signal to search engines that your site’s backlink profile is unnatural or manipulative.
- Paid Links: Purchasing links purely for the sake of improving SEO rankings is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Such links are often seen as inauthentic and can lead to penalties.
- Link Farms or PBNs: Websites that exist solely to create backlinks to other sites can devalue your website. These are typically part of a network created to game search engine algorithms, such as PBNs, or private blog networks.
- Over-Optimized Anchor Text: An unnatural overuse of keyword-rich anchor text in backlinks can appear manipulative to search engines, suggesting an attempt to influence rankings unduly.
- Negative SEO Attacks: Sometimes, a site might be targeted with bad backlinks deliberately through a practice known as negative SEO. This is when competitors attempt to harm your search engine rankings by creating low-quality links or redirects to your site.
Search engines, like Google, use sophisticated algorithms to identify and disregard these types of links. However, a lot of bad backlinks can still lead to a manual penalty or automatic downgrade in search rankings. It’s essential to monitor your backlink profile regularly and take action to disassociate your site from these harmful links, ensuring your SEO efforts lead to positive outcomes.
Conducting Backlink Audits for a Stronger SEO Strategy
Conducting a backlink audit is a critical part of any SEO strategy. It helps you understand the health of your website’s link profile, identify potentially harmful links, and uncover opportunities to improve your site’s authority and rankings. Here’s a simplified, step-by-step guide to conducting a thorough backlink audit:
1. Gather backlink data.
Start by collecting all the backlink data for your website. You can use tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, or Majestic. These tools provide comprehensive lists of all the domains linking to your site. For a thorough audit, consider pulling data from multiple sources to make sure you aren’t missing any links.
2. Consolidate and organize your data.
If you’re using multiple tools, consolidate your backlink data into one spreadsheet. Organize the data by backlinks, referring domains, anchor text used, and the target page on your site. This organization will help you analyze the data more effectively.
3. Assess the quality of your backlinks.
Evaluate the quality of each backlink based on several factors:
- How relevant is this backlink? Links from sites in the same or related industry are more valuable.
- How high of an authority score does the linking site have? Links from authoritative and trustworthy sites have a higher impact on SEO.
- How much traffic does the site get? Backlinks from sites with significant traffic can be more beneficial.
- Is it a NoFollow or a DoFollow link? Understand the mix of DoFollow and NoFollow links. DoFollow links pass more value, but a natural profile will have both.
4. Find and remove bad links.
Look for links from spammy, irrelevant, or low-quality sites. These can be harmful to your site’s SEO health. List these links and consider contacting the site owners to request removal. If removal requests don’t work, you can use Google’s Disavow Tool as a last resort. However, use this tool with caution, as incorrect use can harm your site’s performance.
5. Analyze your competitors’ backlinks.
Understanding your competitors’ backlink profiles can provide insights into their SEO strategy and reveal link opportunities for your site. Look for patterns in their backlink sources, and identify high-quality sites that might link to you as well.
6. Identify opportunities for new backlinks.
Based on your audit, identify gaps in your backlink profile. Look for opportunities to acquire new, high-quality backlinks. This could involve content marketing, outreach, guest posts, or participating in relevant online communities.
7. Regularly monitor your backlink profile.
SEO and backlink profiles are always evolving. Regularly monitoring your backlink profile will help you stay ahead of issues and adjust your strategy as needed. Set up alerts in your SEO tool of choice to notify you of new backlinks.
8. Document and report your findings.
Document your findings, actions taken, and any improvements in your site’s SEO performance. This documentation can help justify SEO efforts and guide future strategies.
Conducting a backlink audit can significantly impact your SEO strategy. It not only helps to safeguard your site from potential penalties but also identifies ways to improve your site’s authority and search engine rankings. Remember, the goal of the audit is not just to clean up bad links, but also to strategize on how to continuously build a healthy, robust backlink profile.
Strategies for Removing or Disavowing Bad Backlinks
The best step is to contact the webmasters of the websites that link to you. Be professional and polite, and ask for them to remove or fix the link.
The template below is designed to be adaptable depending on whether you are asking for a link to be removed or corrected. It’s important to provide all the necessary details to make it as easy as possible for the webmaster to understand and fulfill your request while maintaining a tone of mutual respect and understanding.
*** Email Template ****
Subject: Request for Link Removal/Correction on [Website Name]
Dear [Webmaster’s Name or Website Team],
I hope this message finds you well. My name is [Your Name], and I represent [Your Website/Company Name], which is located at [Your Website URL]. We recently conducted a review of our website’s backlink profile and noticed a link from your site [Their Website URL] that points to one of our [blog posts, landing pages, etc].
The specific link is found on [Exact Page URL where the link is located], and it points to [Your page’s URL that needs the link removed or corrected].
[Choose one of the following paragraphs based on your need:]
For Link Removal:
While we appreciate your reference to our site, we believe that this particular link may not align with our current SEO strategy/brand guidelines due to [briefly explain the reason – e.g., “it’s from a section of the site that no longer exists”, “it’s not aligned with our brand’s message”, or “it’s considered as an unnatural link by Google’s guidelines”]. Therefore, we kindly request the removal of this link.
For Link Correction:
We noticed that the link to our site is either broken or incorrect. The correct link should be [Correct URL]. We believe correcting this link will benefit both our sites by improving user experience and ensuring accurate information is shared. Could you please update it at your earliest convenience?
We understand and respect the effort that goes into maintaining your website, and we sincerely appreciate any help you can provide in resolving this matter. If you have any questions or need further information from us, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at [Your Contact Information].
Thank you very much for your time and assistance. We look forward to your positive response and continuing a good relationship between our sites.
Google’s Disavow Tool
Use Google’s Disavow Tool to identify bad backlinks, but only if necessary. Create a file of the links or domains, and submit the file through Google’s Search Console. Google will consider the file, assess the backlink profile, and possibly discount the impact of the toxic links on your website’s ranking.
Google has literally buried the Disavow Tool in Google Search Console. Many webmasters advise not to use it, especially since Google tends to devalue unnatural links with Penguin 4. Google isn’t penalizing spammy links; it’s just ignoring them. Every online company imaginable may have to one day deal with bad links, but you should first try to reach out to the source instead of using the Disavow Tool.
Importance of Ongoing Link Maintenance
Ongoing link maintenance makes sure that your website’s backlink profile remains healthy, relevant, and beneficial over time. This maintenance is crucial for several reasons, each contributing to the site’s overall search engine performance and user experience. Here are key points highlighting the importance of ongoing link maintenance:
1. Protect and enhance SEO rankings.
Search engines like Google use backlinks as a significant ranking factor. High-quality, relevant links from authoritative sites can boost your rankings, while low-quality or spammy links can harm them. Regularly auditing and cleaning up your backlink profile helps maintain and potentially improve your SEO standings.
2. Prevent ranking penalties.
Google’s algorithms, such as Penguin, are designed to identify and penalize sites engaging in manipulative link practices. By conducting ongoing link maintenance, you can identify and disavow toxic backlinks before they trigger a penalty, ensuring your site stays in good standing with search engines.
3. Identify lost or broken links.
Links can become broken or lost over time due to various reasons, such as changes in the linking site’s structure or content removals. Regular maintenance helps identify these issues so you can take action to regain lost link value, either by reaching out to webmasters for restoration or replacing them with other high-quality links.
4. Track your link relevancy.
The relevance of backlinks can change as a website evolves. A link that was once relevant may no longer align with your site’s current content or goals. Ongoing maintenance allows you to review the context of your backlinks continuously, making sure they remain aligned with your target audience and content strategy.
5. Enhance your brand reputation
Links from high-quality, reputable sites not only boost SEO but also enhance your brand’s reputation. By maintaining a clean, authoritative backlink profile, you signal to both search engines and users that your site is trustworthy and credible.
6. Find opportunities for new links.
Regularly reviewing your backlink profile provides insights into your current link acquisition strategies, helping you identify what’s working and what isn’t. It also opens opportunities to discover new linking partners and content ideas to further expand your link profile.
7. Improve your competitive edge.
Keeping an eye on your backlink profile—and those of your competitors—can offer strategic advantages. You can benchmark your link growth against competitors and identify link-building opportunities they might leverage to gain an edge in search rankings.
Ongoing link maintenance typically involves using SEO tools to conduct regular backlink audits, analyzing the quality and relevance of each link, identifying and removing or disavowing harmful links, and seeking opportunities for acquiring new, high-quality links. It’s a continuous process that requires attention and effort but pays off by securing and enhancing your site’s SEO performance and online reputation.
Ongoing link maintenance isn’t just avoiding penalties or fixing broken links. It’s a proactive strategy to continuously improve and safeguard your site’s SEO health, enhance user experience, and maintain a competitive edge in the digital landscape.
Preventing Future Bad Backlinks
Every online company should create solid link auditing and link-building strategies, whether you create them yourself or let the SEO experts do it (because it’s what we do, right?). Establish link quality guidelines, build relationships with reputable sites, monitor your social media venues, and educate your content creators about the value of creating good content.
Etch the following advice in stone. Create a schedule to perform backlink audits and maintenance. Remove toxic backlinks and create a strong backlink profile. As an SEO professional or website owner, it’s up to you to put in the work for your site to rank high in search results.