1. Use the Right Tools

The first step to doing a backlink analysis is making sure you’re equipped with the right tools. There are plenty of quality options out there today. Many have similar features and functionality, leaving it up to you to determine which one works best for you. WooRank is one of the best tools out there, allowing you to analyze your site and look at backlinks and keywords. They also allow you to analyze your competitors. Find the tool that works best for you and your site and use it to your advantage.

WooRank backlinks audit section

2. Evaluate Your Total Link Profile

When Google evaluates links, its Penguin algorithm looks at several different criteria to determine their value.. It can be overwhelming to try to determine what information is important. These are the most vital metrics to look at:

  • Number of unique domains: Looking at the number of unique domains is a great way to see how competitive your site is. The ideal situation is to have the equal numbers of unique domains as links. That’s pretty unrealistic though. It’s more likely you have far more links than unique domains. Keep in mind, especially when you start looking at the number of links, that 50 links from 50 unique domains are much better than 500 links from one domain.

  • Anchor text: Anchor text is important because it provides a clue for search engines regarding what the linked to page is about. Google has recently started penalizing websites that over-optimize using keywords in anchor text. Make sure you have diversity when it comes to anchor text to avoid these penalties. A healthy link profile contains a good mix of keyword, branded and generic ("here", “this”, etc.) anchor texts.

  • Total number of links: This metric is important, but shouldn’t be looked at on its own. You may pat yourself on the back when you see you have 1,000 links and your competitor only has 500. But if all your links are coming from a single low-quality domain, and theirs from multiple quality domains, then they are really the ones winning. Watch the total number of links, but consider the other metrics before you begin analyzing how they’re impacting your website.

  • Incoming and fresh links: When you want to start looking at the effectiveness of a link building campaign, this metric is where you should look. A steady stream of new links coming into your site usually indicates that your strategy is working. If you see a sharp spike though, this is a red flag that could lead to Google believing your site is untrustworthy. This metric is also known as "link velocity".

  • Link quality: There are tons of tools that indicate poor link quality, but it’s always a good idea to do some investigating on your own. Tools usually lag behind Google in the updates meaning certain things get left out. We go more into how to determine link quality in the next step.

We’re just going to go ahead and say don’t determine the success of link building but PageRank. It’s an outdated metric that clients still cling to but it actually provides very little insight. However, if your page rankings or SERP drops noticeably after link building starts, it’s usually a sign that your backlinks are consisting of spammy, low-quality ones that are causing an algorithmic penalty from Google.

3. Evaluate Linking Domains

In the past, SEO companies would flood sites such as directories with links to their site. Google always frowned on this, and finally started penalizing this behavior a few years ago. Unfortunately, many sketchy SEO companies still try to do this. One sign of a good SEO agency is that they take their time to curate quality backlinks. Google is constantly rolling out new updates that continue to take down and penalize these sites and those that use them for backlinks.

Avoid any potential for a penalty by building links from quality domains:

  • Quality Website: Check if the website is indexed by Google. In Google’s search bar type in site:websitename.com . Replace "websitename.com" with the URL of whatever site you’re checking. If it doesn’t show up that means isn’t indexed. The best case scenario is any links from this site will provide no benefit. Remove any backlinks you have on that site. Other things to look at include rankings for branded keywords, how often content is published, and whether or not users engage with the site.

    Site: search operator in Google

  • Relevant Website: Relevancy is incredibly important. Users want solutions and answers that are relevant to their searches. Search engines are putting more focus on user experience, which means that relevant backlinks will play a greater role in SEO. If your market is niche, try focusing on secondary or broader relevant topics, or even bridging two topics. Just make sure you do this correctly to ensure search engines and users understand the relevancy. Links from topically irrelevant sites can be seen as signs of link spamming.

  • Link Location: Did you know that where a link is located on a page impacts how much link juice it passes? Links located on the bottom or sides of a page don’t hold as much weight as links that are located within the content. Links inside content are called contextual links. Google perceives contextual links, particularly if they’re on a trustworthy site, to be more valuable. Make sure that the links flow naturally within the content too. A quality contextual link is one that flows naturally within the surrounding text and doesn’t appear to be an obstruction. The easiest way to do this is to make sure the link’s anchor text is actually relevant to the surrounding content. Otherwise, it’s almost 100% spam.

  • Domain Authority: Backlinks from websites that have high domain authority carry more weight than those that have low domain authority. Primarily, domain authority is determined by factors like backlinks pointing to the site and how much authority those sites have. If a site has a high domain authority, it means they probably aren’t links to spammy sites. In SEO, it’s very easy to become guilty by association. If you get backlinks from a spammy site or a site that links to spammy sites, you may get that reputation as well. A site with high domain authority likely isn’t connected to low-quality links, so there is very little risk of being associated with them.

4. Inspect the Backlink Status

Backlinks can either be "dofollow" or "nofollow". A lot of people think that only having dofollow links is best since nofollow links by definition don’t pass link juice. However, a profile of nothing but dofollow links doesn’t look natural. Don’t discard a potential linking site just because it only uses nofollow links. Nofollow links, especially those from reputable, high-quality sites, can still actually have great value even though search engines don’t count them. They also create awareness, drive traffic and engage users - so don’t overlook them.

Don’t stop at analyzing your own backlinks, take a look at your competitors too. Looking at your competitors’ backlinks is a great, if maybe sneaky, way to find some new quality links for yourself. See if more than one of your competitors have a common backlink that you don’t. It could be an opportunity you’re missing out on. You could also take an opportunity to poach a link by improving on the competitor’s content and pitching it to the linking site.

Make sure you don’t just copy all of your competitions links though. They could be low-quality ones that you just spent so much time identifying on your own site, and having an identical link profile to someone else will risk a manual penalty.

6. Clean Up Your Link Profile

After you’ve checked the quality of the backlinks, the next step is to clean up any problem links you uncovered. For spammy or low-quality links use the Disavow tools to tell Google and Bing you don’t want those links associated with your site. Google advises that you first go directly to the webmaster to try to manually remove the link. Give them some time but if they don’t take down the link then go ahead and disavow it. Record any attempts at removing bad links to use in your reconsideration request if you get hit by a manual penalty.

Also look at broken links and crawl errors. Broken backlinks and 404 errors represent potentially lost link juice, meaning wasted link building efforts. Google also dislikes broken outbound and internal links, since they are terrible for user experience.

7. Repeat Process Routinely

Don’t think you can do a backlink analysis once and have that be enough. This should be done every few months, or even every month, to ensure that your links are still high quality and and that you haven’t lost any links. Since Penguin 4.0 now runs in real time, removing bad links (and building new good ones) can have a speedy effect on rankings.

It’s also a good idea to do a backlink evaluation after every new Google update as well. Sites with poor links are routinely hit during new Google algorithm updates causing them to drop in ranking rapidly. Make sure you stay on top of your backlinking so that this doesn’t happen to you.

Conclusion

Backlinks are a staple in the SEO industry. It’s one of the original practices that helped sites get recognized in search engines. SEO is constantly changing though, with the latest trend being a focus on user experience and optimization. Keeping your link profile clean and up to date is the best way to ensure continued rankings as well as to protect your site from future algorithm updates.

Building and maintaining quality links is also a great way to keep other channels to your site open, building valuable traffic that engages and converts.