A healthy backlink profile is crucial to search engine optimization (SEO) success. But not all backlinks are created equal. How do you know which backlinks are helping your SEO and which ones are hurting it? And how do you identify areas for improvement in your link-building strategy?
The best way is by performing a link analysis.
What Is a Link Analysis?
Link analysis is the practice of closely examining all of the backlinks pointing to a website. During a link analysis, we dig deep into a site’s backlink profile to learn as much as we can about where these inbound links are coming from, what effect they have on SEO, and how they measure up against competing sites.
Why Is an SEO Link Analysis Important?
Performing a link analysis can help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your backlink strategy. Perhaps most importantly, a thorough SEO link analysis can highlight which backlinks are supporting your SEO goals and which may be negatively impacting your search visibility. Identifying “toxic” or bad links, which have the potential to harm your search engine results page (SERP) position, negatively impact your domain authority, and hinder your SEO efforts, allows you to minimize their damage and successfully disavow them.
Even if you’ve gone through the trouble of fully optimizing every other SEO signal, bad links, inconsistent link velocity, and under or over-optimized anchor text can still hold your site back from ranking well. Spotting and removing bad links early through an SEO link analysis is crucial to limiting the damage they do.
How often should you be on backlink watch? You don’t have to constantly monitor your backlinks, but it is definitely a good idea to schedule a regular link analysis for both your and your competitors’ sites.
What To Look For in a Link Profile Analysis
What should you look for while analyzing your links? Here are a few different things to keep an eye on when performing a link profile analysis.
What counts as a “bad link?” Bad links are those that hurt your site’s ability to rank in some way, usually by going against Google’s guidelines.
Google’s guidelines specifically warn web admins about link schemes (links sites obtain with the intent to manipulate search rankings). These can include links that sites build through private blog networks, blog comments, low-quality directory submissions, paid link services, link-building software, and other kinds of spammy or manipulative link-building processes.
Links that violate Google’s guidelines are subject to algorithmic or manual penalties that can harm a site’s ability to rank in the SERPs. If you’ve received a manual link penalty, you’ll be able to see it in the Security and Manual Actions section of your Google Search Console. If there’s nothing there but you still think something is off, you may be dealing with an algorithmic penalty instead.
While a link penalty may temporarily hurt your site, you can get to work fixing the damage right away by removing the links in question — otherwise known as link pruning or link remediation.
To get rid of a backlink altogether, you’ll need to contact the web admin of the referring domain and request that they manually delete it. In addition to requesting manual removal, you’ll also need to disavow the links through Google’s Disavow Tool. This will prevent Google from associating that backlink with your site even if the web admin won’t remove it.
However, make sure that the links you disavow are truly low-quality and hurting your site, as you risk removing backlinks that may actually be helping. Google usually only recommends using the tool if you have numerous spammy links you are certain are hurting your site.
What words are sites using in their backlinks? Anchor text refers to the clickable text in a link — the actual underlined words that someone clicks on when they move through a hyperlink.
Anchor text provides context, not just to visitors but also to search engines. Anchor text is an important ranking factor because it helps search engines like Google associate specific keywords with specific URLs.
That’s why the best anchor text is usually descriptive and related to the content of the page it is linking to. Google’s SEO Starter Guide recommends using anchor text that “provides at least a basic idea” of what the linked pages contain.
If you really believe that the anchor text associated with an inbound link is subpar, you can take action to change it. Like with toxic link removal, the best option is to reach out directly to the web admin of the linking site and request that they change the anchor text to something else. This can be a tedious process but can also potentially lead to you building a stronger connection with the linking site.
Number and Quality of Links
How many backlinks do you have and how valuable are the linking domains? A quality backlink will originate from a site with good domain authority (DA) and will feature both accurate and descriptive anchor text.
If you want to dive even deeper, you can also consider the engagement and social sharing potential of the linking pages. But if your main purpose is just finding and removing toxic or bad links, this won’t be necessary.
Ideally, what you are looking for is a combination of link quality and quantity — a healthy number of links that originate from high-DA sites that are relevant and feature good anchor text.
But there’s certainly no need to purge your site of medium and low-authority backlinks. A link doesn’t have to be top-shelf quality to drive traffic to your website. So unless it can truly be qualified as “toxic” and it is definitely hurting your SEO, it may be best to just leave it be, especially if you are regularly gaining organic traffic through it.
Link velocity refers to the speed with which the pages on your site gain backlinks. Some argue that a high link velocity is bad because it indicates that a site is quickly obtaining links through unnatural practices.
But there’s also been much debate over whether link velocity really matters. In 2019, Google SEO Guru Gary Illyes called link velocity a “made-up term” in a Reddit AMA. In theory, spiky growth can be problematic if it’s unnatural. But the reality is that different websites gain backlinks at different speeds. After all, wouldn’t releasing a great piece of content that attracts lots of links lead to a rise in link velocity?
However, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore link velocity altogether. One thing link velocity may be indicative of is a negative SEO attack. If your velocity is spiking and you’re noticing lots of new backlinks originating from spammy and low-quality domains, your site may be under threat.
Don’t limit backlink analysis to your own site. Taking a look at your competitors’ backlinks can provide you with valuable insights and new ideas for how to manage your current backlinks and plan your future link-building efforts.
Performing a backlink gap analysis between your own link profile and that of your competitors is a great way to see where your SEO may be falling short or where you’re ahead of the pack. A link gap refers to the difference in number and quality between the backlinks that your competitors have acquired and your own.
Start by identifying which competitors are most worth analyzing. Choose a competitor and find out how many ranked keywords your two sites have in common. The more common keywords you find, the more important this competitor is.
Then, take a look at the strong points of their backlink profile and at recent fluctuations in page rankings. This will not only show you what kind of content they are succeeding with but can also point you to the niches that they are focusing on right now. Keep an eye on things like the number of links they have, where they are coming from, and which ones are helping them the most.
Compare the results to your own backlink profile to find opportunities. High-quality sites linking to your competitors present an opportunity for outreach and you should add them to a priority list. Look for links that your competitor may have recently gained or lost and consider adding those domains to the outreach list as well.
Best Link Analysis Tools
There are a variety of different backlink analysis tools that can help you perform a thorough SEO backlink analysis. You don’t need to use all of them — find the one that gives you data you want. Here are four tools that I recommend for backlink monitoring, auditing, and analysis.
Ahrefs’ impressive database makes it a great choice for performing a link profile analysis.
The tool has an impressive set of features. It can provide a detailed breakdown of every backlink using domain-wide metrics, track the anchor text associated with each backlink, simplify the process of adding domains to Google’s Disavow Tool, monitor the growth of your entire backlink profile, and much more.
Using Ahrefs to check your backlinks is simple. Just head over to the Ahrefs Site Explorer and enter your domain into the text box. If you only want to analyze a specific section of your website, choose ‘Prefix’ from the drop-down menu. If you’d link to analyze the whole site, select ‘Domain.’ Once Site Explorer finishes pulling up the site’s data, navigate to the left-hand menu and click on ‘Backlinks’ under the Backlink Profile section to start digging through it.
Like Ahrefs, Semrush’s backlink crawling service is packed with reporting features that dig deep into your site’s link profile.
In addition to providing you with detailed info about the links pointing to your site and the domains they originate from, Semrush provides an overall toxicity score for your site and its pages, makes it easy to benchmark your profile to your competitors (in bulk), and lets you connect your email so you can quickly prepare and send out messages to web admins for link removal. Another cool feature worth mentioning is that Semrush allows you to set up alerts in case a surge of spammy backlinks indicates an SEO attack.
You can access Semrush’s backlink analysis, backlink reporting/auditing, and competitor link analysis tools from the left-hand menu of the site’s SEO dashboard.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) is one of the most important link analysis tools on this list because it shows you exactly what Google sees when it crawls your site. It may not be as feature rich or data heavy as some of the other tools, but it can still offer up valuable insights, and it’s completely free to use.
GSC offers a links report with information such as the most linked-to pages on your site, the sites that link to yours the most, the anchor text linking sites use, the number of backlinks from each site on each page, and the exact sites linking to those pages. You can access the links report by clicking the ‘Links’ option in GSC’s left-hand menu.
Unlike Ahrefs and Semrush, Majestic is a tool dedicated only to performing in-depth backlink analysis and nothing more. It packs a treasure trove of data into a clean and easy-to-use dashboard called the Site Explorer. From there, you can see various backlink data like the topics and categories that linking sites specialize in, charts and graphs showing backlink activity over time, your site’s backlink history, and whether different linking sites may be originating from the same IP.
Majestic’s tool is super easy to use. Just pull up their website, enter your domain into the textbox, and hit search. You can access a variety of tools from the dashboard’s left-hand menu to help you find out everything you want to know about your backlinks. You can run a free search with very limited capabilities or pay a monthly subscription to access more insights.
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Time To Build a Healthy Backlink Profile
Backlinks continue to be one of the most important aspects of off-page SEO, so regular link analyses are crucial to stay competitive on search engines. Our seasoned team can help you comb through your backlink portfolio, determine its health, and outline your next steps to improve your SEO. At Victorious, we can help you conduct comprehensive and actionable SEO audits, including a full link profile analysis. Then, we’ll implement a customized plan to reach your goals — whether it’s through link building, keyword research, content creation, or all of the above. Reach out for a free consultation to supercharge your organic traffic today.