Conducting a comprehensive backlink audit is essential before you begin your SEO campaign because it helps to identify whether the link profile is good or poor. A good link profile means the links pointing to the domain are natural, with fewer chances of Google penalties.
A poor link profile means the links pointing to the domain are unnatural, and the chances of Google penalties are higher. A backlink audit is a significant step to keep your SEO campaigns in check.
This detailed backlink audit guide will help you learn the steps to follow to perform a link audit with the help of various tools. Learn how to evaluate links based on metrics to keep your rankings safe.
What is a backlink audit?
A backlink audit is a comprehensive analysis of all the backlinks pointing to your website. The primary purpose of a backlink audit is to identify any potentially harmful or low-quality backlinks that could hurt your website’s rankings.
Once these bad links are identified, you can then take steps to remove or disavow them. Some of the top backlink analysis tools you can use to audit links are Semrush, Link-Assistant, Ahrefs, CognitiveSEO, Majestic, Serpstat, etc.
Related: Backlink quality checks
The importance of backlink audit
Backlinks are one of the top factors influencing search engine rankings. The number one ranking position page on the SERP has 3.8 times more backlinks than other pages.
But, at the same time, we also can’t ignore the fact that bad or spammy backlinks can negatively impact a website’s SEO score. This is because Google evaluates all sources of links coming to your domain while ranking your website.
If your site has many toxic, low-quality, or spammy backlinks, Google may lower your search engine rankings or even deindex or penalise your site as it violates Google guidelines. It is essential to conduct backlink audits to find unnatural or toxic links and remove them to prevent adverse effects on your site’s rankings.
Here are the top advantages of regular backlink audits:
- A backlink audit helps you identify the percentage of relevant vs. irrelevant (spammy) backlinks.
- You can also identify potential backlink risks to avoid any possible Google penalties, such as the Penguin penalty.
- A backlink audit also lets you identify relevant link acquisition opportunities to improve the overall quality of your backlink profile.
- Audit reports have anchor percentages which let you know the percentage of exact match anchors vs. natural anchors. Ideally, your backlink profile should have a higher natural anchor score.
- You can find links with high spam scores and take action to minimise link penalties.
How to do a backlink audit?
To conduct a backlink audit, you can use a wide range of backlink audit tools such as Semrush, Ahrefs, Moz, or Website SEO Checker. You can also perform individualised manual checks too.
1. Prepare a list of your backlinks
Open the Semrush Backlink Analytics tool, enter your website URL, and hit the Analyse button. You will see a complete overview of your backlink profile, as shown in the image below.
You can see various insights, including Authority Score, Referring Domains, Backlinks, and Monthly Visitors.
You can check new and lost referring domains and backlinks on the same page.
Also, you can see the top categories of the links that point to your domain. To check the complete list of categories, view the full report.
You can see the most popular anchor texts linking to your domain on the right-hand side. The popularity of each anchor is determined by the number of backlinks used.
Semrush lets you know the types of backlinks your domains have, like text, image, form, or frame links. You can also check how many links are followed, nofollow, sponsored, and UGC.
Semrush also shows a breakdown of referring domains by their top-level domain type and top countries sending the most backlinks to your domain.
Click on the “Backlinks” tab to see all the backlinks. You can see all links with different metrics like source page and title, the number of links, internal links, anchor text, target URL, and first and last seen of the link.
You also have various filters that help you sort out the backlinks based on your requirements.
Now, you need to export the complete backlink profile to Excel or CSV file that we will use later in our backlink audit. Click Export > Excel, as shown in the image below, to download all the backlinks.
If you don’t have the budget to purchase premium tools like Semrush, Search Console can be an excellent alternative. Visit Search Console and open your website property.
Now, navigate to “Links” located at the left sidebar, as shown in the image below.
Here, you can see all the links data like external links, internal links, and top linking texts. Navigate to “Top linking sites” and click on the “More” button to see the complete report.
Now, you can see the total number of external links pointing to your website and the total links coming from each domain.
You can click on any domain to see the source and target URL, as shown in the image below.
You can export the list of all external links in Google Sheets, Excel, and CSV from the Search Console.
This helps you compare your link acquisition rate with your competitors.
Also, you can check your referring domains over time and compare them with your competitors. For this purpose, you can visit Semrush’s Backlink Analytics overview and navigate to Referring Domains, as shown in the below image.
Semrush allows you to check the link acquisition rate of the last year, or you can also check all-time data.
As you can see, the website has a rising graph, which means the number of referring domains is increasing. Here, you should check a sudden spike or downfall in the number of referring domains.
Here is a snapshot of the comparison:
2. Analyse your backlinks
Once you have successfully compiled a list of links pointing to your website, the next step is to evaluate every single backlink to identify its quality. Below, you can find a list of metrics you should check for all your backlinks:
Domain Authority (DA) is a barometer that measures the strength of a website’s domain. It is calculated by evaluating various factors, including link equity, age, and popularity.
Visit Moz Link Explorer and enter the website URL to get the Domain Authority, as shown in the image below.
Instead of checking the DA of each link manually one by one, you can use a bulk DA checker to check unlimited links at once.
Like Moz’s DA, there is DR (Domain Rating), a website quality check metric. You can check it using the Ahrefs Website Authority Checker, as shown below.
Quality sites have higher DA and DR. You should check all the domains pointing to your site as downloaded in the first step. You can use the bulk DA checker tool to check the DA of several domains at once.
Page Authority (PA) or URL Rating (Ahrefs) indicates the authority of the actual link page (from which your domain receives a link) as opposed to the domain URL.
A higher PA or URL Rating means that the page is high quality in terms of rankings on the search results. Similar to DA, you can use Moz Link Explorer to find PA, as shown in the below image.
You should check the Page Authority (PA) of all your links.
Referring domains are the domains that link to your website. Websites that have a higher number of referring domains mean that the site has high authority and ranking capabilities.
Check the number of referring domains your links have. It would be best if you double-check the links from sites with few referring domains.
The spam score is another important metric that helps evaluate backlinks. It can be checked using the Moz tool. Enter the website URL and go to the Spam Score option on the left sidebar, as shown in the image below.
As you can see, Moz also shows the overall spam score breakdown and a chart showing the number of linking domains on a scale of 1% to 100%.
You can also find a list of backlinks sorted based on spam score on the same page.
You can filter links with a spam score of over 5% to 10% and keep them in an Excel file for further action. You can use bulk spam score checkers like Website SEO Checker to save time.
You can also check the organic keywords of your backlinks’ domain because any site linking to your domain ranks for many keywords, meaning those domains are high quality. You can check this data using Semrush. Click on the down arrow to any domain (under Semrush Backlink Analytics) and see the “Keywords” as shown in the image below.
Acquiring links from websites with a lot of search traffic is more valuable. You can check traffic to a site using a tool such as Similar Web:
Similarweb also shows the traffic breakdown by country.
You can also check the breakdown of traffic by sources like organic, direct, social, referrals, email, and display ads.
It doesn’t matter which link building method you use to acquire links to your website; the website must be relevant to the targeted page you are trying to get a link from. For example, if you have a real estate website that provides services to customers, a link from a real estate blog is much more valuable than a link from a health blog.
Site search analysis
A site search can also be very helpful in the backlink audit process as it helps you sort out spammy websites. It is also important because sometimes spammy links have yet to be uncovered in the above tests. For example, a site with a good DA, PA, and spam score can also be spammy.
You can use the Google search operator to identify spammy links. Here are a few searches that are recommended for the site search analysis process:
- site:example.com “casino”
- site:example.com “gambling”
- site:example.com “adult”
- site:example.com “escort”
Now, let’s see how this process works. For example, Online News Buzz has the following metrics:
- DA 63 (Moz): pass
- DR 44 (Ahrefs): pass
- 3.6k Traffic (Semrush): pass
- 1% Spam Score: pass
As you can see, this website passes every metric, but when we do the site search analysis, we find the site is publishing content on casino topics. Here are some screenshots:
Avoid links from such websites unless you promote a casino website. One other thing you can do is check if you suspect a low-quality news site might be a private blog network (PBN) and check if they have an active social media profile. If they do not, then this could be another red flag.
It doesn’t make sense if you have links from languages other than your website language. For example, if your site is in English, but you have links from German, French, or other languages.
These types of links can be potentially harmful to website SEO. To identify such links, you can take the help of Semrush. Enter your domain in the Backlink Analytics tool and see the TLD Distribution report, as shown in the image below.
Now, click on backlinks and check every link you receive from other languages.
Anchor text analysis
Analysing your anchor text profile is a great way to find spammy backlinks. When you do this, you’ll notice that genuine sources will usually link to your website by using your brand name or keywords relevant to the context.
To check your anchor text profile, click on Anchors in Semrush Backlink Analytics to see the complete list of anchor texts used in links.
As you can see, Android Guys have a clean anchor profile. It would be best if you looked for unnatural and over-optimised anchor texts.
It takes work to check thousands of links one by one. Hence, finding the worst sites that link to your domain is better. You can use Semrush to find a list of spammy sites quickly.
Here is how you can check:
First, enter your domain in Backlink Analytics and click on Analyse.
Now, navigate to Backlinks and click on Page AS to sort out the low authority links at the top, as shown in the below image.
Once you sort the links from lower to higher authority, you can see all the poor links, as shown in the image below.
Look for links from the same IPs
It is also one of the best ways to evaluate links. In this method, you check and try to find links coming from different referring domains but with the same IP address.
To check links from the same IPs, navigate to Referring IPs and check which IP most of the links are coming to your domain.
As shown in the above image, we have multiple IPs with thousands of referring domains and backlinks. If you open any of these IPs, you will see all the links coming from the same IPs.
You should check links from the same IPs because too many can negatively affect your website’s SEO.
13. Find broken pages
Another critical aspect of a backlink audit is to find broken links on your website. There might be pages on your site having links to them, but those pages are now returning a 404.
We can find such pages using Semrush. Go to Backlink Analytics > Indexed Pages and select Broken Pages, as shown in the below image.
As you can see, Android Guys have several broken pages with many backlinks. You can also sort the results by the highest backlinks.
Once done, pick broken pages and see all the backlinks pointing to them. For example, one of the broken pages has 98 backlinks. You should 301 all such links to relevant pages.
3. Cleanup backlink profile
When you have identified a list of low-quality, toxic, or spammy links, it’s time to clean up your backlink profile. For doing this, we have two options, i.e., manual removal and disavowing.
Under the link removal method, you should contact the owner of the websites that don’t qualify for the above link evaluation tests and request them to remove your link. Here is an example link removal email template you can use to message web admins:
I am trying to remove some backlinks pointing to my website, [Your Website URL].
I would appreciate your help in removing these links.
Here are the links that I would like to remove:
Link: [Page URL where the toxic link exists]
Anchor: [Add the anchor text]
If you could please send a confirmation letting me know that the links have been removed, I would appreciate it.
Thanks in advance! I hope to hear from you soon.
In some cases where the website owner can’t be reached, you can disavow those links. Disavowing a link means telling Google not to consider those links while ranking your website on the SERP.
To disavow links, you have to use Google Disavow Tool. Open the tool and select your property from the drop-down list, as shown in the image below.
Now, you need to prepare the links to disavow file where you have to list down all the spammy links you would like to disavow. But, the disavow file needs to be in the proper format provided by Google here.
Here are what it looks like:
# Two pages to disavow
# One domain to disavow
Once the disavow file is prepared, you must upload it to the tool, as shown in the image below. Note that Google may take a few weeks to process the request.
Caution: Before uploading the file, double-check every single link so you don’t disavow any quality links by mistake. Disavowing toxic links should only be done when you suspect unnatural links, for example, bad backlinks that contain an unnatural anchor text distribution using rich anchor text keywords or that go against Google’s Webmaster guidelines (e.g., paid links, link schemes, etc.).
Conducting a backlink audit regularly helps keep your website’s SEO strong. This backlink audit guide explains what a link audit is, why you need it, and how to perform it to identify any suspicious or toxic domains linking to your website.
You should only focus on acquiring quality links, as one link from a high-quality domain is more authoritative than many low-authority links. Follow the steps discussed in this backlink audit checklist to examine the quality of links pointing to your domain carefully. Also, make sure to repeat your backlink audit once every six months.
Nick Brogden leads the company as Founder and CEO of Earned Media, acting as Chief SEO Strategist and primary client contact. Nick provides clients with personalised and expert SEO guidance that aligns with the industry’s best practices and has over 12 years of hands-on SEO experience. Have any SEO questions you’d like to ask Nick? Drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.