Yearly medical checks are important to ensure our health and identify potential problems early. Without these check-ups, we would be in the dark about our health status and risk for disease.

The same is true for your SEO strategy. Conducting a link audit on a regular basis is critical to the health of your website and online presence.

Without link audits, you risk missing opportunities to improve your website’s link profile and increase traffic. You also put your site at risk for Google penalties if you have links from low-quality websites.

Today, we’ll show you everything you need to know about link audits. We’ll also provide a step-by-step link audit guide so you can perform your own audit with ease.

A link audit is a process of reviewing all the links pointing to your website. This includes both inbound and outbound links.

Link audits are important for two main reasons:

  • To ensure your website is only associated with high-quality websites. This helps to improve your website’s reputation and search engine rankings.
  • To identify opportunities to improve your website’s link profile. This can help to increase traffic and conversions from your website.

Besides, link audits help you to keep track of your link building progress over time. You can see which links are working well and which ones need to be improved.

More importantly, link audits help you spot patterns in your link profile. This can be helpful in finding link building opportunities that you may have otherwise missed.

For instance, you might find that universities and schools tend to link to your content. You can leverage this opportunity by reaching out to more colleges and universities to get links from them.

Or, you might discover that most of your links are coming from infographics. You can use this information to focus on getting more links by leveraging infographics in the future.

In short, link audits are a valuable tool for any website owner or SEO specialist. They help you to monitor your website’s link profile and identify ways to improve it.

1 – To Benchmark Your Site And Assess Competition

By auditing your link profile, you can see how effective your current strategy has been (or hasn’t been), where you sit in relation to your competitors, and uncover missed opportunities or gaps you need to address. 

If you don’t audit and benchmark what’s happened up to this point, you may run the risk of blindly running campaigns, or hiring agencies that don’t actually know what will get you results. While yes, just making loads of good content, and going all-in with link building and digital PR (i.e. throwing spaghetti at a wall) may still generate results – it likely will not generate results as efficiently as it should if you had an actual idea of your starting point, and how you compare to competing sites.

On top of that, if you can do a deep dive into your competitors’ backlink profiles, you can gain insights on where they have been acquiring links, and which of their assets have been particularly earning a lot of links. 

By knowing the source and context of the links they have, it can accelerate your own strategy, and you can replicate, or improve on what’s been working for them. 

2 – To Maintain a Natural Link Profile

There may be a number of reasons for having unnatural links – be it hiring an agency/person using questionable tactics without your knowledge,  you’re trying to rectify a historical strategy you used to run, or they have been acquired unintentionally. 

But regardless of how they ended up there, it’s another compelling reason to audit the link profile. 

If you do find unnatural links (or evidence of negative SEO) we’ll explain later how to deal with them – but you’ll need to take action to prevent any risk of manual action, or devaluation of your link profile in a later algorithm update. 

3 – To Find New Opportunities for Growth

Following on from point 1, once you have benchmarked your site’s backlink profile, you’ll be able to identify the content which has done well in terms of earning links – but also the content which hasn’t had any link acquisition – but would massively benefit from having inbound links.

4 – New Merger or Acquisition

Or maybe you’ve just acquired a new site or domain (or are thinking about it), or you’re acquiring a whole new company and you need to now assess the quality of the site’s backlink profile.

It’s crucial to know the current state of things, and if there is a history of PBNs, spam links, or even 301s/404s. 

If you are acquiring a site purely for the online assets, then your valuation of it may be affected by this – a poor backlink profile means more work to rectify it, or potential risk of future devaluation. While, a really good backlink profile where the owner hasn’t leveraged the full potential of that link equity –  could mean you’ve found a diamond in the rough.

If acquiring or merging with a company, you’re probably not even really factoring the online assets into the valuation – but it’s good to know what you’re dealing with, before you do a redirect, or decide to delete the website. 

You can quickly check if there are 301 redirects/redirect chains with an SEO tool. 

You can use Semrush’s site audit tool, create a project and plug in a domain you want to audit. You’ll have to wait some time for it to crawl the whole site, but once done just click on the Issues tab and search for “redirect chain”. 

Semrush's site audit tool

On Ahrefs, you also have a site audit feature.

Ahrefs site audit feature

Just click on the latest crawl, and you can use the”Redirects” filter to look for redirect chains as shown below.

using the”Redirects” filter to look for redirect chains

Now that we’ve covered the reasons why you need to do an audit, the thought of having to do a backlink audit may seem overwhelming. 

But luckily, there are tools you can bring in to help streamline your analysis – both free and paid options. 

  1. Google Search Console

Google Search Console can give you the backlink data straight from the official source – Google. And will give you some useful insights on things like the number of backlinks you have, the anchor texts of those links, your most linked pages, and most importantly, if you have any manual action against your site. 

It’s free to use, so it’s something you should always have access to, and it will be needed if you need to disavow any links at some point.

However, it is just going to give you access to raw data and won’t really help streamline any of the analysis or produce any calculated metrics to score your backlinks. 

Using GSC alone, you would have to export all the backlinks and manually review – which will take an age!

  1. Semrush

Semrush is a paid tool, and is quite a powerful solution if you need to audit your site. SEO tools like this offer a lot more than Google and will help speed up your link audit. 

For example Semrush will give you a quick snapshot of metrics like:

  • Number of referring domains
  • Number of referring domains in each niche category
  • Ratio of backlink types (i.e. text, image, form, frame)
  • Ratio of nofollow to dofollow backlinks
  • Authority score of backlinks
  • Top pages (by referring domains)

And much more. They’ve also introduced other features which are an amalgamated calculation of such metrics such as the Network Graph. 

Semrush's Network Graph

Semrush does also have a Toxicity Score metric, which it claims can analyze the presence of suspicious links. I’ll talk about this in more detail later, but it’s important to take the findings of this particular feature of Semrush with a pinch of salt. 

Pricing: It starts from $129.95 per month for the Pro Plan, $249.95 per month for Guru and $499.95 per month for Business. There are no other hidden charges however, although you’ll need to pay extra for features like .Trends or if you want to add multiple users.

  1. Ahrefs

Ahrefs is a popular backlink analysis tool, and is said to be one of the most accurate when it comes to its backlink database. 

Fairly similar to Semrush, it can give you insights on all the major metrics related to your link profile but has its own proprietary metrics like Domain Rating and URL Rating, to score those links. 

At TLG, we find the backlink analysis feature and filters, particularly quick and intuitive to use – this can help if you need to gain insights into a site’s link profile with very specific metric bars. 

One really cool feature they added is the “Best Links” filter, where you can cut down a site’s profile according to your criteria, and then you can apply that same set of metrics to multiple link profiles. 

Best Links filter in Ahrefs

Pricing: Lite Plan costs $99 per month, Standard Plan $199 per month, Advanced Plan is $399 per month, and the Enterprise Plan is $999 per month. 

However, one of the biggest drawbacks of Ahrefs is the pricing, and especially after the credit-based system they implemented – browsing through a site and picking through a link profile with filters, can start to rack up plenty of costs. 

So other than the flat rate you’ll pay for the plan, you will need to pay even more, if you exceed your allowed monthly credits.

I’d advise rationing out the credits as much as you can, and exporting link profiles for later analysis in Google Sheets/Excel if you know you’ll need to do a deep dive through a profile. 

  1. Moz

Moz is an old player in the world of SEO, and not one to be ignored. Using Moz you can look at metrics in a similar way to Ahrefs and Semrush, but again, has its own proprietary metrics to score links like Domain authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA). 

Snapshot of Moz's Link Research Overview Tab

While all third party metrics should not be used in isolation and are not necessarily a direct indicator of quality – DA is arguably up there as the best metric for analyzing backlinks. 

They also have another proprietary metric called Spam Score, to assess how spammy a backlink is. 

Pricing: It is also a paid tool, but you can test out some of their tools, as part of their free trial option.

It starts from $99 per month for Standard Plan, $179 for Medium plan, $299 for Large plan and $599 for Premium plan. 

  1. Majestic

Majestic when it comes to backlink analysis, is probably the most comprehensive, and has some very unique features not matched by other tools. 

For instance, aside from metrics like referring domains, and the referring domain breakdown – it has unique metrics like:

  • Trust Flow, which measures how authoritative that site is based on the authoritativeness of its backlinks profile. 
  • Citation Flow, which is a calculated measure of link equity.
  • Topical Trust Flow, which is a category it assigns to a site. Useful if you need to understand the niche of the links in your profile. 

It also has a great Link Graph feature, which visually maps out the network of links that surrounds a website.

The dark clusters help you identify areas of the profile that need to be investigated further, and can help you identify spam or PBN links. 

Majestic's dark clusters

The major downside to Majestic is the lack of keyword research features, and lack of organic traffic estimations.

Since we are doing a link audit here, this won’t be a huge problem, but since you can’t get a measure of the organic traffic, you can’t segment, or filter through the link profile based on traffic amounts. So it’s likely you’d have to use Majestic in combination with another tool like Semrush or Ahrefs.

Pricing: Starts from $49.99 for Lite Plan, $99.99 for Pro plan, and $399.99 for the API plan (comes with 100 million API credits)

  1. Others

There are a plethora of other tools available, but many of them have overlapping features with the main players. The pricing plans will vary, and some may have a different combination. 

Some of these include SpyFu, Mangools and SE Ranking

As a link building agency who has done backlink analysis for over 100 clients, (and analyzed at least 10 times that number of competitors) ranging from industries like SaaS, finance, ecommerce, health & fitness, cybersecurity and many others – TLG would recommend a combination of a few tools. 

Google Search Console is a staple you need to have setup, and you’ll need either one of Semrush or Ahrefs – in combination with Majestic for the link quality features. 

Now that we’ve covered the reasons for doing link audits, let’s take a look at how to perform one.

In theory, link audits as a concept are simple. All you need to do is review all the links pointing to your website.

However, in practice, link audits can be quite complex. This is because there are a lot of links to review and many factors to consider.

The bigger the website, the more complex the link audit. This is why it’s important to have a plan and process in place for conducting your audit.

Here’s a step-by-step link audit guide to help you get started:

Step 1 – Benchmark Your Link Profile

You need to start with the basics first, and get an overview of your backlink profile in terms of the volume, and a high-level breakdown. 

Get your high-level metrics

  • Total number of backlinks: This is how many links you have in total (nofollow and dofollow), and even counting the multiple links you may have from each linking domain. 
  • Number of referring domains: This filters out the multiple links you’ll have from each site, and essentially, how many unique links you have. 
  • Number of dofollow referring domains: This goes beyond just the number of unique linking domains, and filters further into the number of domains linking to you, via a dofollow link. This is the initial metric you want to look at, when making a like-for-like comparison in link numbers, between yourself and SERP competitors.

Next, you’ll want to export all the links pointing to your website. You can do this using Ahrefs, SEMrush, or a similar tool.

If you don’t have access to a paid tool, you can use Google Search Console to export your links. However, this method is less reliable and only exports a limited number of links, and you also won’t have the estimated metrics associated with each backlink as well. 

Categorize and compare your links

Once you have your list of links, it’s time to categorize your list by metrics like the linking domains domain/page authority, domain traffic or the type of link (e.g., follow vs. nofollow, if its a homepage or inner page link). 

You’ll want to gather all this data for your own site, and also compare it against your domain level competitors. Doing this in a sheet will take ages, so I’d recommend building out something with PowerBI or Excel which can do the analysis in bulk.

(If you’re a customer of TLG you can request this to be made for you.)

For example:

  • Homepage vs inner page distribution: could give some insights on how links have been getting acquired, and we’ve seen cases where a competitor has been beating a client with more links, because they have been able to get a larger proportion of their links to deeper pages.
Homepage vs inner page distribution
  • Domain authority/domain rating distribution of backlinks: No metric is definitive, but you can filter out most of the lower quality/low impact links by setting a DR/DA level of 10+, or 20+, and then looking at the distribution of links between you and competitors. If you are lagging behind in one of those authority level buckets, that shows you need to build something into your link building strategy to close that gap.

For example, if you have a competitor that has been getting more links in the higher authority buckets, that means some PR/HARO links will be particularly useful.

  • Domain traffic (of backlink) distribution: Similar to authority level distribution, it gives you insight into the size of the websites you and competitors have backlinks from. I tend to find it just confirms what I learn from authority level distribution. But, similarly, if you find that a site has done well from the domain authority distribution, but there’s a discrepancy with this – it could mean they’ve been engaging in link building with sites that have manipulated scores (probably buying links on link farms). 
Domain traffic (of backlink) distribution
  • Other metrics?: it depends on your preference and philosophy on measuring link quality, but you can also use metrics like Trust Flow, Citation Flow and/or Trust Ratio, and break down the link profiles that way as well. Setting a baseline of say, Trust Ratio of 0.5+, will filter even more links out, and help you gain even more clarity on the true quality of your link profile.

It also helps to visualize it as a graph like shown below:

Graphical visualization of DR, UR and Domain Traffic

Step 2 – Compare Link Velocity Against Competitors

After you’ve benchmarked your profile, compared numbers against competitors and have some high level idea of the link gap and distributions of those links – you next want to think about link velocity. 

This is important for a couple of reasons:

  • In comparison to competitors, is there a site building links faster, that you have to keep up with?
  • A higher link velocity in recent months – and ongoing – means a site has fresher links, which can be more impactful than a profile made up of relatively old links. 

SEO tools do give you a rough idea of backlink profile (like Ahrefs as shown below):

Studying backlink profile using Ahrefs

But, this counts all links regardless of it being nofollow/dofollow and quality- so you may have to take all the exported backlinks, filter for dofollow links and then do comparisons that way. 

So take your exported backlink profiles, do your preliminary filtering (such as DA 10+, Trust Ratio 0.5+ or whatever associated baseline metrics you used in step 1), and plot it in a graph like shown, to show the running increase in dofollow referring domains.

visualizing link velocity

This helps you visualize the link velocity, and also 

Then, reduce your analysis down to the timeframe you want to measure link velocity (I’d recommend looking at the numbers for both the last year, and the last 3 months), and that gives you an idea of velocity with which you’re building links vs others.

You may have a table like this – and I’d say it helps to have both your average and your mathematical median number of links per month. 

average vs median links per month

Step 3 – Perform Link Gap Analysis

Following on from Steps 1 and 2, you will start to build up a picture of your link gap – i.e. the deficit of links (after filtering), that the data suggests there is, between you and your competitors. 

Let’s take this example and imagine, we are the site at the bottom, comparing ourselves against the 3 competitors above:

Domain rating analysis of competitors

Aside from the gap we can see in high authority links –  we have only 69 links, in comparison to the competitor with 121 links. So that’s a link gap of 51 links off the bat.

analysis of average vs median links per month of competitors

Next,  look at the speed of link acquisition and calculate the average and median numbers.You’ll generally want to take the highest value of the 2. So we are acquiring links at a level of 9 per month, compared to 15 per month of the top competitor (worst case scenario). 

That tells us that aside from just the 51 link gap, we also need to account for the 15 link per month velocity of the competitor. 

If we say we want to close the link gap within 12 months then:

  • Top competitor will build 12 months * 15 links = 180 new links

Existing link gap = 51 links

Total competitor link gap in 12 months = 231 links.

  • 231 links divided by 12 months = 19.25 links. 

So our link velocity should = 20 links per month to close that link gap

We can also use the link gap at the page level as well –  if we are trying to secure top rankings, for highly valuable keywords.

Let’s take this example, where we analyze the first page for a target keyword, and after filtering the data get the following:

analyzing link gap at page level

Same principle as domain level analysis, but we are looking at the backlinks going to those pages, the distribution of those links and the link gap in comparison to our page. This shows a link gap of 119 links in this scenario which we need to close if we want to get into first page. 

You can also calculate the link velocity, to compare speed of link acquisition to the page as well. 

speed of link acquisition

Step 4 – Analyze Link Quality

Now it’s time to start analyzing your links. This is where you’ll identify which links are working well and which are probably not having any impact. 

The reason for assessing quality is simple – even knowing the volume of links you have, and what the data tells you in terms of the amount of links you need in comparison to competitors – won’t mean much if you allow the quality of links to deteriorate. 

At the same time, if you analyze a competitor and see that its propped up with a lot of low quality links (which you’ll get some indication of if you do a good job in step 3), then that shows you have a good opportunity to beat them on link quality. 

When it comes to finding low quality links in bulk: Link analysis tools, like Semrush, provide you with a toxicity score for each link. This score is based on a number of factors, including the quality of the linking website and the anchor text used.
Even though link toxicity scores may be helpful in some cases, you should also use your own judgment when reviewing links. After all, not all links that are considered “toxic” will actually hurt your website – so “toxic link” tools from the likes of Semrush and LinkResearchTools should be taken with a (big) pinch of salt.

The concept of quality is a bit subjective I know. Some claim its about the DA/DR level, others the amount of traffic, while others say its just relevance. 

What you’ll want to do when assessing your backlink profile, is have a checklist of things to look at. These include:

  • Relevance: Is the link topically relevant to your website? This could be at the domain level or page level.
  • Authority: Does the linking website have a decent domain authority? Not to use in isolation but having high authority links within the link profile is part of it. If the authority levels of the backlinks are good, that will often those sites themselves have enough backlinks as well. 
  • Anchor text: Is the link using keyword-rich anchor text? There should be a natural balance (which we’ll discuss later). Too many exact match keywords often indicates a lot of spammy link buying, whereas too little optimization on anchors indicates tactics that are not steered towards deep pages, or lack of diversity in tactics.
  • Inbound to outbound link ratio: What is the ratio of inbound links, to outbound links of the linking domains? Imbalance sites that have much more outbound links than inbound links (let’s say a ratio of 3 to 1), indicates a potential quality issue. 
  • Placement: Is the link placed in a prominent location on the page? (i.e. is it in-content links or sidebar/footer links.)

For example, if I’m going through my own backlink profile on Ahrefs, I’d be looking for indicators like this:

indicators to look for in the backlink profile on Ahrefs

Links that are recognisable names, have good authority levels, that have a large amount of domain traffic, backlinks going to the page, or even better, the page itself gets actual traffic. 

Not every link will be ‘perfect’, but you’ll want all links ideally, to hit at least some of the points we’re mentioning in this section. And when they’re not hitting those points, that tells you there’s a serious quality issue.

Step 5 – Analyze Link Types

There are a lot of different ways to acquire links, and you/competitors could be using a range of tactics to earn links. 

And this will yield links which follow specific patterns. There is no one link type which is “better” per se, than all the others, but all will affect a link profile, and interact, and impact a site in different ways. 

So as you’re going through your link profile, look out for the following link types:

  • Guest posts
  • Roundups
  • Resource pages
  • Resource Links/Niche edits
  • HARO & PR links
  • Directory and profile links
  • Blog comment and forum links

There’s many more link types than this, but these are some of the common ones you’ll find. The important thing is to be able to note the characteristics of these link types, so you can identify them. 

For example:

HARO and PR links: you’ll notice the anchor tends to be the company’s name, linking to the homepage. And it’ll often be beside the name of a representative at the company.

Guest post bio links: if the link appears in the bio, it’ll often just be the companies name, and a homepage link. 

Niche edits: If poor practice has been followed, and the site has been buying links on poor quality sites, they may have an abundance of keyword-rich anchors, on sites with poor traffic stats, and which are link farms.

Identifying patterns can help you to take a more targeted approach to link building in the future. For instance, if you notice that most of your links are coming from guest posts, you could focus on getting more links from other types of sources.

Or, if you notice that a lot of your links are using the same anchor text, you could focus on diversifying your anchor text in the future.

You might also reverse engineer links coming naturally to your website and focus on building similar types of links.

Ultimately, the goal is to identify which types of links are working well for your website and build more of them.

In Semrush’s Backlink Analytics section, it also allows you to get the breakdown of your backlinks, in terms of them being image, text, form or frame links. 

Semrush’s Backlink types section

You would want the majority of your links to be text links, although image links still have some impact – and in those cases the alt text acts like the anchor text.

Step 6 – Look for Spam Links, Negative SEO & Potential to Disavow

After analyzing your links, it’s time to identify which ones are bad. These are the links that you’ll want to remove or potentially even disavow – but more likely you’ll just want to stop building more of those types of links, and drown them out with good quality links.

Exactly what category they will fall under, and how much of a problem it is, depends on what you identify. Let’s go through the checks you can make.

  1. Check for a Manual Action

Go onto Google Search Console to find out if you have any manual actions. Just click on the “Security and Manual Actions” tab in the sidebar, and if you want to see this:

checking for manual actions on Google Search Console

But if you see a manual action, you will need to take immediate action, because otherwise it’ll be almost impossible to improve your rankings again. The cause of the manual action, will be stated in there (more info on that here) – and this often requires you having to disavow links, or rectify outbound links, or whatever it is they have flagged up.

After that, submit a reconsideration request to Google, and you may have to wait several days or weeks before you get an email reply about your case.

  1. Check from spammy & low quality links

Regardless of what you found in the first step, you’ll then want to check your link profile. The kind of links you’ll want to watch out for:

  • Adult websites (unless it’s relevant to your niche)
  • Gambling websites (unless it’s relevant to your niche)
  • Hacking websites
  • Paid, outdated  link directories
  • Low quality link farms
  • PBNs/Blog networks

Or any other link or group of links which looks very low quality or obviously unnatural. You may not necessarily have to disavow the links, but it’s good to at least have awareness of low quality/low impact links so you know your starting point. 

Very large peaks in backlinks, could also be a sign of negative SEO – as it suggests a large automated attempt to point links at your domain. While large dips in the number of backlinks, could mean someone is another form of negative SEO where someone is submitting fake link removal requests.

  1. Check your spam score and toxic link score

A few tools you can use to check these.

Moz – has a proprietary metric called spam score, which uses 27 signals to determine how likely a site is to be spammy. You can use this to assess the likelihood of spam within your backlink profile. Here’s how a report would look:

The lower the score, the better your link profile is. You’ll also be able to check for the spammiest links in your profile.

checking for the spammiest links

Semrush has a Toxicity Score metric, which forms part of their Backlink Audit feature.

Semrush's toxicity score metric

And it will flag up links that it believes to be part of link networks, or to be toxic links. 

As said previously, I think this can be useful if you really have a lot of issues with your backlink profile to sort, and you have clearly experienced some sort of penalty. But I have seen Semrush’s tool flag up links as toxic, when they are perfectly fine, and probably not causing any harm. 

And if anything, even if the links are of low quality, and make up a small proportion of your overall profile, you would be better served to just drown them out with better links anyway. 

  1. Check ccTLG link distribution and excessively linking domains

By checking your Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLD), you can identify if there are any red flags. 

Excessive numbers of links from countries unrelated to your domain and seem illogical is suspicious. Particularly a lot of .ru, .cn, .in and .info links. 

Check ccTLG link distribution and excessively linking domains

Next you also want to check your referral domains and see if you any websites are linking to you excessively. This often happens because of sitewide footer or sidebar links, and can be seen as an unnatural link, when there’s too much volume. 

In Ahrefs, go into Referring Domains, and sort by the highest number of “Links to target”. 

sorting by the highest number of Links to target in Ahrefs

And then click any targets which have excessive numbers and investigate further on what the linking page is, and the context of it. 

These aren’t always necessarily going to be serious enough to cause a penalty , but if those types of links start to take a significant proportion of your overall backlink profile, you need to investigate further before they do – either bad link building practice is being performed on your site, or its signs of a negative SEO blast. 

  1. Check your anchor text distribution

The anchor text being used on your backlinks can also shed light on your profile as well. Its natural to have a lot of variation – brand name anchors and anchors related to your article topic and business should make up most of it. 

Checking your anchor text distribution

We’ll talk more about anchor text later in this article, but at this stage, you can identify if you have anchors which look out of place. Particularly, if they seem to be related to unrelated topics like casinos, pharma, gambling, adult or loans. 

So let’s say you’ve found bad backlinks – what are the next steps?

Well what most people would say is to disavow. There is actually still debate about the efficacy of link disavowal and exactly how much it should be used. 

  • In most cases, you probably don’t need to do anything. All sites pick up spam and scraper links naturally. Google knows this and ignores them in the vast majority of cases. If they make up a small proportion of your overall link profile and you haven’t seen any manual penalty  – simply carry on as you were – and keep earning good links and look at other factors if you have experienced a drop in traffic and rankings.
  • But, if they are in a significant proportion, you have received a manual penalty, or look to be in danger of being penalized – you either need to remove, or disavow them. 

For example, if you’ve been knowingly using PBN (private blog networks) to build links, and you know you’re at risk of manual action, then go to your provider and get them removed.

If you can’t remove a link, you can disavow it. This tells Google to ignore the link instead of counting it against your website.

To disavow a link, you’ll need to create a text file with a list of all the links you want to disavow. You can then upload this file to Google Search Console.

Semrush have made this process fairly easy, in their Backlink Audit tool – where they have included the option to audit your links, and send them to a Disavow list.

Disavow option in Semrush

You cannot send it straight for disavow, but it sends those links to another tab, from where you can export your final disavow list. 

Just ensure to be clear if it’s all the links from that domain you want to disavow, or just that exact URL.

After finishing, go over to your Disavow tab, and download the list as a TXT file.

downloading disavow links as TXT file

Then go over to the Google Search Console Disavow tool, and upload your list.

Google Search Console Disavow tool

Step 7 – Discover The Most Linkable Content Assets

Knowing the pages which already have the most/best links, is useful for a few reasons:

  • It helps give you more context as to what’s been working for your site already, and where you need to focus your efforts to get even more links.
  • By applying the same technique to competitors and seeing where they are getting most of their links, can give you even more link strategy or content ideas to work with. 
  • You can leverage the pages which already have the most link equity, as part of your internal linking strategy to power up high value pages (i.e. like commercial pages)

In Ahrefs, you can easily check this with their Best by Links tool

Best by Links tool in Ahrefs

You can see in the example above, this site has a few articles which have the most referring domains – and if we had a competing site in the travel niche, we may want to write on these topics ourselves, as they look popular and are capable of earning links, or have a likelihood of doing well at outreach. 

Note: Sometimes if you are digging through a site with a very large backlink profile, you’d want to cut down the list with criteria like dofollow, setting a domain traffic bar or sites only over a certain authority level. 

Where it gets really interesting is beyond just content ideas, and you see linkable assets like tools, calculators, interactive maps or other such content types.

finding linkable assets from competitors backlink profile

In this example above, we can see a calculator asset, which has got quite a lot of links – and this might be an asset we’d want to replicate. By doing this for your own site, and competitors, you’ll start to build up a picture of the content types that work for your industry. 

Once you have the content created, its then going to require building out the strategies to capitalize on them fully. That’s where your link strategy creation will come in – and if done right, it can help you yield really niche relevant links.

Step 8 – Look for Content That Needs Refreshed

On the flipside of your findings in Step 7, you may also find content which isn’t doing that well. 

You’re either going to find:

  • Pages that have a lot of backlinks but still aren’t doing well in terms of rankings/traffic.
  • Pages that don’t have many backlinks and likely need to be improved. 

In either case, this highlights areas on the site that need to be refreshed. 

Now there could be a variety of reasons why that page isnt doing well, and that’s where you’ll have to audit a bit deeper, and scrutinize the content or asset. 

Some of those reasons may include:

  • User experience: elements on the page are ruining the experience, broken/litle graphics, to name a few.
  • Content value: the content is now outdated or just very weak compared to competing pages.
  • Search intent: it may not serve the searcher intent of that keyword. Perhaps it did in the past but Google has worked a lot at improving their algorithm in this area, so can happen if the content becomes old. 

Once you’re looking at the pages that compete with that piece on the same keywords, this is where you’d refer back to Step 2, and then look at the link gap – both at the page level, and the overall authority of those competitors. 

Even after improving your content, links may still be a major factor in improving rankings – especially with highly competitive terms.

Step 9 – Identify 404 Errors

404 errors happen when a link points to a page on your site that no longer exists. 

It’s not great for user experience – because if someone clicks through from that link, they’ll land on a 404 page instead of the content they were hoping to find. As well as that, the site that was linking to you, may eventually remove your link when they find out its a 404. 

It’s also not great from a SEO and link building standpoint – because the link equity that link used to pass, is lost. 

So, once you find 404s on your site, you simply need to do a 301 redirect to an appropriate page. Either the article which you intended to be the replacement for that content piece – or the next most relevant topic you can find. 

The more logically relevant the 301 redirect is – the better the link equity transfer will be, and the better that’ll be for user experience. 

You can do 301 redirects either via:

  • Editing your .htaccess file
  • Your site’s SEO plugin 
  • Your web hosting providers panel.
Note on 301 Redirects:
Ensure not to excessively rely on 301 redirects, or create too long of a redirect chain. I would say you can probably do a 301 redirect twice, for a page – especially if its from a completely different domain.
Once the 301 redirect chain gets any longer, you may erode some of the link equity, so use sparingly!

Ahrefs have made it easy to find 404 pages, with their Broken Backlinks feature. 

Ahrefs Broken Backlinks feature

In this example, we can see Neil Patel has some blog posts that no longer exist,and if we manually check, those pieces no longer exist. 

Also  – this is a really good way of creating broken link strategies, if you run a broken backlink report on your competitors.

If you find they had a really good content piece that is now a 404 – you can go and create a version of that yourself, and then snipe all the links for your own site by emailing those sites, and showing them your working (and updated) content piece. 

For example, here’s a broken backlink I saw where Neil Patel’s site had an “Ultimate guide to link building” piece, which is now a 404 page. 

broken backlink pointing to Neil Patel's website

Step 10 – Analyze & Compare Anchor Text Distribution

Anchor text is the text that’s used to link to your website. It’s important to use relevant anchor text because it tells Google what your website is about – and it’s still a strong ranking factor.

Here are some of the things you’ll want to watch out for:

  • The anchors need to be relevant. For instance, if you’re a plumber and someone links to your website with the anchor text “plumbing services,” that tells Google that your website is about plumbing. Your links need to have some kind of logical relevance.
  • They need to be contextual. This should be a given if you’re building the right type of links, but aside from just the anchors being relevant, they need to be surrounded by the right context. If you have an article about doing link audits – then it wouldn’t make sense being in an article about yoga stretches. 
  • Avoid excessive exact match anchors. While aggressively pursuing a keyword can help nudge rankings here and there – if you have overdone keywords within your anchors (moreso if done at scale over an extended period) it can have the opposite intended effect. 
  • Watch out for spammy anchors. As stated earlier, if you see out of place links to do with topics like adult, pharma, casinos (and it’s nothing to do with your niche), that’s something you’ll need to investigate immediately.

Naturally, you will want your anchor text profile to be a mix of keywords, partial match, branded terms, and generic terms as your anchor text. We discuss more about the different types of anchors here and the TLG approach to natural anchor text usage.

There also is no “magic formula” when it comes to aiming for a specific anchor text distribution. But if you can compile the data from your anchor text profiles and your competitors, and analyze it in Google Sheets/Excel, you can look at the data and understand the differences. 

anchor text distribution

This can be done both at the domain level, but also at the page level. Once you compare the anchor text distribution against the top ranking competitors, you have a more accurate data-driven, ratio of anchors to aim for, rather than the generic ratio strategy you may see on some SEO blogs!

Now, even though you don’t always have control over the anchor text that other people use to link to your website, there are a few things you can do to influence it and steer things in 

For instance, you can create linkbait content that’s designed to attract links with more specific anchor text. Or you can use guest post tactics, and get a bit more control over the anchor text if you need to pursue exact match/partial match anchors more aggressively. 

And if you need to get more branded anchors, then HARO and PR outreach will help. 

Ultimately though, your goal should be to get as many high-quality, relevant links as possible. By focusing on link quality over quantity, you can improve your website’s link profile and SEO performance.

Reverse Engineering Your Competitor’s Profiles

At this point, you should have a good understanding of how to perform a link audit. You also know how to identify and remove bad links.

But what about finding good links?

A great way to find link building opportunities is to look at your competitor’s backlinks. You can use a tool like Ahrefs to see all the links pointing to your competitor’s website.

From there, you can analyze these links to see which ones you might be able to replicate.

For example, if you see that your competitor has a lot of links from guest posts, you could focus on getting more guest post links.

Or, if you see that they have a lot of links from .edu websites, you could focus on building relationships with colleges and universities. If they’re able to get links from these websites, there’s a good chance you will be able to as well.

You can also use SEO intelligence platforms like Majestic SEO to add a bit more scientific approach to this process. Doing so will give you a complete understanding of the strategies that are working for your competitors and where they’re getting links from.

Majestic SEO’s TTF (Topical Trust Flow) gives you an idea of what Google considers “relevant” in your specific sector. 

For instance, if your competitors are getting most of their links from medicine or nutrition websites, it is likely an indicator that those sites are considered relevant in those respective topics. 

Just keep in mind that TTF isn’t 100% accurate.

Use your judgment, especially if you’re dealing with a small dataset or your results are skewed.

Reverse engineering your competitor’s link profiles is a great way to find link building opportunities.

Start by identifying how your competitors get links, then replicate those strategies with your content and outreach campaigns. This will help you build a more robust link profile in the long run.

Before we wrap up, let’s take a look at some common questions people have about link audits.

1. How often should I perform a link audit?

How often you perform a link audit will depend on your website and your industry. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to perform a link audit at least once a year.

If you’re in a highly competitive industry or if you’re trying to recover from a Google penalty, you may need to perform a link audit more frequently.

Also, before launching a new campaign or publishing new content, it’s a good idea to do a quick link audit to make sure there are no unforeseen issues that could hurt your SEO performance.

2. What are some common link audit tools?

There are a number of different link audit tools available, but some of the most popular include:

  • Ahrefs: Ahrefs is a powerful link analysis tool that can be used for backlink analysis and visualizing link growth velocity. 
  • Moz: Moz offers a number of different SEO tools, including a link explorer that can be used to audit your links.
  • Google Search Console: Google Search Console is a free tool that can be used to review your website’s link profile.
  • Semrush: offers multiple content and SEO related tools, including a backlink checker that can be used for link audits.

3. What is the difference between a link audit and a backlink check?

A link audit is a more comprehensive review of your website’s link profile. It involves analyzing your links to identify any potential issues.

A backlink check, on the other hand, is simply a review of the links pointing to your website. It doesn’t involve any deep analysis or interpretation.

4. What is the difference between a content audit and a link audit?

A content audit is a review of your website’s content. It involves assessing your content to identify any problems or areas for improvement. It also involves coming up with ideas for new content.

A link audit, on the other hand, is a review of your website’s link profile. It involves analyzing your links to identify any potential issues.

Both content audits and link audits can be incredibly helpful for improving your website’s performance. However, they serve different purposes and should be used as part of a comprehensive SEO strategy.

Performing a link audit is a preceding step to developing a link building strategy.

A solid audit not only uncovers your competitor’s link profile but also gives you clues on how to approach the actual process.

More specifically, a link building audit helps you determine:

  • Velocity: How fast do you need to acquire a specific number of links?
  • Volume: How many links do you need to achieve your goals?
  • Topics: What topics should you focus on?
  • Kinds of links: What types of links do you need to get?
  • Pages: What pages of your website should you focus on?

And many more.

Of course, developing a strategy out of an initial link audit is a long process, and definitely something out of the scope of this article.

In future guides, we’ll show you how to use business intelligence to develop your link building strategy and grow your quality backlink profile.

For now, just be aware that a link building audit is only the first step toward successful link building.

The real success comes when you use the insights you’ve gained to create and execute your link building strategy.

Conclusion

A link audit is an important part of any SEO or content marketing strategy. By regularly auditing your links, you can ensure that your website has a healthy link profile.

Performing a link audit isn’t always easy, but it’s well worth the effort. By taking the time to understand your link profile, you can identify problems and take steps to improve your website’s SEO.

Hopefully, this guide has given you a better understanding of how to perform a link audit. And, if you need personalized help with your audit, our team at TLG is always here to lend a hand.

Schedule a free consultation today and let us help you take your link profile to the next level.