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illustration of a blog post: How to Do a Backlink Audit (and Why It Matters)
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SEO 8 min read

How to Do a Backlink Audit (and Why It Matters)

Natalie Yelton photo

Written by Natalie Yelton

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed

Dallin Porter photo

Expert reviewed by Dallin Porter

Marketing Director @ Galactic Fed

Published 10 Jun 2021

We’ve all been there.

Out of the blue, traffic to your company’s website dips. 

Taking a closer look at the situation, you try to get to the bottom of what could have caused the drop in organic traffic. You double-check for out-of-date content. That’s not it, though. 

A common culprit of a ranking hit is a backlink that’s turned harmful. In 2021, links remain one of the most important ranking signals in Google’s search algorithm, alongside evergreen content.

Findings from over a billion web pages don’t lie - as the number of referring domains goes up, so does search traffic:

Referring domains vs. Search traffic via Ahrefs' content explorer index.

Source: Ahrefs

It’s important to understand that a ton of backlinks doesn’t automatically boost traffic to your website - the type of backlinks that point to your site matter. There are quality backlinks that are great for your site’s SEO. Then there are toxic backlinks that act as kryptonite, weakening the SEO of your website over time. That’s why it’s so vital to weed out the bad backlinks from the good.

So how do you ensure toxic backlinks (we’ll explain what these are later on in the blog) aren’t negatively impacting your search engine ranking? 

You guessed it - by performing a basic backlink audit! 

Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of what makes up a backlink audit and why your company should undertake one regularly. If you’re entirely new to backlinks, have a read of our introduction to link building to get your head around the basics before getting started.

What’s a backlink audit?

A backlink audit is the process of reviewing all of the links currently pointing to your website. Firstly, you’ll need to locate them. Next, you’ll identify the harmful and quality ones. And lastly, your company will develop a backlink strategy to manage them. 

You can review all of your backlinks manually by downloading a complete link list using Google’s Search Central:

Google Search Console "start now" page.

Source: Google Search Central

Suppose your business has a sizable website with a vast amount of referring domains. In that case, it might be worth looking into a third-party backlink service, as undertaking an evaluation on your own could take a substantial amount of time and resources if you are new to performing a backlink audit.  

What’s a quality backlink?

A quality backlink is a relevant and naturally-placed link that points to your website from a high domain authority site. Said site is well-trusted by both search engines and web searchers. 

Simply put, not only do Google’s site crawlers trust the website, but real human beings do too. It’s widely believed that the more trustworthy a website is, the higher its domain authority will be, thus providing higher quality links.

Not sure if the site pointing to your own website has a decent domain authority? A quick search using SEO Review Tool’s Website Authority Checker can show you what you need to know:

Website Authority Checker gif

Source: SEO Review Tools

What’s a toxic backlink?

Google’s Penguin Algorithm update may sound cute, but it’s serious business. Initially launched in 2012 and updated in 2016, the main objective of Penguin is to identify and penalize sites that have toxic or irrelevant backlinks. This practice is also referred to as black hat link building. 

Google is well aware of sites carrying out dodgy link schemes in an attempt to boost their rankings. If a site is buying links or obtaining them through networks built to boost Google rankings, Penguin will most likely sniff it out.

A backlink audit in four basic steps  

Follow Galactic Fed’s tried and tested four simple steps to performing a basic backlink audit:

  1. Capture and analyze every backlink your company has 

First, you need to locate all of the links that are currently sending traffic to your website. Using Google’s free Search Console tool, you’ll be able to pull up a complete list of your backlinks, both good and bad:

  • Log into your Dashboard and click ‘Search Traffic.’ 
  • Click ‘Links To Your Site.’
  • View the total number of backlinks to your website.

Google Search Console "start now" page.

Source: Google Search Console

Be sure to check out other valuable categories like the ‘Who links the most,’ which shows you which websites provide your company with the most backlinks. You can also view your most linked content and even see how other websites link to your content, for example, what anchor text they use. You can also use other backlink analysis tools to evaluate your portfolio.

  1. Disavow or remove 

Once you’ve identified all of the good and bad backlinks currently pointing to your site, you’ll want to either remove or disavow all of the toxic links that exist:

Essential questions to ask when disavowing links.

Source: Moz

If you receive a manual action against your website for an unnatural link, or if you think you may be about to receive one because of a paid link or link schemes that violate Google’s quality guidelines, reach out to the site to ask them to remove the link as soon as possible. 

If you’re unable to get the link removed, you can use Google’s disavow the unresponsive site using Google’s disavow tool.

Galactic Fed strongly recommends taking a cautious approach to disavowing for the following reasons:

  • Google is able to identify spammy sites at a page-level and knows to devalue them so it does not affect your ranking.
  • Sites naturally accumulate a number of low-quality links pointing to them over a period of time, but if it neither presents ranking issues nor negatively impacts the sites’ overall SEO, disavowing is not necessary.

We suggest disavowing links if the following issues exist:

  • There’s a dramatic jump in low-quality links that correlate with a sharp drop in rankings based on your backlink profile.
  • There are previously paid links coming from sites with suspicious backlink profiles.
  1. Review your anchor text for spam 

Anchor text remains a significant ranking factor in the eyes of Google, and it’s nearly impossible to manipulate.

There are several free online tools available online for searching your anchor text for spammy or irrelevant links.

Ahref’s offers a free backlink checker and a more comprehensive, paid-for version that allows you to run a full anchors report quickly and easily if you’ve got a bit of a budget.

  1. Spot and build on valuable, high-quality link opportunities 

Performing a backlink audit not only helps your business identity toxic backlinks that need sorting out it can also present opportunities for building high-quality links to your site that didn’t exist before. 

Reach out to site owners where you identify lost or broken links. Identify web pages on your site where more backlinks could be created. Spot gaps and build an outreach list using competitor data you analyze on Google’s Search Console. 

Performing a backlink audit to protect organic traffic to your website 

Follow Galactic Fed’s four steps to undertake a basic backlink audit; your organic traffic will thank you. If you’re thirsty for more backlink tips, check out our five link-building strategies you need to know in 2021

You can also learn how our recent SEO and link-building strategy for a fintech start-up increased backlinks by 276%. If you’d like to see similar results, contact us today!

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Natalie Yelton photo

Natalie Yelton

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed