The backlink audit is the black-licorice jelly bean of SEO.
It’s the task that most SEOs least like.
It’s often avoided until it’s the last thing on the SEO to-do list.
And just like the dreaded black-licorice jelly bean overwhelms other candies with its strong flavor, the backlink audit affects every other SEO task around it.
We put off doing backlink audits, not necessarily because it’s such an awful job—although, for larger websites, it can certainly be time-consuming and tedious—but because it’s almost always done when a website is at risk or in trouble.
You’re already under pressure, and then this challenging task is your only way out.
But what if I told you it didn’t have to be this way?
While I can’t help you with those licorice jelly beans sitting at the bottom of the candy jar, you’ll be glad to know that there’s a relatively simple way of performing a full backlink audit of your website that doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out or throw your computer across the room!
Using Monitor Backlinks as my tool of choice, I’m going to show you how to do a complete audit in six simple steps so that you can keep your link profile under control and give your site the best chance of ranking.
When Should I Do a Backlink Audit for My Website?
Like I mentioned above, backlink audits are usually the reluctant last resort that SEOs turn to when their website is in trouble and they need to find and fix the source of the problem.
You’ll typically perform a backlink audit if you’ve received a penalty, or if you’ve lost a large amount of traffic after an algorithm update.
Finding yourself in either of these situations means that your website has been flagged by Google, and you’ll need to bring it up to scratch with their quality guidelines if you want to regain your rankings and traffic.
Now, as you can see by these two primary reasons for prompting a backlink audit, most SEOs perform audits reactively. By that I mean that first their website gets in trouble, and so they do an audit to try and find the issue and fix it. Essentially, they react to a problem.
And that’s usually why the job is such a difficult one. They’re under pressure to fix their website as quickly as possible and overwhelmed by the amount of data that they have to go through.
But there’s a much better way to go about backlink audits, and that’s proactively. The ideal time to perform a backlink audit is at regular intervals, say, every three, six or twelve months (depending on the size of your website and link profile). This allows you to flag link issues before Google does, and means you’re preemptively tackling any potential problems instead of reacting to them after they’ve already negatively affected your site.
Plus, doing a backlink audit regularly also means that there will be less data to go through between audits, making your job much easier. And if you’re using Monitor Backlinks to keep an eye on your link profile round the clock, then you’ll have an even better idea of what to expect with each audit, further reducing the amount of time and labor involved.
How to Run a Complete Backlink Audit in 6 Straightforward Steps
Now, without further ado, let’s begin the audit!
1. Pull the Data
The first step is to collect all the data you’re going to be working with.
Monitor Backlinks makes this easy under the Backlinks tab, where you can see all the links pointing back to your site and you can export all the data as a CSV file (which you can view and edit with Microsoft Excel) right to your computer.
And there you have it. With just one click, you now have all your website’s backlink data right in front of you.
2. Collate the Data
Next, you need to put all that data together into a more ordered, organized list.
The first data pull will often include a lot of results that you don’t want in your final list of actionable backlinks, and this step involves filtering out:
- Nofollow links — These links don’t pass any value to your site and aren’t crawled by search engines, so they have no bearing on your overall link profile. There’s no need to target nofollow links in your link removal strategy unless they’re excessively spammy or irrelevant, or you have a considerably large number of nofollow links compared to follow links.
- Dead links — Sometimes the data may report on links that aren’t live anymore, especially if their status change was quite recent. Any linking URLs on your list that return a 403, 404, 410 or 503 page can be filtered out as they don’t exist anymore, and attempting to disavow a dead link can actually negatively impact your chances of a successful reconsideration request.
With those links filtered out from your list, you’re left with all the live follow links pointing back to your website.
And from there, we move on to step three.
3. Identify the Authentic URLs
In this step, we’re still in the process of further refining our workable data. The better organized all your information is, the easier it will be to work through it systematically. It will also simplify the process of reaching out with link removal requests (if and when it comes to that).
Sometimes, you’ll have several links from the same URL all pointing back to your website, which will show in your link data as multiple backlinks. But in reality, they’re all just coming from one single link source, the authentic URL.
For example, a blog may link to your site from a number of different URLs including its category pages, feeds and paginated pages well as the original article or page. These URLs will show up in your link data as four or five separate backlinks. But the only link you need to focus on here is the link on the authentic or original URL (usually the article or page where the link was initially placed).
Monitor Backlinks’ Unique Domains CSV Extractor tool can help a lot with this process. Just upload your CSV file of link data and it will identify the original URL of each link and extract any URLs of duplicated pages, so that you’re left with only the necessary data.
But why does this matter?
Well, because working with the authentic URL means you can reach out with realistic link removal requests. You would request the link removal from the original page, not from paginated or archived pages.
That would be pointless because the original link would still be there. But if the link on the authentic URL is removed, then all the other links on the secondary pages will be removed as well.
4. Create a Link Classification Checklist
Now that you have your final list of follow, live and authentic URLs linking to your website, you then need to decide how you’ll analyze and compare those links to distinguish the good from the bad.
You’ll need to create a checklist of bad/unnatural link signals that you’ll use to compare and classify each link. This checklist of link signals and criteria will vary slightly for everyone depending on the size and history of your backlink profile, as well as your industry and niche, which is why it’s important for you to think about it carefully and build a checklist that’s relevant to you and that you understand.
There are, however, a few common unnatural link signals that are a dead giveaway of a bad link and that I’d bet everyone will be looking for. These include things like:
- Links on foreign, low-quality or irrelevant sites
- Overused exact match anchor text
- Low trust and authority scores
- Spam sites
- Thin, spun or low-quality content
- Excessive external links
- Link networks
- De-indexed domains
Just remember that, in a thorough backlink audit as opposed to just a periodic profile check, you should always go through and manually review each link regardless of whether it’s filtered into the good or bad category.
Monitor Backlinks also gives you a bunch of handy filters that you can use on your Backlinks tab to refine your link profile to only the good or bad links.
This feature is super helpful for monitoring, as well as for comparing against the collated list in your CSV file to make sure that you haven’t missed any links.
You can filter by a range of things that are likely to be on your checklist including number of external links, Majestic Trust Flow, Majestic Citation Flow and more.
5. Check Every Backlink Against Your Checklist
Once you know exactly what you’re looking for in each link on your list, it’s time to begin the actual backlink auditing process.
It’s important to remember going into it that this is likely to be a long and time-consuming process, especially for larger websites, so you need to be prepared for that.
While there are tools available that can help with this process, I’d strongly recommend that you still go through each backlink and review it manually for more accurate results (whether you choose to use tools or not). This is, after all, what a backlink audit is all about: Thoroughly analyzing your link profile. Not trying to speed things up and take shortcuts.
Visit each link and review it carefully according to your unnatural link signals checklist to determine whether it’s a good or bad link source. The key here is to be systematic, thorough and diligent.
Create a field for notes about your analysis and observations next to each link on your list, so that you have records you can go back to if you need them.
Decide on a classification system to mark each link as keep or remove as you move through your list. I like to use a simple color-coding system, marking each link as green for good or red for bad —but you can use letters, numbers, strikethroughs or any other classification you like.
The more you perform backlink audits, the better you’ll get at instinctively knowing just from the URL which ones you need to investigate further and which ones can be immediately classified as good or bad—but I’d recommend that for full audits, you still manually view and visit more links than you might need to. Save the shortcuts for your periodic backlink checks.
6. Identify and Prioritize Links for Removal
As you audit your link profile and go through each link one by one, you’ll find all the bad and unnatural links that need to be removed.
In my case, I simply pull all the links that are marked red into their own list, and that’s what I use to then develop a link removal plan.
After a full backlink audit, you’ll probably find yourself with a lot of links that need to be removed—sometimes hundreds or thousands, depending on how large your website is.
From there, it’s essential to determine the order in which you’re going to tackle the links and their removal, because it’s going to be an ongoing, drawn-out process and it will take quite a while to actually remove these bad links permanently.
So, you need a plan.
The first priority will usually be the bad links that are pointing to the more critical pages for your website and business, such as your pages with high conversion rates and commercial value.
These are the ones you’ll want to fix first, moving through to the lowest priority of bad links that are pointing to non-critical pages and pages with very few inbound links (which means that the page hasn’t been heavily targeted, and you should first focus on the ones that have).
With this prioritized list and link removal strategy, you’ve now completed your backlink audit!
But remember, you’re not in the clear yet. The backlink audit is just the beginning—you still have to get those bad links removed, and that’s a whole different ballgame.
The Next Step After Auditing Backlinks
I won’t go too much into actual link removal here (that’s an article all of its own) but, in a nutshell, the next step of removing those links after completing your backlink audit can be gone about in one of two ways: manually reaching out with a link removal request, and if that’s not successful, disavowing bad links.
Sometimes, contacting the webmaster of the site and asking them to remove their link to your site may be successful. It sounds too easy, but you may be surprised by how often it’s simply an honest mistake or the work of a predecessor, and they’ll happily take it down. Always try this method first—it’s manual and more time-consuming, but it removes bad links entirely instead of disavowing them, which is just asking Google not to take them into account when looking at your site.
If your manual link removal requests are falling on deaf ears (and they often will), you do have the option to disavow those bad links.
With Monitor Backlinks, you can do so in a matter of clicks!
If you’ve disavowed links before and already have disavow rules, you can upload the file or manually enter your rules under the Disavow tab, and they will be automatically added. But don’t worry if you don’t have your own disavow rules—with Monitor Backlinks, you can still disavow bad links without them (just start on the next step).
To disavow the bad links, you just have to select the ones under your Backlinks tab that you want to disavow (use the filters to find and sort them down). You have the option of disavowing the URL or the entire domain.
As you move through the list and disavow all your bad links, they will be added to your disavow report. Then, when you’re finished, you can export your disavow report from the Disavow tab and submit it to Google Search Console for review.
From there, you can expect to see the fruits of your labor. Just remember that if you’re attempting to come back from a penalty or algorithm update, it may take anywhere from a week to several months for your work to take effect.
Removing bad links proactively, on the other hand, won’t usually result in anything specific. But I would safely say that simply avoiding a penalty and maintaining or improving your position is easily a win in this case.
How to Take Control of Your Backlink Profile
The backlink audit has always been seen as a necessary evil.
The dreaded black jelly bean.
And sure, it’s not the most thrilling of tasks—but it doesn’t have to be your downfall, either! The key to optimizing your backlink auditing process is to do it regularly, keep comprehensive data and notes, collect reliable data and put it in a format that’s easy for you to work with and understand.
Everyone’s auditing process will vary slightly, but with strategic tools like Monitor Backlinks in your arsenal, you’ll notice a huge difference.
You can’t automate the entire process, and it will always require a significant amount of manual analysis and review, but this tool will help you work faster and more accurately. Plus, with round-the-clock, real-time monitoring of your link profile, you’ll always have full control and know exactly how you’re performing against your competitors.
With Monitor Backlinks, together with a refined and streamlined auditing process that you’ll develop over time, you’ll soon find that a backlink audit isn’t really the terrible task that you thought it was!
Feel free to get your free 30-day trial of Monitor Backlinks to see what you can accomplish with one backlink audit.