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How to perform backlink analysis for SEO

Backlink analysis is one of the most discussed and strategized search engine optimization (SEO) tasks out there. But today, there are so many relevant tools out there that backlink analysis has become a seemingly overwhelming task.

The good news is that you don’t have to take all the same arduous steps the other SEOs tell you to. Here’s the savvy SEO’s guide to backlink analysis:

1. Choose your tools.

First, choose your tools. There are plenty of different options out there, though most have similar features and functionality, including:

2. Pick your metrics.

There are so many different factors you can look at in a backlink analysis that you can wind up spinning your wheels — accomplishing nothing — for hours. Don’t waste your time or energy on metrics that don’t matter. Here are the most important metrics a savvy SEO person needs.

  • Total number of links: This is an important metric to measure for your own website and your competitors’ sites. However, it’s mostly meaningless when analyzed in isolation. A high number of total links doesn’t tell you how competitive the website is, because all of those links could be coming from one, low quality domain. You should definitely watch your total number of links, but always take into consideration your number of unique domains along with it.
  • Number of unique domains: Checking the number of unique domains is a much better indicator of how competitive your website is. The best case scenario, of course, is to have the same number of links as unique domains, though it’s likely you’ll have considerably more links than domains. Just keep in mind for yourself and your competitors that 100 links from 100 different sites is much better than 1,000 links from one site.
  • Anchor text: It’s also important to keep an eye on the terms you’re using as anchor text. Look out for which keywords are already optimized (or over optimized), diversity and branding

Since Penguin 2.0, it’s become more important to have anchor text related to your brand, as opposed to keywords you want to rank for. Make sure your backlink profile achieves this objective.

  • Fresh and incoming links: This is the metric you’ll look to in order to determine the effectiveness of your link building strategy. Seeing quite a few new incoming links, for instance, could indicate that your strategy is working as designed. That said, you’ll want to look out for unusual spikes in fresh and incoming links — they’re a red flag for your website and may indicate unnatural link building strategies on the part of your competitors.

Oh, and speaking of competitors? Use their results to influence your own strategies. Monitoring the new links of your competitors can help you discover new link opportunities that you should be taking advantage of as well.

  • Link quality: While there are some tools out there that can help you examine your link quality, none will offer as much insight as doing it yourself. Specifically, here are the kind of backlinks your site should avoid.
  1. Links from irrelevant pages
  2. Global links
  3. Links from low authority sources
  4. Site-wide footer links
  5. Links from article directors
  6. Links with over optimized anchor texts

Evaluating the link quality of your competitor’s website is also a good way to determine the kinds of healthy, low-risk links you should try to garner (have a look at the charts provided from SpyFu).

3. Clean up your links.

After checking your important metrics, the next step in your backlink analysis process should be to clean up any issues you’ve encountered in the backlinks pointing to your website.

  • Disavow: If you identify obviously low-quality or spammy links pointed at your site, use the Disavow Tool to ensure they aren’t counted by Google’s algorithms.

However, Google does advise a certain amount of caution when using this tool. You can use Disavow as part of your regular backlink maintenance as long as you first ask the webmaster to manually remove the offending link. Document this interaction, and if you don’t get results, then use the Disavow tool.

  • Broken links: Cleaning up your broken links is another important part of the savvy SEO’s backlink analysis plan. On your Google Analytics dashboard, set up an alert to let you know when your number of 404 error pages increases above a threshold you set.

Regularly fixing your broken links will improve your user experience and conversions. According to Google’s latest Search Quality Guidelines, this kind of maintenance issue can also affect your site’s quality ranking.

4. Competitor analysis

Performing a backlink analysis on a few of your competitors can help you find more ways to get links for your own website.

I mentioned above how fresh and incoming links can give you further insights into your competitors’ linking strategies, but here are a couple of other opportunities to look out for:

  • Common backlinks: If several of your competitors have backlinks in common that you don’t, that’s an opportunity you’re missing out on. You can use a tool like The Common Backlinks Tool (CBLT) to quickly report on the common backlinks of up to ten competitors.
  • Indirect backlinks: It’s possible that some of your competitors link to the same site, which you can use to your advantage. If you can manage to garner a backlink from this site, then your competitors will also link to you indirectly.

Make a list of high-authority sites that your competitors are linking to, so you can target them for backlinks as part of your strategy.

Backlink analysis might seem complex — and there are plenty of people out there who will recommend you take several more steps than what I’ve listed here. But in my opinion? It’s far better to have an easy process that you can commit to executing regularly than to overwhelm yourself with unnecessary steps.

That’s what it means to be a savvy SEO.

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