Now, we’re going one step further (or back since we’re going to talk about how to prevent the penalty from happening in a first place). You’ve guessed it – we’re going to talk about regular backlink audits.
The harsh truth
Let me be completely honest with you guys. Cheap backlinks can never be a part of a long-term business success.
It is as simple as that. Bad links are bad and there is no reason to pretend otherwise.
Sure, they might get you some traffic and better rankings for a short time, but that is just a very risky temporary solution that should not even be considered by a legitimate business.
Having a few questionable links usually isn’t harmful to your site, but if Google finds a pattern of poor backlinks, you could face serious consequences.
Even if you don’t actively build cheap links yourself, cases such as negative SEO and PBNs that syndicate content can eventually lead to a backlink profile full of untrustworthy links – and Google really isn’t fond of that.
If you want to keep a clean backlink profile and minimize any chance of getting a penalty, you need to perform regular backlink audits. Here’s how.
Are you ready for backlink audits?
In order to follow instructions from this article and successfully execute regular backlink audits, please leave all your assumptions and prejudices behind. Why am I saying this?
Because I’ve come across a lot of people who wanted to audit their backlinks but were blocked by their own beliefs that were completely wrong.
For example, they told me: I would do a backlink audit but if I do it, I’ll become suspicious to Google and they’ll penalize me.
The truth is completely the opposite. If you do a backlink audit, you’ll show that you actually care about what kind of backlinks you have and that you’re taking a good care of your site.
What is a backlink audit? Simply put, it’s a method of checking a website’s backlinks and removing or disavowing the bad ones, in order to have a clean backlink profile and avoid getting penalized by Google.
Sounds simple, but it’s not. The good news is that, although it’s not simple, it gets easier with time.
Backlink audit process
Backlink audit is a continuous process that can be divided into 6 distinct steps:
1. Collecting links
To be able to audit your links, you first need to have all your links in one place. While your goal should be to collect all of them, that is often impossible. To get as close to that goal as possible, you’ll need more than one source of your backlinks. Don’t worry, it is not a big deal if you miss a few of them, not even Google can crawl all of your backlinks.
While doing this for a few years now, we learned that…
- backlink audit tool (more about this later)
- Google Search Console
…are usually enough to make a complete list of your backlinks.
Google Search Console
If you still haven’t, you should add your site to Google Search Console. If you’re using it for a long time, you might notice that it has a new interface (but since they haven’t migrated all of the data, we’re going to use the old version).
It has a lot of features that allow you to keep track of your search appearance, get HTML improvement advice, find info about your search traffic, connect it to your Google Analytics to merge metrics, and so on.
The most important feature in this context is the ability to download a list of all of your backlinks.
The process is quite simple. Just go to Links to Your Site and download 3 different files.
If you’re not using Ahrefs, you’re missing a lot! It’s one of the best tools out there when it comes to keeping track of your site’s performance. It sorts the backlinks in 3 different categories:
If you want to be extra cautious, it doesn’t hurt to download them all.
Moz allows you to research your keywords, uncover technical SEO issues, explore your links and much more. We are excited that they are updating their Link Explorer too. To download your links, simply pick the file that you want from Quick Downloads.
There are many other tools like SEOprofiler, Kerboo, Monitor Backlinks… that can help you crawl additional backlinks, but it’s usually an investment you can avoid if you have access to other tools on this list.
2. Sorting and managing links
This step is sometimes skippable, but that depends on the backlink audit tool that you’re using. We’ll show it just in case you decide to use one of the tools that doesn’t have the option to upload links from a specific source.
Now that you have your backlinks, it’s time to sort them out. Since you’ve downloaded them from a few different sources, there is going to be a lot of duplicated links.
Assuming that you downloaded all links in the CSV format, my recommendation is that you first open them in Excel as you only need URLs (in the files that you’ve downloaded, there are many other metrics/fields that we don’t need at the moment).
Simply copy and paste your URLs from Excel to Notepad++ (we recommend this text editor because of its rich feature list but others can get the job done too).
Now, you’re able to remove all those duplicated backlinks. Later, we’ll use this file to upload additional backlinks to the backlink audit tool.
3. Selecting and using a backlink audit tool
When done properly, a backlink audit requires a lot of manual work. In order to make your life easier, faster and more accurate, we tend to use a backlink audit tool. Managing hundreds or even thousands of backlinks without some help can drive anyone insane.
There are plenty of backlink audit tools out there and we tried quite a few of them. This time, we decided to go with the Linkody. Heads up – we are not sorry about it.
Let’s get started.
Registration is simple and intuitive. Once you create your account, you’ll have an option to connect it with your Google Analytics. This will ensure that Linkody finds your new links faster and to show even more backlink data. If you’re not interested, simply skip this step.
After that, you’ll get an option to add your domain. You’ll also have an option to automatically discover your backlinks and since you’re working on backlink audit here, this is exactly what you want.
There are a lot of tabs in Linkody. For now, focus on the Links tab.
For each link, you can check different metrics that are shown by other tools Linkody has integrations with such as Moz and Alexa.
You can also pick columns that you want on your dashboard and sort links by different criteria.
There are two more important tabs that we will use for backlink audit later – Tags and Disavow.
Before we get started with the main part, we’ll use the file we’ve prepared in the previous step.
As you can see, Linkody found a lot of backlinks himself. However, that shouldn’t stop you from manually adding links you gathered with other tools.
After you click on ADD LINKS you’ll have an option to:
- add single links
- add multiple links
- upload CSV file
I mentioned before that merging and sorting links might be unnecessary, depending on the tool you’re using. This is the case with Linkody as it lets you pick the tool that you’re uploading your CSV file from. The biggest perk here is that you don’t have to worry about duplicated links since Linkody will recognize them.
4. Link classification
If you haven’t paid attention by now, it’s time to wake up. This is the most important and the most challenging step of the backlink audit process.
Link classification is the essence of backlink audit.
The main idea is marking each backlink either as good or bad. It might sound simple but, believe me, it’s not.
The first thing that you need to do is get informed what is considered good and bad backlink. Your number one source should be Google Webmaster Guidelines. Once you learn this inside out, it’s safe to continue with the link classification.
You’ll probably come across backlinks that are somewhere in between good and bad and you won’t be sure how to classify them. In those cases, my best advice is to use your common sense. Sounds weird but it actually works. Simply ask yourself if you want that backlink to lead to your site.
Once you classify a few hundreds of links, you’ll be able to recognize bad link in seconds.
While you can automate most of this process, we recommend that you try and check each and every link manually and use the tool just to help you with classification. For example, in Linkody, there’s a metric named Spam score that can be a huge help in determining a value of a specific link.
Here’s how the link classification process works in Linkody. Just select the link that you’re checking.
If the link is good, make sure that you add tag Good and if the link is bad, you can disavow it either on a page or a domain level. You can also add tags for bad links in order to keep track.
Disavowing a link is telling Google to ignore specific backlink/domain when ranking your site. If you disavow URL on a domain level, it means Google will ignore all of the links from that domain. This is recommended in cases when you are sure that the whole domain contains spammy links that might eventually harm your site.
On the other hand, if the domain is good and you only have a problem with that particular backlink, then you can disavow only that single link.
Keep in mind Google’s recommendation when it comes to disavowing:
Once you add tags, you can check them out in the Tags tab.
By clicking on a specific tag, you’ll open all links with that tag. Each link can have multiple different tags which you can delete, add or remove at any moment.
You can also check all the links and domains that you’ve already disavowed.
You can take one final look to ensure that you really want to disavow all the links on this list. Once you do that, feel free to export this file.
5. Managing and uploading the disavow file
Just as like Linkody says, you can export and then upload disavow file to the Google Disavow File.
File that you downloaded from Linkody is pretty much ready for the upload as it is. You can also notice a difference in format for backlinks that have been disavowed on the domain and on link level.
The only thing that I would recommend adding together with version: domain:example.com is also domain:www.example.com.
Since you’re already disavowing URL on the domain level, this way you’ll make sure that you disavow both versions.
Now you’re just four clicks away from disavowing your bad links.
When you open Google Disavow Tool, you’ll need to choose your domain (if you have more than one).
You can now upload a file that you previously exported from Linkody and submit it.
After you upload your disavow file, you’ll get a confirmation email in your Search Console.
6. Check results
It would be an obvious lie to say disavowing links won’t affect your site performance at all. Even though all the links that you’ve disavowed are bad, there are still some fluctuations possible as even spammy links can bring some SEO value.
But there’s no need to worry, it’s worth the trouble in the long run.
Lastly, don’t forget that backlink audit is not a one-time thing. If you have enough resources, you can keep an eye on them on a weekly basis. If not, we recommend to check them at least twice a year.
What do you say? It’s not that complicated, right?
Usually, there’s a lot of work the first time since you need to set up everything but with each iteration after that, regular backlink audits become significantly faster and easier. Having said that, it is completely understandable if you don’t want to do this yourself. If that is the case, don’t hesitate to reach out and check how we can help.
Now that you know basics (yes, basics) of backlink audit, you’re ready to keep your site nice, clean and safe from spammers, bad backlinks, and possible penalties.
Do you have any good or bad experience with backlink audit? Share it with us in the comments below!
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