There seem to be countless differing opinions about the best practices of search engine optimization (SEO), and of the most popular is disavowing toxic links. Some say Google doesn’t care about them, while some say the search engine giant uses the “disavow” as their way of cleaning up spam links. While others say disavowing links is good for your own website’s health and survival. If you are the kind of person who likes to err on the side of caution, then you have come to the right place, as this entry will teach you how to audit your website’s backlink profile.
First, what is a backlink audit?
As you already know, backlinks are one of the most important pillars of search engine rankings. The idea is incredibly simple: the more relevant and reliable resources link to your website and pages, the more valuable and useful your website or page must be, and the higher search engine rankings you get. However, not all backlinks are created equal. Some are downright harmful and can (and will) hurt your authority and rankings. Thus, the more irrelevant, spammy (bad backlinks) linked from a website or page, the lower quality and the more spammy the website/page must be. Bad backlinks were a black hat SEO technique used in the old days of SEO. They are considered indicators of poor quality that diminish the value and authority of a website in the eyes of search engines. This practice often results in rank penalties. This is why you just can’t collect and connect to random things to beef up your backlink numbers.
A backlink audit is a thorough and systematic analysis and evaluation of all the links that point to your website and all of its pages. It means finding and identifying the bad links from the good ones and developing a strategy to deal with/ get rid of them. By doing a backlink audit, you are removing these harmful links from dragging your website down, and more importantly, finding better opportunities for link building in the future. Google’s algorithm is better than ever in scanning through the entire web and finding irrelevant backlinks, such as paid link schemes, spammy websites, and links that lead to completely unrelated websites and niches. Black hat techniques like this are now worth anything. Backlink audit is an important aspect of search engine optimization. It shows where the website stands and what you need to work on and for; as it lets you find and fix the problems. Moreover, a backlink audit will help you find the benchmark to metrics of your website before you do any link-building campaigns. It lets you know where your starting point is and where you need to go.
So, how exactly do you do a backlink audit?
Build your backlink list
First and foremost, you need to build your list of backlinks. When gathering the links you need to disavow, you need to have as many sources as possible. There are a bunch of incredibly helpful tools out there for this, such as Ahrefs, LinkResearchTools, and of course, Google Search Console.
Next, upload all those links to the Backlink audit tool of Semrush to run the audit.
After you run your audit, you will get the Overall Toxicity Score, as well as other important data.
Categorize the links
From there, click “Audit” tab to see all the backlinks you have gathered. You will see the Anchor Text, Authority Score, and Toxicity Score.
Ideally, you must to go through each one of these links and categorize them as
- Whitelist – for healthy and safe links that is beneficial for your link profile
- Remove – for links that you need to get rid of by contacting the owner of the website and request them to remove their links
- Disavow – these are the links that you need to disown and reject from your link profile
The tool will save your audit and will prompt you to categorize new links going forward. It is quite an easy and systematic step, but extremely helpful in cleaning your website off of toxic links.
Identify the link patterns
From the Audit Report, click Toxic Markers. This will then show you the patterns that can be used to screen your backlinks. These markers will help you identify the profile of the backlinks in the context of patterns, rather than checking them one by one.
For example, a link by itself may seem healthy when analyzed, but when checked with Toxic Markers, you may realize it is part of a network of links that includes a C-class website, or even similar Google Adsense or Analytics code.
Click each section for toxic markers, then, label the links that show up with the “whitelist”, “remove”, or “disavow” category.
After going through each pattern, check the remaining links and refer to the toxic score as well as other details to determine what categories they belong.
Search the footprints
To make the best decisions, you need to check the entire context of your backlink profile when analyzing your backlinks. Moreover, to get an idea of the backlink ratio that is working in your particular niche, you also need to analyze your competitor’s backlinks, especially those with good rankings.
Some of the percentages you need to keep in mind include:
The top referring domain categories
This refers to the category of internal links based on your business. Do your backlinks come from related topical sites or directories and unrelated sites?
Check the percentages and compare those to websites in your competitions. Moreover, use these percentages to find which links to keep and which ones to disavow.
Many digital marketers believe you should get rid of low-quality links or links from low-authority sites. This, however, doesn’t seem natural.
Natural sites have a good mixture of links, from low, medium, to high-quality links, like a pyramid. This should be your goal when looking for authoritative websites.
Anchor text or anchor-type backlinks
How many branded backlinks do you have? How many links do you have that use a keyword for their anchor text? Monitor this diligently as it will show patterns. Algorithm filters from Penguin filters can suppress rankings with high percentage money anchors. Thus, you are better off disavowing some links with money anchors, as it can bring your percentages down. Also, check the exact anchor texts to identify which ones look unnatural and overused.
Semrush lets you see the charts for this. Simply click the link to show the context of the filter. From there you can disavow links that belong to obvious patterns. When checking for Link Attributes, you can actually check for a high volume of follow versus nofollow links, or links from UCG (user-generated content). Expect to see a high number of nofollow links. However, if many of those links are Follow, UGC, or sponsored, then you are better off disavowing some of those to even your percentages.
Review the disavow list
After you have completed your audit, click the disavow tab to review the URLs on that list. Review the list by getting additional metric tool data for each URL before uploading them to Google. In some cases, you may find a few links on your disavow list to have some good metrics, even with toxic markers. It would be acceptable to keep these links. Double-checking your disavow list will help you make sure you are not removing links that can help you rank better. To help you determine which links to keep, review the Authority Score, organic traffic, and a number of keyword rankings, to know whether the link should stay or go.
After thoroughly checking your disavow list, export your disavow file.
Google Disavow File
As soon as you have your disavow file in .txt format, you are now ready to upload that to Google Disavow Tool.
Parting tips: Monitor your site’s link profile
A good backlink profile can spell the difference between a ranking suppression and thriving traffic. While Google says websites don’t suffer from negative SEO attacks, there are more than enough reports that say otherwise. Thus, you cannot go wrong by erring on the side of caution.
To ensure your backlink profile is healthy, run a backlink audit at least every quarter. Using the same Semrush project can help you save a lot of time and energy, as it will simply save all the data and will only add new links that you have not labeled and categorized.