Monday, 11 June 2012

Conducting a Backlink Audit

After Google’s latest update to its search engine algorithm (titled the ‘Penguin), a lot of websites and blog started getting the now-infamous ‘unnatural links’ warning message. This has forced everyone in the industry to conduct a review of their backlinks. For some, it has been an eye-opener, especially those which have been in the industry for a large period of time.

Many in the industry were of the opinion that other websites linking to yours couldn’t possibly be harmful in any way. Penguin, however, has changed this notion forever. Now, websites that have built an unnatural looking backlink profile have received Google’s spam alert. 

This has forced everyone in the industry to run a complete and thorough review of their backlinks – even those who haven’t been affected by Penguin (yet!). 

Regardless of which of the two groups of people you might belong to, it is extremely important to do a backlink audit. Whether you have someone do it for you (outsource it), or do it yourself. Whether you’re one of the unfortunate ones who has been adversely affected by Penguin or even if you haven’t (always better to be safe than sorry!), a good ol’ backlink audit will let you know exactly which places link to you. Chances are that there are a lot of links that you probably have no idea that you have! Some might be good quality, which are accepted by Google, while others might be of the poor quality, termed as unnatural, suspicious and/or negative SEO – and these are the ones you need to get rid of. 

The first step, however, is actually knowing what sort of links you might have. Once you have that knowledge, you can easily go about getting rid of the ones deemed unnatural by Google. A word of warning: it won’t be easy!

In order to evaluate your backlinks, I recommend using either the SEOMoz Open Site Explorer, the Ahrefs Sit Explorer or the Majestic Site Explorer. All three would provide you with detailed and comprehensive reports on your backlinks, the sources you’re getting your traffic from and even anchor text distribution. 

Here are the 4 most common type of backlinks that you might have, which might also fall into the unnatural category:

1.                   Article Directory Links: Article marketing is used by a lot of internet marketers for exposure as well as SEO. And generally-speaking, it’s a fail-safe method, especially if the submissions are handled manually. If you’ve made submissions in a semi-automatic manner, there is a high chance that your links might have ended up on low-quality directories. Unfortunately, there’s only one way of removing such links, apart from doing it one-by-one and manually from each directory.  

2.                   Forum Profile Links: You might also have unannounced links show up on forums. This could include profile created by you, or someone else entirely. For the former, you can easily log into the forums and remove the links (manually, once again), however for the latter, it gets a bit tricky since the profile is someone else’s and there’s no way you can remove the links yourself. In this case, send out a message to the forum administrator or the owner, asking to remove the profile, or at the very least, the links.

3.                   Authority and High-PR Links: If you keep an eye out on your traffic and the analytics, you’ll find out whenever a high-profile source links to you (what a feeling it is!). You’ll also notice a spike in traffic in a relatively short amount of time. However for websites which are already getting a high amount of traffic from many different sources and/or you don’t watch your traffic sources too carefully, such high-profile links might go unnoticed. Upon running a backlink audit, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover these authority backlinks. Some you might know, others you might not have heard of. Regardless, it is a good feeling to know that you are creating quality content that is being picked up off social media and is also being shared on social mediums.

4.                   Spam Blog Comments: This tends to be a big problem for some people – blog comments, mostly spam, that link back to you. Most of these are done through automated programs, with generic text in the comment which means that the person who commented never read the post, but in all probability put one comment in a program and blasted it over the internet. Spam comments might even go into hundreds and could mean negative SEO for your website. Unfortunately, there is no real way of removing these, other than getting in touch with the administrator (also asking him to install Captcha or an alternative on the comments section). On the bright side, if a site has too many of these, Google will probably ban and de-index it the next time its bots crawl the page, rendering all spammy comments useless.

5.                   Listings: There are numerous website out there which build and maintain a catalogue of all the other websites on the internet. These website usually use bots to create a page for your website (including description, stats, other data and of course your URL), and create such directory pages linking to other websites. These are natural links, since you had nothing to do with creating them. The more actively you promote your website, the more likely it is that these website will find your site and catalogue it. You’ll find plenty of such links when doing the audit.

6.                   Hidden Links: Even if you’ve been extra careful with your link-building practices, exercising the utmost caution, never paying for links, been involved in any link exchange problems or used any such grey- or black-hat methods, you might still have some hidden links. These links – could be trackbacks, hidden header or comments, etc – stem from your activity and promotional activities on social media, the blogging world, forums, and various other sources that you might’ve used to promote your blog. 

If you outsourced your backlinking at any point of time, it would also be a good idea to get in touch with the firm or individual it was outsourced to and speaking with them about the problem. If you’re thinking of outsourcing it, use one of the tools mentioned above to keep a check on where exactly your links are going.

Lastly, perform a link audit regularly. It would be a mistake to slack off on this, especially after the Penguin!


  1. Thanks for the handy Backlinking audit tips! Google certainly likes to keep us on our toes.

  2. I recommend using either the SEOMoz Open Site Explorer, the Ahrefs Sit Explorer or the Majestic Site Explorer. All three would provide you with detailed and comprehensive reports on your backlinks, the sources you’re getting your traffic from and even anchor text distribution. Hoger in Google