The Basics of Link Profile Analysis
A link profile is one of the main indicators of a website’s health. It includes all links that lead to a resource from other sources, as well as elements of internal linking. To get a positive rating from the search engines and take advantage of positions in the SERP, regularly monitor the changes in the link mass. The number of mentions on third-party resources and the quality is important. The more authoritative your referral domains are the more link juice and organic traffic you’ll get. Related article – Build High-Quality Backlinks in a Scalable Way in 2020. Conversely, toxic links from questionable sites reduce Page Rank and can result in penalties. Read more – What Are Bad Links?
Why Do Link Analysis
A strong link profile determines SEO success. It is one of the key Google ranking factors. A 2018 MOZ study shows how high-quality inbound links are important for SERP positioning:
In 2020, backlinks remain just as relevant. Google uses a clever link analysis algorithm with many parameters to give a site its well-deserved ranking. The total number of referring IPs, the total number of backlinks, separate dofollow links, the number of text anchors, and anchors with keywords are taken into account. How this works can be seen from a joint study by SEMrush and SEOquake based on the first 100 pages of 600,000 requests. The data is obtained of greatest interest by analyzing sites in the top 20 SERPs:
- The average domain authority (DA) score is 68.
- On average, 873 million links from 627 thousand sources lead to sites.
- Each of the resources has 129 million monthly visits with a bounce rate of 62.48%.
- Page Authority (PA) averages 48 (some pages were unavailable and received a 0 rating).
- There are usually 2,400 backlinks per page from 234 donors.
No link profile can be considered a benchmark. There is also no universal set and distribution of links for different pages. The strategy for working with the link mass has to be selected individually for each project. A regular audit of external links will help with this:
- If you got a project that was previously dealt with by another SEO team, you should start by analyzing the link mass. Buying low-quality links or an unnoticed SEO attack can turn into serious problems.
- Redirecting from questionable sources reduces the credibility of the resource. An analysis of the link profile allows you to determine which of the donor sites have sufficient authority for mutually beneficial cooperation and which cooperation should be abandoned.
- Links from unique domains are ranked higher. To make the link profile look as natural as possible, it is best to avoid a large number of redirects from one resource. The exceptions are social networks and trust platforms such as forums like Quora, Reddit, and various company directories, service maps, price aggregators, and reviews.
- Some links inevitably die. Some resources that redirected users to the site may have deleted or edited the post. Others have ceased to exist altogether. Get rid of such links.
- If you want to bring your site to the TOP (which is the main goal of any SEO), you should periodically analyze the link profiles of competitors. This will help to find new donor sites with high traffic and audience engagement. It is important to find resources that give profit at the moment of link publication and in the long term. After evaluating someone else’s experience, you can adjust your own promotion strategy. Learn more in the SEO Competitive Analysis article.
What is the Difference Between Good and Bad Links?
For Google, one of the main criteria for link quality and content is compliance with the EAT principles. Good links increase authority and build credibility. They are useful for users because they contain an informative anchor, redirect to a relevant page, and allow getting an expert opinion or the desired product.
The quality of the link also depends on the resource on which it is placed. It should match the theme of your site. To bring as many new users as possible, the site must have high traffic. You can see it in Serpstat or Similarweb. To give the link sufficient weight, the donor site needs to gain the trust of Google. Preference should be given to resources over a year old. Check Trust Flow and Citation Flow with the Majestic SEO tool. The optimal indicator is more than 20. Pay attention to the number of inbound and outbound links. If there are more outbound links, the site does not engage in link trading without attracting too much attention from robots. Make sure the site is not sanctioned. If the donor does not meet these requirements, it is better to refuse cooperation.
Bad links are primarily those that are obtained by dishonest means. Google Webmasters Quality guidelines warn against buying links, exchanging them for products or services of the company, and using automatic generators. You should avoid links on sites where they might not naturally arise. Refuse to over-spam with links in the text. Neither users nor robots like this. Also, do not overuse keywords in anchors because they make ads too aggressive.
Even if you strive to conduct your link building campaign as transparently as possible, you are not immune from the appearance of toxic links. Any resource can fall victim to an SEO attack. This is a common practice of unfair promotion where an avalanche of bad links is rained on a competitor’s website in order to lower its ranking.
How to Audit Links
Before embarking on in-depth analysis and subsequent link correction, you need to assess the big picture. At the preparatory stage, it will not be superfluous to analyze the link profiles of competitors. This will help you better understand the context, quickly discover the strengths and weaknesses of your profile, and determine the vectors of the link building campaign.
Analysis by link type
When analyzing backlinks, pay attention to the type. There are four of them: text, graphics, redirects, and frames. Text links on average account for 70-90% of the link mass. The share of graphic links is also high. They are often used in sponsored publications. The disparity in link types looks suspicious.
Analysis of anchor text
Branded anchors with your business name or website address are always preferred. Anchors can contain both short keywords and long-tail keywords. Read more in the Long Tail Keywords article. This does not affect the quality of the link profile. The main thing, in this case, is the total number of anchors. However, if you’re looking to make your anchor text more unique, it’s better to use short keywords up to 3 words.
There is an opinion that it is better to avoid anchor text with a frankly selling message. The words “buy”, “price”, “sale” in the informational text often look unnatural. Readers perceive them as an attempt at manipulation. Commercial pages tend to get fewer natural links and Google relies on other signals to rank them. If it seems to you that commercial keywords fit organically into the anchor, you can use them along with informational ones. The risk can be understood from a separate report when analyzing the link profile.
Pay attention to the language. If the main audience of the brand lives in the United States, it would be strange to find Cyrillic or Chinese characters in the link. In this case, you should carefully study the referring site: its geolocation and whether it corresponds to the topic of your project or it has been noticed as active spam.
Age and quality of links
The history graph of your links is one of the main metrics when analyzing your link profile. Considering it in retrospect, one can determine not only the moments of sharp surges and drops in traffic but also their reasons.
7 Handy Link Analysis Tools
To analyze the link profile, it is advisable to use several services at once. This will give you the most complete coverage of incoming links with all the technical details. Experienced SEOs typically turn to GSC and 2-4 additional tools.
Google Search Console
Before proceeding with in-depth analysis, you should identify all the links that lead visitors to your site. The most convenient way is to use Google Search Console. In one of the articles, we looked in detail at what capabilities the latest GSC update provides – What is Google Search Console, and How is This Tool Used?
Open the Links To Your Site panel from the Search Traffic menu. Here you will find the total number of links to the site, the friendliest domains in the “Who links the most” category, the most commonly used anchor text, and other important information.
SEMrush Backlink Checker
SEMrush offers a comprehensive set of link profile tools. In the Backlink Analytics dashboard, you can compare your profile to a set of competitors’ links. It is great for building a database of domains with a good reputation and response from users.
Backlink Audit gives you full control over the site’s link mass. You can detect lost, damaged, or potentially dangerous links and get rid of them immediately. You will also see a list of recently added links and unique domains. Additionally, the service will warn in time if the site is subjected to an SEO attack.
The Link Building tool allows you to find the best options to strengthen the authority of the resource. Post links only on verified domains.
Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker
Copy the URL into the Site Explorer panel. The “*.domain/*” mode starts a general analysis for the entire site. To focus on a specific section, select the “prefix” mode. This can be useful if you want to see backlinks exclusively from blog posts.
Go to the Backlink profile section. Here you will see the total number of links and sites that posted them. Watch the linking domain curve. Drastic changes could indicate a site is under SEO attack. The Domain Rating (DR) filter will help you find the most authoritative domains and those that have a bad reputation.
It is alarming if your site is actively linked by domains registered in regions unrelated to your business. Normally, they account for no more than 2% of backlinks. This can be analyzed by the CTLDs graph in the Overview report.
In a separate tab, you will find a detailed report on new, lost, and broken links. You can also analyze anchors and internal linking. It is advisable that the anchors contain the brand name or keywords related to your topic. The report can present surprises such as meaningless, openly spam phrases, and sometimes even a set of random characters.
Evaluate the effectiveness of your link building strategy in the Best by links tab. You will find the pages that are most actively linked by other resources. Despite the high potential, not all of these links are useful: take a look at the 404 errors tab and fix the errors. Read the related article – 404 Error: Ways to Turn an Error into a Sale.
Majestic’s link analysis tool
Majestic is a simple and feature-rich tool for analyzing your own website and competitors’ link profiles. Ther is no need to buy a subscription. All you need to do is enter the site URL, and you will get a list of external links, IPs, subnets, and donor domains. You can also analyze link types, anchor text, history, etc.
One of the advantages of the service is the Bad Neighborhood Checker. It is a handy tool for identifying potentially spammy links. It groups links made from the same IP or Private Blog Network addresses, which are often used for negative promotion.
Own metrics of Trust Flow and Citation Flow allow you to make sure that the linking resource is trustworthy and its links have sufficient weight (if TF> CF). Additionally, Majestic allows you to view the surrounding text and images to understand the context in which you are being linked.
MOZ’s Open Site Explorer
In addition to the standard backlink metrics, the MOZ tool displays Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA). It is desirable that the indicators approach 100. However, DA and PA in the range of 60-70 are quite acceptable.
Another tool you should definitely check out is Compare Link Metrics in the left sidebar. Here you can add new URLs to see how your link building strategy differs from its closest competitors.
This is a simple good and bad link identification tool that you can use to audit your own site and compare it with competitors. The service allows you to quickly identify any vulnerabilities such as links from non-indexed Google pages, an imbalance between incoming and outgoing links from donor domains, the use of unnatural anchors, etc. Thanks to a well-thought-out tagging system, links can be grouped for further analysis, rejection, deletion, or any other actions as part of an SEO campaign.
Dead Link Checker
The tool analyzes a site or a specific page for broken links that do not lead users to the planned address. It detects errors when publishing links, deleting landing pages, problems with accessing the server, 301 and 302 redirects, 404 errors, etc. Basic scanning is free, but you need to subscribe to receive reports on a regular basis.
For more useful SEO tools, check out Top SEO Tools for Businesses in 2020.
How to Clean Up your Link Profile
Eliminate the reasons for the penalty
If the linking issues are not resolved in time, Google may impose sanctions on the site. If a webpage was manually removed from search results, you will receive a notification in Google Search Console. Pessimization in SERP may not come immediately. It is important to correct or remove problem links in time. In the event of a manual penalty, it is quite easy to do this, since you know the exact reason. All that remains is to remove toxic links using the Google Disavow Tool, eliminate over spam in anchors or other specified errors, and send a request for a second check. Revision of the link profile status takes from several days to a couple of weeks. Read the related article – Google Disavow Tool. How Do I Use the Disavow Links Tool?
With algorithmic penalties, things are more complicated. You do not receive notifications and you can guess about the fine imposed only by indirect signs. An alarming signal is a sharp drop in traffic. The site can sink in the search results up to 30-50 positions. Users may have lost interest in the topic and are no longer looking for information on promoted key searches. It is also likely that changes in the structure or content of the page are behind the slowdown. The risk of the site falling under the automated Penguin filter is also quite high.
Google uses this algorithm to counter spam. It captures an unnatural increase in the link mass, the predominance of commercial anchors, spammy link design using large fonts, or remarkable distinguishing against the general background. Both the entire website and its individual pages and folders may be subject to sanctions. This happens if Google sees them as a spam threat. Google Analytics and Google Search Console reports will help you narrow down the search for problematic elements. Getting out of the automatic filter requires a careful audit of links and painstaking work on its treatment. It can take up to 4 months to return to previous positions. Preventing Penguin hits is easier than eliminating the consequences. That is why preventive link profile checks should be done regularly. More information can be found in the article – Google Algorithms That Affect SEO.
Remove broken links
The most effective way to get a site out of the risk zone is to completely remove toxic links. This concerns spam and paid links, as well as mentions on resources that themselves fell under the filters. It is also worth making sure that donor domains do not host prohibited content or act as doorways. Cloaking, hidden materials, redirects, and duplicate content are strictly contraindicated. Don’t spare links from sidebars, footers, or widgets. If the donor has weak content or is not related to your niche, you should also say goodbye.
Potentially harmful anchors can be approached less drastically. If you can contact the webmasters to change the text to a more informative or neutral one, you can leave links like this. If the request is ignored, feel free to reject links. Don’t forget to get rid of links that link you to non-existent sites.
If you can’t remove links from the landing site, use the Google Disavow Tool. It works on the same principle as the robots.txt file. You indicate to the robots specifically those links that do not need to be taken into account when ranking only in DLT.
In addition to detecting and fixing problem links, link profile analysis solves another important problem. It helps you find the strengths of the site. You will find out what content other reputable online publications are ready to promote and what products are more willingly discussed by ordinary users on forums. This will allow you to create new publications, taking the interests of the audience into account. By creating content that people will want to share, you will increase brand awareness and organic traffic. An important condition is that for SEO success, you need to conduct link analysis regularly. For sites with up to 1000 pages, an audit is required every 3-4 months. For larger projects a monthly frequency is required.