To achieve a high Google ranking for your website, create web pages that give searchers what they’re looking for. You need to demonstrate that your pages are trustworthy. If you can accomplish this, you’ll grow your organic search traffic.
Google evaluates trustworthiness through your backlink profile: the constellation of other websites that link back to yours. Backlinks signal your website and the linked page are valuable to users. The first step to improving your backlink profile is to perform a backlink link audit.
What is a backlink audit?
A backlink audit is a systematic review of the other websites that link back to your own site. The goal of a backlink audit is to identify ways to improve your link profile by identifying toxic backlinks to remove or opportunities to gain new backlinks.
A complete link audit evaluates both the quality and quantity of backlinks. A backlink to your site from another highly reputable site is more helpful for your SEO than a backlink from a little-known blog.
An audit also reviews the distribution of backlinks across pages. A website with backlinks only to its homepage is considered less valuable than one with backlinks distributed across various pages, which indicates to search engines that multiple site pages provide helpful content.
Why are backlink audits important?
Your website’s backlink profile is critical in ranking highly in search engine results. A thorough backlink audit can help improve it in three ways:
Websites often gain backlinks organically without link-building campaigns or strategies. They usually have backlinks that the website owner had no idea existed. However, the owner can use these existing links to inform their link-building strategy. As a marketer, getting quality organic backlinks pointing to your site signals a great opportunity to double down on a successful content type.
For example, if you run a vegan meal prep service, you might get mentioned in a local vegan blogger’s roundup of their favorite local food options. After recognizing this in a backlink audit, you could create a link-building campaign and reach out to other vegan bloggers, offering them free meals in hopes of gaining more reviews and backlinks.
Good backlink audits don’t just show you the links you have; they can show you what links you’ve recently gained and, importantly, the links you recently lost. Websites lose links for many different reasons. Some lost backlinks may be gone for good, but there are others you can reclaim.
For example, you may lose links when a website shuts down or removes an article. These are not likely to be won back. Sometimes, however, you lose a link because a website changes its content and accidentally includes a typo in the URL, includes an old version of your page, or forgets to include a link in the new version. This is more common than you might think. In these cases, you can contact the website and ask them to update the link. This part of a backlink audit is one of the easiest ways to retain and improve your backlink profile.
Toxic link disavowal
Generally, backlinks from other real, high-quality websites improve your backlink profile in the eyes of search engines. But if your site gets spammy backlinks from harmful websites or obtains links through payment to publishers, it can adversely impact your rankings. Paying for links goes against Google’s and other search engines’ terms of service.
Accruing toxic links can occur even if you follow the best link-building strategies for improving your site’s SEO. For example, you could fall prey to a negative SEO attack when someone else—usually a competitor—purchases toxic backlinks for your domain to undermine your backlink profile.
A backlink audit can help identify negative SEO attacks and surface toxic or paid links. Once identified, you can disavow your harmful links on Google and other search engines.
Tools for backlinks audits
While Google Search Console and other free tools can reveal a sampling of your backlinks, conducting a thorough backlink audit requires a tool capable of internet-wide crawling, akin to search engines. Unfortunately, these tools often come with a hefty price tag.
Here are three popular options:
Ahrefs is a multipurpose SEO tool, but its primary focus is backlinks—even its name is a nod to the HTML for a link, beginning with <a href=“yourlinkhere.com”>.
It offers arguably the most comprehensive array of backlink audit features, including an overall profile view, filter features, broken backlink reports, competitor reports, and their proprietary 1–100 Domain Rating (DR) score, which has become an industry standard as a shorthand for the quality of backlink profiles.
Best for: SEO professionals and marketers with intermediate-level SEO knowledge.
Pricing: Starts at $99 per month.
Semrush is the best-known SEO tool, renowned for its extensive feature set that spans comprehensive SEO analysis, digital ads monitoring, social media analytics, and more.
Unlike other tools that require you to review multiple reports to prepare your backlink audit, Semrush has a one-click backlink audit tool that automatically compiles and surfaces relevant backlink information.
Best for: Marketers managing multiple marketing channels, including SEO.
Pricing: Starts at $129 per month.
Moz’s features for backlink audits aren’t quite as robust as the other SEO tools listed here. Still, it has a reliable link checker, an easy-to-use interface, and a proprietary Domain Authority (DA) score for summarizing backlink profiles. It offers a more accessible starting price and free tool options, such as its Link Explorer.
Best for: Marketers with beginner SEO knowledge.
Pricing: Starts at $69 per month.
How to do a backlink audit
- Select your tool
- Benchmark your link profile
- Scan for opportunities
- Scan for broken and lost links
- Scan for toxic links
- Summarize action items
Executing a backlink audit is pretty straightforward. Depending on your SEO experience and the size of your site, it can take between one and twenty hours to complete. Here are the steps:
1. Select your tool
2. Benchmark your link profile
Using your backlink audit tool, review and note the following about your link profile:
- Domain Authority/ranking score
- Total links
- Total referring domains
- Number of links by page for your top 10 pages by traffic
Optional: Pull the same numbers for your top two to three competitors.
3. Scan for opportunities
Review your list of backlinks to find ideas for how to gain similar links. You’re looking for links you’ve gained organically that could be repeated. Opportunities include press coverage, partner pages, listings in directories, or quotes in blog posts.
Most SEO tools provide filtering options to facilitate this process. For example, you can filter your backlink report to show only links from websites with more authority than yours or links to your product pages.
4. Scan for broken and lost links
Backlink audit reports include auto-generated reports of recently lost links and those that go to a 404 page (indicating the page is not found).
Note these links and create a plan to win them back. This might mean reaching out to the website that no longer links to you or updating your website’s redirects to redirect the 404 links.
5. Scan for toxic links
Most backlink audit tools provide automated reports for identifying toxic links. Depending on the tool, this may be labeled as a “spam score” or a “toxicity meter.”
Export these links into a .txt and disavow them in Google Webmaster Tools.
6. Summarize action items
Once you’ve compiled your to-dos from the audit, address your broken or lost links and capture your new link opportunities.
Complete your backlink audit by summarizing all the action items that surfaced. It can help to split the work into two categories: quick wins, such as updating 301 redirects, and long-term strategies, such as pitching guest contributions to blogs.
Are all backlinks relevant to SEO?
Certain backlinks are not a factor in SEO. Backlink audits exclusively focus on links to your website that search engines consider relevant for your site’s trustworthiness. Search engines don’t evaluate links from social media, email, or SMS, so these links are not included in a typical audit. Links pointing to your site from news sources, blog posts, and partner pages are considered significant.
Links relevant to search engines are called “dofollow” links. Most external links are dofollow backlinks by default. Links irrelevant to search engines (such as links on social media sites) are tagged by the social media platform as “nofollow” links, deterring users from posting links on their platforms strictly for SEO purposes.
Backlink audit FAQ
What is a backlink?
A backlink, distinct from internal links that connect pages within your website, is a link from another website to yours. Backlinks signal trust to search engines.
How do you monitor backlinks?
The best way to monitor your site’s backlinks is with an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush, but you can also monitor backlinks—though less effectively—with Google Search Console.
Are there negative impacts of having bad backlinks?
A high number of bad backlinks to your site creates a risk that search engines may perceive your site as untrustworthy and hurt your search rankings. This may result in stagnant rankings or, in more severe cases, manual actions that significantly diminish your visibility in search results.
Are backlinks helpful for SEO?
Yes. Backlinks signal trust to search engines, and having more high-quality backlinks correlates closely with high rankings in search engine results.