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How to Do a Backlink Audit on Any Website in 6 Steps

Corey Batt

Whether you’re working with a new SEO client or just acquired an existing website, optimizing your link profile is a must. 

Yet, it can be difficult to know where to start, especially for sites with thousands of existing links. 

Jumping in blind is never a good idea, which is why you should always kick things off with a backlink audit

Auditing your site’s backlink profile will help you identify potentially harmful links (which you may want to disavow) and uncover new backlink opportunities.

That’s because, when done properly, you can gain invaluable insights from analyzing your backlink profile – but you need to know what you’re looking for. 

With a little detective work, you will uncover:

  • The websites that link to you the most
  • Which sites linking to you have the highest DA scores
  • Links coming from PBNs and other spammy sources 
  • Which content is performing the best
  • Broken internal and external links (and fix them) 

Stay tuned to learn how to conduct an in-depth backlink audit on any website. 

What is a Backlink Audit?

A backlink audit is where you closely analyze your backlink profile to gain valuable insights, compare your performance to competitors, discover potentially harmful links, and identify new link-building opportunities. 

It involves exporting a complete list of every link pointing to your site to analyze its quality and relevance. 

Besides taking a look at the URL linking to your content, a backlink audit also involves analyzing the following:

  • The linking website’s domain rating/authority score 
  • The linking website’s URL, domain, and IP address 
  • The piece of content they link to on your site 
  • The anchor text used for the link 
  • The web page containing the backlink (and if it’s relevant to the page it links to) 

Backlink audits are often the very first step for new link-building campaigns, regardless of the website’s purpose or industry. 

Why is that?

It’s because an audit is the best way to gauge the health of a website’s backlink profile. If you don’t start with an audit, you have no way of knowing if the website has potentially harmful links pointing at it that could cause a manual action from Google. 

Additionally, backlink audits provide a whole host of other benefits, including:

  • Find ways to grow your backlink profile. Who are the biggest fans of your site? In other words, who links to your content the most? You won’t be able to find out unless you conduct a backlink audit. Fostering relationships with sites that already appreciate your content can be extremely fruitful for your backlink profile. 
  • Maintain your backlink profile’s health. Auditing your website’s backlinks is the best way to maintain a healthy link profile, which is essential for SEO success. Conducting regular audits will help you identify potentially harmful links, such as paid links or links from PBNs (private blog networks). 
  • Monitor your progress. Are your link-building tactics paying off, or have you not made any progress? The only way to know is to take an in-depth look at your backlink profile. During an audit, you’ll discover your most effective link-building strategies, which will be an enormous help in refining your campaign. 
  • Gain insight into competitor’s strategies. Backlink audits aren’t only for your website, as you should definitely plug competitor sites into whatever tool you use. Doing so will let you gaze into their link-building techniques, and you may find some that you want to copy. Not only that, but you may find invaluable backlink opportunities by analyzing your competitors (like uncovering a website in your niche that accepts guest posts). 

How to Conduct a Backlink Audit in 6 Steps 

Now that you know why backlink audits are worth your time, it’s time to dive into your backlink profile to discover the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

There are multiple tools you can use to audit your backlinks, including:

  • SEMrush. The Backlink Analytics tool lets site owners conduct an in-depth analysis of their backlinks, including each referring domain’s authority score, IP address, toxicity score, and many other factors. 
  • Moz. The team at Moz offers backlink audit services as well as its Link Explorer, a free backlink audit tool enabling users to view their backlink’s anchor text, page authority score, domain authority score, and more. 
  • Ahrefs. The Site Explorer tool offers comprehensive insights for user backlink profiles, and the Backlink Checker provides an attractive free option for SEOs eager to audit their links but lacks the budget for an Ahrefs account. Site Explorer contains advanced features and filters for analyzing your backlink profile, including identifying which pages on your website have the most backlinks pointing at them. 

Before you get started conducting an audit, you need to export a complete list of your backlinks. 

The quickest and easiest way to get this done is to use Google Search Console (if you haven’t set up GSC for your site already, here’s how to get started). 

Log in to GSC and navigate to the Links tab on the left-hand sidebar. 

Once you’re at the Links Report, click on the ‘Export External Links’ button displayed at the top-right corner of the page. 

Decide whether you want to export the file as a CSV, Google Sheets, or Excel file, and hit Export

With this list, it’s entirely possible to conduct a manual backlink audit – but that will be extremely time-consuming and complex. 

For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool, but the other tools listed above provide a similar experience. 

Step #1: Benchmark your website against competitors 

First, you’ll want to know where you stand in relation to your competitors, especially if you’re actively trying to outrank them. 

It’s extremely difficult to outrank competitors when they have more backlinks and referring domains than you do, so you’ll want to know how much work you’ll need to do to close the gap. 

Also, you need to know crucial SEO metrics about your website like your domain rating (the strength of your website’s ranking power on search engines). 

To get started, log in to Ahrefs and navigate to the Site Explorer tool at the top of the page. 

We recommend using the ‘http+https’ option, as it will check both versions of your website. The ‘subdomains’ selection will analyze the entire domain and subdomain, which is the best way to get an accurate overview of your backlink profile. 

You also have the option to analyze exact URLs, specific paths, and domains (excluding any subdomains). 

Enter your website’s URL, and hit the Search button. 

From there, you’ll be directed to the Overview page, where you get to peek at all your crucial SEO metrics like:

  • Total number of backlinks
  • Diversity of referring domains 
  • Domain rating 
  • Total number of keywords you rank for 
  • Traffic by location 
  • The ratio between do-follow and no-follow links 

The Overview screen is invaluable for quickly gauging the success of your link-building tactics. You can think of it as your home base for your SEO strategy since you’ll frequently check it to monitor the progress of your efforts. 

Notable metrics here include your total number of backlinks and referring domains. In our example, we have 168,000 backlinks coming from 6,100 unique domains. 

However, to truly benchmark your performance, you need to compare your metrics to competitors. 

Here’s how to add competitors into the mix. 

On the Performance section of the Overview screen, there are options to view your:

  • Metrics
  • Competitors
  • Locations
  • Years 

It’s set to Metrics by default, which charts out your organic traffic and referring domains over a set period of time (you can view increments of one month, six months, one year, etc.). 

Click on the Competitors tab to add URLs for competing websites. 

Once you add a competitor, you’ll get to see charts directly comparing their SEO performance to yours. 

This is a backlink audit, though, so you’ll want to select Backlink Profile to directly compare your links. 

From here, you can view how you compare in regards to:

  • Referring domains 
  • Domain rating
  • New and lost referring domains 
  • Top-level domains 

This will let you know if there are any significant link gaps between you and your competitors, which is extremely useful information. 

Let’s look at a quick example:

As you can see here, the website marked by the orange line has significantly more referring domains than the website marked by the blue line. In this scenario, the blue site has an astronomical amount of link-building to do if they want to catch up. 

However, the gap isn’t as wide in terms of the website’s URL ratings. 

The orange site has a URL of 57, while the blue site has a URL rating of 30. Therefore, the blue site is lagging behind the orange site, but the gap isn’t as wide as the referring domains would suggest. 

Quantity doesn’t always equal quality, which is what these metrics show. 

Are you not sure who your top organic competitors are?

Ahrefs has got you covered. 

Navigate back to the General tab, and scroll down to Top organic competitors. This will provide a list of your closest competitors, as well as any keyword overlap and common keywords (which are keywords you’re both competing for). 

This makes it easy to quickly identify the websites that are competing for the same audience, which you can then use to discover new backlink opportunities. 

Step #2: Find out which content is performing the best 

Next, it’s time to discover which pages on your site accrue the most backlinks organically. 

In other words, you’re going to find out which content types perform the best for you, not only in terms of generating organic traffic, but also links. 

Particularly, you should keep an eye out for content types generating the most shares, such as infographics, videos, how-to’s, and listicles. 

Why does this matter?

It matters because it lets you know which type of content you should create if your goal is to generate backlinks. 

For example, if you discover that your videos accrue tons of backlinks, shooting lots of videos will help you score more links. Conversely, if you never analyze your top linked-to pages, you’ll be shooting in the dark when creating content geared toward generating links. 

Instead of knowing that videos are your ticket to more links, you may waste your time (and budget) developing blog content that generates next-to-no links. 

How do you find your top-performing content in terms of backlinks using Ahrefs?

Here’s how. 

On the left-hand sidebar, navigate to Pages and select Best by Links underneath. 

This will bring up a detailed list of your most linked-to pages with 50 results per page. 

In this example, we can see that their most linked-to page is their homepage (not too surprising), followed by numerous free SEO tools (rank checker, keyword planner, title generator, etc.). 

For this website, it’s clear that their free SEO tools are generating backlinks left and right. 

If this was your domain and you wanted to attract more organic backlinks, designing more free tools is the way to go. 

Speaking of free tools, they’re an excellent way to pick up backlinks, and they don’t just apply to digital marketing. 

Try to brainstorm helpful tools you can create for your audience. Day planners, calculators, and document templates are all viable free tool ideas that can help you bring in more links to your website. 

As you can see in the example provided, Ahrefs lets you know how many backlinks each page has, as well as the number of referring domains. Besides that, you can view how many new backlinks the page picked up, any lost backlinks, do-follow vs. no-follow, and the number of redirects. 

These are all crucial metrics to pay attention to when analyzing your top-performing content. 

For instance, one of your web pages may top the list, only for you to realize that a majority of the links pointing to it are no-follow (and have a decreased impact on your SEO as a result). 

You may also notice that a certain web page has a ton of links, but they’re all from a few referring domains. That’s a telltale sign that there may be PBN links pointing at the page, which could put you at risk of receiving a manual action from Google. 

Step #3: Refresh existing content that has untapped potential 

Once you know which content types are putting in the most work for your backlink profile, it’s time to consider the other side of the coin. 

You need to look for pages that have a high number of backlinks yet aren’t generating much traffic or ranking well. 

These are your web pages that have the most untapped potential. 

Ahrefs’ Legacy Top Pages report will help you quickly find these types of pages. 

Ensure that you click on the Top Pages report under the Legacy column (for the traditional report) and not the Top Pages report listed under Organic Search (they’re two different reports). 

This report displays your web pages currently performing the best (ranking high, generating lots of traffic, etc.). 

However, we don’t want to see pages generating lots of traffic; we want to see pages with next-to-no traffic. 

To filter the report in this way, click on the Traffic icon so that the arrow next to it points up instead of down

Now, your lowest-performing pages (traffic-wise) will appear at the top. 

What you’re looking for now is pages with low traffic yet lots of referring domains, like this example:

Despite the high number of links pointing at these pages, undiagnosed issues are causing them to perform poorly on search engines. 

Here are some possible reasons why:

  • The content failed to satisfy the user’s search intent, causing them to click back to the search results (a high bounce rate is a clue). 
  • The webpage contains outdated information that needs updating. 
  • There are several on-page or technical SEO factors that are holding the page back. 

Every web page you create needs to consider your user’s search intent if you want them to be successful. 

What’s search intent? A user’s search intent refers to the ‘why’ behind an online search. In other words, the search intent is what they hope to uncover from the search. Types of search intent include informational (looking for information on a particular topic), navigational (trying to navigate to a specific page online like Netflix), commercial (researching products and services), and transactional (ready to make a purchase that very session). 

If you fail to satisfy the search intent behind a particular keyword, you’ll wind up disappointing and frustrating your audience, which isn’t good. 

Whenever you start working with a new keyword, ask yourself, “What’s the user hoping to gain by searching for this term?” Also, certain keyword research tools will help you determine the search intent behind keywords. 

It’s integral to keep your content updated with the latest, most accurate information. Users don’t care for outdated content, so they won’t waste their time on it. 

Lastly, ensure that your on-page and technical SEO is on point for the pages in question. 

For instance, is the page that isn’t ranking well a duplicate? If so, that would explain its poor search performance, as Google’s algorithm doesn’t know which version of the page to rank. 

Technical factors like duplicate content, poor loading speed, and a confusing internal linking structure can ruin a web page’s performance on search engines. 

You’ll also want to ensure proper keyword placement throughout each web page, including using the target keyword in your metadata, the first 100 words of the content, title tag, and image alt tags. 

Step #4: Identify and fix broken links (internal and external) 

Broken links are an inevitability that every website faces, and if you aren’t careful, they could do harm to your SEO. 

Why do links break?

There are dozens of reasons why, including mistyped URLs, deleted pages, changes in site architecture, and domain name changes – just to call out a few. 

As such, it’s completely normal to have broken internal and external links on your website. 

However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t do harm to your SEO, especially if you go too long without fixing them. 

Google wants to ensure that it ranks high–quality sites that contain accurate, up-to-date information. If your website is riddled with broken links, it may signify to Google that your website is poorly maintained or hasn’t been updated in quite some time. 

Both are bad news for your ability to rank, which is why it’s important to routinely clean up your broken links. 

Important note: You should check for broken internal links first, as those are much easier to fix. 

How to detect and fix broken internal links 

Normally, it would be necessary to use a website crawler like Screaming Frog to uncover broken links on your website. 

However, we’re using Ahrefs for this article, and it’s able to crawl your site and identify broken links for you. 

There are a few ways you can go about this using Ahrefs’ platform, but we’re going to stick with the Best by Links report because it’s the quickest and easiest (and it has options to identify both internal and external broken links). 

Start by heading to the report and then navigating to the Internal Backlinks option at the top of the page. 

By default, this report will show your internal pages that receive the most links. However, we want to filter it to show us broken links that return a 404 Not Found error. 

To do so, select 404 Not Found under the HTTP Code filter option. 

Click on Show Results, and you’ll get to see a list of all the broken internal backlinks on your website. 

It’s crucial to correct these web pages, especially for ones that have lots of links pointing to them. Until you fix the link, all that link juice is totally wasted. 

The good news is it’s not too difficult to fix broken internal links. All you have to do is either A) update the URL to point to the correct page or B) remove the link if the page no longer exists. 

How to detect and fix broken external links 

Next, it’s time to check for broken external backlinks that could be hindering your SEO. 

To do so, simply switch back to the External Backlinks tab. From there, select 404 Not Found under the HTTP Code filter. 

Now, you’ll be able to view all your external backlinks that return 404 Not Found errors. 

Once again, all that precious link juice is wasted if the link points to a 404, so you should aim to correct these links ASAP. 

Yet, fixing broken external links isn’t as quick or easy as fixing internal links

That’s because you’ll have to reach out to other site owners in order to fix the link, which may take longer than you’d like. 

Also, manually check each link that Ahrefs claims is broken. 

No tool is right 100% of the time, so you’ll want to confirm that a link truly is broken before taking the time to reach out to its site owner. 

Ideally, you’ll want to get broken backlinks reinstated, which will restore the link juice and positively affect your SEO. 

However, this isn’t always possible, as the page in question may no longer exist. In that case, reach out to the site owner and request that they remove the link instead. 

Step #5: Disavow or manually remove any harmful links 

If you discover truly harmful links during your backlink audit, or if you currently have a manual action against your site due to manipulative links, you’ll need to disavow them using Google’s official tool. 

Just as a quick reminder, you should only resort to disavowing when you know for sure that you have links that could (or already did) harm your search performance. 

Examples of harmful links include:

  • PBNs
  • Guest posts on low-quality sites
  • Forum spam 
  • Comment spam 
  • Hidden links 
  • Links coming from non-relevant websites 

If you aren’t sure if you have any of these, DON’T disavow any links. 

Why should you exercise so much caution before using Google’s Disavow Tool?

It’s because, without the factors listed above, there’s next-to-no way to tell the difference between a helpful link and a harmful link. 

Once you’re sure that you need to disavow links, here’s what you’ll need to do. 

Google’s Disavow Tool lets you upload a specifically formatted .txt file that lets Google know which links to permanently remove from your link profile. 

Here’s Google’s advice on the subject, including their specifications for proper formatting:

  • Limit one disavow per line. 
  • If you’re disavowing an entire domain, you must prefix it with ‘domain:’ first. 
  • You must encode the text file in ​​UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII, and the file must end in .txt.
  • Use the # sign to add any comments (Google will ignore these). 

Here’s an example disavow line:

# one page to disavow 

Once you have a completed list ready, all you have to do is upload it to Google’s Disavow Tool (after selecting your property). 

Important note: If you have separate properties for the http and https versions of your site, you’ll need to upload your disavow file for BOTH properties. 

Note that this is not an instant process, as it can take several months for the disavow file to take effect.  

Step #6: Regularly monitor your backlink profile 

By now, you’ve completed a full backlink audit, and you’ve disavowed any harmful links. 

The true final step, however, is to continue to monitor your backlink profile periodically to catch any major changes before they get a chance to cause issues. 

How often you monitor your profile will depend on how active your website is and the competitiveness of your niche. 

If your site sees a ton of traffic each day and your niche is fiercely competitive, you should review your link profile once every two weeks. If things are more lax for you, then reviewing your links once per month should suffice. 

For full backlink audits, you should knock one out every few months (or sooner). 

Monitoring your link profile is crucial for the following:

  • Detecting new links. Link-building is an ongoing process, and your team (or the agency you use) will be constantly conducting outreach to acquire new links. Accordingly, you need a way to detect any new links you pick up. Ahrefs’ Backlinks Alert is perfect for this. It’s an email notification that goes out whenever your chosen domain, subdomain, subfolder, or URL gains or loses a backlink. This makes it extremely easy to keep track of your current link-building efforts. 
  • Monitoring negative SEO. While their effectiveness is debated (Google claims negative SEO attacks have no effect), negative SEO attacks are a very real thing. That’s where a competing website floods your site with tons of spammy links with the hopes of derailing your search rankings. By closely monitoring your backlink profile, you can catch negative SEO attacks as soon as they occur. 
  • Managing broken links. As stated before, broken links happen all the time, and they affect virtually every website. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your backlink profile to ensure that you don’t accrue too many broken links. 
  • Competitor insights. You never know when one of your competitors may stumble upon a backlink goldmine. If you’re keeping a close eye on their backlink profile (in comparison to yours, of course), you’ll be able to capitalize on any new backlink opportunities they find. 

The Next Step: Growing Your Backlink Profile 

Okay, you’ve now conducted a complete backlink audit, and you’re regularly keeping an eye on your link profile. 

Now what?

Since you’ve got all your ducks in a row, you can start looking for brand-new link-building opportunities. 

One of the best ways to do that is to peek under your competitor’s hoods. 

We’ve already gone over how to add competitors into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, but that’s not the only way to analyze their link profiles. 

You can also add their URL into Site Explorer from the very beginning, letting you view all their crucial SEO metrics. 

You can also view their Best By Links report to identify their top-performing pieces of content (take notes). 

Besides that, pay attention to the source of their backlinks as well. 

This is valuable because you may uncover websites in your niche that accept guest posts, popular business directories, and more. 

Take Your Backlink Profile to the Next Level with Authority Builders 

Conducting a backlink audit is by no means a simple or quick process. 

As you can likely tell by this article, it’s a time-intensive endeavor that’s quite complex. If you’re busy running a business, you definitely don’t have the time to spend auditing your backlink profile. 

Our Link Audits from Authority Builders will take this integral process off your hands, and we’ll provide you with a perfectly formatted disavow file to ensure the health of your backlink profile. 

We also offer custom link-building campaigns through ABC Plus, so don’t wait to sign up today.     


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