How to Investigate Your Backlink Profile

Your backlink profile, broadly speaking, is just a list of all of the links that point to your site – whether they be ones you earn with great content or that you distribute through various means such as guest posting. Most likely, it is a combination of both, and preferably the balance is more on the side of links that you earn, or at least those that look earned. Links that appear to be earned, not distributed or bought, are called “natural” backlinks. It’s important to focus on these in order to escape suspicion or penalization from Google and the other major search engines.
Google has designed its algorithm to punish sites with spammy or blatantly artificial backlink profiles. They even mention this in their How Search Works interactive infographic, explaining that they may penalize a site if they find “a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive or manipulative links pointing to [it].”

It is important to build your links carefully in order to protect your ranking and ensure success for the future. A variety of factors are considered, including the quality of the site where your link appears, the relevance of the link to the rest of the content, the chosen anchor text, and the location of the link on the page.

How to Figure Out Your Own Backlink Profile

A number of services exist for looking up your backlinks. Many SEOs are familiar with Open Site Explorer, a tool included in the suite of services from SEOmoz. Their bot crawls the web indexing sites in a way very similar to Google. Google Webmaster Tools is a free alternative and a great choice if you already use Google Analytics. In my experience Open Site Explorer has a more complete listing of inbound links, though the ones Google doesn’t list tend to be low-value ones anyway. However, this comes at a price; the service is not free and the index is updated only monthly. If you’re on a budget, you can still use a limited version of Open Site Explorer once per day.

Regardless of the tool, enter your domain or pull up your backlinks and take a look at what you have. From this point I’ll describe the process using Open Site Explorer, but you can do many of the same things in all backlink checkers. Remember that you can also use Open Site Explorer for free once per day.

What You Want to See

When you enter your domain, you will see your Linking Root Domains and your Total Links at the top. You want a low ratio of links to domains. After all, having tens of thousands of total links won’t do your site much good if they’re coming in from the same two or three domains – and there’s a chance Google will see that and not think it’s very natural, either.

Click the Anchor Text tab to see what kind of anchor text your inbound links have. Most likely your brand or name are in the top spots – and that’s completely normal. You may also have a lot of “click here” or “website” anchor text, which is to be expected, though if you have a ton of it, you may want to look into optimizing better where you can. However, if almost all your anchor text is extremely optimized, alarms should be going off in your head. This is especially true if search terms are greatly outnumbering your brand name.

Relevancy of your links is important, too, but measuring it isn’t nearly as cut and dry – for you, or the search engines. Still, if you have an online furniture store, posting furniture or interior design links on a sports blog isn’t going to do you much good. On the other hand, having the links on a blog dedicated to modern interior design would be a good choice for your backlink profile. If you have a website dedicated to background check investigations, for example, be careful where your links appear. Look for links from private security firms, identity theft websites, and career blogs – places that you could reasonably expect would cover your services. You can be creative too – a random furniture link in a post about sports might be unnatural, but what if you wrote about the best living room setup for a sports party?

Lastly, on the main Inbound Links tab, take a look at your links. Are they followed or nofollowed? A natural site will have some of each; many sites by default nofollow a user-created link, such as in comments or on social profiles. If you want to view only your followed links, change the show dropdown to “followed + 301” and click Filter to take a look. By default, links are ordered by page authority; you can click on other headings to list them alphabetically or by the anchor text or domain authority.

Keeping It Natural

When you are building links to your site, be sure to keep them as natural as possible. Avoid distribution services or shady linking schemes; the results are rarely worth the possible outcome of being penalized by Google. Build your links with care, and they will reward you over and over.

If your investigation into your backlinks revealed a few red flags, don’t be too alarmed; if you can easily remove some of the offenders do so, but focus on building better links. Scoring a high authority guest post or getting a nice legitimate testimonial link or mention on an important site can go a long way toward healing your backlink profile.

If Google finds you and serves you a penalty, it’s time to break out the cleaning crew, but if you haven’t been penalized yet for some pretty shady techniques, it’s time to break out the white hat and change your ways. Your website will thank you.

12 Comments on “How to Investigate Your Backlink Profile”

  1. Thank you for his post, it’s very relevant for me! I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to build up a few links and recently had articles about my website put on a few great sites including a .gov one which I really hoped might help my SEO. However they are not showing up yet, does it usually take a few weeks for links to show up or might they just not be counted. I try to keep my website fresh and new so that google will crawl it frequently!

    1. Wow, great job getting a .gov link! If you are looking up your backlinks with Open Site Explorer, it can take up to like 5 weeks to appear – they say they update once a month but they usually have problems that push it back a day or two. It should appear more quickly in Google Webmaster Tools, but I believe that’s updated twice a month so it might still take up to 2 weeks. I’m sure that eventually your .gov link will appear though!
      Good luck!

  2. Thanks for help to investigate back links. I accept your points. Nowadays, Google webmaster tool is good to analyze the back links. Another tool ahref. it is also best to track the back links, We can also find our competitor’s back links due to this tool. Choose the best sites to get back links. Do not create back links with same anchor test. use the combination of keywords while creating back links.
    editor note: please use a real name or at least company name when posting a comment – not your keywords!

    1. Ahrefs is a good tool. If you’re looking for your competitors’ backlinks I really recommend the SEOmoz tool Competitive Link Finder:
      You just enter your competitors’ URLs, click Go, and the backlinks they have in common will appear – it’s a great way to find low-hanging links that would be relatively quick/simple to get, so you have more time to focus on the big ones your competitors can’t get.

  3. Thank you so much Adrienne, that makes me feel a bit happier! It was about 2 weeks ago so I guess I’m just being a bit impatient. I still get a bit puzzled over ‘follow’ and ‘no follow ‘ links, do you have an article you’ve written about that please? Also when I took the above advice and checked my site against my competitors I could see they had way more internal links than me so I’ve been working on those today. Am I right in thinking that if I sell one colour of cardigan I should put links to all the other colours I sell on for instance the “Jade Green Cardigan” page, is that the sort of internal links I should be aiming for? Sorry, loads of questions!!

    1. Oops, sorry that I missed this comment!! I’m sure that link will appear soon in Google Webmaster Tools if not in OSE yet. I don’t believe I’ve written about follow/nofollow, but Andy has:
      Internal linking is very important, and it’s good to take advantage of it since it’s one of the instances where you can absolutely control the anchor text etc. In the example you mentioned with cardigans, it certainly doesn’t hurt – many eCommerce websites have a “related items” feature for this reason, and you might want to check if your eCommerce platform has the same. The most important thing is to keep your internal linking natural – link where it makes sense and where it will help your visitors, not just for the sake of linking. It can help to map out the structure of your site, drawing lines for internal links where it makes sense, and then making sure that you go back and add these links. Here’s a good SEOmoz resource about this:

      Good luck!

  4. Very comprehensive – thanks. You’re definitely right, it can be very tough to please google these days – most people still don’t understand just how risky traditional forced link building techniques can be. Keeping a very low percentage of keyword anchor text links seems to be very important now – some say less than 15% is a good target to shoot for. Backlink analysis is highly beneficial for sure, especially for those whose websites and backlinking efforts pre-date the google penguin update.

    1. I’m not sure anyone really knows what percentage of keyword anchor text is “acceptable.” 15% is probably safe, but then again you might be missing out in that case. I read an article not too long ago, perhaps on SEOmoz, that said that the traditional recommendation was something like 30% branded, 30% keyword, and 40% organic “noise” – but then they showed a backlink analysis of a super spammy pharma site, and their links broke down exactly to those percentages. It’s pretty up in the air, I think it’s just important to be as un-formulaic as possible.

      1. Thanks for your reply. Being able to get away with a higher percentage would be better I guess, but as you say, there is no way to know for sure what is a safe percentage and what isn’t. The quality and relevance of the links seems to be the main thing….

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