If there is one constant in the ever evolving world of SEO, it’s that strong backlinks are great for your site.
Google, and all other search engines worth their salt, look at your links pointing to your site as one of the most important measures of your site’s quality and authority.
No-one’s saying that links are the be-all and end-all of SEO; just trust us that if you want your site to outrank your competitors in the ultra-competitive arena of Google SERPs, you’re going to need a great backlink profile.
At its core, getting a powerful backlink profile means having a good number of links pointing towards your pages from strong, relevant sites. If that sounds easy, it’s because we’re overlooking a vital step in the process.
To achieve fantastic links for your site and move forward to a powerful backlink profile, you first need to understand the links currently pointing towards your site, as well as those pointing to your competitors. This is known as backlink analysis.
A guide to backlink analysis
There is an old quote that is usually attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker that is extremely relevant to SEO and links – “If you can measure it, you can improve it”.
Links are essential to your ability to rank well on Google, but not all links are created equal. You conduct a backlink analysis on your site to understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
What is backlink analysis?
A backlink analysis provides you with a measurable and quantifiable understanding of the quality of your existing backlinks. It offers insight into how your website is able to rank on Google and other search engines.
But it also helps you to identify low quality links – those links coming from that are actually undermining your backlink profile.
Many businesses aren’t aware of how many links are pointing at their website – much less have a way to qualify the strength of these links.
A strong backlink quality analysis provides you with the information you need to influence your link building efforts. For example, you might discover that you have a large number of links pointing at your site, but nothing from what Google considers to be powerful or relevant to your domain.
Here you might focus your efforts on getting a small number of extremely powerful links from industry relevant publications.
Alternatively, your site may have strong links from a very small number of international niche sites. That’s a fantastic start – but your link building efforts may be better spent on diversifying your link portfolio and attracting different types of opportunities in a local market.
The key point here is that quality and relevance is extremely important when it comes to links and building authority online. One very high quality, relevant link is worth far more than thousands of lower quality ones.
What is competitor backlink analysis?
You might also have heard the term ‘competitor backlink analysis’, which is an aspect of holistic backlink analysis.
This involves looking over the websites of competitors and other businesses in your industry to establish how many links they have, how many sources these links come from, and the kind of authority that they are getting from these links.
There are a couple of reasons why this is important.
Firstly, understanding the strength of the backlinks of your competitors shows you what you need to do in order to rank more effectively. If your competitors have a much stronger backlink profile than yours you can back that they are ranking higher than you on key terms – or that they will be soon.
Secondly, competitor backlink analysis provides insight into intersecting links. This is when a relevant and trusted third-party website is linking out to a bunch of your competitors but doesn’t currently link back to your website. Intersecting links can provide quick-win opportunities.
Why do you need to conduct backlink analysis?
If content is king, then Google is a matriarchy and links is queen; to a certain extent it won’t matter how much great content, beautiful images and incredible products are on your site if you don’t have strong links pointing at you. So, having a good understanding of the backlinks pointing to your site and those of competitors is vital.
As mentioned above, your backlinks are a sign of the quality of your website in the eyes of Google. Backlink analysis helps to guide your link building efforts, and without it, your website and business as a whole could struggle simply from a traffic and online reputation perspective.
Understanding your backlink profile
The next step, of course, is to conduct a thorough backlink analysis on your site as soon as possible. But before you can do that, it is important to get a more comprehensive grip on exactly what you are looking for in your analysis.
You might take a look at your site and your main competitor and see that you have a beefy 10,000 backlinks compared to their meagre 2,000 and assume that the job’s done – kick back and wait for Google to send all of the traffic your way.
Except, of course, that while quantity is a relevant metric, quality is a far more pressing issue.
To actually understand your backlink profile you need to be able to tell the difference between a good backlink and a bad one. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
What makes a good backlink?
Quality backlinks are what you want, but how do we qualify exactly what we mean by ‘quality’?
Many SEOs look at Domain Authority (DA) and base their judgement of the quality of a backlink on a strong DA rating. We strongly recommend against this as DA doesn’t tell the whole story, to the point that if you are judging on DA alone, it’s actually relatively unhelpful.
A high DA can provide an indication of a website’s strength based on its overall backlink profile, but it is certainly no guarantee that this is a good link for your website.
Context is crucial here, so relevancy is a more important factor. A small online fashion retailer earning a link from an engineering website with a DA of 80 is not necessarily a strong backlink. A non-competing trainer brand with DA 55 could be a much more impactful backlink in terms of relevance, authority and target audience.
It’s well known in the industry that DA isn’t a ranking factor for Google and therefore doesn’t have a direct impact on the SERPs.
Google does, however, consider many other factors when evaluating the relevance and trustworthiness of backlinks, including:
- Is the link sending traffic to your website?
- Does it have a relevant and descriptive anchor text to the target page?
- Is it from a site that wasn’t already linking to you?
It should also be noted that different sites have different needs – a backlink that would be a fantastic addition to one website’s backlink profile might be completely out of place and even suspicious-looking on another.
Specific industries have different needs too – this is all why it is so vital that websites should have their link building campaigns customised and tailored around their needs.
What makes a bad backlink?
Remember that you do not have control over which sites link to you, so it is natural that your profile will contain some less favourable links. But it is important to make a distinction between low quality backlinks and bad backlinks.
A low quality backlink might come from a less authoritative, less relevant, less popular site – or it might come from a site that you already have links from.
Having these in your backlink profile won’t do your site any harm and they can actually be useful from the perspective of having a diverse profile. But you certainly shouldn’t be actively trying to achieve links from these sites as they won’t pass as much value to your domain.
A bad backlink can have the opposite effect of what you intend with your link building. Sites can be penalised by the algorithm itself, or given a manual penalty indicating nefarious SEO activity that Google doesn’t like to see.
Bad backlinks come from poor quality sources. Most of the time they won’t pass the eye test; they’ll either have a suspiciously long or nonsensical URL, or when visited they’ll look obviously spammy. They might have low-quality content, or multiple spam links embedded within posts.
Other warning signs are multiple inbound links potentially from link-farms – these types of links will actually have a negative effect on your backlink profile.
Now, let’s be clear, Google has come a long way over the years and can assess which links to trust without further guidance from webmasters. However, if you have concerns about your site’s performance in search or feel a manual action coming your way then you can choose to disavow any spammy links.
How many backlinks is too many?
It seems like everyone is happy to tell you that you need plenty of links pointing to your site, but no-one’s brave enough to put a number on it. Some of that is down to the fact that you definitely don’t want to be overloading your backlink profile with too many links too quickly.
Estimates vary on the ideal number of links depending on who you talk to. In reality, Google is fairly clear in the fact that the answer depends on context. If your website was steadily averaging a couple of new backlinks every month for years, then suddenly started getting thousands of new links for no apparent reason – that’s going to look very suspicious.
Essentially getting links too fast is not necessarily an issue – rather that it is the nature of how links are acquired and the type of links that you are getting.
Thankfully, as we have already mentioned, a strong backlink profile is much more about quality than quantity. This can be where competitor analysis comes in handy too. If your competitors have tens of thousands of links and you’re in the hundreds, you know that your profile has some space to grow.
How to conduct a backlink analysis
Conducting a backlink analysis can take time, but it is completely worth doing, as it allows you to understand the current state of your backlinks.
A backlink analysis will ultimately give you an idea of the areas that you need to work on to stay competitive in your industry.
Any kind of link building campaign should start with an idea of where the current strengths and weaknesses in your backlink profile lie and what you are trying to improve.
4 backlink analysis tools
There’s a range of trusted software and tools you can use to audit a backlink profile, though the most popular are:
Ahref’s Backlink Checker
- Backlinks report
- Competitive analysis
- Keyword and backlink research
- Broken links report
- Anchors report
- Disavow link spam
Cost: Starts from $99/a month
Semrush’s Backlink Analysis Tools
- Backlink Audit Tool
- Backlink Analytics
- Backlink Gap
- Link Building Tool
Cost: Starts from $99.95/a month (For freelancers, startups and marketers with limited budgets)
Moz’s Link Explorer
- Link Explorer
- Compare Link Profiles
- Discovered or Lost
- Anchor text
- Link Intersect
Cost: Starts from $99/a month (For anyone who is new to SEO or just needs the basics)
Majestic’s Site Explorer
- Site Explorer
- Keyword Generator
- Trust Flow metrics
- Bulk Backlink Checker
- Fresh Index
Cost: Starts from £39.99/a month.
Understanding the metrics
When conducting backlink quality analysis there are a number of important metrics and terminology that must be considered:
- Total number of links – how many links are pointing towards your website. Having a good number of backlinks is important, but it is more crucial to have high quality links.
- Number of unique domains – this is the number of unique domains linking to your website, as it is good to have links from a variety of different sources.
- Total links vs. unique links – if your profile has too many links coming from just a single number of sources it can look suspicious or spammy
- Anchor text – it is important to look at the anchor text – the words that are used to link to your site. It is, of course, important to have anchor text that include your brand name, as well as specific keywords that you are targeting. But just as vital is having a natural profile with a range of different anchor text links.
- Rate of new links acquired – a strong backlink profile should acquire links at a steady pace. A sudden rise in the number of links pointing to your site can look suspicious.
- Link quality – yes, it can’t be overlooked; the quality of links pointing to your site is essential.
How to improve your backlink profile
Once you have completed your backlink analysis, it’s time to start getting more links – and that’s making it sound easier than it is.
As we talked about earlier with regards to good and bad backlinks, you need to ensure that you are getting the right links for your site.
Paying a non-relevant blog to post a 500-word article with a link back to your homepage isn’t effective these days – Google’s much too clever for that.
It’s like Jordan Tiecher said: “SEO isn’t about gaming the system anymore, it’s about learning to play by the rules”.
How to get quality backlinks
At Hive19, it’s our job to achieve the highest quality and most relevant backlinks for our clients. There are no trade secrets and no silver bullets – we earn link coverage through time, effort, and years of expertise.
Links aren’t built; they are earned. And you earn the best links with exceptional content and great relationships with sites.
We have spent time cultivating fantastic relationships with a network of thousands of websites and online resources across a huge variety of industries and niches. Our writers are more than just copywriters regurgitating articles – they are experienced industry professionals. They create the kind of content that audiences are actually interested in reading and engaging with, drawing from their own experiences and sharing insights with a wider community.
And that’s what you have to do if you want the best links. Spend time building relationships with sites in your industry that publish content and offer them something unique that appeals to their audience and brings them traffic.
Things to avoid when getting backlinks
We’ve already talked about a few red flags when building links: over-obsessing with domain authority, for example. But there are some subtler issues too.
The real key with link building is creating a natural backlink profile. Things that look unnatural to Google get flagged and investigated, and that’s how sites get penalties for their low quality links.
A sudden influx of new links from apparently unrelated sites would look unnatural, so would a small British retailer getting links from a local newspaper in Australia; just because you can get a link, doesn’t mean that you should.
It’s also worth paying attention to anchor text; branded anchor text is often the most valuable to your homepage – but getting a large number of links with branded anchor text all at once looks suspicious.
It is worth really understanding your backlink profile through a detailed backlink analysis. This can inform your link building efforts and in the long term help you to achieve higher rankings on Google and other search engines.