Backlink Audit – the Ultimate Guide to Improve Your SEO Performance.19 min read

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Backlink Audit - the Ultimate Guide

Backlink Audit – the Ultimate Guide to Improve Your SEO Performance.

A backlink audit is an important and necessary step toward improving website SEO.

It involves gathering a list of all current backlinks to your website, reviewing them for potential penalties, removing any bad links and disavowing any suspicious ones, and comparing your links to competitors in order to establish growth opportunities.

Our backlink audit guide outlines a step-by-step approach to conducting a thorough backlink audit. From identifying the types of links to analyzing link quality, this guide covers everything you need to know about backlink auditing.


  • A backlink audit is the process of examining the links that point to a website.
  • Backlink audits are an essential part of maintaining optimal web performance.
  • The main purpose of a backlink audit is to detect any potentially damaging links, or “toxic links” and negative SEO attacks, which could be hurting the website’s organic traffic and rankings.
  • Start your link audit by assessing the number of referring domains and backlinks pointing to your website using tools.
  • Next, analyze and categorize all external links pointing to your website, including dofollow, nofollow, organic, and paid links.
  • Evaluate the quality and relevance of each link by considering factors like Domain Rating, and link velocity. Pay attention to unnatural links.
  • Use Google Search Console to identify manual link penalties that may negatively impact your website’s search rankings. Use Google’s disavow tool to deal with harmful links.
  • To create a link requirement estimate plan, start by carrying out the audit like above.
  • Next, assess competitors’ backlink profiles to understand their strategies and discover potential link-building sources.
  • Finally, set goals for backlink distribution. Prioritizing acquiring high-quality, relevant backlinks from diverse sources to optimize your website’s search engine ranking and authority.
  • Anchor text distribution is crucial for SEO because it helps search engines to better understand the content of the page and link it to relevant searches. That’s why include anchor text analysis in your competitor research.
  • The aim of a backlink forecast is to estimate the impact of new backlinks, prioritize link-building efforts, and monitor progress.
  • Useful backlink audit tools include Google Search Console and Ahrefs.
  • BacklinkManager is not an audit tool but it helps you keep track of your backlinks and assess the effectiveness of your link-building strategy by monitoring links built in specific campaigns. Book the demo to find out more.

Try the best tool for your link building campaigns! CRM + Link Monitoring + Reporting

What is a Backlink Audit?

A backlink audit is the process of examining the links that point to a website.

This includes recognizing the number of referring domains and the quality of the links that are pointing to the website. It helps identify lost links or potentially dangerous links that could affect search traffic negatively if left unchecked.

Backlink audits can be done manually or with automated tools for link auditing. Manual link audits are usually more comprehensive as they allow you to check for manual penalties that automated tools may not detect.

However, automated tools are great for getting an overview of your site’s backlink profile since they can quickly gather data from multiple sources.

Spammy link profile in Whatfix

Why is a Backlink Audit Important?

Backlink audits are a must for any SEO strategy. They offer an in-depth look at the quality and quantity of links pointing to your website.

Through this audit, you can

  • Identify links from high-quality websites that will boost your authority.
  • Discover and eliminate low-quality or spammy links that could harm your rankings through Google Manual Penalty.
  • Identify negative SEO attacks – a negative SEO attack is an attempt to undermine your SEO performance by buying links to your website so that it incurs Google Manual Penalty.
  • Get an overview of how well your link-building efforts are working to optimize your link-building strategy
  • Identify nofollow links and look for opportunities to turn them into dofollow links.

Step-by-Step Guide to Doing a Backlink Audit

The workflow for a backlink profile audit follows 4 action steps:

  1. getting an overview,
  2. finding and pooling backlinks,
  3. evaluating backlinks,
  4. checking for manual penalties,

This section will provide you with an in-depth guide on how to perform a successful backlink audit.

Get an Overview of Your Link Profile

The first step in any backlink audit is looking at the number of all referring domains linking to and backlinks pointing to your website.

This is something that can be easily done with tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush, which provide an overview including the number of referring domains, organic search traffic, and link velocity.

Semrush backlink audit report

Find & Pool Your Backlinks

Once you have a grasp of your site’s link profile and those of your competitors, it’s time to collect and classify your backlinks.

This involves gathering all the links pointing from external sources to your own website, and sorting them into different categories:

  • dofollow links – links allowing search engine crawlers to follow and index them, which helps in passing “link juice” and improving the target page’s search engine ranking.
  • nofollow links – links with a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag applied to them, which tells search engines to ignore the link in terms of passing link juice and influencing search engine rankings
  • organic links – aka natural links, are links obtained without any direct attempt to get them
  • paid links – backlinks acquired by giving someone “something of great value,” usually money, in exchange for a link on their site that passes SEO value to your site. They can boost organic search visibility and increase backlinks, they can also be considered spammy and violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and incur Google Manual Penalty.
  • backlinks from the same domain.
  • missing links and 404 errors – links to pages that don’t exist anymore.
  • What Are Dofollow and Nofollow Backlinks? Source: Mangools

Analyze Your Backlinks

Analyzing backlinks is a critical part of a backlink audit. Evaluating the quality of each link and making sure they are relevant to your website is essential.

What should you look at?

  • Domain Rating (DR) – high-DR domains will enhance overall quality while connecting from low-quality ones might cause issues.
  • Link velocity – how quickly new links come into your website – is necessary to guarantee that your link profile grows at an appropriate rate.
  • Unnatural links – acquired using unethical SEO tactics like buying or exchanging them. You can identify them by looking at the anchor text and a number of referring domains.
  • Relevance of linking domain

Majestic backlink report

Check For Manual Links Penalties

Manual link penalties are a type of penalty that Google applies to websites that have unnatural or suspicious links pointing to them.

These penalties can result in lower rankings in Google search results. It is important to avoid black-hat tactics and bad backlinks to prevent these penalties.

How do you check for manual link penalties?

  1. Log in to your Google Search Console account: If you don’t have one, sign up for a free account and verify your website ownership.
  2. Access the ‘Security & Manual Actions’ section: From the left-hand menu, click on ‘Security & Manual Actions’, then select ‘Manual Actions’.
  3. Review the Manual Actions report: If your website has been penalized, you’ll see a list of issues with detailed information about each violation.
  4. If no manual actions are found, you’ll see a message stating “No issues detected.”
  5. If you do have a manual penalty, carefully review the information provided and take corrective actions to fix the violations.

  6. Once you’ve addressed the issues, submit a reconsideration request through Google Search Console. Google will review your request and, if satisfied with the corrections, lift the penalty.

Fix what’s broken.

Once you have identified any potential issues, it is important to take action to remove or disavow the links.

This can be done by contacting the webmasters of the linking domains and asking them to remove the links, or by using the Google Disavow Tool.

The Disavow Tool is a powerful tool that can help website owners remove any potentially harmful links that may be causing manual link penalties.

Create a link requirement estimate plan

A link requirement estimate plan is a system for pinpointing and targeting the exact number of backlinks for a website.

This strategy helps to guarantee that a website has the necessary backlinks to enhance its search engine ranking and drive traffic to the site. It involves an audit of links, competitor analysis, and setting goals for distributing backlinks.

The process is similar to a backlink profile audit and follows similar steps. However, the key difference is that you’re focusing on your competitors’ backlink profile rather than yours to inform your backlink strategy.

Competitor Overview

A domain comparison, like the one provided by Ahrefs, is a great way to comprehend the overall link profile of competitors and get an idea of how your own website’s link profile measures up.

What metrics should you look at?

  • the number of referring domains,
  • each domain’s link profile,
  • and every backlink’s domain authority.

By examining these metrics, you can get an idea of where your website stands in terms of link authority.

Ahrefs domain comparison tool. Source: MOTIVE PR

Target Distribution of Backlinks

Setting a target distribution of backlinks is a crucial part of any full backlink analysis or audit.

It also involves examining the search results for your target keywords and figuring out what the ranking pages are offering to their readers.

By doing this, you can identify potential backlink sources that can drive increased traffic to your target pages.

You should prioritize optimizing one key target page at once and publishing content that can attract high-authority sites and generate web traffic among your target audience.

When setting a goal distribution of backlinks, it’s essential to make sure that the links come from relevant sources and are of top quality. Additionally, you should strive for at least 1/5 of the referring domains to link to your site using branded anchor text. This will help boost your website’s visibility and enhance its overall performance.

Anchor Text Distribution

Anchor text distribution is a key SEO factor that involves selecting relevant anchor words, looking at the content around the anchor text, focusing on image alt tags, and distributing the anchor text types.

It’s beneficial to analyze competitors’ anchor text distribution as it may reveal potential opportunities and help create a more effective link-building strategy.

Backlink Forecast

Creating a backlink forecast is a critical part of the link audit process. It helps you recognize the types of backlinks needed to compete with your rivals and enhance your website’s search engine rankings.

The aim of the backlink forecast is to determine the ratio of new to lost backlinks, as well as how many of such links are required to close the gap. Additionally, it should provide an estimate for how many links are necessary for ranking comfortably against competitors.

Here’s how you do it step-by-step:

  1. Identify your target keywords: Make a list of keywords you want to rank for, focusing on those that are relevant to your niche and have a reasonable search volume.
  2. Analyze your competitors: Identify the top-ranking websites for your target keywords and analyze their backlink profiles using tools like Ahrefs, Moz, or SEMrush.
  3. Evaluate backlink quality: Assess the quality of the backlinks your competitors have by examining factors such as Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA), Trust Flow, Citation Flow, and the relevance of the referring domains.
  4. Identify backlink gaps: Compare your backlink profile with your competitors’ to find gaps or opportunities in your own link-building strategy. Look for websites that link to your competitors but not to you, as these are potential sources for new backlinks.
  5. Estimate the impact of new backlinks: Using the data gathered from the previous steps, estimate the potential impact of acquiring new backlinks on your website’s ranking. Consider factors like the number of backlinks, the quality of the linking domains, and the relevance of the anchor text.
  6. Prioritize your link-building efforts: Based on your analysis, prioritize your efforts to acquire backlinks from high-quality, relevant sources. Focus on building relationships with these sources and creating valuable content that they will want to link to.
  7. Monitor your progress: Keep track of your backlink acquisition efforts and monitor the impact on your website’s rankings. Adjust your strategy as needed to ensure that you are focusing on the most effective link-building tactics.

Backlink Audit Checklist

Here’s a backlink audit checklist to help you streamline the process:

  1. Compile a list of backlinks:
    • Use tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Moz to gather a comprehensive list of all backlinks pointing to your website.
  2. Categorize the backlinks:
    • Organize the backlinks into categories, such as guest posts, directories, forums, blog comments, etc. This will help you better understand your link profile.
  3. Analyze the link quality:
    • Assess the quality of each backlink based on factors like:
      • Domain Authority (DA) or Domain Rating (DR)
      • Page Authority (PA) or URL Rating (UR)
      • Relevance to your industry or niche
      • Traffic and social media shares
  4. Identify potentially harmful links:
    • Look for red flags like:
      • Low-quality or spammy websites
      • Irrelevant or unrelated content
      • Over-optimized anchor text
      • Paid links or link schemes
      • Links from foreign language websites (unless relevant)
  5. Disavow toxic backlinks:
    • Create a list of harmful links and submit it to Google through the Disavow Tool, so they don’t negatively impact your website’s ranking.
  6. Monitor your backlink profile:
    • Keep an eye on new backlinks regularly to ensure that they are of high quality and relevant to your website.
  7. Reach out to webmasters:
    • For any broken, low-quality, or potentially harmful backlinks, try reaching out to the webmasters to request a removal or update.
  8. Evaluate your link-building strategy:
    • Based on your audit findings, adjust your link-building strategy to focus on obtaining high-quality, relevant backlinks.
  9. Document your audit findings:
    • Keep a record of your backlink audit, including the date, tools used, and findings. This will help you monitor progress over time and make future audits more efficient.
  10. Schedule regular backlink audits:
    • Conduct backlink audits at least once or twice a year to ensure your website maintains a healthy and high-quality link profile.Backlink audit guide checklist

Backlink Audit Tools

Selecting the appropriate backlink audit tool is crucial for optimizing the advantages of your backlink audit process. With the right tool, you can assess the effectiveness of your link-building tactics, identify harmful links, and uncover new possibilities.

Numerous backlink audit tools exist, each with its own set of pros and cons. It is essential to choose the one that aligns with your requirements.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is one of the free Google webmaster tools that helps you keep track of, maintain and troubleshoot your website’s presence in Google Search results. It offers a range of tools and reports to measure your site’s search traffic and performance, fix issues, and enhance its SEO.

Google Search Console Backlink Profile Audit Source: Practical Commerce

The link report displays the number of backlinks to your website, who links to it, and which pages are linked most frequently. Additionally, it offers anchor text information and manual penalty reports.

Utilizing Google Search Console for backlink audits can be beneficial as it reveals a website’s referring domains and links pointing to the page. It also delivers metrics such as domain authority and the number of backlinks.

However, there are some limitations when using GSC for backlink profile audits, such as the absence of link context or the ability to evaluate link quality. This makes it difficult to identify problems or opportunities.

Furthermore, the tool does not provide a comprehensive and complete link audit either, as it does not display the quality of links pointing to the website.

Despite these drawbacks, Google Search Console remains a valuable tool for examining one’s backlink profile.

How to perform a backlink audit with Google Search Console?

Performing a backlink audit with Google Search Console allows you to analyze just how many backlinks are pointing to your website from Google’s perspective. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you conduct a backlink audit using Google Search Console:

Step 1: Register for Google Search Console

If you haven’t already, sign up for a free Google Search Console account.

Step 2: Confirm your website

To utilize Google Search Console, verify your website ownership by following Google’s instructions here.

Step 3: Log into Google Search Console

Once your website is verified, log in to your Google Search Console account.

Step 4: Choose your property

On the main dashboard, click the dropdown menu in the top-left corner and select the property (website) you want to analyze.

Step 5: Access the Links report

In the left-hand menu, select “Links” to open the Links report.

Step 6: Examine external links

The Links report page displays various sections related to external links, including “Top linked pages,” “Top linking sites,” and “Top linking text.” These sections offer a snapshot of your website’s backlink profile from Google’s point of view.

Step 7: Inspect the “Top linked web pages here” section

Click “More” in the “Top linked pages” section to view a detailed list of pages on your website receiving the most backlinks. This helps you comprehend which pages are generating the most interest and why.

Google Search Console doesn’t offer metrics like Domain Authority (DA) or Spam Score, so you may need to use third-party tools like Moz or Ahrefs to evaluate these links.

Look out for links from domain of questionable quality

Step 9: Export backlink data

To further analyze your backlinks, click the “Export External Links” button at the top-right corner of the page. This lets you work with the data in a spreadsheet for easier organization and analysis.

Step 10: Address all low quality links and-quality backlinks

For low-quality or spammy backlinks, either contact the webmasters to request link removal or use Google’s Disavow tool to disavow the links. To disavow links with Google Search Console, follow these steps:

How to disavow links using Search Console?

Disavowing links using search console

To disavow links using Google Search Console, follow these steps:

Step 1: Create a list of links to disavow in a text file (.txt) with one URL or domain per line. Include comments by starting a line with a ‘#’ mark. Ensure the file is in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII format.

Step 2: Visit the Disavow Links Tool page.

Step 3: Select a property (website) from the property list. Uploading a new list for a property will replace any existing list for that property.

Step 4: Click the “Upload” button and choose the disavow file from your local computer.

If there are any errors in the file, you’ll see a list of errors. Fix the errors and re-upload the file. Once uploaded, it may take a few weeks for Google to process the disavowed links.

For more information multiple links, visit Google’s documentation on disavowing links.


Ahrefs is an SEO platform with a range of tools for link-building campaigns, keyword research, competitor analysis, rank tracking, and site audits. PPC teams also use it for competitive analysis.

Ahrefs blog backlink report

Ahrefs audit report includes essential metrics and insights about the links pointing to a website. This includes breakdowns of links to authoritative websites and referring domains as well as detailed analyses of anchor text and link quality.

How to perform a backlink audit with Ahrefs?

Performing a backlink audit with Ahrefs involves using their Site Explorer tool to analyze the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your website.

Step 1: Create an Ahrefs account

To access Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool, you’ll need to sign up for an account.

Step 2: Navigate to Site Explorer:

Once logged in, select the “Site Explorer” tab from the top menu.

Step 3: Input your domain

Enter your domain into the search bar of the Site Explorer tool and click “Search.” Ahrefs may take a few moments to collect data on your domain’s backlinks.

Step 4: Examine the overview

On the overview page, focus on key metrics such as Domain Rating (DR), Ahrefs Rank (AR), and the total number of backlinks. These metrics offer a comprehensive view of your website’s backlink profile.

Step 5: Investigate backlinks

Select the “Backlinks” tab in the left-hand menu. Here, you’ll find a detailed list of all backlinks pointing to your website. Sort these links by various criteria, including DR, URL Rating (UR), or Referring Domains.

Step 6: Filter backlinks by lowest DR (DR <20)

To hone in on potentially “bad” links, apply a filter for the lowest DR (for example, links with DR below 20):

Ahrefs backlink profile audit: low DR links

Step 7: Export backlink data

To examine your backlinks in more depth, click the “Export” button at the top right of the links column. This enables you to work with the data in a spreadsheet, simplifying organization and analysis.

Export option in Ahrefs

Step 8: Evaluate backlink quality

Analyze the exported backlinks to pinpoint high-quality, relevant links, as well as low-quality or spammy ones. Consider the DR, UR, and Referring Domains of each backlink, and the relevance of the linking site to your content.

Step 9: Discover new backlink opportunities

Use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer’s “Competing Domains” feature to find websites linking to your competitors but not to you. This can help you uncover potential sources for high-quality backlinks.

Competing domains dashboard in Ahrefs

Backlink Manager

BacklinkManager doesn’t support full-on link audits. However, it’s a link-building tool that allows you to keep track of the links built in specific campaigns (e.g. through link-building agencies.) So it’s basically a CRM dedicated to link-building agencies.

It also lets you know when those valuable links you paid for have been taken down by the webmasters!

Thanks to its link-monitoring features, you can:

  • track links and receive automated status updates,
  • get notifications about link status changes (dofollow, nofollow, page not found, link removed),
  • track how many links you’ve built to reach your targets. It’s useful for both link-building and marketing agencies and other content marketing teams in managing their link-building operations.

Backlink Manager dashboard

Try the best tool for your link building campaigns! CRM + Link Monitoring + Reporting


A backlink audit is a critical process for understanding, assessing, and optimizing any website’s link-building strategy. Key steps to include in the link profile audit process are identifying backlinks, reviewing their quality, and measuring both link velocity and anchor text distribution.

A comprehensive backlink audit requires not only an awareness of the link profile of one’s own site, but also an understanding of competitor link profiles. Once all the site’s backlinks have been assessed, a level of effort can be determined to gain additional backlinks and efforts put forth for dissociating those that harm visibility on search engine results pages.

If you want to see how BacklinkManager can help you oversee the effectiveness of your link-building efforts, sign up for free trial!