It might be every SEO’s least favorite job: the backlink audit. This is not because the work itself is horrible (though it can be tedious on sites with large link footprints), but because it’s almost always performed when a domain is in trouble.
Whether you’re reading this article because you’re an SEO looking at new strategies or a site owner that has received a link-based penalty, I hope you find the methodology below helpful.
I should note before proceeding that I prefer robust datasets, and so I’ll be using four link datasets in the example. They are:
Though I have paid accounts with all of the tools above (except for the Search Console, which is free), each offers a way to get the data for free — either via a trial account or free data for site owners. There are also other link sources you can use, like Spyfu or SEMrush, but the above four combined tend to capture the lion’s share of your backlink data.
Now, let’s begin …
The first step in the process is to pull the data from the above listed sources. Below, I will outline the process for each platform.
Google Search Console
Next, we need to condition the data by getting all of the backlinks into one list and filtering out the known duplicates. Each spreadsheet you’ve downloaded is a little different. Here’s what you’re looking at:
Now you should have a list of all the backlinks from all four sources in Column A of a new spreadsheet. You will then select Column A, click on the “Data” tab at the top (assuming you’re working in Excel) and click “Remove Duplicates.” This will remove the links that were duplicated between the various data sources.
The next step is to select all the remaining rows of data and copy them into a Notepad document, then save the document somewhere easily referenced.
You’ve now got a list of all of your inbound backlinks, but that’s not particularly useful. What we want to do next is to gather unified data for them all. That’s where URL Profiler comes in. For this step, you’ll have to download URL Profiler. Like the other tools I’ve mentioned thus far, URL Profiler has a free trial; so if it’s a one-off, you can stick with the trial.
Once downloaded and installed, there’s a bit of a setup process designed to aid you in a speedy analysis. The first thing you’ll need to do is click the “Accounts” menu, which will bring up the windows to enter your API keys from the various tools discussed previously.
Helpfully, each tab gives you a link to the step-by-step instructions on getting your various API keys, so I won’t cover that here. That leaves me to get to the good part…
You will now be presented with a screen that looks like this:
The first step is to right click the large, empty URL List box on the right and select to “Import From File.” From there, choose the Notepad document you created with the links in your spreadsheet above.
You’ll now see a list of all your backlinks in the box, and you’ll need to select all the data that you want to collect from the boxes on the left. The more data you want, the longer it will take, and the more you’ll have to weed though — so you generally only want to select the data relevant to the task at hand. When I am looking for low-quality links, I tend to select the following:
In the “Link Analysis” field at the bottom, you will enter the your domain. This will leave you with a screen similar to this one:
Click “Run Profiler.” At this stage, you can go grab a coffee. Your computer is hard at work on your behalf. If you don’t have a ton of RAM and you have a lot of links to crawl, it can bog things down, so this may require some patience. If you have a lot to do, I recommend running it overnight or on a machine dedicated to the task.
Once it’s completed, you’ll be left with a spreadsheet of your links. This is where combining all of the data from all of the backlink sources and then unifying the information you have on them pays off.
So, let’s move on to the final step…
Once URL Profiler is done, you can open the spreadsheet with the results. It will look something like this:
Now, the first thing I tend to do is delete all of the tabs except “All.” I love tools that collect data, but I’m not a fan of automated grading systems. I also like to get a visual, even on the items I will be moving back to similar tabs that I am deleting in this stage (more below).
With those extra tabs removed, you are left with a spreadsheet of all your backlinks and unified data. The next step is to remove the columns you don’t want cluttering your spreadsheet. It’s going to be wide enough as-is without extra columns.
While the columns you select to keep will depend on specifically what you’re looking for (and which data you decided to include), I tend to find the following to be globally helpful:
And for those who have ever made fun of me that my desk looks like …
… now you know why! While doable on a single monitor, it would require a lot of scrolling. I recommend at least two monitors (and preferably three) if you have a lot of backlinks to go through. But that’s up to you.
Now, back to what we do with all these rows of backlinks.
The first step is to create three new tabs. I name mine: nofollow, nolink and nopage.
In the site I am using in this example, I started with 10,883 rows of links. After these three steps, I am left with 5,393. I now have less than half the links I initially had to sort through.
What you do with your data now will depend on specifically what you are looking for. I can’t possibly list off all the various use cases here, but following are a few of the common sorting systems I use to speed up the review process and reduce the number of individual pages I need to visit when trying to locate unnatural links:
As I’m reviewing — and before visiting a link — I tend to scan the various scores, the social shares for the URL and the Link Location. This will tell me a lot about what I’m likely to find and where I’m likely to find it.
Over time, you’ll develop instincts on which links you need to visit and which you don’t. I tend to view perhaps more than I need to, but I often find myself working on link penalty audits, so diligence there is the key.
If you are simply wanting to review your backlinks periodically to make sure nothing problematic is in there, then you’ll likely be able to skip more of the manual reviewing and base more decisions on data.
The key to a good audit of any type is to collect reliable data and place it in a format that is as easy as possible to digest and work with. While there’s a lot of data to deal with in these spreadsheets, any less and you wouldn’t have as full a picture.
Though this process isn’t automated (as you’re now well aware), it dramatically speeds up the process of conducting a backlink audit, reduces the time you need to spend on any specific page judging your links (thanks to the developer for adding the “Link Location” in) and allows for faster bulk decisions.
For example, in simply sorting by URL, I quickly scanned through the list and found directory.askbee.net linking 4,342 times due to some major technical issues with a low-quality directory. Now, we’re down to 1,051 links to contend with.
Again, each need requires different filters, but as you play with different sorting based on what you need to accomplish, you’ll fast discover that a manual backlink audit, while taxing and time-consuming, doesn’t have to be the nightmare it can often seem.