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Why Backlink Analysis Is Not Just For Penguin Survival

Emma North

by Emma North on 18th June 2013

big-eyes-magnifying-glassThe majority of us in the industry are very familiar with the concept of backlink analysis and recognise that it is an essential part of a site audit or SEO health check. With Google Penguin updates, unnatural link warnings and manual link penalties, backlink analysis is one of the hottest topics in the SEO industry today and is a practice most of us carry out frequently.

However, the process of backlink analysis is often considered a one-time procedure, often as a response to a Google update or unnatural link warning, or simply to clean and future-proof a site’s link profile. Rarely do I hear about the necessity of carrying out backlink analysis and checks on a regular, frequent basis or the reasons for doing so.

Checking For Unnatural Links Is Just The Beginning

The most obvious and well-publicised purpose of checking your site’s backlinks is of course to check for unnatural links that could be harming your organic search engine performance. Since the release of Google Penguin last year and the constant flow of unnatural link warnings and manual penalties being handed out by the search engine giant, checking your link profile for potentially unnatural links is an essential part of search engine optimisation.

I have covered this aspect of backlink analysis is quite some detail in the past in my post on recovering from a Google ranking penalty. However, important as this is, checking for unnatural links is only one of a number of reasons to carry out backlink analysis.

Identify Anomalies and Signs of Negative SEO

Perhaps the most important reason for checking your backlink profile on a frequent and regular basis is to identify anomalies that could be the result of a negative SEO attack.

For example, look closely at these two charts, which show the link profiles of two different sites from Majestic SEO:

Majestic SEO Backlinks Comparative Charts

The first one appears to have fairly sporadic link profile activity. However, the scale of the axis on this chart is only 0-40. The site receives anything between 3 and 35 links a day and this variation is perfectly normal.

In comparison, the second chart has a much greater scale of 0-600 to accommodate for the clearly unnatural spike. This site receives an average of 50-100 links a day but received around 800 links in just two days at the end of May.

This sort of spike should be investigated as quickly as possible. If it is the result of negative SEO, the sooner it is resolved the less likely it is that your rankings will suffer.

Of course, if you do not check your new backlink discovery regularly, you would not pick up on this sort of information until it was too late. If you wait for something to happen to your rankings before you investigate the quality and health of your backlink profile, it is already too late and is much more difficult to resolve. Prevention, or at least early intervention, is better than cure.

Lost Links

Broken Link ImageAnother important reason to stay on top of your backlinks is to identify lost links as they occur. If a link is there one month and gone the next, it’s worth your investigative time to find out why.

Occasionally it may not have gone at all; no link analysis tool offers a perfect picture of your link profile and sometimes the links it reports will appear to come and go. However if the link really has been removed and the site is still live, ask yourself why.

It can be worth going further than this and actually asking the site owner why it was removed, particularly if the link was valuable either for referral traffic or as a quality backlink.

Generally, if the entire page that a link was on gets removed there isn’t much you can do about it. This is quite common as sites change, get rid of old pages or cease altogether. However if the page still exists and only your link has been removed, it might be that the link was removed in error and can be easily fixed or it may have been consciously and manually removed. Either way, it is worth investigation to see whether a polite request could get your backlink back or whether there is anything you can do better on your own site to minimise lost links in the future.

Sometimes when a link is gone, it’s gone for good, but it’s still important to know about it, particularly if you’re losing links left, right and centre. It could be something you’re doing, or perhaps sites are removing links because you have broken pages. Without this investigation there could be any number of issues that go unresolved.

You can find more information on checking for lost links on this post over at Search Engine Watch.

Brand Monitoring

Another purpose of carrying out regular analysis of your site’s backlinks is to monitor your brand mentions across the web. By reviewing your new referring domains and anchor text each month you can stay on top of what people are saying about your brand.

Use backlink analysis tools such as Majestic SEO and Open Site Explorer to review your most recently-discovered backlinks to see what new sites are linking to and what they’re saying.

Another great tool for this is the Trackbacks section within Google Analytics (Traffic Sources – Social – Trackbacks). Here you can see the links Google has identified that point to your site, along with when they were discovered and which of your pages they point to. You can then click “view trackback” to see the page that linked to you.

Google Analytics Trackbacks

Competitor Link Analysis

My final thought on backlink analysis would be not to limit your analysis to just your own site. Almost all of the great information you can get on your own link profile is just as available for competitor sites and is incredibly useful.

Regular review of your main online competitors’ link profiles allows you to see (among other things) two very important pieces of information; the speed in which they are gaining new links and the sites which are linking to them.

It is important to understand the amount of new links or “link velocity” of your competitors’ link profiles so that you know whether or not your own profile competes. If a competitor is gaining far more, quality links than you each day and the quality of their link profile is continually improving, you might want to consider new or creative ways to build or encourage quality backlinks.

Looking at your competitors’ link profiles is one of the best ways to find new link opportunities for your own site. Their list of referring domains is essentially a list of sites prepared to link to and talk about someone in your industry, so there’s a good chance that they’ll talk about you too. Filter through the links here to get inspiration for new links and make sure you don’t miss out on quality backlinks.

Final Thoughts

I hope that, if you don’t already, you start checking your backlink profile regularly and look for more than just unnatural links. I recommend checking your backlink profile at least once a week but no less than once a month. For bigger sites with more traffic and engagement across the web, you should be making these sorts of checks daily. Be proactive, not reactive!

If you have any comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Man with big eye and magnifying glass from Bigstock
Broken Link Image from Bigstock

Emma North

Emma North

Emma has more than 5 years’ digital marketing experience and has worked on dozens of websites in a wide range of industries. She has a passion for both SEO and PPC and is driven by the need to develop her digital skills and knowledge. She is always exploring innovative solutions for new problems encountered in the ever-changing digital world.

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2 Comments

  • Market Stomper 19th June 2013

    Hey Emma,

    Another great read… For some smaller websites that we monitor we do check for any unnatural links spikes that we know wasn’t us.

    Majestic is great for this so we can get a bigger picture of how our link profile is growing and shaping. Also Negative SEO can really harm small sites that don’t get lots of links and has little authority rather than the bigger sites that don’t need to worry as much because there authority can outweigh any spammy links they could attract.

    Reply to this comment

    • Emma North

      Emma North 20th June 2013

      Absolutely, although negative SEO could definitely still upset the apple cart even with big sites if enough effort was put in so it’s still a threat but definitely not as much and smaller sites would have a lot more work to do to recover.

      Thanks for your feedback; it’s always appreciated!

      Reply to this comment

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