Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Plan Link Building Like A Pro


If you want to know whether your website is in good SEO shape or not, you need to check your backlinks.

I’ve been doing SEO since 2009. I have played around with both white hat and black hat SEO techniques, and I can tell you from my own experience that your backlink profile health can make or break your SEO efforts..

That’s why a backlink audit is crucial for your website’s search engine ranking.

In this article, I’ll show you exactly how to do a backlink audit using Ahrefs backlink audit tool. I personally found this tool to be the most helpful.

You’ll also learn how to analyze such links on your backlink profile so that you can identify any bad backlinks to your site that may prevent it from ranking to its potential.

Once you’ve done a complete link audit, the next step is to continue to build websites link acquisition authority. Therefore, in the final chapter, you’ll find out how to create a Link Requirement Estimate Plan for your site – it’s a report that looks at how many backlinks/referring domains you’ll need to outrank your competitors.

Quick Summary

What is a Backlink Audit?

Backlink Audit intro

A backlink audit is all about analyzing the quality of links towards your website from other domains with the aim to make sure that there aren’t any unnatural or spammy backlinks that could potentially hinder your site’s SEO performance or result in a Google Manual Penalty.

Why is a Backlink Audit Important?

A backlink audit is important because links are one of the most powerful and important ranking factors in Google’s Search algorithms. There’s no denying the importance of links and, by extension, the art of link building has on your website’s ability to rank.

A Backlinko study of one million search results found that backlinks correlated with search engine rankings more than any other ranking factor.


With this in mind, it’s no surprise that links can also be one of the most problematic components of your site’s SEO health.

When you buy a car, you have to put the right fuel in it to make it run. In the same way, backlinks are like a website’s fuel where the right links provide the boost it needs to move forwards (rank).

website and backlink car analogy tsiwebsite and backlink car analogy tsi

Apart from helping you find the potentially dangerous links, performing a link audit also helps provide an insight into your backlink profile and how you may want to strategize for a future link-building campaign.

This is something that ties into the Link Requirement Plan section of this article.

Backlink Audit Checklist

Before we begin, here’s a breakdown of every backlink audit tool you’ll need to identify potentially dangerous backlinks to your site.

  • Ahrefs – A great backlink audit tool for reviewing and analyzing your backlinks.
  • Google Search Console – Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console has a “download latest links” report that allows you to download a sample of your backlinks and is also the place where you will check for link-based manual penalties.

ahrefs and google search console preview by tsiahrefs and google search console preview by tsi

Get An Overview of Your Link Profile (And Your Competitors)

The first step in this link profile audit process is all about getting to know the state of your site’s link profile before digging deep into the links themselves.

During your backlink audit, you should be asking yourself the following questions:

The simplest way to do this is via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool.

Site Explorer > Enter your domain > Choose the “*.domain/*” mode

TSI backlink profile preview on ahrefsTSI backlink profile preview on ahrefs

Scroll a little further down, and you’ll see two graphs which show the number of referring domains (i.e. domains linking) and referring pages your website has seen over time.

tsi linking domains and referring pages in ahrefs previewtsi linking domains and referring pages in ahrefs preview

This graph is useful because it shows any sharp increases (which may be a result of a negative SEO attack), or decreases (which may represent a sudden loss of links) that may be of importance.

You can compare both the referring domains and the link velocity graph with your competitors.

To find out more about link velocity, check out the video below.

Scroll further down, and you’ll find a table that shows the most common anchor texts used to link to your website.

common anchor texts used to link to your websitecommon anchor texts used to link to your website

With this table, you can quickly identify whether the anchor text distribution of your link profile is natural or not.

If you see mostly branded, URL based anchor texts, you have little to worry about.

If you spot any anchors that are spammy (i.e. they have nothing to do with your website), or over-optimized (i.e. they are mostly keyword-rich), then this indicated that you will likely need to dig a little deeper by scrutinizing the full anchor text report that Ahrefs provides. You can do this by clicking on “view full report”.

Let’s answer the above questions using the TSI website as an example.

This information will come in handy later on!

Follow the above steps to get an overview of your competitor’s backlink profile too – this will help you see where your website stands in comparison.

Find & Pool Your Backlinks

To perform your backlink audit, you need to gather data first!

To get the most comprehensive data on your link profile, we recommend using as many sources as possible, but the main source we will use here is Ahrefs.

To grab your backlink data head over to:

Overview > Backlinks > One link per domain > Export > Quick/Full Export > Start Export

Overview Backlinks One link per domainOverview Backlinks One link per domain

From the export, delete all columns except:

Now that you’ve collected all the information you need about your backlink profile, it’s time to analyze the actual backlinks!

Analyze Your Backlinks

Below we have listed a few metrics that you should look to speed up the process of analyzing all your backlinks.

Each of these will help you answer the question, is this a spammy backlink?

Domain Authority

Your website’s Domain Authority is the perceived amount of authority your site has based on the quality and quantity of your backlinks.

A link from a website with a high authority indicates that the link is of higher “quality”.

authority site backlinks to your website tsi illustrationauthority site backlinks to your website tsi illustration

Ahrefs has a logarithmic scale for Domain Authority called Domain Rating, in general:

It’s worth noting that not all domains with a low DR score are spam sites. In these cases, other factors such as the language, number of keywords, link relevance should be considered.

Page Authority

Page Authority (or Ahrefs’ URL Rating) indicates the strength and authority of the linking page as opposed to the domain.

A higher URL Rating suggests a higher quality page in terms of its ability to rank in the search results.

Ahrefs URL Rating tsi previewAhrefs URL Rating tsi preview

Anchor Text

We’ve already seen the importance of what types of anchors are used to link to your website.

Look out for any unnatural or over-optimized anchor texts as they can potentially lead to a manual link based penalty from Google, for example:

The main types of anchors you will find are:

Referring Domains

Websites that have a higher amount of referring domains indicate higher authority and ranking power.

Use this metric in conjunction with Domain Authority.

Organic Keywords

The most valuable links are those whose domains rank for lots of keywords.

ahrefs organic keywords graph tool previewahrefs organic keywords graph tool preview

Organic Traffic

This metric tells you how much organic traffic the linked pages get.

Getting links from websites (and pages) that are bringing in organic search traffic themselves offers more value to your website.

Ahrefs’ metric isn’t quite as accurate as Google Analytics, but since you aren’t the site owner of the domains linking you, this is the best way to know how much traffic the backlinks pointing to you are getting.

ahrefs organic traffic graph tool previewahrefs organic traffic graph tool preview

Total Backlinks

More often than not, a website will only link to you once.

A quick way to find potentially harmful or spammy referring domains is to identify any websites that have multiple links to your website.

Two or three links is fine, but if these domains have 100s or maybe even 1000 backlinks linking to you, then it’s worth taking a closer look.

Link Relevance

Ideally, you want your inbound links to come from websites within your niche.

If you have an eCommerce or niche website that sells vegan products, then a link from a health magazine is much more valuable to you than a link from a website about interior design.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should disavow any domains that aren’t related to your website – because they may still be authoritative, bring in lots of search traffic, rank for lots of keywords etc.

Instead, look out for websites that offer absolutely no link relevance and are the most common culprits when it comes to unnatural links. For example:


Use the “Language” filter on ahrefs to identify potentially harmful links from websites in different languages.

Language filter on ahrefs tsiLanguage filter on ahrefs tsi

If your website is in English and you see an unnatural amount of links coming from sites in various other languages, then it’s likely that these sites will offer little SEO value.

Dofollow vs Nofollow

There are two main types of backlinks: Dofollow links and Nofollow links.

Dofollow links pass authority, Nofollow links don’t.

Use the “Link type” filter on Ahrefs to identify any dofollow backlinks that are harmful to your site.

Link type filter on Ahrefs tsiLink type filter on Ahrefs tsi

Pattern Matching

As you’ve probably noticed, it’s almost impossible to do a backlink audit manually, so it’s worth having a few tricks up your sleeve to quickly and efficiently spot those toxic links and reduce your toxicity score…

… using pattern matching!

Check For Manual Links Penalties

An SEO’s worst nightmare (when it comes to link building) is finding out that Google has penalized their site.

Link building has always been, is, and always will be one of the most lucrative of SEO components. It’s crucial that you follow Google’s guidelines and do not use any link schemes that manipulate Google’s PageRank algorithm.

To check for manual penalties from Google: head over to Google Search Console > Security & Manual Actions > Manual Actions.

security and manual actions in gsc settingsecurity and manual actions in gsc setting

What you’ll want to see, is this:

Manual Actions with no issues detected on gsc previewManual Actions with no issues detected on gsc preview

But if you do have a links based penalty, you’ll see an “Unnatural links to your site” message like this:

Manual Actions with issues detected on gsc previewManual Actions with issues detected on gsc preview

If your site has been penalized for links, you will need to:

  • Google will review your submission (which can take several days or a week) and send you an update on whether the penalty has been lifted or not via email.

Link Requirement Estimate Plan

After you’ve audited the domains linking to your own site, you’re going to want to start working on a link-building strategy to help take your rankings to the next level.

That’s where the Link Requirement Estimate Plan comes in.

What is a Link Requirement Estimate Plan?

Simply put, the Link Requirement Estimate Plan is a spreadsheet designed to help you calculate how many and what kinds of links you’ll need to build to compete with your competitors by comparing your backlink profile to theirs.

spreadsheet designed to calculate links from tsispreadsheet designed to calculate links from tsi

The Link Requirement Estimate Plan consists of four core elements:

Why do you Need a Link Requirement Estimate Plan?

The core purpose for putting together a Link Requirement Estimate Plan is to identify where your website stands (in terms of the link authority, aka “link juice” of your overall backlink profile) against your competitors and plan a good link-building strategy.

Importantly, it also outlines a roadmap on how you can close the gap between them by providing an estimate on how many links you’ll need to build, and which anchors to use to yield the best results.

Link Requirement Estimate Plan Checklist

In order to complete your Link Requirement Estimate Plan, you will need:

And we recommend you watch this video:

Competitor Overview

The first thing you need to do is identify your top competitors.

Identify Your Top 10 Competitors

If you don’t know who your top 10 competitors are, you can do so via a classic Google search console, or, using Ahrefs.

The Classic Google Search

Search one or two of the core keywords you want to rank for in Google and grab the top 10 results that show up.

For example, say our website is thesoundjunky.com targeting the USA, and our core keyword is “best turntable under 500”, then our top competitors would be those appearing in the top 10 results.

The Classic Google Search tsi previewThe Classic Google Search tsi preview


Method One

Using the Site Explorer, enter your domain and navigate to Organic Search.

the sound junky ahrefs chart previewthe sound junky ahrefs chart preview

Then in the right sidebar, you’ll find the list of main competitors (based on the organic keywords).

sound junky top 10 competitor ahrefs resultsound junky top 10 competitor ahrefs result

Method Two

In case you didn’t want to use the classic Google search, you can also grab your competitors using Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool.

Type in the keyword into the Keyword Explorer and make sure that you’ve selected the correct target location.

In this case, we’re looking at “best turntable under 500”, for the USA.

best turntable under 500 keyword explorer on ahrefsbest turntable under 500 keyword explorer on ahrefs

When the results load, make sure that they’re up to date. If not, click “Update”.

best turntable serp & kd updatebest turntable serp & kd update

Scroll down to the bottom where you’ll find the top 10 results for the keyword.

top 10 results for best turntable under 500 ahrefs resulttop 10 results for best turntable under 500 ahrefs result

A Side Note

One thing to bear in mind regardless of which method you choose, is to ensure that the data you’re looking at is appropriate and correct.

Sometimes in the search results or in the Ahrefs list, you may find a “competitor” who is only present for that particular keyword, or in the case of the Ahrefs keyword list, their website may only overlap with yours for a number of keywords.

For example, when we looked at the Top 10 US Competitors for our example, using Method Two, we can see that Ahrefs lists heavy.com and cnet.com.

sound junky top 10 competitor ahrefs resultsound junky top 10 competitor ahrefs result

These are examples of sites that you shouldn’t use because they don’t have the same search intent and website profile as The Sound Junky site.

Therefore, we’ll use the domains from the top 8 results:

Collect Competitor Backlink Information

Now that you’ve identified your top 10 competitors, it’s time to grab the backlink data for them (and your own domain) using Ahrefs’s Batch Analysis tool.

Go to Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool via the Top Navigation Bar >  More > Batch analysis.

Paste the list of domains, ensure the Target Mode is set to “*.domain/*” and hit “Analyze”.

competitors quick batch analysis ahrefscompetitors quick batch analysis ahrefs

Export the data by clicking on Export > Start Export

domain and url analyzed with reports ahrefsdomain and url analyzed with reports ahrefs

From the exported spreadsheet, you want to remove all of the columns except those in the Template.

Here’s how they correspond to the export spreadsheet:

You should be left with something like this:

domain and url analyzed with reports ahrefs on spreadsheetdomain and url analyzed with reports ahrefs on spreadsheet

Now you can simply copy all of the data of your competitors (without the headings) from this file and paste it into the Template.

competitors data copied in a new templatecompetitors data copied in a new template

Paste your domain’s stats into the purple row.

Paste your domain stats in the spreadsheetPaste your domain stats in the spreadsheet

Target Distribution of Backlinks

Now that you’ve entered in the backlink information, the Template will automatically calculate the estimations for how many links you’ll likely need in order to bridge the gap.

Target Distribution of BacklinksTarget Distribution of Backlinks

Estimated to rank comfortably (average): – this tells you how many links, referring domains you’ll need to rank comfortably against your competitors.

Estimated minimum (median): – this tells you the minimum amount of links, referring domains you’ll need to rank against your competitors.

Use the median to cater to any outliers in your dataset, for example in our case, the competitor digitaltrends.com has an extremely high number of backlinks compared to the rest of the pack which is skewing the results.

Anchor Text Distribution

The small table on the right of the spreadsheet is our recommended anchor distribution table and chart.

Anchor text distribution type and amountAnchor text distribution type and amount

Based on our own internal research, we’ve put together a table and chart which breaks down what the ideal anchor text distribution for your backlinks should be. In other words, it’s the safest and the most natural backlinks distribution we suggest you aim for.

Anchor type distribution graphAnchor type distribution graph

For more information, check out my complete guide on Anchor Text Optimization.

Backlink Forecast

Based on the above data, you can form a monthly link building strategy by outlining the number of links and types of anchor texts that you will use.

examples of backlinks amount and anchor text typesexamples of backlinks amount and anchor text types

For example, if during your backlink audit you found that the majority of the links pointing towards your site are Exact or Partial, then you would look to balance this out by planning to build more links with Branded anchor text.

Likewise, if your anchor text distribution is mostly Branded, then you can afford to be a little more aggressive with your link building.

And there you have it, that’s your Link Requirement Estimate Plan complete!


What Is a Backlink Audit?

A backlink audit is the process of evaluating the quality of the backlinks pointing to your domain using a backlink audit tool.

Why Do a Backlink Audit?

You need to do a backlink audit to asses the quality of your backlink profile and detect any spammy backlinks that could trigger a manual penalty.

What Is the Link Audit Process?

The link audit process is a systematic evaluation of a website’s backlink profile to assess its quality, relevance, and potential risks.

The Bottom Line

Carrying out a complete backlink audit on a regular basis by analyzing your site’s backlinks is paramount in maintaining its SEO health.

In this article, you have learned how to identify any suspicious links and domains linking to your site as well as understanding what metrics to look at whilst analyzing such links.

Finally, you learned how to create a Link Requirement Estimate Plan, which will help you understand the number and type of backlinks you’ll need to outrank your competitors.

If you need a hand with backlink audit, feel free to contact my team at The Search Initiative.



Matt is the founder of Diggity Marketing, LeadSpring, The Search Initiative, The Affiliate Lab, and the Chiang Mai SEO Conference. He actually does SEO too.



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