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The Basics of Link Profile Analysis

Effective link profile analysis is critical maintenance for ongoing website health. Read on to learn the basic strategies for this task.

The Basics of Link Profile Analysis

Did you know that doing a link analysis is critical to maintaining the ongoing health of your site?

They can also contribute significantly to the strategic and technical aspects of your domain.

For the strategic, a link analysis will help you determine weaknesses in your overall strategy that will determine the actions you must take. This strategic analysis is one that will also be a determining factor in the success of your SEO.

From a technical perspective, the link analysis will allow you to identify bad links that may have future potential negative effects on your website, with significant repercussions if you build too much of the wrong links.

Performing an accurate link analysis is critical, along with how to select the right tools for the job.

It’s not unheard of to use as many as five different tools to compile all of your links, and then use them as a year-long link remediation task.

What, exactly, is link remediation?

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It’s a different name than link pruning (what some call this task), but nonetheless is the same task, and should inspire looks of dread from experienced SEO professionals who manage massive link profiles.

Or inspiration, if you love looking at links and enjoy the mechanical repetition of this task.

Regular link remediation is a critical component of ongoing link acquisition depending on the size, breadth, and scope of your site.

It can help improve performance by removing toxic links that harm your overall link profile.

What Is a Link Analysis?

A link analysis, quite simply, is a deep-dive audit of all the links pointing back to your site, making up the entirety of your link profile.

Depending on the focus of the link analysis, it can reveal major problems affecting the SERP performance of your site overall.

Whether you call it link pruning, link remediation, or plain old link analysis, they all mean the same thing.

Depending on your vendor, the link analysis will usually include a link profile disavow file, which you can then upload accordingly to Google’s disavow tool.

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Ongoing link analysis is critical to maintaining the ongoing, consistent health of your site’s link profile.

What Is a Link Analysis Used For?

Link analyses come into play when you’re concerned about the quality of your overall link profile, and you want to maintain that quality.

If your link profile has minor amounts of bad links, you probably don’t want to care about doing a link analysis, as it’s more work than what you need to maintain.

However, if your link profile contains significant amounts of bad links, and you feel like you are an ongoing target for negative SEO campaigns, you will want to consider a regular link remediation schedule.

Depending on the size of your link profile, this could be once a month or once a quarter.

Sometimes, ongoing link analyses are required to uncover more sophisticated negative SEO campaigns. But it isn’t always necessary and could be overkill for some smaller websites.

Link Analysis Tools for the Job

There is no shortage of tools on the market for link measurement and metrics tracking.

Before knowing where you’re going with your link acquisition campaign, you must understand the current state of your site’s link profile.

Proceeding with link acquisition before understanding what your link profile currently looks like is like eating raw food before it’s cooked.

Although some raw food is a delicacy, you don’t always want to take this approach, or else you may suffer serious stomachaches.

The same is true for link acquisition.

If you don’t know the current state of your link profile, and you go after some of the same links, you may not see the inherent value of your link acquisition efforts. In addition, you will be duplicating your efforts.

Using several link analysis tools at once is necessary not only for link database size, but because the differences in links discovered by these tools are worth it.

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But let’s make one thing clear: third-party link analysis tools are not the be-all, end-all, although they can get you close. None of them will duplicate Google’s database of links entirely, which is why you must use their tools as well.

Although, they can help you get enough links removed so that they don’t continue to harm the success of your SEO efforts.

Links You Must Look Out For

Believe it or not, there are good links and bad links. A good link is any link that bolsters your overall E-A-T, or expertise, authority, and trust.

A bad link is any link that either causes direct tanking of your site’s rankings, or indirect issues with your site’s SERP performance later. Or, it’s a link that is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines talks about link schemes as being against their guidelines:

“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

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The goal of your link remediation task is to find all of these types of links linking back to your site and to go through a link removal process and disavow them. There are several situations in which you need to deal with these types of links immediately:

Manual Action or Algorithmic Penalty?

Manual actions are not hard to spot. During a manual action, your site will be manually penalized. You will get a notice from Google in GSC when this happens.

You’ll also notice significant traffic drops overnight. You can’t do much to immediately reverse this issue. It will require a lot of work in link remediation, removal, and disavows until Google is pleased.

Algorithmic devaluations are simpler. Although they can be more challenging in some ways than manual actions. With a manual action, you at least know that you have a penalty and what you need to do to correct it.

With an algorithmic devaluation, uncovering the issue will take a lot more time and work, and it’s not always obvious what is behind the cause of your traffic drops.

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Google continues to maintain that they ignore spammy attempts at link building.

However, there are plenty of examples of negative SEO in the wild. I don’t think Google will ever confirm negative SEO, because that would be dangerous, right?

Imagine what would happen if every SEO knew exactly how to apply negative SEO to every single one of their competitor’s websites. That would not be pretty!

Negative SEO Attack

Believe it or not, negative SEO still exists. There are plenty of examples online of negative SEO occurring in the wild.

Yours truly has also been through a few of these and assisted in their recovery (and they are not pretty).

While in some cases you may not see a negative SEO attack register immediately, it will eventually register. And the effects can be devastating.

The premise behind negative SEO is simple: a sly competitor decides to build thousands of bad links back to your site, and your site will end up tanking in the SERPs as a result.

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The negative SEO itself is generally easy to spot – using a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush, you can easily see the increase in bad links coming into your site.

While the premise is narrowed down, there are many different ways to perform one. They include:

  • Creating spammy looking links en masse back to your own site.
  • Creating dummy sites on other domains with thousands of pages of your own scraped duplicate content, pointing back to your site.
  • Hacking your site’s robots.txt file, and getting it de-indexed.
  • Fake social profiles and fake negative online sentiment based on social signals.
  • Spammy PBNs to make it look like you are engaging in this behavior.
  • On-site negative SEO as the result of a site hack.

Many of these, when done right, can be impossible to spot for the non-savvy web entrepreneur, but it can be done by utilizing the services of a savvy SEO.

Pages & Folders – Not Just Site-Wide

An algorithmic devaluation can happen not just to the entire site, but to pages and folders that look particularly spammy.

If you experience a drop in traffic overnight, it is possible that only a page that was driving the entire bulk of your online traffic was algorithmically devalued.

In that same vein, folders can also be targeted for algorithmic devaluation, especially if pages in the folder are egregiously spammy.

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In other words, if you are hit with an algorithmic devaluation, combing through your Google Analytics and Google Search Console statistics will help you narrow down which pages and folders are targeted, rather than just going after your entire site.

What Is the Best Way to Do a Link Analysis?

Quite simply, the best way to do a link analysis is to use at least 5 different sources of links and combine them into one spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will then serve as the foundation for your link analysis efforts.

The thinking behind combining at least 5 sources of links is to cast as wide a net as possible, to gather up all potential links. You can then de-duplicate this list into a single list that you will use throughout this process.

If you don’t do it this way, you may miss some that you have to deal with later.

Why not make as complete a list as possible at the outset, and avoid the duplication of your work?

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Required Link Analysis Tool: Google Search Console

Believe it or not, Google Search Console is one of the required link analysis tools on our list.

The only problem with Google Search Console is that it won’t get all your links, which is why I recommend at least 2-3 tools in your arsenal for link analysis.

It’s required because Google Search Console contains lists of links that Google sees pointing back to your site. Of course, knowing which links Google considers valuable is critical for any link analysis efforts.

And this is why Google Search Console is so important.

But, this should not be the last word on link analysis tools that you collect for your link analysis tasks.

Optional Link Analysis Tool #1: Ahrefs

Boasting one of the most accurate and largest link databases of its kind, Ahrefs is the premier tool of choice for SEOs looking to analyze large volumes of links.

Not only that, but you can expand your link acquisition opportunities by using several actionable techniques that they go over in this post:

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  • You can mine for some content opportunities by examining the higher traffic pages on your competitor’s website.
  • You can look into how your competition is really acquiring their links, and then you can duplicate their link acquisition strategies.
  • It’s possible to use alerts to automate the discovery of new link opportunities.
  • Identify keywords with low competition and higher traffic and business potential.
  • Audit your site and figure out any crucial SEO mistakes that are negatively impacting your site on Google.
  • Look for gaps in your content strategy using the content gap analysis tool.

These are just some of the additional cool, actionable things you can do with Ahrefs (I bet you thought this was going to be yet another dry tools list with benefits and features, huh?)

And much more. I love Ahrefs for its comprehensiveness and ease of use in its audit potential along with the discovery of new link opportunities. It’s one of the best tools around for link acquisition.

With one of the largest link databases known to man, you really cannot go wrong on this tool.

Optional Link Analysis Tool #2: SEMrush

SEMrush is considered one of the best tools in an SEO person’s tool stack, and for good reason: you can fully customize your link acquisition plan from the start, beginning with low-hanging fruit opportunities at first, and going after the more difficult links later.

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Among its standard list of tasks you can use, there are other little-known things you may not have thought of about using SEMrush for link analysis:

  • You can find and remove harmful links pretty quickly.
  • Through analysis, you can find everything you lost, and figure out how to get those links back.
  • It’s possible to get rid of all of your toxic links.
  • While you get rid of toxic links, you will always have cases where you will see increases in the toxicity levels of your link profile. SEMRush will also allow you to set up alerts for any negative SEO attacks.

And much more.

SEMrush’s suite of tools not only covers link analysis, but also content marketing, social media, and many other facets of SEO.

I highly recommend them as yet another tool you should have in your SEO link analysis arsenal.

Optional Link Analysis Tool #3: Majestic

Majestic’s link analysis tool is a no-brainer. It’s one of the simplest, easiest methods around to export your links, and put them into a format that’s usable and reader-friendly.

There are a few little-known link analysis steps you can take to ensure that you grab every potential link that could be a bad link:

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  • Their bad neighborhood checker tool allows you to comb through links all belonging to a shared IP, or even the same IP, unearthing links that could be used as part of a PBN or other link network. In cases of microsites, usually, site owners will have all of those sites coming from the same IP. They’re not doing anything malicious, but other techniques like on-page spam could have a negative impact, which you can actually find when going through these links.
  • With the latest release of Majestic, you have the context of words and images surrounding links! A major improvement in its overall link analysis functions.
  • Of course, as with all link analysis tools, Majestic has its own metrics and measurements for domain authority, called trust flow and citation flow.

Combining Link Analysis Tools Data

Creating a spreadsheet that combines all of your link analysis tools data into one, and moving forward with your own strategy for designating these links, based on your industry, and based on your site, is a great way to begin your link analysis.

The way I have done it in the past is to note the links by link type (press release link, PBN link, forum link, etc.), and whether or not it is spam/not spam.

You can have good press release links, just as you can have good forum links.

Not every link from these sources is bad. It depends on how you do it and whether or not it violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

What If I Have a Drop in Traffic?

If you have been hit with anything that’s not clearly a manual penalty (such as an algorithmic devaluation), you must do some analysis and determine whether it is really a penalty or algorithmic devaluation.

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Just because you’ve had a significant drop in traffic, doesn’t mean you are automatically levied with an algorithmic devaluation.

You could have lost a critical link that was driving significant traffic.

Perhaps a page changed, altering your results significantly. Or, maybe the search query changed and people aren’t searching much for that term anymore, leading to a traffic drop.

You must answer the following questions:

  • When did the drop occur?
  • Did the drop in traffic coincide with an algorithm update?
  • Did this drop in traffic happen at the same time as other significant on-site changes?
  • Was the site potentially suffering from a loss of a critical link?
  • Could the traffic otherwise be gained?
  • Has the page significantly been changed to be more spammy than it used to be?

That’s why it’s critical to perform this type of analysis first to really nail down what actually caused the drop in traffic.

If the analysis reveals that you are being algorithmically devalued, then you will want to proceed with the link analysis/link remediation project to determine any bad links and get them disavowed.

Link Analysis Can Reveal Weaknesses, As Well As Strengths

On its own, a link analysis can help you reveal significant information about your site’s own link profile.

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From its health to the types of links, and whether or not it violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, all are useful indicators as to the overall quality of your link profile.

If you are under penalty, the link analysis is a critical element of your overall penalty recovery program.

If you are under algorithmic devaluation, this analysis will help you narrow down where, exactly, the devaluation is taking place on your site.

Even if you’re not under penalty or devaluation, a regular link analysis can help you in several ways, including making sure that you don’t get into trouble due to toxic links in your site’s link profile.

Link acquisition is no more. The future of link acquisition is link earning, and it’s already here. It’s making sure that your link profile is as natural as possible.

The fewer issues you have that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, the better. You don’t want to have too many toxic links tank your site overnight. That’s a nightmare for everyone involved.

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As the saying goes: you can never be too careful with your site’s link profile.

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, May 2020

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Brian Harnish

Sr. SEO Analyst at Bruce Clay, Inc.

Brian has been doing SEO since before it was called SEO, back in the days of 1998. Back then, SEO ... [Read full bio]

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