Link audits are essential for bloggers who wish to optimize their sites for search engines. They are now just as important as developing the right content and getting people to link to your site.
Ever since Google rolled out the first version of Penguin, negative SEO has become a serious concern. Penguin’s algorithm penalizes websites that used manipulative methods of link building to attain high rankings, such as spamming the comment sections of other websites. That legacy spam could now damage the rankings of those websites. However, many legitimate websites have also been affected by the algorithm change.
It is now vital for webmasters to keep a close eye on their backlink profile in order to identify and disavow low-quality links as quickly as possible. Yet it seems that many webmasters have yet to catch on to the importance of regular link maintenance.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the reasons why it’s important for you to audit your links.
First of all, not all links are created equal. Some links are weaker than others. In fact, websites with inappropriate or unnatural links are at risk of incurring penalties from the major search engines. In most cases, they’re easy to spot. They will be links from link exchanges, article directories, and other link farms, sites unrelated to the theme of your blog, or links in blog comments. These links typically:
- Originate with a PageRank of N/A or -1
- Originate from newly registered domains
- Originate from domains with extremely low traffic
- Originate from pages with a large number of external links
- Are sitewide links.
- Their anchor text is usually a commercial keyword phrase
Websites that have an excessive number of such links may even be de-indexed. Negative SEO has made it possible for your competitors to sabotage your website with thousands of low quality backlinks and thereby remove your website from indexes. This tactic is more prevalent than you might think: a quick look at Fiverr will reveal loads of contractors offering low-quality links at ridiculously cheap prices.
Google responded to the possibility of sabotage by introducing the Disavow Links tool in October 2012. This tool enabled webmasters to protect their sites from attacks by competitors. Now you can review your backlinks and select the ones that you want blocked. Prior to the Disavow Links tool, you would have had to contact the webmasters of sites with weak links and ask them to correct or remove their links. As you can imagine, webmasters would rarely comply, as they have little incentive to spend their precious time and resources just to improve your own page rank. Despite the value of this tool, many webmasters wait until it’s too late to use it. Once a search engine has penalized your site, the damage has been done, and it takes a lot more time and resources to reverse it.
For this reason, it is important to audit your links periodically to prevent your blog from suffering in the SERPs.
Diagnosing Traffic Drops
If you find that your search traffic drops suddenly then it’s important to make sure
- Check Google Webmaster Tools to see if there are any messages particularly regarding Unnatural Links
- Check Moz’s Google Algo History for any recent updates
- Use a free tool such as the Panguin Tool or the Google Penalty Indicator
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
By reviewing your backlinks, you’ll learn a lot about the websites that are linking to your blog. This knowledge will help with your strategic planning. For instance, you’ll come to know the parts of your website that attract the most inbound links as well as those that attract the least. Based on this information, you’ll be able to identify the weaker parts of your blog and focus your attention there. You’ll also be able to build your links and market your blog more effectively.
Know Your Audience
Who is reading your blog? More importantly, who is linking to it? Google Alerts can help identify your readers, but it’s not perfect. It’s already difficult to set good parameters for Google Alerts, but even the best alert criteria will inevitably miss out on some links.
Link-mapping tools can provide you with a more comprehensive list of sites that are linking to your blog. Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO are two well-known examples. Regularly monitoring your backlinks with these tools will allow you not only to help you to cater better content to your readership but also to use your readership to your advantage. For instance, if you find that someone else has linked to you in their own blog, you can connect to them by visiting their blog and leaving a comment. You can thank them for linking to you. You can also start a more extended conversation by asking a question or stating a concern. Adding substantial comments will give your site additional exposure.
You can also subtly advertise your blog in your comment. For instance, you can add a link to an existing page on your blog that may be relevant to the conversation. Alternatively, you can create a new blog post that elaborates on your viewpoint on an issue and add a link to this blog post in your comment. This technique will allow you to draw the audience from someone else’s website to your own. It may even encourage further conversation with other readers, further adding to your website’s visibility. Obviously, you should only spend your time establishing healthy relationships with high-authority websites. Also, you want to proceed with a modicum of tact and caution so that you won’t seem like you’re spamming. If you market your blog too aggressively, it will seem both desperate and annoying to readers.
Using link auditing tools will also help you to see if your site has become the subject of a negative SEO attack and give you the opportunity to proactively remove the links to your website or employ someone to do that for you.
Fix Your Broken Links
Sometimes, inbound links will direct to pages that fail to resolve. This will return the infamous “Page Not Found” message. Not only does this annoy visitors to your blog, but it is also a huge waste of link power. If your blog has a limited backlink footprint, a few broken links will have a significant effect on user experience for your site. Namely, it will make your site look unfinished and unprofessional.
Most of the time, repairing backlinks is easy and straightforward. Regardless, you want to know why they occur so that you can prevent them from occurring again. Most of the time, broken backlinks occur because you’ve changed the URL of a webpage without redirecting the old URL to the new one. Alternately, the URL from the link source has a typo in it. Finally, the URL may direct to a page that you’ve already deleted.
It is preferable to have the broken links corrected than to redirect them. HTTP redirects can increase the wait time for users. According to Google, they cause an additional HTTP request-response cycle and adds round-trip-time latency. If the cause of a broken link is a typo from the link source, then politely ask the webmaster to correct the URL. If they provided the incorrect link themselves, it’s usually in their best interests to make the correction anyway. However, if the link source directs to a page that you’ve already deleted and you’re unable to add a redirect, then you may need to replace the page with content. If you do this, think about your potential audience. What can you put on a page that would convince them to keep reading your blog?
These are the principal reasons why you should audit your backlinks regularly. You don’t have to perform a manual audit of every link every time. You can use the metrics built into popular link-mapping tools. If you ignore this step, you make yourself at risk of losing traffic to your blog. Negative SEO exacerbates this risk.
Don’t make the common error of waiting until you receive a notice from Google or seeing a traffic drop when the next version of Penguin rolls out.
How to Protect Yourself from Negative SEO – Kissmetrics
Removing Unnatural Links – TripleSEO