how to run a backlink audit and monitor external links for SEOHow often do you search for your target keywords to see how you stack up against your competitors? If you aren’t happy with the search ranking results, performing an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) audit might be your next step. Though you are interested in launching an SEO campaign, it can be a frustrating and time consuming effort, especially if you don’t know where to start. Properly understanding the role that backlinks play in determining your Google search ranking is one crucial element. It is imperative to properly understand how they are assessed and what you can do to build them and get them indexed.

This post includes:

  • the importance of backlinks for SEO,
  • a step-by-step guide for running a backlink audit, including 4 free online tools
  • a free downloadable spreadsheet for monitoring your SEO campaign

Let’s get started.

What are Backlinks and why are they important?

Backlinks are external links on other domains that link to your website. The Anchor Text is the text that the visitor sees when they click on the link.

It is important to have backlinks because the number, quality, and variety of backlinks that you have pointing to you site helps to determine your Google search ranking.

There are two main kinds of backlinks– FOLLOW and NO FOLLOW. Follow backlinks are links to your site that have been intentionally placed in the content of a website. There are a number of ways to acquire No-follow links, such as commenting on someone else’s blog or creating a profile on a forum. There is controversy about how much credit (or “juice” as it is typically referred to by SEOs) you get for accumulating no follow links. As a general rule, no follow links don’t hurt and they absolutely bring traffic to your site. Some people think they do help your ranking. You should try to spend your time building follow links and generate no follow links when you are community building– For example, if you are leaving comments on blogs in your industry (which you should), sign in to the commenting system so that your name is linked to your website. You can experiment with how the no follow links affect your ranking using the monitoring method outlined below.

Google takes into account how many domains link to you (300 backlinks from 1 domain isn’t as nearly good as 10 links from 30 domains), how many times each domain links to you, and the page rank of the domain (links from Forbes are better than links from a spammy, fake site).

How do I audit my backlinks to see how many I have?

There are a number of SEO checking tools that can help you audit and monitor your backlinks. Many provide some information for free (sometimes for a limited number of searches) and then offer a monthly rate for the full package. It is best practice to use a variety of backlink checking tools, since many providers use different web crawlers to find your links and may give you different results. For this reason, small businesses would get the best results by optimizing their website for SEO and then monitoring using a few free tools. Thankfully, you can absolutely use a combination of different free tools to make a good assessment of your backlinks. Then if you need additional help, then it may be time to hire an experienced SEO.

Here’s a guide for running an initial audit of your backlinks and rank which will also become a system for regular monitoring.

 

Step One:

1. Make a folder on your computer for saving your audits on a regular basis. Name it “(Your Domain Name) SEO Reports”.

seo reports folder

 

 

Step Two:

2. Use the following free tools. Either download spread sheets of your findings or take screen captures and save the files into your Business SEO Reports folder. Modify all of the file names so that they include the month and year at the beginning of the file name followed by your domain name and the service you are using (For Example: Feb 2015 Your Domain Name Ahrefs Report).

 

1. www.backlinkwatch.com 

 Backlink Watch Checker

How I use it: Using Backlink Watch! is a first step, since its service is unlimited and free. 

Cons: The page itself is a little spammy with the pop-up adds and links tempting you to buy links. Don’t do that… purchasing spammy links could actually hurt your SEO. 

Pros: You can see the entire list of backlinks that they see on the internet pointing towards your site. It is free and doesn’t limit the number of times that you can search.

 

2.  Webmeup.com

Web Me Up SEO Tool

How I use it: Once a month, I grab a report for 3 sites that I am currently monitoring. It appears to use the exact same technology as backlinkwatch.com, so don’t expect a difference in the links that are reported.

Cons: You can only get 3 reports a month with the free account. 

Pros: You can download the report as an excel spread sheet.

 

3. MOZ Open Site Explorer

mozcompare

How I use it: Once a month, I search for the sites that I am monitoring and compare them with their competitors. I keep track of the domain authority score and other stats by taking a screenshot.

Cons: You can only run 3 searches a day (not including the comparison searches, however). The MOZ database only runs a huge update every month or month and a half, so you may see a delay in updating new links. You can check their schedule here. At the time I wrote this post, the next upcoming update is planned for March 11, 2015.

Pros: You can do a side by side comparison of your site against your competitors, which is so helpful, by going to “Compare Link Metrics” and adding your competitors urls. It provides more than just the backlink count– even at the free level– by providing you with a list of helpful stats including your domain authority, page authority, and just discovered links.

 

4. Ahrefs

ahrefs

How I use it: I use the free account to monitor changes over time and look for problematic drops in backlinks.

Cons: Most of the backlinks are hidden from you unless you subscribe. Tip: if you shuffle the order of the links by clicking on the different columns, you can see more without purchasing the membership.

Pros: Great analysis of new and lost backlink numbers over time. This could help you identify a backlink problem that you need to fix.

 

Step Three:

1. Download my SEO Campaign Tracker to keep track of your reports, basic observations, actions taken, and results.

seo campaign tracker

It is so important to track what results your SEO efforts are making as you tailor your campaign to your industry. For example, posting 2 guest posts in a certain month may have had a dramatic impact on your ranking because of the quality of the external link pointing to your site. Maybe adding yourself to a few directories, like Reddit and Hotfrog, also made an impact.

Remember to diversify your SEO tactics, avoid spammy solutions, work on great content, and track your results by monitoring backlinks and rank.

Let us know what works for you or if you have any questions in the comments. Have a paid service that you recommend? Let us know!

Meg Farrington
Owner, Web Designer at Meg Farrington Web Design